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Kai Lightner and Ron Kauk Among American Alpine Club’s 2021 Annual Climbing Awardees

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Each year, the American Alpine Club (AAC) has the honor of presenting its prestigious Annual Climbing Awards to outstanding climbers, conservationists, and volunteers. This year’s awardees include Kai Lightner, Red Rocks first ascentionists Joanne and Jorge Urioste, AAC past president Glenn Porzak, and guardian of public lands Congressman Raúl Grijalva. Additional awards will go to Yosemite legend Ron Kauk, and longtime AAC volunteers Rick Merritt and Nancy Savickas.

The awards will be presented at the AAC’s virtual Annual Benefit Gala on February 20. The event may not include dinner this year, but it does feature a lineup of incredible speakers and awardees. For the first time in Club history, the event will be free for all to tune in.

Mitsu Iwasaki, American Alpine Club CEO, says of the awards, “Our Annual Benefit Dinner is where we bring AAC members together to celebrate climbing, achievements, and dream of future possibilities. We are excited for the opportunity created by the pandemic to host our first virtual event, which will be accessible to all AAC members and the broader climbing community.”

The Robert and Miriam Underhill Award

The AAC Underhill Selection Committee has chosen Ron Kauk as the 2021 Underhill Award recipient for “demonstrating the highest level of skill in the climbing arts.” Ron has a storied climbing career filled with first ascents in Yosemite, including Midnight Lightning (V8) and Astroman (5.11c, 1,200′). He is also an outspoken advocate for Indigenous rights.

Ron Kauk on Magic Line. Photo: Jim Thornburg.

Honorary Membership

Past AAC President and active member of the climbing community Glenn Porzak will accept this award for creating a “lasting and highly significant impact on the advancement of the climbing craft.” Prolific route developers Joanne and Jorge Urioste will also be recognized for establishing over 100 first ascents in Red Rocks, Nevada.

Joanne and Jorge Urioste(left) and Glenn Porzak (right).

The Robert Hicks Bates Award

Kai Lightner joins an impressive group of recipients of The Robert Hicks Bates Award, which honors a young climber who “has demonstrated exceptional skill and character in the climbing or mountaineering arts and has outstanding promise for future accomplishment.” Kai’s accomplishments include 12 National Championship Titles, an ascent of Era Vella (5.14d) in Spain, and a growing list of 5.14 routes. Past Bates Award recipients include Alex Honnold, Chris Sharma, Tommy Caldwell, Steph Davis, Hayden Kennedy, Colin Haley, Sasha DiGiulian, Margo Hayes, and Brette Harrington.

Kai Lightner.

The David R. Brower Award

Congressman Raúl Grijalva, the U.S. Representative for Arizona’s 3rd congressional district, will be awarded the David R. Brower Conservation Award for his “leadership and commitment to preserving mountain regions worldwide.” Congressman Grijalva was selected based on four decades of public service. During that time, he has been an outspoken champion for public lands while also diversifying the environmental movement beyond traditional voices.

Congressman Raúl Grijalva
Congressman Raúl Grijalva.

The H. Adams Carter Literary Award

The AAC Literary Committee is proud to award David Smart The H. Adams Carter Literary Award. David has authored many books, from guidebooks to biographies. His book, Emilio Comici, Angel of the Dolomites, won the Mountain Literature Prize at the Banff Mountain Festival in 2020. “We need books like Emilio Comici to keep us in check with our history, and in this case, the history of climbing,” said Helen Rolfe of the book.

David Smart
David Smart.

Heilprin Citation

Nancy Savickas and Rick Merritt will be awarded the 2020 Heilprin Citation for their “exemplary service to the Club.” Together, Rick and Nancy have chaired the AAC’s Northeast Region for over a decade while furthering the Club’s mission, recruiting new members, and building community.

Nancy Savickas (left) and Rick Merritt (right).

For more on the 2021 Climbing Award Recipients:

2021 American Alpine Club Annual Dinner

Date: February 20, 2021, at 6 P.M. MDT

Location: Online

Ticket Information: The 2021 Annual Benefit Gala is free but requires registration. For more information and to reserve your spot, visit: