There are very few red carpets in the world of climbing, a sport whose best take great pride in how little they need to pursue their greatest passion. But the American Alpine Club’s Annual Benefit Dinner is a bit of an exception.
Held in a different city each year, this upscale event features fine wine, spendy auctions, and the AAC’s Climbing Awards, which the club just announced last week.
“These honors represent America’s view of our highest climbing achievements,” said the club’s CEO Phil Powers. “There are other awards and grants out there—I really applaud the Access Fund’s Sharp End Awards geared toward access—but these are the few awards that really represent what Americans find to be the best of the best in the past year or in a climber’s lifetime.”
Each award has its own selection committee comprised of climbing legends—and intense debate. “These committees have a deep history and are quite earnest about their work,” Powers said. “We identify a chair and that chair chooses his or her committee. I don’t want to overly govern these things, because they should know more about their category than I do or the board does.”
The committee debate was particularly intense when choosing the Underhill Award, which honors achievements in mountaineering. The Underhill Award committee faced a conundrum and eventually stepped out from the norm. Alex Honnold was nominated after his mind-bending free-solo of Yosemite’s El Capitan. While Alex does have world-class mountaineering ticks on his resume, including the Fitz Traverse with Tommy Caldwell, he’s mainly known as a rock climber and free-soloist.
“The committee was very serious about the integrity of the award and our views on soloing,” Powers said. “And I applaud them for stepping out to honor Alex’s amazing year.”
And that’s what these awards are meant to do, to exalt our best feats of the year in American climbing as well as lifetime achievements in both climbing and conservation.
Without further ado, the winners of the AAC’s 2018 Climbing Awards are:
Honorary Membership | John Roskelly
Honorary Membership is the highest award the AAC has to offer. It is given to those individuals who have had a lasting and highly significant impact on the advancement of the climbing craft. View Previous Recipients
“John was overdue for receiving this award,” Powers said. “The current leadership of magazines and blogs may not know that in the late 1970s and early 80’s, he was the man. A first ascent of Trango Tower? An ascent of K2 during the first successful American expedition? He had an amazing career, was incredibly motivated and driven. Not to mention, he’s gone on to do great works in the public service world as county commissioner out in Spokane. He received our very first Underhill Award in 1983, along with John Bachar. This honorary membership is a big deal; He should have gotten it a little earlier!”
The Robert and Miriam Underhill Award | Alex Honnold
The Robert and Miriam Underhill Award is given annually to that person who, in the opinion of the selection committee, has demonstrated the highest level of skill in the mountaineering arts and who, through the application of this skill, courage, and perseverance, has achieved outstanding success in various fields of mountaineering. View Previous Recipients
“Embedded in our history is a value of partnership. Having someone else a rope length away or beside you to check your knot or check over your shoulder is so valuable,” Powers said. “But this achievement [Alex free-soloed El Capitan in TK month last year] and the preparation and mind control it took is huge. It’s a complicated reality, and I’m proud we’re honoring this rare--and hopefully never repeated—career.”
Heilprin Citation | Ellen Lapham
The Angelo Heilprin Citation is awarded annually to that person who has, in the opinion of the citation committee, shown exemplary service to the Club. The purpose of this citation is to recognize those who have worked to maintain and strengthen the organization and thus further its ability to serve its fundamental purposes. View Previous Recipients
“This award is more about the how than the what,” Power said. “Not many climbers outside of the AAC will have heard of Ellen—she’s just a climber, and she gets out all the time. She started something called Exit Strategy to deal with climbers and waste in the mountains. This went on to become the Sustainable Summits Initiative, an annual gathering of a couple hundred people who are doing scientific research on the impact we have on mountains.”
The Robert Hicks Bates Award | Margo Hayes
The Robert Hicks Bates Award's purpose is to recognize a young climber who—in the judgment of the selection committee—has demonstrated exceptional skill and character in the climbing or mountaineering arts and has outstanding promise for future accomplishment. View Previous Recipients
“The first winners of this award, in 1996, were Chris Sharma and Katie Brown,” Powers said. “The concept that Sharma won this award and is still doing what he’s doing now is amazing and many other recipients of this award have had long careers. Margo clearly broke out this year and represents how in the prime of your gymnastic prowess, one can do amazing things. I hope this represents just the beginning of a long and wonderful life in the out of doors for her.”
The David R. Brower Conservation Award | Former Secretary Of The Interior & Former REI CEO Sally Jewell
The David R. Brower Award, created in 1991, is an annual award recognizing leadership and commitment to preserving mountain regions worldwide. View Previous Recipients
“Sally did amazing things in her role as our secretary. When Bears Ears was designated a National Monument with its unique climbing value mentioned in the designation, it was extraordinary for the environment and for our sport,” Powers said. “These lands that we share together are not only wonderful opportunities for Americans but the world.”
These five climbers will be honored at the AAC’s Annual Benefit Dinner in Boston on February 24th.