Ansel Adams.

Conversations with Ansel Adams : oral history transcript / 1972-1975 online

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Well, it didn't do any good. Things had gone too far. But the
club refused my resignation cold and sent it back by messenger. But
anyway, I kept myself ethical, you see, in the sense that I was
opposing the club, and being a director I couldn't do that. I had
to say, "All right, I'm through; this is my opinion."

Teiser: Had the club gone along with the route, you mean, or was it opposing
it too?

Adams: No, it opposed it, but it shilly-shallied and it got weak-kneed and
it got "tired." You know, many of these very important issues came
up toward the end of the day and everybody's tired and they don't
use proper judgment. That's the time when you really should step in
and say, "We'll have the meeting tomorrow and continue it on Sunday."
But when they wouldn't do that, and somebody came up with a half
hearted idea, "We're invading wilderness if we take an alternative
route" Here's the most beautiful part of the whole Yosemite Park,
this granite sculpture, which is unique in Yosemite, and they could
have bypassed it, but they didn't. They went right through what they
call the roches moutonnees, rounded ridges of granite. And in order
to keep the grade, they dynamited a lot, and one ranger said, "Well,
we moved all these glacial boulders around. Nobody knows that!"


Adams: This is a high-speed road, which it wasn't supposed to be. But if
you're going sixty miles an hour you have to see far enough ahead.
So you have to grade the road accordingly. You could easily get
into a catastrophic accident. If it were a 35-mile-an-hour road,
it would not be necessary. Incidentally, it's supposed to be a 35-
mile-an-hour road]

Teiser: The Pfeiffer redwood grove Pfeiffer-Big Sur State Park

Adams: Well, that was Colby's big thing, the Big Sur. They finally made
a deal, a pretty sharp deal. But with the state park bond issue
the money was available if it was matched, like with Point Lobos.

In the Big Sur park, which Colby almost single-handedly
accomplished, the Pfeiffers owned a lot of land, and they put a
very high price on it. This was not entirely an eminent-domain
situation. This was simply that the state would pay half the
matching money. We have a little deal now with the Friends of
Photography where we have $2500 promised if we can get $2500 more.
It's a pretty sound way to go about it. It certainly cuts out
boondoggling, and it puts things on a realistic basis. So that's
all I know about the Pfeiffer redwoods. Mr. Pfeiffer just figured
out how many board feet he had and what it was worth. You have so
many acres for farming or development, or so many board feet in your
trees, and you expect to be paid for it. If it's eminent domain,
the judge will make a fair appraisal but if it's just a private
sale, one could say, "Sure, you can have this house for a million
dollars." It's not worth a million dollars, but if somebody says,
"All right, I'm from Texas and I want it," it's my privilege to set
my price. I think that's what happened with a lot of the state park
areas. It was a matter of discussion, figuring out what somebody
would take for a piece of land. That's all there was to it.

Teiser: We're coming close to the end of this tape. Do you want to
Adams: No, go ahead.


The National Geographic and the Sierra Club Bulletin

Teiser: I'll ask you a short question. Another person who came to a
Sierra Club even was Gilbert H. Grosvenor, the head of the
National Geographic Society. He turned out for the dedication of
the plaque to Mather. Was he a friend of the Sierra Club?

Adams: Well, he wasn't any friend of mine. He was a pompous ass. So is
the National Geographic [Laughter] I hope if this is going to be
published, we won't be sued for libel. [Laughter] He was a peculiar
figure. In a sense he exploited nature and conservation. The whole
National Geographic setup is to me a very questionable and very
uncertain situation, and he is the head of this very successful
business, which it really is. How it ever got by the IRS I don't
know, because it's probably one of the most successful financial
enterprises of its kind. And I'd be darned if I know exactly what
they do. They built a $17 million building; I have seen it. They
have many expeditions. They pay for obvious things and advertise
all over the place in rather bad taste. I have a total disregard
for that whole outfit, and I'd like to go on record as saying that.

When he came out to dedicate a plaque, I suppose he was
invited as a significant person in the conservation world, of which
we had many that I don't think really justify that designation.
Does that answer the question? [Laughing]

Teiser: Very nicely. Absolutely.

