Local Hero: Katie Sauter

Posted on: December 10, 2019


[This Local Hero story originally appeared in Alpinist 68, which is now available on newsstands and in our online store. Only a small fraction of our many long-form stories from the print edition are ever uploaded to Alpinist.com. Be sure to pick up Alpinist 68 for all the goodness!—Ed.]

Katie Sauter in the Henry S. Hall Jr. American Alpine Club Library, Golden, Colorado. [Photo] Laura Sauter Katie Sauter in the Henry S. Hall Jr. American Alpine Club Library, Golden, Colorado. [Photo] Laura Sauter

KATIE SAUTER picks a container from the stacks of boxes in one of the storage rooms of the Henry S. Hall Jr. American Alpine Club Library. The musty smell of yellowing papers escapes from decades-old notes and photos. From a black-and-white background of rock and snow, faces of mountaineers stare out, still young and eager in the alpine light. Sauter will spend days cataloguing each artifact so these glimpses of the past can become legible to the public.

advertisement

The granddaughter of a librarian, Sauter grew up in the suburbs of Denver, and she completed her own masters in library and information studies at McGill University in 2011. After graduation, she moved back to Colorado and started working in records management for Jefferson County. Earlier that year, she'd learned that the archives of Elizabeth Hawley, the great chronicler of Himalayan mountaineering, were coming to the AAC library in Golden. Impressed by the scope of Hawley's record-keeping, Sauter began volunteering at the library (though she enjoyed climbing mountains, she had never heard of the club before). In 2013 she got a job as the interim library manager, and she became library director in 2016.

The AAC has hosted a library since 1916—initially in a small room in the New York Public Library, and later in an old firehouse. In 1993 the AAC library and headquarters moved to Colorado, closer to big peaks. Fifteen years afterward, the AAC and the Colorado Mountain Club co-founded the Bradford Washburn American Mountaineering Museum. Today, Sauter oversees the collections of both the library and the museum: more than 60,000 items including videos, guidebooks, maps, history books, popular classics and lesser-known titles (such as one of Sauter's favorites, Sick Heart River, a novel by John Buchan about a missing persons case in the far North).

The library ships materials to out-of-town borrowers free of cost. Rare items must be perused on site: for example, a large relief-model of K2 built by former AAC president J. Monroe Thorington, complete with figurines of alpinists on papier-mache slopes; hand-drawn topos of desert towers by the legendary Eric Bjornstad; and early twentieth- century mountain photography that climate scientists are using to measure glacial recession.

Among the many fascinating visitors, Sauter likes to recall Ginny Stafford, who arrived from Iowa in 2015. On August 14, 1945, Stafford had been partway up Mt. Ida when she noticed a flicker of car headlights through the trees below. For the past two-and-a-half years, the US had rationed gasoline under the austerity measures of World War II. As Stafford watched a small parade of vehicles wind up the road, she knew the war must be over. Seven decades later, Sauter helped Stafford find her original signature in the summit register, part of the CMC archives in the AAC library. In 2016 Stafford returned with her grandkids to see her memento of that historic day.

For Sauter, the conservation and accessibility of climbing's past has become a personal mission. She is also working to fill troubling gaps. While the library has books, photographs and scrapbooks from women mountaineers, it doesn't own any collections of their letters or journals, except those of Barbara Washburn. (Hawley wasn't a mountaineer herself.) The archive is similarly bereft of collections of mementos of expedition workers and papers from climbers of many underrepresented groups, such as Charles Crenchaw, the first African American to summit Denali. Including more varied perspectives is essential to understanding the complex realities of mountaineering, Sauter believes.

To reach into an archive is to journey into slow history. In the infinitely updating digital age, reams of tangible records, handwritten notes and stacks of photo albums invite us to explore overlooked details or hidden meanings: the presence of draft cards left in summit registers during the Vietnam War; the devotion of a mountaineer returning to the same glacier year after year to document its receding edge. "Beyond encouraging active mountaineering, training and safety; part of the club's mission is to be an archive, a historical memory of American mountaineering," the great alpinist Tom Hornbein says. Mountaineering scholar Amrita Dhar agrees: a fuller telling of the cultures of the pursuit, she says, should matter to "everyone who partakes of the activities of the AAC." It's an issue that Sauter will continue to address, one dusted-off crate at a time.

The author, Paula Wright. [Photo] Paula Wright collectionThe author, Alpinist Managing Editor Paula Wright. [Photo] Paula Wright collection

[This Local Hero story originally appeared in Alpinist 68, which is now available on newsstands and in our online store. Only a small fraction of our many long-form stories from the print edition are ever uploaded to Alpinist.com. Be sure to pick up Alpinist 68 for all the goodness!—Ed.]

Here at Alpinist, our small editorial staff works hard to create in-depth stories that are thoughtfully edited, thoroughly fact-checked and beautifully designed. Please consider supporting our efforts by subscribing.


Comments
Vivalargo

Katie Sauter for President. She's a saint, the many times she's put up with me for days, rooting around the library, always helping find stuff. Long live Katie and the AAC library. It's an invaluable resource.

2019-12-11 15:05:50
Post a Comment

Login with your username and password below.
New User? Here's what to do.



Forgot your username or password?