Guidebook to Membership

Guidebook to Membership

Over my coffee on a Saturday morning I reached for a new magazine at the top of my reading pile. I actually thought it was the Patagonia catalog, thrilled to see at first glance a person of color on the cover. On closer inspection, though, I realized that it was the American Alpine Club “Guidebook to Membership”.

A tight close-up image of a face with apparently dark skin wearing glasses had that vaguely artistic quality that offers little in the way of relevant information but draws the viewer in to learn more. I was curious. Taking a closer look the person may have been female. I wasn’t sure. This photograph in black and white was a bit out of focus, rendering the subject ambiguous of both race and gender. Neither seemed to matter. But reflected in the eye glasses he/she wore were the rocky spires of some distant mountain range, perhaps the Andes.

Sure enough, a description on the masthead six pages in from the cover confirmed a few of my suspicions. The photograph captured by my colleague Austin Siadak depicts climber Katherine Wyatt peering out over the Torre massif from Polacos basecamp in Argentina. “Reflecting on dreams and perhaps-one-day-realtities-to-come is a common past time (sic) for the vertically inclined”.
Seems it was Patagonia after all.

Images and narratives that inspire the common person to think beyond the realities of daily life are at the core of adventure. And in the modern world those pictures and stories now include the many who had been for so long neglected and ignored. Though by virtue of gender or race women and people of color deserve no special recognition for their accomplishments in pursuit of their dreams, it’s important however to acknowledge and celebrate the achievements of anyone who aspires to strive for more than what fate deems them worthy to receive.

It’s wonderful to see that this issue of the AAC Guidebook to Membership shares the stories of so many we too seldom encounter outdoors. Prominently portrayed in this glossy publication people of color are the part of the adventure narrative. Contributors in this issued included Vietnamese-American climber Truc Allen and Native-American climber Len Necefer. A detailed series of profiles shares stories from the Range of Motion Project, a nonprofit organization that provides adaptive prosthetic devices to empower people with disabilities, like Gulf War veteran and Everest climber Chad Jukes, to experience the outdoors through mountaineering. And I was especially proud to see an interview with my climbing partner and friend Tyrhee Moore, who was on the 2013 Expedition Denali Team.

“I think people should embrace this whole conversation and these movements toward bridging the adventure gap and getting minorities outside,” Moore said. “This is a public space and this is everyone’s land. Everyone should have equal access to these places.”

Despite the progress we seem to be making along this movement to make the outdoors more accessible to everyone, there are those who likely think this is just phase. Some probably think that diversity is a hot topic for the time being that will eventually fade from the public eye. Though personally look forward to the day when we no longer to need to discuss and debate this issue I understand that full cultural representation will always be important to the world of outdoor recreation and adventure. So long as anyone is left out of the narrative, if we neglect to include the stories of all those who love the natural environment we put at risk the posterity of the public land we all hold sacred.

~James Edward Mills is a proud member of the American Alpine Club