Established in 1902 by the nation's leading climbers and conservationists, The American Alpine Club promotes and preserves the climbing way of life. The Mission Statement reads: "We provide knowledge and inspiration, conservation and advocacy, and logistical support for the climbing community." The AAC evolved from a social club for elite adventurers located on the East Coast to a more centrally located Denver-area organization that actively participates in international dialog about environmental policy, high altitude safety and medicine, innovation in alpine tools, clothing and survival technologies, sponsors expeditions, and investigates controversies in the world of exploration.
John Muir (1838-1914), considered by some to be a founder of the wilderness preservation movement, was the American Alpine Club's second president (1908-1910). Four women, including Annie Peck (1850-1935) and Fannie Bullock Workman (1859-1925), were among the founding members, all of them trouser-wearing suffragettes and strong leaders. Peck was the first to summit Peru's 22,205' Mt. Huascaran in 1908. Workman, along with her husband William, was a Himalayan cartographer and explorer, and competed quite publicly with Peck for the women's altitude record.
The AAC was associated through its officials and members with many significant American and International organizations, including the Appalachian Mountain Club, Sierra Club, Explorer's Club, Canadian Alpine Club and Alpine Club of Britain, and it was integral to the founding of the Union International des Associations d'Alpinism (UIAA) in 1930 and the Arctic Institute of North America in 1948. The AAC was central in the formation, in 1940, of the 10th Mountain Division of the U.S. Army, an elite division specializing in warfare in harsh alpine conditions.
Starting with Muir, the club has held a central role in environmental conservation, developing relationships with the U.S. Forest Service and National Park Service to balance land use with preservation needs in addressing ethics, access, wilderness management, registration, huts, and roads. The AAC's Access committee, begun in the 1980s, spun off to become the Access Fund, a nation-wide non-profit focusing on keeping climbing areas open while supporting environmental protection. In 2006, the AAC, in concert with The Mountain Institute, founded the Alpine Conservation Partnership, an organization dedicated to protecting and restoring the world's alpine environments.
The American Alpine Club, along with the National Geographic Society and the National Science Foundation, sponsored and participated in some of the most significant exploration of mountain regions in the world, including the 1939 summit attempt on K2, 1963 first American summit of Everest, and the 1966 summit of Antarctica's Mt. Vinson. Expeditions have been and continue to be negotiated to some of the most remote and politically inaccessible areas of the world in Pakistan, Nepal, China, South America, Cuba, and Russia, at times with the help of usefully placed AAC officials. For example, the AAC president from 1938-40 was James Grafton Rogers. In 1960, he was Undersecretary to the State Department and therefore able to coordinate collaboration between the State Department, U.S. Navy, and the AAC to plan an expedition to the Antarctic. Presently, AAC member and past official Mark Udall is the senior U.S. Senator from Colorado, and serves on the Committees for Armed Services and Energy and Natural Resources.