The club was founded in November 1924, by Henry S. Hall Jr. In its early days the club would meet at the home of Mr. Hall, who specialized in the Canadian Rockies, and who was an influential figure in the American Alpine Club. While at college, club members would train for summer expeditions to the Canadian Rockies by climbing at the nearby Quincy Quarries in the fall and spring, and skiing and mountaineering in the mountains of New Hampshire in the winter. In 1927 the HMC, as it is known to its members, published its first journal, Harvard Mountaineering. This journal would go on to be published biannually for much of the life of the club, chronicling the climbs and exploits of the club members.
In 1929, a recent Groton graduate by the name of Henry Bradford Washburn arrived at the College. Washburn was already a mountaineer of some distinction, having climbed numerous peaks in the Alps with his brother and publishing books, including Among the Alps with Bradford in 1927. The royalties from this book and others allowed Washburn to purchase a Ford Model A, which was instrumental for the club. He managed to convince the USFS to issue the HMC a special use permit (still in existence) for a skier's hut on Mt. Washington. Using the Model A, workers from the club managed to build a small cabin at the base of Boott Spur on Mount Washington. The cabin functioned as a staging ground for the Club's mountaineering training and as a base for winter ski races against the Dartmouth Outing Club.
Up until the start of the Second World War, Washburn's passion for mountaineering and aerial photography propelled the Club to new heights. He would use aerial photography to scout for new routes, and then convince Alaskan airplane pilots to drop HMC climbers off on a glacier. This practice gave rise to numerous first ascents of some of the highest mountains in North America, including the dramatic ascent and "escape from Lucania" in 1937, chronicled by HMC member David Roberts many years later in a book by the same name.
Another prominent club member in that era was Robert L. M. Underhill, a Harvard faculty member, who completed significant first ascents in the Alps, the Grand Tetons and the Sierra Nevada. He is credited with introducing modern Alpine belaying and rope handling techniques to mountaineering in the American west.
Second World War
Although club activities, per se, ceased, many members continued mountaineering in support of the U.S. Army. This included testing mountain equipment for the famed 10th Mountain Division, and instructing and serving in its ranks. After the war, a lieutenant from the division, William Lowell Putnam, re-formed the HMC by announcing himself President in the Harvard Crimson.
The post-war years saw a second boom in activity by the club. In the 50s, HMC alumni took part in major Himalayan expeditions. Robert "Bob" Hicks Bates and Dr. Charles Houston took part in the 1953 American Expedition to K2. It was on this expedition that Pete Schoening famously rescued six other climbers with his legendary "ice-axe belay." Bates and Houston wrote The Savage Mountain about this climb.
In the '60s the club was no less active, building, in 1963, a new cabin at the base of Huntington Ravine (still operated by the HMC to this day), as well as executing numerous ambitious Alaskan climbs. These climbs include the unrepeated first ascent the Harvard Route on the Wickersham Wall on Denali. It was also in this period that HMC president David Roberts was involved in the tragic climb of Mount Huntington, resulting in the death of HMCer Ed Bernd. Roberts subsequently wrote about the expedition in The Mountain of My Fear, which helped establish him as one of the leading mountain writers in America.
Seventies, eighties, and nineties
The 1970s saw a refocusing of the club's activities from large mountains and expeditions to more local technical climbs. Through the 1980s, members of the club continued to publish the journal and climb throughout New England, publishing in 1984 a climber's guide to Mount Katahdin in Maine. In 1989, founder Henry Hall, still a regular fixture at club events, died.
During the nineties, the club recorded less exploratory activity. The nineties were notable for the building of two, small bouldering walls in the club's space at Claverly Hall, and the publication of a 70th anniversary retrospective journal in 1994.
The club today
The club has seen something of a resurgence of (recorded) activity and interest, hosting HMC luminaries like the above-mentioned Bradford Washburn, David Roberts, and John Graham of the Wickersham Wall expedition, as well as famous contemporary climbers such as Alexander Ruchkin, Timmy O'Neill, and Dave Anderson. These slideshows have, in turn, fueled several ambitious new exploits. In the summer of 2005, a group of HMCers led by then-president Lucas Laursen revived the club first-ascent tradition with an exploratory climbing trip to the Borkoldoy Range of Kyrgyzstan. Summer trips to Yosemite, the Palisades, the Italian Dolomites, and Cascades, have helped strengthen and train a new generation of climbers. In addition, the club revived the dormant journal in 2004.
The club continues to maintain the 1963 cabin on Mount Washington adding a new, metal roof in 2006 and a particularly outstanding library of historic climbing-related literature and periodicals. Over the summer of 2006 members helped convert an old Lowell House squash court into a modern climbing wall. Membership is open to all Harvard affiliates interested in climbing, but the club is run by a board of undergraduate officers.
Kevin Jones and Dunbar Carpenter
North Cascades climbing camp
Lowell Climbing Wall, 2007 journal
80th Anniversary HMC Borkoldoy Expedition, 2004 journal
^ Farquhar, Francis P., History of the Sierra Nevada (University of California Press, Berkeley, 1965) ISBN 0-520-01551-7
Harvard Mountaineering Club official website
PDF History of the Club
Categories: Harvard University | Climbing organisations | Student Groups | University outdoors clubs