The American Alpine Club Benefit Dinner was held in Boston at the beginning of the month. It’s nice to have it on the east coast now and then. Edelweiss and I talked about attending, but we had a lot of excuses — top of the list was taking care of our new Wunderkind. So I am grateful to a few people associated with the AAC for helping me live vicariously once again from my cage in Peaklessburg.
The featured event of the evening was the celebration of the first ascent of Saser Kangri II (24,665ft./7,518m.), which was the second highest unclimbed peak in the world, located in the greater Himalaya of Northern India. The American team ascended the southwest face alpine style to establish The Old Breed (WI4 M3, 1700m), which as reported by Alpinist.com, ”[O]ne of the highest first ascents of a peak in alpine style in the history of mountaineering.”
Perhaps the most significant piece from the accomplishment was that another giant has fallen. It’s sad, in a way, to witness this transition from an age of romance and unknowns on the map to… something else. That something else involves new challenges, but they stem from a level of familiarity. Then again, I think most explorers — climbers included — think they were born too late. The giants are still giants, but they’ve all been tackled.
And this is why there is mountain literature to pass on the stories and see the world as it was perceived then or to put the new challenges in a proper light. In part, for this reason, Bernadette McDonald was given the AAC Literary Award at the dinner.
Bernadette McDonald has written several books on mountaineering, including one recently to great acclaim. Freedom Climbers is about Polish alpinists that dominated high altitude climbing in the 1970s and 80s. It has received other significant awards, including at her native Banff Mountain Film & Book Festival, the Boardman Tasker in the United Kingdom and now at the AAC Benefit Dinner.
From all of these reports, McDonald’s work is both insightful and appears to strike the cord that appeals to both mountaineering experts and those that crave a good adventure story. However, she is also telling a story of a strong people that has often gone unrecognized; the Poles have faced great political and social adversity in the 20th Century and yet they excelled in the hills.
Today, the Polish alpinists are continuing to work at their goal of climbing all of the 8,000 meter peaks in the Himalaya in winter — in fact, Artur Hajzer’s team just summitted Gasherbrum I last week! The leader of their alpine club set forth a mandate that they grab those first winter ascents for the good of national pride and for being a role model to their youth. The grand record of all 14 is out now, but the quest continues.