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The Norman Clyde Exhibit Sheds Light on "The Pack with Legs"

When we look across California's alpine wonderland of meadows, lakes, and peaks, we know that there's one man who explored, camped, rambled, and climbed there more than anyone else-Norman Clyde. Open any of the climber's guidebooks to the Sierra, and you'll scarcely find a page without at least one peak or route tagged, "first ascent by Norman Clyde." Look down the several generations of Euro-Americans who've found fresh visions of life in the High Sierra, and the whole middle half of that legacy is dominated by Norman Clyde. Probably no other mountain range has its lore so entwined for so long with a single individual, and one can fairly ask if anyone has ever dedicated so much studied, vigorous leisure to a given terrain.
Almost from his first full summer in the Sierra in 1914-when he hiked virtually the entire length of the range-until his death in 1972, Norman Clyde's life was dominated by mountains, overwhelmingly the Sierra Nevada. The Sierra was his inspiration and his refuge, his muse and his home. As the rest of us find our transformative adventures, recreation, and moments of bliss on our vacations up there, it's hard not to ponder the astounding courage, endurance, tenacity, joys, and struggles of the man who was embedded in the Sierra for most of his adult life, decade after decade, with mostly the peaks, forests, streams, and wildlife as his companions.
Norman Clyde's legacy makes us ask, how is it that a well-educated, fully capable man could commit most of his adult life to roaming mountains? What different stuff was he made of compared to the rest of us?
Norman Clyde was endowed with the paradoxes of a full life. He was a disciplined intellectual who had the look and some of the manners of a tramp. He was a recluse who enjoyed the company of others (at least those who met his standards), and he was a skilled tracker, guide and natural leader. He was a linguist who sometimes didn't speak to another human for months at a time, he was a cantankerous grouch, and he was a raconteur full of laughter for the follies of most everyone, including himself. Most notably, he was a connoisseur and climber of peaks. To the majority of us who know life as a complex of often struggling engagements, and who know the high country as a blessed place for periodic visits, the person of Norman Clyde looks out from the Sierra Nevada granite as both an inspiration and an enigma.

By Guest Curator, Andy Selters