Leader Spotlight: Alan Kearney

Leader Spotlight is a monthly blog to showcase our incredible volunteer leadership at The Mountaineers. Meet this month's featured leader: Alan Kearney, a volunteer involved with the Alpine Ambassadors and Bellingham's climbing program.
Michelle Song Michelle Song
Associate Volunteer Development Manager
July 29, 2021

For our Leader Spotlight this month we talked to Alan Kearney, a volunteer leader with the Bellingham Branch who has been leading climbs for decades. He attributes Mountaineers climbs and family climbing trips, his mother and father were Mazamas members, in shaping who he is today  and influencing his life greatly.

Name: Alan Kearney 
Branch: Bellingham
How long have you been volunteering with The Mountaineers? 18 years (member since 2006) 
What activities do you lead? I started helping with the Basic Course teaching various field trips. Then began offering alpine ice climbing as an option, since there was no ice climbing in the basic course. To this I added a glacier lecture prior to those field trips.

Leadership Questions

WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO volunteer WITH THE MOUNTAINEERS?

 I had been a member of the Mazamas until moving to Bellingham. I have always enjoyed teaching climbing. I taught climbing for Outward Bound in 1979 and 1980. Then between 1980 and 1995 instructed for a local guide service primarily on Mount Baker, the North Cascades, and Alaska. I like to mainly enable people to lead and climb on their own, and not be dependent on always following a more skilled climber.


WHAT IS THE BEST, FAVORITE, OR MOST MEMORABLE experience YOU'VE HAD WITH THE CLUB?

 There is not one that stands out. It has been rewarding and thrilling to watch a student in the Basic Course really take to the sport, acquire sound judgement, an appreciation of our beautiful alpine environment, respect and treat fellow humans with compassion, and improve their climbing and leadership skills.


How has your leadership style evolved as you've gained experience?

Over the years I have spent more time emphasizing awareness and judgement. I like to use the phrase "anticipate consequences" - imagine every step you take, what might happen if you slip? Can you stop before the crevasse, cliff edge, or jagged rocks below? Be aware of your mental state (and of course all of the changing conditions out there), and be cautious about climbing when emotions, an overzealous desire, or a partner that you don't communicate with well may cloud your judgement.


What is one thing you do on trips to create an inclusive experience for people of all skills and backgrounds?

Be compassionate and patient. Don't expect or demand everyone to be able to perform the skills taught. And since I just turned 70, I am often not in front on an approach hike, and I hang back with that slowest person. If I am in front I go slower, so the group does not get strung out, and a person feels left out.


IT'S OFTEN SAID: "GOOD JUDGEMENT COMES FROM EXPERIENCE; EXPERIENCE COMES FROM BAD JUDGEMENT." ANY LEARNING EXPERIENCES YOU CAN SHARE TO HELP OUR COMMUNITY BUILD THEIR GOOD JUDGEMENT?

 Refer to my response to the question: how has your  leadership style evolved  as you've gained experience. Listen to your heart and gut, and mind them. Attempting AMA Dablam in 1999, while climbing at 19,500', I had a "feeling" there was an unseen danger higher on the ridge where the route passed under a large search. I insisted we turn back, much to the disappointment and annoyance of the two other climbers. We descended, and unknown to us the search collapsed and swept the route. A base camp member watched it.


What advice do you have for aspiring [climbing] leaders in The Mountaineers community?

Climb with others not in the club, to observe how they confront problems and make decisions.


What do you wish other members knew about volunteering with The Mountaineers?

That you need to do a lot of climbing on rock, snow or ice in the mountains and on the crags, before you can be a effective [climbing] volunteer.


What's one thing you've learned or gained through volunteering with The Mountaineers?

I believe that The Mountaineers and Basic [Climbing] Courses teaches people safe travel in the alpine environment, and instills a love of and appreciation of our precious earth.


Is there aNYTHING ELSE WE SHOULD KNOW ABOUT YOU?

 I have finally started writing one last book about glaciers and climbing titled: Glaciers I Have Known. It is a three part book about Understanding Glaciers, Greatest Climbs, and The Glacier Guide that describes how to hike or climb to the 27 Washington Glaciers I have been documenting. The Mountaineers have accompanied me on a number of these trips.

Lightning Round

What's your go-to place for a post-trip meal? Barbecuing in my backyard, where we do outdoor slideshows.
How about your best trail snack? Sesame snaps. 
What's your favorite close-to-home adventure? Climbing Mount Baker or climbing Tomyhoi.
Who is your Mountaineers hero? Minda Paul for her incredible drive and enthusiasm in The Mountaineers, and for joining me on two amazing alpine traverses.
What "luxury item" do you bring on most trips?  A good camera of course! A smart phone usually, or a high end point and shoot. 
What's next on your bucket list? To complete my 70th ascent of Mount Baker this year (since I turned 70) and complete the Ptarmigan Traverse a 10th time to document its glaciers one more time.

is there Someone that you'd like to see in the spotlight?

Send an email to Michelle Song to make a recommendation for one of our upcoming Leader Spotlights!