When I accepted the gig running membership and marketing at The Mountaineers, I had no idea it would unlock my secret, kinda-nerdy passion for mountaineering history. Sure I'd read pretty much all of the books on mountaineering when I was in college - Into Thin Air, My Life on the Edge, Touching the Void - but I had never considered the foundation they were laying.
One of my first assignments on the job was to read The Mountaineers: A History. The book chronicles the early days: who founded the club, where they explored, how they made an imprint in national and local conservation efforts. I found this stuff fascinating. Fun facts (at least to me):
- Out of 151 founding members, 77 were women. In 1906! Think of the disruption that would have caused to social constructs.
- In 1907, The Mountaineers got 39 people to the summit of Mt. Baker in a single day, forever changing what people thought possible in the mountains (on an international scale).
- Each one of our three National Parks in Washington state was founded in part by help from Mountaineers members.
I could go on, but to me what stands out is how Mountaineers members were truly game-changers. They broke down social barriers, shattered outdoor records, and did so with the mindset toward future protection of outdoor playgrounds.
Lest you think this is just another one of my ramblings about my "amazing job", I'll get to the point. Dr. Charles Crenchaw, a veteran flight engineer turned Boeing employee and mountaineer, joined The Mountaineers when he moved to Seattle. In 1963, he was one of the first climbers invited on a trip to Denali, and on July 9, 1964 he made history as the first African-American to stand on the highest peak in America.
|Climber Charles Crenchaw. The Adventure Gap Cover. Author James Edward Mills.|
This feat is notable in the climbing community, and has been chronicled beautifully in James Edward Mills's book The Adventure Gap. Crenchaw's summit is also included in the history book, and you can actually read a first hand account of it from Crenchaw himself in the 1964 edition of The Mountaineers Annual.
What you won't find though - or couldn't find a few days ago - was any trace of Crenchaw on the internet outside of posts by Mills and the Annual. In putting together a blog post for work recently, I was shocked to see Crenchaw didn't have a Wikipedia page. Anyone who has ever even thought about climbing Everest has a Wikipedia page, and here one of the most influential African-American climbers of all time doesn't?
"Equality" is a bit of a buzz-word right now, and rightfully so. As a female who is decent at skiing I've dealt with my fair-share of 'bros' out to prove they're better than me, but I've never experienced shock to this level before. When I didn't find Crenchaw on Wikipedia I was floored. I actually could not believe it - I thought maybe I had typed his name in wrong.
My next thought was, "Am am I over-reacting? Why do I care so much? This isn't even my fight to fight." But then I thought, why not me? Women are stronger because men in positions of power are speaking up and doing something. Crenchaw broke down barriers and deserves to be recognized for it. I feel honored to give his story another boost.
I made Crenchaw a Wikipedia page. It doesn't fix the problem, but it's a step in the right direction.