One by one, summit registers signed by pioneering alpinists from the 1920s and ’30s have disappeared. Hardcover books in engraved aluminum containers. Parched scrolls stowed in metal tubes. Delicate scraps of paper scorched by lightning strikes and stuffed in tobacco tins, coffee cans and ammo boxes. What happened to them is as mysterious as the mountains themselves.
To get a sense of what’s being lost, climb the steps to the third floor of the Bancroft Library at UC Berkeley. Here in the Sierra Club archives, there are boxes of summit registers originally left on mountains by that organization, the California Alpine Club and other groups representing ardent climbers. Some date to the late 19th century.
Open a book at random and there is John Muir’s signature, from 1895, authorizing placement of “Register Box of the Sierra Club No. 8″ on Mt. Brewer. His friend and Sierra Club charter member Joseph N. LeConte led a party that performed the honor.
These old manuscripts are all business: Formal, calligraphic signatures marking significant personal achievements. Barometer readings, weather reports and compass surveys of the surrounding panorama. Details of the route taken.
Often, a year or more would pass between signatures. Nonetheless, with each new name, a boundless West was beginning to shrink.
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