Harroun: I think the National Geographic is the worst excuse for

Adams: Well, the thing that bothered me was the ostentation, if you want
to use the term. When I was East several years ago, I was taken
to see the new building, and my gosh, the executive officers in
the top floor, the president's office, was like what I'd read about
Mussolini's office. I mean, the most elaborate and secretaries,
the most svelte. The whole thing looked like an IBM executive
office. They claim it's nonprofit, but boy, they must have had
very good salaries. Which is all right. I mean, the Sierra Club
deserves to pay better salaries to the director and staff than we
can. We're up to the $40,000-$45,000 bracket now, for the
executive director. Their magazine must have fantastic production
costs; but the advertisements must pay well. I'm glad to say that
the Sierra Club Bulletin has finally awakened and is taking in
advertising of the proper kind which helps pay for many of the

Teiser: It did in the 1920s. It had some ads.


Adams: Yes, it had very nice little advertisements, and that's all due to
Francis Farquhar and Dr. Bade.* They. were really the ones that did
an enormous amount of good in editing and producing that bulletin.
And it was a very fine one, the best of any organization, and I
wish, in a sense, they could go back to it. The one now is kind of
flashy, promotional, and full of color, but that early Sierra Club
Bulletin contained very fine literary material.

[End Tape 25, Side 2]

Sierra Club Outings

[Interview XXII (Sierra Club Interview III)
[Begin Tape 26, Side 1]

12 August 1972]

Teiser: Have you had any thoughts about what things you think should be
discussed, or have you been too busy to think about it?

Adams: Oh, I think you were doing beautifully, giving me your questions
and letting me expand on them. Do you have more questions?

Teiser: [Laughs] Yes, I do.

Adams: I think that's the best way. I think that trying to go back and

reconstitute things in any sequence would be very difficult. Your
questioning brings things out clearly.

Teiser: Last night at dinner somebody brought up Mount Ansel Adams. I
think that should be on the record.

Adams: Oh well, that came about when I was one of the leaders of the Sierra
Club outings. I got the group into the Lyell Fork of the Merced
country, which is very remote and quite beautiful. We had an
amusing experience. A sign fell down at the junction of the McClure
Lake and Isberg Pass trail, and some do-gooder put it up, but on the
other side of the trail so the arrow was pointing down instead of
to the left. So while most of the people got up to the Florence
Plateau, which is a big flat land above Lake Washburn, pack animals
and everybody riding went on down to Merced Lake. They found out
what the error was. Everybody arrived after eight o'clock at night,
very tired and no food. It was quite an experience.

Well, then we went on from this plateau, which gives a
marvelous view of the Merced group, as well as two thousand feet
down on Lake Washburn. And then the next day we had quite a rough
time getting over the old Isberg Trail to the Lyell Fork canyon,
and then going a mile across country upstream to the big meadows,

*William F. Bade.


Adams: where we camped and then made ascents of Mount Lyell from the south
and Rodgers Peak. Everybody just loved it. They climbed a little
crag that leads out from Electra Peak and put a receptacle on it
and called it Mount Adams. [Laughter] It can't be called that as
long as I'm around you can't name peaks after living people. The
receptacle may still be there. I had nothing to do with it

Teiser: How high is it?

Adams: Oh, it isn't very high. It's more a spectacular crag. It's really
part of a ridge. It's only important when you look up at it. It's
quite a shape looks like a battleship. When you get up high on
Foerster Peak you look down upon it. It'd be like the Washington
Column in Yosemite seen from North Dome.

Teiser: In general, when you participated in leading those outings, what
were your duties?

Adams: I was in charge of the mountaineering schedules and leaders. If
they wanted to go on a trip, they would discuss it with me. We'd
outline trips and appoint leaders. I had to pick out the main
camps. I'd get there early and pick out men's, women's, and
married camps, and the commissary, campfire, and latrine, and
stock control areas. Meantime, I'd try to photograph. I had
charge of the campfires and the lost and found. So sometimes it
was a pretty hectic business. Francis Tappaan, who was Judge
Tappaan's son, actually managed the outing. And of course that's
quite a responsibility, with two hundred people, all the food
problems and running the packers and the basic schedules. So we
worked pretty well together.

Teiser: Were you involved in them for many years?

Adams: Oh, I don't know. Let's see: 1927 I went to Canada in '28.
Missed 1929. Then 1930 through '36, I guess.

Teiser: Were you paid?

