Q&A with American Alpine Club's Whitney Orban
Trailspace annually supports environmental nonprofits important to backcountry recreation—maybe you do too. But, do you know the people behind the outdoor organizations, the individuals that professionally steward, support, and advocate for the mountains, crags, forests, rivers, and lakes we enjoy exploring?
This month, meet Whitney Orban, climber, writer, advocate, and Content Manager for the American Alpine Club, and learn what it's like to work for the nation's oldest and most prominent climbing organization.
What do you do at the AAC? Anything unusual your job involves?
One of the best parts of my job is talking with others who are passionate about exploring in the outdoors—whether they’re club members or professionals or co-workers.
It’s incredible to be at the center of information for the climbing world, and to see all of the amazing events that we host around the country. These events do everything from bringing the climbing community together to keeping our crags clean and fostering new climbing relationships.
What’s unusual about your job?
I get paid for what I already want to do: be invested in the outdoors and communicate with others in that community. When I’m outside I’m often thinking about what will inspire others, and sometimes I even find myself snapping photos to use for work.
I also have a world-class climbing library and museum here in the building, which gives me the opportunity to look through one-of-a-kind climbing archives—and use them to create a story. It doesn’t get much better than that.
How would you describe the mission and work of the AAC? How did you get involved?
In short, the AAC is a community organization for climbers and adventurers. Our mission statement reads: “We provide knowledge and inspiration, conservation and advocacy, and logistical support for the climbing community.” And that’s exactly what we do, creating opportunities for involvement in so many ways, from trail building to grants to improving our online library.
Our new Live Your Dream Grant is a great example of how we support and inspire members of every ability—we give grants so that you can dream up and pursue life-changing adventures. The AAC staff works really hard to support members, and I feel lucky to be a part of that.
I got involved with the AAC by first volunteering for the Bradford Washburn American Mountaineering Museum. I would help at events and with the museum’s social media pages, and it wasn’t long before I found myself here!
Why is your work relevant to the climbing community?
Our members are out there protecting the environment, climbing, coming together as a community, and through all this inspiring others to do big things. It’s an honor for me to be able to share these stories with the rest of the world, through social media and our blog. It’s fun to talk to our members and see what’s important to them, where they climbed over the weekend, and to hear their stories.
I also think it’s important to share climbing history with the younger generation of climbers. We’ve come a long way since the first expeditions in North America, or on Everest, and the stories of these mountain pioneers—and how we’ve evolved since—are incredible.
The AAC Library and Mountaineering Museum are hidden treasures, full of information and knowledge that I get to uncover. I love learning about it and sharing it.
What role do outdoor recreation enthusiasts play in the AAC’s mission?
Outdoor recreation enthusiasts are everything. We are the ones who are at the forefront of saving our planet. Playing in the outdoors helps us better understand our amazing world. It creates an ethic for protecting and sharing this world, and for living deeply connected with our environment.
Specific to our organization, the AAC’s main reason for existing is to share our passion for adventure with each other, and make the world better through that passion. We are a community organization for outdoor recreation enthusiasts—so without people like you and me, the AAC wouldn’t even have a reason to exist.
What do you think is the biggest threat to the outdoors now?
We are the biggest threat. That’s why the American Alpine Club advocates for outdoor recreation on the national and local levels, pairs scientists and climbers, and gives research and conservation grants such as our Cornerstone Conservation Grant. The Cornerstone grant funds local projects that will improve, conserve, and protect climbing resources, and keep them open and clean.
How did you get started climbing? Any favorite stories, memories?
I moved to Colorado from Florida with zero climbing knowledge. My roommate convinced me to try it. The first time I climbed I didn’t get 10 feet off the ground before I wanted to come down. My friend climbed up next to me without a rope and told me to keep going. I was terrified but I continued up. By the time I got to the anchors, I was hooked. In the past five years, climbing has taken me to the most incredible places all over Colorado and inspired trips out of the country, including Thailand.
What are your favorite outdoor spots?
I love Golden, Colorado, which is where I live and also home of the American Alpine Club’s headquarters and library. My absolute favorite outdoor spot is on top of Colorado 14ers on a nice sunny day. The beautiful views always remind me why I moved here.
Describe your ideal day outside.
Nice weather on a long and easy climb... with a celebratory beer to finish it off!
What are your favorite pieces of outdoor gear or apparel? Why?
My love for gear is sort of a problem. I own far too many backpacks. My favorite pack is the women’s Pulse from Black Diamond because it just fits perfectly. My favorite piece of apparel is the Patagonia R1 because I basically live in it—there are not many pieces of technical clothing that are so versatile to wear, no matter the season.
What’s in your backpack right now?
Which one? Hah! In my climbing bag: down jacket (I’m always cold), leftover snacks from climbing over the weekend, La Sportiva Miuras climbing shoes, a chalk bag, and chapstick.
Any good (or bad or epic) gear stories?
Thankfully no epic gear stories. Climbing is a bad time for epic gear stories! I’m thankful for helmets. I don’t want to think about what life might be like without one.
Why should Trailspace members join the AAC? How can they get engaged?
Joining the AAC is great for four main reasons. First, you get access to $10,000 of rescue coverage in case something goes wrong in the backcountry, whether you’re hiking, backpacking, climbing, backcountry skiing, or mountain biking. Second, members get sweet discounts you can’t find anywhere else (like 20% off Patagonia.com). Third, as I mentioned earlier, we advocate for outdoor recreation—the more members we have, the greater our voice can be heard in Washington, D.C.
And last but not least, we are a community! That means access to events in your area, opportunities to learn about climbing and meet partners who can show you the ropes, and everything else that comes with lots of passionate people in one place.
Anything else you’d like to share with Trailspace readers?
We love Trailspace and its members. We’ve been partners for many years and support this very active outdoors community. See you in the mountains!
The American Alpine Club is one of the outdoor and environmental nonprofit organizations that Trailspace supports. As members of 1% for the Planet since 2006, Trailspace donates at least 1 percent of annual sales to environmental organizations.