When the 70-year-old Reinhold Messner—with his flowing mane that is the envy of men half his age—stepped on stage this past Saturday night, he commanded the awe of the audience with a booming voice and larger-than-life presence. Messner was the keynote speaker for the sold-out crowd at the 2015 American Alpine Club’s Annual Benefit Dinner on January 31st, which took place in New York City. Introduced by Sir Chris Bonington, Messner’s presentation—the nightcap to the event—shared his life story as the first person to climb Everest without supplemental oxygen in 1978, first to solo the mountain and the first to climb all 14 of the 8,000 meter peaks, among many, many other firsts.
Messner, at the height of his career, shaped the direction of alpinism, drastically changed its landscape and put into motion a new type of climbing. But, according to Messner, he wouldn’t have had all his successes without hordes of failures. The art is in the perseverance. Messner has proven to persevere through more than just first ascents through the numerous iterations his life has taken. He occupied a seat in the European Parliament, wrote more than 50 books—one of which was just released in English last year—and, of course, is the man behind five mountain museums, which he feels is his most shining accomplishment.
While Messner headlined the event, there was no shortage of other greats in the room. The names were legendary, like Fred Beckey, who at 92 years old won the President’s Gold Metal award for his lifelong dedication to climbing and his voracious appetite for first ascents. This rare honor has been bestowed upon only four people in the 113-year life of the club. Beckey, who jollily ambled onto the stage, accepted the award with a little deadpan humor: “I hope they let me on the plane with this thing.”
Other award recipients included the H. Adams Carter Literary Award, which went to Jeff Lowe for literary excellence; the Robert and Miriam Underhill Award, which went to Kim Schmitz for outstanding climbing achievements; Heilprin Citation, awarded to Cody Smith for exemplary service to the AAC; the David R. Brower Conservation Award to Ken Yager for outstanding service in mountain conservation; and the Robert Hicks Bates Award, which was awarded to Sasha DiGiulian for outstanding accomplishments of a young climber, awarded at the Climbers’ Gathering on Friday night at Brooklyn Boulders.
DiGiulian, who was seen bidding in the “raise your paddle” auction, was one of the younger faces in the crowd representing the future of climbing. Messner even gave nod to this younger generation, pointing out DiGiulian and, of course, the men of the hour and recipients of lifetime honorary memberships—Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson.
While Messner was the event’s main attraction, the event also raised money for AAC’s programs, like the new Shawangunks $2.3 million campground, slated to open this year. The event accrued a total of $200,000 towards the AAC campground program with a large chunk spent on opening and operating the first year of the Gunks campground.
At the Climbers’ Gathering on Friday night (part of the event’s weekend line-up which included this gathering and three panel discussions on Saturday), a reporter from NYmag.com came to cover the event. What fascinated her was not the where and what, but the strong ties of the community. The dinner—a reason for a bunch of climbers, one night a year, to get all gussied up to wine and dine with each other—exists to support this organization not only financially, but also celebrate this stellar community. We’re a tight bunch, all part of a tribe. And at this dinner that thread of camaraderie is thick; it transcends climbing disciplines, generations and backgrounds, leveling the field for the night. After all, we’re all climbers with a story to share: some took place long ago, some just happened, and some are merely a seed of an idea that undoubtedly sparked from a good cocktail conversation.