Adams: I was given the trip and got a small fee and made photographs, and

then a lot of people bought photographs, which I made for about cost.
So it was hardly profitable! But it was a way of getting a good
trip. I got I forget $200, I think, for expenses.

Teiser: Are the groups they take on outings now smaller than they were then?

Adams: Yes, I think there's one big outing, but I don't think we ever have
any as large as before. And I think that the normal outings now
have a paid staff, and the small outings are all volunteer or some
body who leads may get something. Because there's a lot of detail.
It's like running a photography workshop!


Teiser: How did you keep track of people? How did you know when somebody
wasn't lost?

Adams: We'd look at the bags at night in the bag dumping area, and if

there were a couple of bags there that hadn't been picked up, we'd
make an inquiry, "Is So-and-so here?" Sometimes they were; we said,
"You hadn't picked up your bags; we didn't know." Sometimes people
got sick on the way and we had to send somebody back for them. The
difficulty was during the stay-overs, when we were in camp. The
people would go out climbing and they'd get lost, and there 'd be no
way to know, except if somebody said, "I haven't seen Joe lately.
Have you?" I would say, "No."

"Well, he went up Milestone today with a friend." Ay, yai,
yai, it's dark and no Joe ! Well, if he told somebody where he went,
we'd know what to do and set out. If it were a moonlight night and
we had a trail, we'd send out a party immediately. If not, we'd
just wait until morning. They were instructed to sit tight. You
could kill yourself going out on those rocks at night. It's one
of the basic rules of mountaineering: you don't climb at night.
You don't do anything when you can't see. Of course, a good trail
and a moonlight night, that's something different.

And we had some accidents and deaths there were some falls
and drownings and some serious illness. We didn't have any
helicopters or radio or anything. It was a matter of strapping
them on a mule and getting them out.

Teiser: Did you usually have a doctor with you?

Adams: There was always an intern or an advanced medical student who'd

take care of the minor things. Then we always had doctors on the
party. In case of a real emergency, these doctors would help.

There was one case, one man who refused to do anything. He
said, "It's my vacation." And I said to the doctor, "I think this
man's got something very wrong in his tummy and I think you'd
better check." Well, it finally got so serious that the doctor
decided this guest had to go out, and the guest didn't want to go
out to civilization. But with real effort we got him out on a
mule. He barely made it.

Then we had another case of a man who had, oh, he had a
terrible cold, and he was very sick, and the camp doctor said, "I'm
worried about him. I don't like his lung sounds." I think it was
Dr. [Walter] Alvarez, and somebody else who agreed. They looked
at him and said, "We've got to get him out right away it looks
like double pneumonia. And at this altitude, eleven thousand feet,
it can be fatal. He'll be dead in a matter of a few hours. We're







lucky if we can get him to a low enough altitude soon." Well, he
did not want to go down. It would ruin his vacation. He'd been
looking forward to it for years, and he refused to go. We had a
tough legal problem, because how can you force anybody to do
something against his will? It becomes abduction or kidnapping.
So the doctor said, "We'll stand back of you. If he doesn't go
out, he's going to be dead." So they went over and they "talked
turkey" to him. They picked him up and put him on a mule, and he
was very, very mad and threatened suit. We got him to Fresno, and
he just pulled through. Later he wrote the most apologetic,
thankful letter. He didn't realize what he had. When your lungs
start to fill up at high altitude, and low oxygen, it's bad. I
suppose if you had a hospital there, with intensive care and all
that stuff, it would be okay. But out in a sleeping bag on a frosty
night at eleven thousand feet with pneumonia!

Well, we had all kinds of things happen, funny things too.

I have a feeling that, on the social side, there were more
marriages made on the Sierra Club outings than in heaven. Is that

I think there were quite a few, out of the marriageable group.
There was always a young group, and then there was a middle-aged,
rather conservative group, and then there was a fairly old group
of superior people. They may have been too old to be going on
those trips, but they'd been doing them for years, and when they
got really too old to hike, they'd ride. We had our two hundred
people we had over a hundred animals mules and saddle animals
and guide and pack animals. They really did a lot of damage to the
country. Chewed up the meadows almost as bad as John Muir's sheep.
Later when we took animals in, we had to pack in grain. Now we
pack in gas heat. (We can't burn wood any more.)

