American Alpine Club: ‘Our Job Is to Inspire Climbers to Do More’

BY Natalie Burg

Aug 3rd 2021

Mitsu Iwasaki started climbing as a teenager. By the mid-1990s, he was living in a van, climbing and skiing his way around the American West. There’s a name for that lifestyle now, but not back then.

“I lived the van life before it became a hashtag,” he says.

But van life doesn’t last forever. After a decade, Mitsu settled down a bit, working for a few outdoor organizations before landing his current role leading the country’s oldest and largest climbing organization, the American Alpine Club, in 2020.

Established in 1902, the AAC today boasts more than 25,000 members. The nonprofit focuses on supporting and finding resources for climbers through three avenues: community building, policy and advocacy work, and education. Its work encompasses activities like social outings, as well efforts to improve land conservation and access.

“That’s what we were founded to do,” Mitsu says. “But really, I think our job is to inspire climbers to do more, to kind of reach further, both in terms of climbing, but also to reach further within ourselves.”

Some of the AAC’s largest accomplishments to date include:

  • Building a member and volunteer base of 25,000 people across 80 US chapters
  • Amassing the largest climbing library in North America with some 190,000 volumes
  • Awarding more than $80,000 annually in climbing, conservation, and research grants


With a goal to guide the AAC to stronger stances on climate, equity, and other values, Mitsu has been looking to partner with other organizations that better reflect that perspective. As climbers, members of the AAC have seen the effects of climate change firsthand and want to be aligned with others who are doing something about it.

That led the AAC to ditch its large bank and become a Bank of the West customer in 2021.

“We needed to find a bank that aligns more closely with our belief that we have to invest our money differently,” Mitsu says. “We have to find partners who care about the environment — and who are not just saying that, but who are behaving in that way. We’re super excited that Bank of the West exists.”

Learn more about Bank of the West’s actions on sustainability here.

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