July 15th, 2009
Steve Swenson is a local hard-man alpinist, engineer, and the current president of the American Alpine Club, one of climbing’s more venerable institutions. He’s been climbing for 30-some years and, while I could list some of his feats, the only two most will recognize are these: K2, in 1990, via the North Ridge and Mt. Everest which he did solo in 1994. Both were climbed without the help of bottled oxygen.
(Rare photo and more about Steve after the jump…)
I get to see him at the gym, the crag, slideshows and the like; he climbs harder than I do on gear, sport, ice, and generally everything else…and he’s 20 years my senior. Most recently, at a weekend-long wedding we both attended, he said after breakfast “Well, I’ve got to go ride my bike now. I’m going to do laps up to the pass.”
“Laps?” I queried, not sure I heard it right. The pass was some 25 miles away, and a few thousand feet higher. The previous day, two of my contemporaries congratulated themselves on one lap up to the pass.
“Yes, laps,” he replied. “I’ve got to get in shape, I’m going climbing in three weeks.” Indeed. He is off to attempt Sasser Kangri II, a peak in India at 7,518 m (24,665 ft).
Yet for Steve, master of discipline (according to his son Lars), it’s not *just* about climbing. He is a water management engineer and, with his firm recently acquired by a larger company, he’s facing some big career changes; he sounds excited.
As he left that morning he said to me, “Maybe I’ll be doing more stuff like you.” I can only hope that means taking that discipline and zeal and applying it towards creating positive change for our environment and our communities. As AAC President, he has the capacity to steer many other driven people in this direction.
If you’ve ever had a chance to hang out with him (say, in a five hour cramped car ride back from Smith Rock), you know he’s going to make a difference. He’s focused and knows how to apply himself.
Because I can’t toot Steve’s horn too much, I have to include one of his more inglorious moments. Below is Dylan Johnson removing a sea urchin spine from Steve’s finger–by headlamp–on Tonsai Beach, Thailand. Painful, even with Thai whiskey as an anesthetic.
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