The Stanford Alpine Club, by John Rawlings, photography editor Glen Denny, featuring the photography of Tom Frost, Henry Kendall, and Leigh Ortenburger. Stanford: CSLI Publications/Stanford University Libraries, 2000. 178 duotone and halftone photographs and illustrations, 208 pages.
In 1945, Freddy Hubbard and Cynthia Cummings, coeds from Colorado, decided to organize an outing club so that they could continue to enjoy while at Stanford the mountain experiences they had become accustomed to back home as members of the Junior Colorado Mountain Club. They were not entirely successful. The club, in Hubbard's words, "degenerated into a hiking club." It took three returning WWII veterans, Al Baxter, Larry Taylor, and Fritz Lippmann, to establish a campus climbing club, in the spring of 1946. Hubbard and Cummings joined right up.
CSLI Publications and Stanford University Libraries have just published a large format photographic history, printed by one of the Bay Area's finest printers, of the Stanford Alpine Club (SAC), covering its almost forty year history. In the fifties the new club became one of America's prominent college mountaineering clubs. Its identity was forged in the crucible of Yosemite Valley's steep, smooth granite spires and cliffs. Members made important contributions to the development of Yosemite rockclimbing technique and helped carry the lessons learned to the world's great ranges.
Even more important for most students was the club's contribution to their personal growth and their social and recreational opportunities at Stanford. Coeducational membership was a key factor distinguishing the SAC from the longer-established and better known eastern college clubs, and a tradition of "manless climbing" dated from its 1946 inaugural year. Bea Vogel, '53, a legend among SAC coeds, recalled, "It was a revelation for both boys and girls that they could interact on the kind of footing that occurred in the club. . . . In the dorm there was some pressure to dress up, date, make an impression, play a role. In the club we were comfortable being ourselves."
The SAC was the kind of experience that eventually developed into Outward Bound-type programs. Students were encouraged by other members to try things that often seemed beyond their limits and capabilities. Vogel remembered that you weren't told that there were limits on your ability or "you can't do such-and-such," because "you aren't strong enough," or "because you're a woman." Members learned climbing skills even if they started off timidly, and were encouraged to do all kinds of physical things that also required mental strength. It struck Vogel and others how different all this was from normal expectations where the "guys would do their physical activities and there would be all this male-bonding rigmarole." To the contrary, what there was in the alpine club was group bonding - shared experiences of perhaps a dangerous nature, and there was a fair share of tragedy, injury, and death.
There were both great names among SAC members in the history of American mountaineering, including John Harlin, Irene Beardsley, Leigh Ortenburger, and Tom Frost, and great times for many more students on practice climbs at Castle Rock or club climbs in Yosemite Valley or night climbs of some campus building. The Stanford Alpine Club is a testament to an era when young, enthusiastic college kids simply went out and had good fun in the mountains. The book was produced in conjunction with an exhibition of club history which will open in the Bing Wing of Green Library at Stanford University until August 15, 2000.