Opening remarks made by club founder Alfred Baxter at the SAC film festival and exhibit opening, 13 May 2000
Tom Frost, Great Chimney, Washington Column Direct Route. Photograph by Henry Kendall, 1958. Copyright ©2000 Estate of Henry Kendall.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
As a happy fellow guest, let me add my welcome to this reunion to the welcomes provided by so many members of the Stanford Library staff. Let me remind you that a special Alpine Club Exhibit will be open until 9 p.m. in the Bing Wing of the Green Library. Do not expect a wing ding in the Bing Wing. John Rawlings fine new book will be on exhibit there and will be offered for sale. An interesting film festival will begin in a few moments.
It is my intention to begin with a short, lay sermon starting with the theme of humility. I read in the book that we honor today that my friend-of-a-life-time and former climbing companion, Freddy Hubbard Brown, regarded me as a long-winded gas bag. She was quite correct. I am contrite, as behooves a sermonizer. I shall be brief and speak to you with a sermonizer's appropriate humility.
I shall not call this gathering historic because it is not and it would be inaccurate to pretend so. Compared with the soaring triangle of Alpamayo, superbly photographed by my friend and one-time roommate Leigh Ortenburger, ours and other human associations must be seen to be as insignificant in history, as they are brief.
This occasion, however, may properly be called historical because it celebrates both a series of events and associations, important in many of our lives, and a thoughtful interpretive history of those events. The research of John Rawlings is impressive in its extent and deployment. His writing displays intelligence and a species of love reflected in imaginative. well-directed and productive scholarship. In the spirit of Leopold von Ranke he has described boys, girls, attitudes and events "as they actually were."
The new book and the exhibit deal with climbs worldwide achieved by climbers drawn from some nine generations of Stanford students. The history makes three characterizations crucial for mountaineering history:
Some of the book's 178 illustrations are attractive and serviceable. Such pictures support the narrative and put visual flesh on the text. The rose-lipped girl and the light foot lad are splendid. So is the unemphatic shot of climbers hauling Werner-Hopf's wrapped body on a sled over the lower slopes of Mt. Shasta. Any who might doubt that girls can climb cliffs should consider the picture of Meredith Ellis on page 65.
The five, well-edited portfolios by Kendall. Ortenburger. Frost and others go far beyond mere climbing incidents; they open a view to mountaineering's central core, the vast and compelling beauties of form, texture and context. Who, seeing these pictures, would not gain at least a limited appreciation of the call of the Walker Spur, of the north ridge of Chacraraju, of great Gasherbrum, or the walls of El Capitan? Rawlings and Glen Denny have done very well in adding great pictures to well-framed words in the joint service of resourceful historical explications.
Mountaineering differs intrinsically in character from other sports (with the possible exception of small-boat ocean sailing) and extrinsically in that it, alone among sports, has a large and varied literature of high quality. Rawlings has contributed to that great literature. In addition he has done well as an historian to record that members of the Alpine Club both read about and wrote about their sport. Fritz Lippman was no scholar but he knew chapter and verse of alpine literature in three languages. Fritz and I were pleased when our first historical collaboration for the Sierra Club Bulletin was translated into Japanese.
Many of us selected and repeated classic alpine routes exactly because they were not new but old and sacred ground, trod first by pioneers of our sport, and thus to be cherished, inter alia, for literary and historical reasons.
I conjecture, although I can not prove, that enduring friendships born of shared climbing experience are superior to many acquaintanceships otherwise gained. Dave Harrah, David Brower, Leigh Ortenburger, Larry Taylor, Ulf Ramm-Ericson, Rupert Gates, Freddy Hubbard, Robin Hansen, Hans Breu--I should have had a vastly poorer life without their comradeship. My experience can not be unique.
Let me extend this anecdote to honor Gail Fleming, my first wife and climbing buddy for 40 years. She was burned to death before she could draw maps for the new edition of Ortenburger's Teton climbing guide. I must also recognize Mary Sherrill Mead Baxter, with Gail a founding member of the Stanford Alpine Club, who married me in 1993 and brought joy to my later years along with criticism more effective than any received earlier from "fearless" Freddy Brown.
I offer these personal circumstances as examples of what I believe to be a larger and more generally applicable truth: that who one climbs with and how one profits from climbing associations by incorporating them in a larger life are as important in the long run as what one climbs, how one climbs or where one climbs. Except for solo climbers mountaineering is a profoundly social sport wherein many enduring values derive more from flesh than from ice or granite. Fine friendships have been formed without the soil and leaven of a university climbing club. Even if this be so, we can all be grateful to our once institutionalized club for making important friendships potentially abundant and graceful of access. We can be grateful to John Rawlings and to the Stanford University Libraries for invigorating our memories of important associations.
Steve Roper, in his introduction to the Alpine Club history, designates our climbing days as "an age of innocence." Even if it was, we should not forget the sobering tragedies of young climbers dying young. Let us remember :
John Hood, the first of us to die climbing, and Larry Green, Fred Hadden, John Harlin, Ed Hermans, Richard Litterick, Ernie Milburn, Ann Pottinger, David Sowles, Edgar Werner-Hopf, Bert Woodburn.
Alfred Houseman's epitaph, presaged by an early photograph in Rawlings' book, is better than most.
By brooks too broad for leaping the light foot lads are laid; The rose-lipped girls are sleeping in fields where roses fade.
There you have my sermon. I have not touched upon faith because I have a philosopher's low regard for beliefs without evidence. I have touched on humility, accuracy, grief, love displayed in scholarship, beauty in mountain landscapes and in human character. I have mentioned sacred ground with reverence and touched upon warm affection among friends. Not too bad coverage for one short sermon.
Let me thank you for your attention and for this opportunity to share a happy occasion. As your master of ceremonies it is now my privilege to introduce Nick Clinch who will speak to you about the films we are to see.
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