I REMEMBER THE SMELL OF BURNING rope, cooking in my rappel device, during the sickening, bottomless Luna Bong rappel, 500 feet above the cliff base, w...

By Rock and Ice | June 30th, 2010

I REMEMBER THE SMELL OF BURNING rope, cooking in my rappel device, during the sickening, bottomless Luna Bong rappel, 500 feet above the cliff base, with a slope dropping steeply below to the distant river bottom. Rope fuzz piled up in front of me. I thought of the story someone had told of two brothers simul-rappeling here in the Verdon Gorge, France. Arriving at the belay, one brother automatically clipped in, unweighting the rope—and that was it for the other. Was the horrifying tale apocryphal? I reached the hanging belay, but could barely touch my heated Sticht plate to unclip. 

My friends Rhea and Fiona joined me, Fiona rapping last. From below I could see her knees knocking. When we told Fiona she’d have to wait on the rope for me to leave, the petite Brit said, “You have got to be kidding—no way!” and shouldered in.
That trip was a women’s climbing exchange to France, supported by the Vera Watson/Alison Chadwick-Onyskiewicz fund (let’s go with VWACO), administered by the American Alpine Club. In 1978, Watson and Chadwick-Onyszkiewicz died in a summit attempt, slipping 1,000 feet between camps 4 and 5 on Annapurna, during an expedition that put two women on top. 
Consider these proud firsts supported by grants: Josh Wharton and Kelly Cordes on the Southwest Ridge of Great Trango, Pakistan; Mike Pennings and Jonny Copp on the first ascent of Cat’s Ear Spire and a new route on Hainablak East Tower, Shipton, Pakistan; Steve House, Kevin Mahoney and Ben Gilmore on a new ice route on the Southeast Face of the Moose’s Tooth; Lizzy Scully and Heidi Wirtz on a new route and the FFA of the South Howser Minaret, the Bugaboos; Mike Libecki solo on The Viking’s Shield, Greenland; Vince Anderson and Steve House on a new route, alpine style, up the Rupal Face of Nanga Parbat. The funding sources ranged from the AAC Lyman S. Spitzer, Jr. grants to the Mugs Stump Awards to one from Mountain Hardwear. Other grantees’ objectives have not been successes but were equally worthy. Climbing grants for top-flight achievements benefit individuals and our community, creating evolution and progress that draws others along.
Grant offerings, however, are part of a broad spectrum, much of it little-known, and being rad is not always required. Some grants, such as one in the late Scott Fischer’s name, are for conservation, while others fund scientific or medical projects. Some, like that named for Zack Martin, have humanitarian aspects; others, are for women or youth. The Polartec Challenge grant is intended to “inspire.” From the Banff Centre comes one requiring that the trip be recorded in images, words or film. Grants can benefit more than our climbing community.
I was a couple of years out of college when I attended the women’s exchange, and we climbed on Corsica (putting up a new finish on an 11-pitch tower route), and in the then emergent area of Buoux. The grant was only for $400 (which I later opted to pay back), but without it I wouldn’t have gone.
Laura Snider, our current intern, a Masters candidate in journalism as well as a climber of 12 years, has compiled a comprehensive resource chart for climbing grants. See it on
Years ago, Ned Gillette was a charismatic career adventurer, recipient of repeated grant and sponsorship support. Gillette, who in 1997 would be tragically shot by robbers at the base of Laila Peak, Pakistan, was by his own admission never the best climber; what he did was imagine. He dreamed up ideas, researched and delivered: in determination and visibility. Once I heard someone at a slide show ask him for advice on, pretty much, how to live Gillette’s life. He spoke a few words about seeking support, and then added deliberately: “And say thank you.”
Thanks even means appropriate returns. If you receive a grant from one organization, come back and give a benefit slide show. Mention grant support in films, slide shows and articles or the author bios that follow text. 
I never forgot having received a grant, and later served on the other side. I was on the board when the AAC received a generous bequest from the estate of the great astrophysicist Lyman Spitzer, driving force behind the Hubble Space Telescope, and we put a portion toward cutting-edge, exploratory climbing. I’ve heard from Spitzer’s friend Bob Palais that Lyman, who climbed in the Gunks and Tetons and achieved a first ascent on Mount Thor, Baffin Island, was always interested in youth and hard climbing, and would be pleased. 
Yet be aware that grant funds are not always set in stone. Their use can be subject to debate or change. There will always be many uses for any money, and they’re all good causes, too. Receiving a grant is a privilege; help sustain it. 
Grants are gifts, and memorial grants are also very fine tributes. Please remember the people who gave or inspired them. And say thanks.

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