If you’ve climbed, you’ve likely done a Layton Kor route. There’s the Kor/Ingalls on Castleton Tower, the Finger of Fate on the Titan, and innumerable routes throughout Colorado, Yosemite and the West. In 1966 Kor helped forge the Harlin Direct on the Eiger Nordwand, and was instrumental in leading that route’s crux rock pitches. When his partner John Harlin was killed while jugging a fixed line, a devastated Kor abandoned the route and virtually vanished from climbing. Despite that early exit from the sport, Kor, now 71, remains, along with Royal Robbins, Yvon Chouinard, Fred Beckey and all of the Lowes, one of the few climbers who needs no introduction.
In January, the American Alpine Club (AAC) announced it would honor Kor with its prestigious Robert and Miriam Underhill Award at its annual award dinner ceremony in Golden, Colorado. Robert L. M. and Miriam O’Brien Underhill are recognized as two of the great pioneers in American mountaineering. Past recipients have included Henry Barber, George Lowe, Lynn Hill and Yvon Chouinard.
Also honored that evening were Lonnie and Ellen Thompson for their pioneering work in paleoclimatology, a science that involves drilling ice cores from often remote and inhospitable glaciers and ice caps to determine climatic change over time. They received the David Brower Conservation Award for leadership and commitment to preserving mountain regions worldwide. Brower, an active alpinist with over 70 first ascents from Shiprock to the Sierra Nevada, and member of the famed 10th Mountain Division, was a pioneer in the environmental movement in this country and abroad. He was twice nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for his work in conservation.
The AAC’s Literary Award recognizes excellence in alpine literature by American writers who have contributed extensively and over many years to mountain literature. Maria Coffey, originally of England and now living in British Columbia, received the award for her scope of works including the acclaimed books Where the Mountain Casts Its Shadow, Fragile Edge: Loss on Everest and A Boat in Our Baggage.
The David A. Sowles Memorial Award honors a young mountaineer by that name who was killed in a lightning storm in the Alps in 1963, and acknowledges mountaineers who, at personal risk or sacrifice of a major objective, go to the assistance of fellow climbers imperiled in the mountains. Pemba Gyalje Sherpa received the award for his rescue efforts on K2 in August 2008. Pemba, who has climbed Everest seven times, twice climbed high on K2 to rescue two climbers who had been stranded when serac fall destroyed fixed ropes in the crux section known as the Bottleneck.