Ellen Lapham Wins 2013 David R. Brower Conservation Award
by Erin DeMarco, AAC Conservation and Advocacy Intern
If you’re looking for inspiration, look no further. Ellen Lapham sets the bar high and she loves sharing the view with anyone who can keep up.
From broadening awareness of the importance of alpine conservation to pioneering high tech solutions and leading business ventures, Ellen’s tenacity has pushed the envelope in a diverse number of industries. Her professional focus is only surpassed by the passion which has driven her to do remarkable things outside the office. Climbing on Everest’s north side, doing field research in the high mountain landscape of Peru’s Cordillera Blanca, and coordinating two major international conferences on incorporating environmentally sustainable solutions in mountain areas are just a few of the reasons we love Ellen.
Ellen helped launch the AAC Cornerstone Conservation Grant program, which distributes $25,000 in funding to local climbing organizations around the country for crag improvement. While acting as chair of the Sierra Nevada Section, she lent her expertise to developing a critical 20-year plan for the Lake Tahoe Basin. The contributions she has made to the climbing community are impossible to list here, which is why we presented her with the 2013 David R. Brower Conservation Award, given annually since 1991 to climbers who have had a significant impact on protecting the places we love to climb and motivating others to take action as well.
People like Ellen are the heart and soul of the AAC, and we think her genuine enthusiasm really does, in her own words, make conservation cool. Want to know more? So did we. Check out our interview with her below.
On my farm in Nevada City, CA.
You are one of our heroes at the AAC. Who are some of your heroes?
An eclectic mix. My top five are Amelia Earhart, inventor and entrepreneur Edwin Land, musician and producer Quincy Jones, arctic explorer Commander MacMillan, and computer scientist Grace Hopper.
They have all pushed the envelope on what is possible and greatly influenced my personal goals, including my 1986 and 1989 Everest summit attempts, both fall expeditions on the north side.
What inspired you to get involved in the conservation movement?
Being outdoors all my life and seeing changes. You could say I have empathy for landscape. I got a big boost when I joined the board of Hidden Villa, a pioneering, experiential environmental education non-profit that serves 50,000 people annually.
What advice do you have for aspiring conservationists?
Find an issue you feel strongly about and dig in. Be willing to be there for the long haul. To address a lot of the issues we face, including the receding glaciers that supply nearly 60% of the world’s population with water, we will need big, bold actions.
When did you start climbing?
I started climbing trees as a kid in Ohio. Rock in 1975.
What motivates you as a climber?
Pushing myself on individual climbs. Being part of a great team for the bigger challenges.
Favorite places to climb?
Vertical ice and glaciers. Right now I co-lead the American Climber Science Program. We will be in Peru’s Cordillera Blanca this summer for two months of climbing and ongoing work to assay the environment (e.g. air, water, geology, Co2, toxics, vegetation, black carbon, and glacial recession impacts).
What drives you as a conservationist?
Getting results. Building a team that can help us leverage what we learn from our science.
Right now you’re helping the AAC plan the Sustainable Summits Conference coming up this fall. This conference will shape the future of protecting the places we love to climb. What do you think are the most critical conservation issues facing climbers?
One, we are mostly ignorant of our impacts on the places we love to climb and how to lessen these. Two, that we climbers can and must lead on preserving and protecting.
Climbing, leadership, high tech, you have excelled in all of these realms dominated by men. In your opinion, does gender play a role in your professional life?
Yes. I get the pink tent! Since I am short (only 5′ 2″) I have always had to reach higher, harder.
You’ve climbed on Everest’s north side, climbed the ladder in Silicon Valley, and now you have been presented the Brower award by the AAC honoring your work as a conservationist. How do you top that?
I was thrilled to be honored in 2013. Taking the long view, I work on issues and with teams where I believe there is an opportunity to leverage and make a lasting, measurable difference. Sustainable Summits and our ACSP-Peru expeditions fit that goal. You can check them out on the AAC website.
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