Then there were great controversies factions who said outings
didn't hurt the country, and other people who said the outings did
back and forth, back and forth.

Well, again, are you going to be easy on the country and keep
everybody out of it?

Oh, I don't think it'll ever get to that stage. We have it
managed now so the food is packed in and the garbage packed out.
The animals don't stay. We leave caches. If they do stay, they
have grain. And we're thinking of I think it's already been done
packing in with a helicopter. And of course a lot of romantically
minded people think that's terrible, but it really isn't, it's the
easiest thing on the country. You come in with a load of supplies,
and there you are. You don't have any problems.


Adams: Now, the riding horses do make a problem, and then there's the

pack animals for the sleeping bags. But we used to work a kind of
complicated logistics where they'd come in and we'd be in a camp
two days, and they'd go out say to Bishop and return with meat
and fresh vegetables. And then they would pack a portion on ahead
to a cache. Then they'd come back and get the people's bags.
Depending on the size of the mule, there 'd be five or six bags per
animal. Well, say six bags, the maximum weight was thirty-five
pounds; that would be two hundred pounds per animal. So you take
sixty people, there's ten animals; 120 people, there's twenty
animals, in strings of five, and there' d be a packer for each
string. So there 'd be twenty-four animals. And then there 'd be,
I think, two strings for the commissary all the equipment and the
pots and pans, and commissary people's bags and stuff. And many
strings were needed for food. Really complicated. Sometimes we'd
sit there and wonder how in the world we'were going to get this
food in and move it ahead, and we might have to change schedules
or hold people over for a day.

I remember one day we had a forced march for three days, long
walks, and there were many very tired people.

Teiser: How far over an average mountain trail would a day's trip be?

Adams: Oh, I suppose our walks would be about twelve miles. You might
have some that would be eight, some fifteen. Usually the first
one was a toughy, getting out of some low elevation, like getting
out of Yosemite up to Hardin Lake or getting out of the floor of
Kings Canyon to Granite Pass. Let's see, from Sequoia we'd go to
Summit Meadow a long way. It wasn't so much of a climb; it was
over minor passes but many miles.

Probably one of the toughest was the Granite Basin. That was
a six-thousand-foot climb out of the Kings Canyon. We had to go
three or four miles on the floor of the Kings to the base of the
trail, and then we had to go up six thousand feet and over the top
for a couple of miles to the plateau where the camp site was. That
was eleven thousand feet high. Sometimes in the beginning the
people would have very serious trouble with altitude. They'd be
coming in at all times of night. I don't think it was very good
for them if they had any heart trouble.

One lady had serious heart trouble at Sphinx Pass, and they
got her down to the Ralph Merritt Ranch on Roaring River and
thought she'd be there two or three days. She was there six weeks!
The doctor wouldn't dare move her, and finally said, "She's as good
as she's ever going to be. I guess if we go very slowly we can get
her over the pass." (It was about a 2500-feet climb.) She didn't
make it. We got up to 2500 feet and she expired with total heart


Adams: failure. This was a case of not being able to properly treat

anybody. The doctor knew what she had, but what could he do? She
had total rest but could not take that change in altitude. Once
in a while things do happen, but I don't think we had any more than
the average sad events.

Teiser: You were telling the other day about trips with the LeConte family.
They'd whip everything out and have a big lunch. On these club
outings, did people just carry their own small lunches?

Adams: There was a lunch line set up, usually after dinner (they liked to
get the food out the night before), and sometimes after breakfast,
if it was a short walk. That would be hardtack and, as Cedric
Wright used to say, "a dried fig with a bug in it" [laughter],
chocolate, deviled ham, dates, cheese, and rye crisp. Then, if we
were going over a pass, we'd have little cans of marmalade. We'd
have one can for every two or three people, so they'd have to gang
together and mix it up with snow which, by the way, is very bad to
do. To eat snow at a high altitude is one of the worst things you
can do. It depletes energy terrifically like drinking too much
cold water. I've seen people pass right out cold. They're right
at the edge of the fatigue limit anyway, and then they take this
snow. It's a caloric problem.

