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Three views of the Hills

April 25, 2014

Climber and mountaineer Kurt Wedberg of Sierra Mountaineer International helps Mac, Coco and Sophia Mazzu of Bishop scale some boulders in the Alabama Hills, which are experiencing increased visitation from climbers as the sport of climbing itself becomes more popular. Photo by Charles James

Kevin Mazzu, vice president of the Alabama Hills Stewardship Group, recently said the Alabama Hills are the best example of a multi-use landscape in the Eastern Sierra.
This was more than evident earlier this month when various users of that landscape – movie buffs, amateur geologists, bird watchers, rock climbers, miners and photographers – gathered for the Third Annual Alabama Hills Day, co-sponsored by the AHSG and Bishop Office of the Bureau of Land Management.
Hundreds of residents and visitors turned out to celebrate the Hills, learn more about the various activities enjoyed there, show support for ongoing conservation and stewardship efforts, and take part in different field trips designed to show just how user-friendly the Alabamas are for private and commercial endeavors.
Among the hundreds of attendees were three in particular whose connections to the Alabama Hills are tied not just to their livelihoods, but to their greater mission of sharing their knowledge with others.
Jim Kenna is the California State Office director for the Bureau of Land Management. Although he has been to the Eastern Sierra area several times, this year he made a special effort to visit again to attend the Alabama Hills Day celebration on April 12 in Lone Pine to signal the department’s support of the grassroots, community-based effort to preserve the Alabama Hills as a National Scenic Area.
“The California State Office employs between 800 and 1,000 employees, depending on whether or not it is the fire season,” Kenna said. “BLM has approximately 10,0000 permanent employees nationwide and considering that fully one-tenth of those employees are found in California, it demonstrates the size, scope, diversity and importance of California’s public lands.”
Aside from attending the Alabama Hills Day celebration, Kenna said he enjoys getting out into the field to visit with employees and see how their efforts bring together communities to preserve and protect public lands. “The ‘kitchen-table relationships’ developed by the department, best demonstrated by the Alabama Hills Stewardship Group, are vital to the BLM’s success,” said Kenna, stressing that the conservation values that are community-centered could be applied anywhere in the country and in the world.
“But it takes a community that cares,” he continued. “And that is why the efforts on the Alabama Hills are so vitally important to us. We are excited to see similar community involvement which resulted in the recent addition of the Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands on the Mendocino Coast as part of the California Coastal National Monument.”
Kurt Wedberg of Bishop was also on hand at the Alabama Hills Day celebration giving rock climbing instruction to people of all ages. He founded Sierra Mountaineering International in 1995 after returning from his first successful climb to Mt. Everest – a feat he has since repeated twice. He has more than 18 years of guide experience and more than 25 years of mountaineering experience in the Sierra. He has also guided more than 80 expeditions to high peaks in Africa, Alaska, the Alps, Antarctica, Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, Indonesia, Mexico, Nepal, Peru, Russia, Tibet and Turkey.
Several student groups joined him in the Alabama Hills from Bishop, Big Pine, Independence and Lone Pine.
Asked how the day of instruction went, Wedberg said, “Great! The climbers were excited and it is always satisfying to see young people taking an interest in the sport.” As a youth, it was his father and mother who got him involved in climbing. His dad had been doing so recreationally since the early 1950s and his mother, although not originally a climber, became pretty good at it herself.
The benefits of climbing are obvious: enjoying nature, exercise, ever increasing levels of challenges, and meeting new people and going to new places to share the experience with others.
More climbers than ever are discovering the recreational opportunities in the Alabama Hills, and climbing itself is also becoming increasingly popular with a variety of individuals – pretty much all types, according to Wedberg. While he doesn’t see “very many ‘middle management types’ as it takes them out of their comfort zone,” he said, “being out of your comfort zone is something that many do find attractive and challenging in a world that is mostly relatively safe and comfortable.”
To attract a younger audience, Wedberg feels there should be a melding of nature and electronics that play on both of their strengths, at which point he pulled out his smartphone, navigated to a social network site, and showed a post by someone who had earlier in the day been rock climbing with him. The person had written about what a beautiful day it was to be climbing in the Alabama Hills, and the post already had several responses from others.
Robert Sigman, the director of the Lone Pine Film History Museum, said that the museum has developed an exhibit with the AHSG to further educate and document the importance of the program. As to his own involvement with AHSG, he said, “It first came from spending a few hours in the Alabamas with BLM Ranger Dave Kirk, who showed me the work being done to reclaim damaged areas. I’ve also had many conversations with Kevin Mazzu and Chris Langley on the board for AHSG.”
For Sigman and the museum, preservation of the Hills dovetails with their work of preserving the area’s movie-making history.
“Clearly, our museum’s heritage is the heritage of Western films being shot in the area. Our Alabamas are one of the world’s largest natural back-lots and preserving this landscape for future generations seems to go hand in hand with preserving our landscape and its future access,” he said. “As you know, The Stewardship Group is working to pass legislation designating a significant area of the Alabama Hills as a BLM National Scenic Area that will provide a clear long-term program to preserve and protect the Alabama Hills for future generations.”
One of Sigman’s favorite parts of his job is sharing the history of the area – and the beauty of the Alabama Hills – with visitors.
“I mostly enjoy talking to the public about the Eastern Sierra and the historic legacy of the region from the numerous natural wonders to its legacy with Hollywood,” he said. There were also some very colorful and adventurous pioneers that have lived here. The Eastern California Museum does and exceptional job of documenting and exhibiting our local history.”
Sigman continued, “While we work diligently to preserve our landscape and its magnificent history, it is also the basis that attracts visitors and contributes to the economic vitality of the community.”

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