50th Anniversary Banquet

September 24, 1977

Although it was a rainy evening, the football fans crowded the streets, and the Black Angus parking lot was jammed, we Obsidians bad an outstanding celebration commemorating 50 years of successful hiking, climbing and related activities. The fare was choice with top sirloin cooked to its tendersest, hot baked potato topped with whipped butter or sour cream, excellent green peas, tossed green salad with choice of dressing, and beverage topped off with a delightful cherry tart.

Table decorations of chrysanthemums were furnished by Florence Sims, obsidian arrowheads were scattered around the tables, and drawings of mountains and camp scenes, skiers, etc. by Myrtle Smith and Gerry Fehly graced each table.

John McManigal, Chairman and Master of Ceremonies, introduced five charter members; Ray Sims, Florence Ogden Sims, Ed Thurston, Glen Bessonette and Dr. Fred Miller. Twenty past Presidents were introduced, as was Everett Ow, who traveled the greatest distance from Pasadena, California.

Then the microphone was turned over to Bob Moffitt, who introduced the guest speaker, Willi Unsoeld. He gave us a talk well worth remembering. His topic about climbing, where we’ve been, where we are, and where we are going was not only interesting and informative, but was humorous and exciting as well.

Willi told us of his climbing experiences as a youth in the Eugene area, often going with the Obsidians on exciting adventures into the Cascades. Often his boots were too large having been handed down from older climbers; and food was of heavy consistency swallowed in fast gulps causing heartburn and many “burps” on the mountain. Alpenstocks were not unheard of but were usually make-shift affairs made of tree branches found in the woods as be tramped along with his friends. Willi told us about roping on the mountains, and his proficiency as a knot-tier, being especially interested in tying knots during his Boy Scout days. Those young men were so enthralled with the mountains that life did not begin for them until they reached 10,000 feet. Naturally, to reach such heights ropes were often needed, and they were made of four strands of jute and sisal, or 7/16 inch braided cotton with a quarter inch cotton back-up rope. The synthetics came much later. Boots posed another problem—should they have hobs of iron or be rubber-soled? The hobs were eventually discarded for rubber with the addition of crampons for hard snow and ice. But equipment in those earlier days consisted of an ax, a rope and trouser seat.

As climbing became more sophisticated, so did equipment. The nylon rope was introduced along with various iron accoutrements—multiple carabiners, pitons, screws, bolts . . . Even ice axes were offered in various lengths and weights for climbers of different heights, and for different uses as step-cutting in near vertical ice and snow. Also, today crampons have acquired points on their fronts to assist in free climbing up vertical ice. Belaying has graduated from its simpler form to having an anchor rope for added safety. And rappelling required all kinds of gadgetry such as brake bars in contrast to the free form of yesteryear. But climbers are searching for simplicity in equipment and techniques, apparel, and enjoyment of the earlier days.

Hero standards have changed over the years, as have dreams. Many mountains have been conquered, so now they must be conquered alone; with less equipment (such as oxygen on the highest peaks), or by impossible routes. Even dreams of climbing on the moon are no longer “far out.” And times have changed. Spartan climbing will be in vogue again; return to simplicity will be the key, and materials available today for sophisticated climbing will not likely be available in ten to twenty years. Then we will be back to searching for the risk, the beauty, the contrast and escape from reality to reality to better cope with life. We will then be better able to have communion with friends, and with the earth itself.

After Willi’s magnificent speech, questions concerning financing the Himalaya expeditions, climbing on the moon and other celestial bodies, using or not using an ice ax wrist loop, and what does he collect were asked. Selling a bicycle, cashing in war bonds, working way around the world, selling soul to the National Geographic, and/or devising a scientific research expedition are various ways Willi financed his trips to the Himalayas. Yes, there are possibilities of climbing on other mountains than on earth, especially on the moon in the foreseeable future. After many yes and no answers with reasons concerning use of a wrist strap, Willi’s final answer was “yes, do use the wrist strap.” And he collects string, lots of it in all lengths, colors and kinds. He treated us to a large collection he pulled from his pockets for the occasion.

In closing Willi told us of the loss of his daughter a year ago on the mountain in India for which she was named, Nanda Devi. He said although it was tragic, such experiences are an integral part to the total beauty of living.

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