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Who's Stealing the Sierra's Summit Registers

Photo: Founders of the Sierra Register Committee Mark Hoffman (left) and Robin Ingraham Jr.
Founders of the Sierra Register Committee the late Mark Hoffman (left) and Robin Ingraham Jr., on top of Unicorn Peak in 1986.

High in the peaks of the Sierra Nevada are prized summit registers, some signed by the likes of Ansel Adams and Norman Clyde. Here's a peak at some of these time capsules—no hiking boots required.

In the February issue, Adventure looked at the sudden wave of theft of Sierra Nevada summit registers—some bearing the signatures of high-altitude outdoor illuminati (read the article, Paper Chase). Here, Robin Ingraham Jr., an advocate of summit register preservation who climbed 111 peaks in the Sierra in the 1980s, shares his photos of some of these fragile time capsules. Ingraham also discusses who he thinks might be swiping the summit registers and why a register.

Photo: Register, found on the 12,560-foot (3,828-meter) summit of Mount Rodgers
This register, found on the 12,560-foot (3,828-meter) summit of Mount Rodgers, contains the first ascent signatures of Ansel Adams, Willard Grinnell, and Cedric Wright. Noting that the small wad of papers was in a fragile state of decay, Sierra Register Committee members, now deceased, Robin Ingraham Jr. and Shawn McNice removed the register for preservation in the Bancroft Library at the University of California at Berkley, which houses the Sierra summit registers in the Sierra Club archives.

Photo: Register
In 1982 Hoffman soloed Mount Stanford and discovered register placed by legendary Sierra mountaineer Norman Clyde in 1940. Five years later, Hoffman and Ingraham returned to the summit and found the register still intact. It was later removed by another climber for safe keeping.

Do you still climb and photograph summit registers in the Sierra?
I have not climbed in general since 1994. In fact, the majority of my climbing took place between 1984 and 1989. After Mark Hoffman, my best friend and co-founder of the Sierra Register Committee, was killed in rock slide in 1988, I began to back away from climbing. But I still am passionate about outdoor photography.

In 1994 I sold all of my climbing equipment and purchased a large-format-view camera. Since then, I've carried a 4x5 into the mountains to photograph the wilderness rather than climb.

How did you and Mark Hoffman get hooked on scouting summit registers?
In 1987 Mark was studying The Climbers Guide to the High Sierra by Steve Roper and found the following passage: "During the same summer [1912], Francis Farquhar, William Colby, and Robert Price climbed Milestone and Midway mountains. Their register on the latter peak was still intact in 1970 and was unquestionably the oldest existing record on a Sierra peak." This passage inspired us to climb 13,666-foot [4,165-meter] Midway to see the historic register, only to find that it had been stolen! This is a prime example of why the location of historic registers should never be published.

Later that year we sought guidance from Sierra Club pioneers Glen Dawson, Jules Eichorn, Dick Leonard, David Brower, Hervey Voge, and Marge Farquhar to discuss what we should do about the stolen register. Mark and I then created a multipart register program and formed the Sierra Register Committee. Our advisers encouraged us to regenerate the Sierra Club policies and set forth a program to educate climbers about register removal criteria.

Were you interested in summit registers that didn't contain famous signatures?
At the time, our interest was in old registers. I don't think we should be caught up in seeking famous signatures. A time will come when registers from even the late part of the 20th century are rare—but no less important to future generations. A register placed in 1980 will be marveled at by climbers in 2080. Some people will climb a certain peak to see their great-great-grandfather's signature.

Do you have any idea who's to blame for the recent wave of summit register disappearances?
I have no idea who is allegedly stealing the registers. The problem of missing or stolen registers, however, is sadly nothing new. It was going on long before I started climbing and will sadly continue into the future. I believe in the goodness of most people and hold the view that many registers were removed by climbers with good intentions to send the register to a museum or library for preservation.

I'd like to encourage anyone that is in possession of an old register to send it the Sierra Club Archives, Mountain Summit Registers, Bancroft Library, University of California at Berkeley [go to bancroft.berkeley.edu for more information].

Then there's the vandal who steals a register for personal gain. Given the recent rise in the number of missing registers, it appears that the latter is holding true—none of the missing registers have turned up in Bancroft.

All we can do is promote proper behavior and provide information about preservation.

Photos courtesy of Robin Ingraham Jr.

Additional Excerpts
From the print edition, February 2005

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Related Web Sites

Find information from the country's major climbing communities.

Robin Ingraham Jr. Wilderness Photography
View more of Robin Ingraham Jr.'s outdoor photography at his Web site.

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February 2005

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