Jim McCarthy beamed with happiness. His large face reflected years in the sun, and a life lived to it’s fullest. He stood as his dinner mates, the men of the first climbing expedition to an unexplored Antarctica in 1966, headed onstage to receive the President’s Gold Medal for the first ascent of Mt. Vinson. Only the fourth time this award has been presented, it is the highest honor bestowed by the American Alpine Club.
“I’ll never forget Bob Bates, what a guy!” McCarthy roared, slapping my shoulder and congratulating me for the Robert Hicks Bates Award I had received. “He’d be proud of you!” I was honored that he recognized me and embarrassed I didn’t know who he was.
Jim McCarthy is a legend, a pioneer of our sport throughout the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. He pushed the boundaries of climbing, and not just that, the types of climbing I love most: big routes, big mountains, and big walls. McCarthy’s first ascent list is off the charts with early climbs in the Gunks, the first ascent of the Cathedral Traverse in the Tetons, Mt. Proboscis, the Lotus Flower Tower, and more. He was one of the first to take the skills learned in Yosemite to other amazing mountains, and apply them with incredible success, something I am passionate about doing. And if it wasn’t bad enough that I didn’t know about all this: He established the award I had just received and was largely responsible for bringing more young people into the American Alpine Club.
McCarthy beamed with joy that night, a contagious joy that I hope to carry with me. My encounter with him was one of many conversations with incredible climbers who paved the way. I failed to recognize many names that night, only to be reminded later of their monumental achievements in our sport. My mouth was left agape time and again that evening
This was what made the annual benefit dinner for the American Alpine Club so incredible. The people, the accomplishments and the history that filled the room. The joy and pride that everyone shared for each other was tangible. Without a doubt the thing that inspired me most about the evening were these humble, kind and welcoming people. These men and women have contributed to and embraced the evolution of climbing and mountaineering. They have been at the forefront of that change. Embarrassed as I am for failing to recognize so many legendary climbers, I was energized and inspired by them.
I realized that evening the ultimate goal in climbing is to be like them. To contribute to advancing our sport, to push boundaries, to live to tell about it, and most importantly, to inspire whoever comes next to do the same. The room was not full of young super athletes, but there is no doubt that it was a room full of climbers, passionate about the mountains and the rocks that we love.