So the lunches would be then put in a canvas cloth or plastic
bag, and bits and pieces would gradually accumulate. It wasn't
the kind that had organic dissolution; it just dried. And the
hardtack would be just like slabs of bark. And there were raisins
and chocolates. You always had all you wanted if you could chew it.
People would stop and have little lunch fires mostly for tea. Some
people would arrange to have a tea party at four o'clock or
thereabouts, near a creek. Somebody would smuggle in some cookies.
We didn't care what you took in, providing it didn't exceed the
weight. Mr. Colby always carried a couple of bottles of Cointreau
and cookies in his knapsack. [Laughter]

I'll never forget: One man came up Piute Creek from Bishop,
and he said that the thing that he really liked was beer. He
didn't have much to carry in his knapsack, and he was going to
bring in a case of beer and carry it himself. It was a terribly
hot day and going up this very steep gorge for thousands of feet
was very tiring, and this poor guy had that knapsack full of beer.
Finally I said, "Look, you'd better let me help you with that."
I had the heavy camera, and he said, "Nope, you can't carry any
more than you've got; it's up to me. I'll be in even before
midnight." And he said, "Why don't we have one now?" And I said,
"That would finish it." [Laughter] He had enough beer; I think it
was two cases. Almost a bottle of beer a night for the two weeks
he was on the trip. [Laughter] People would put out their tin cups
and he'd give them about an inch. [Laughter] It was usually rather
warm and insipid terrible.


Adams: There were some people that smoked heavily and, of course, paid for
it. They were smokers down below, but in the high altitudes, it's
just dynamite! We had many people faint. Mountain sickness is a
very peculiar thing. Primarily it's a kind of faint there's not
enough blood to the brain and you just pass out for a little while.
Then there are all kinds of secondary sickness. I don't understand
it medically, but it upsets your stomach, creates a depression oh,
you can be awfully sick headaches, etc.

Teiser: That goes away usually?

Adams: It generally goes away fairly fast. People come out from the East
and they have no idea at all what they're getting into. They think
about the Berkshires or something, and then they find that they've
got a four-thousand-foot or more climb the first day. Getting out
of Yosemite is about four-thousand-foot, no matter which way you go.
If you got up to Glacier Point, it would be thirty-two hundred,
but you wouldn't camp there, you'd have to go higher up. The same
with Yosemite Creek.

Teiser: You were on the outing committee
Adams: Yes.

Teiser: until 1937, I saw, whereupon you and Mr. Colby and Francis
Tappaan all quit.

Adams: Well, we felt we'd had enough, and young people should take it on.
It's rt lly a young man's job because it's extremely arduous. Even
then, V-. began to worry about the future of the club, because there
were all these old characters staying on and on and on. There
wasn't any new blood, so to speak.

Teiser: Well, you were at that time at the advanced age of thirty-four.
Did you consider yourself an old character?

Adams: Oh, I'd been around. [Laughter] No, I tell you, what happened

was, I had so much professional work to do and I had to go east,

and this club work was just too much,
to do the outing was almost too much.

Trying to photograph, and

More Sierra Club People

Adams: Cedric Wright took it on; he took the photography job and the

sanitary situations. He did a fine job for many years, but that
was much less arduous than mine. He'd just have to pick out the


Adams: site and see that the "burlap" was taken down and packed up in
the morning. He manufactured these very ingenious collapsible
latrines. They were terribly funny. He had a great sense of
humor. Ray Strong painted dinosaurs on them. It's euphemistically
called a "burlap." It was quite a trick getting it all set up.
There were at least two of them. When you get into rocky moraine
country, it's quite an excavation problem. But Cedric would be
up at four o'clock, and fuss around the commissary and get his
cameras all ready, maybe made some early pictures, and then when
the people left, he'd dismantle these things and see they were
properly packed. And then he'd rush ahead and photograph all day
on the trail and scoot into camp and get them set up again. Now,
there's all kinds of different devices. I think they're simpler,
but I don't know.

Teiser: Was he sturdy physically?

Adams: Oh yes. He was always in fine condition. He had an obsession

with chocolate. I think he lived on chocolate, and that was very
bad for cholesterol. He had a lot of family troubles, and he had
mounting blood pressure. And he had some kind of fool doctor who
never did anything about it, and it used to worry his friends.
Cedric would show the effects of it "Oh yes, 220 over 110."

Online LibraryAnsel AdamsConversations with Ansel Adams : oral history transcript / 1972-1975 → online text (page 64 of 76)