The AC, the world’s first mountaineering club, was founded in 1857. For over 150 years, members have been at the leading edge of worldwide mountaineering development and exploration. It exists to facilitate access to and exploration of the mountainous regions of the world; provide a forum for members to meet, climb and share information, both internally and with the wider mountaineering community;
Support mountain arts, science and literature; act as a thought leader in mountain ecology, access and sustainability; and provide a platform for international collaboration. On 22 December 1857 a group of British mountaineers met at Ashley's Hotel in London.
All were active in the Alps and instrumental in the development of alpine mountaineering during the golden age of alpinism. It was at this meeting that the Alpine Club, under the chairmanship of E. S. Kennedy, was born.
John Ball was the first president and Kennedy, the first vice-president, succeeded him as president of the club from 1860 to 1863. It then moved its headquarters to the Metropole Hotel. For climbing, a rope was required which would be both strong and light so that lengths of it could be carried easily.
A committee of the club tested samples from suppliers and prepared a specification. The official Alpine Club Rope was then made by John Buckingham of Bloomsbury. It was made from three strands of manila hemp, treated to be rot proof and marked with a red thread of worsted yarn.
One hundred and fifty years later, the Alpine Club continues, and its members remain extremely active in the Alps and the Greater Ranges, as well as in mountain arts, literature and science. For many years it had the characteristics of a London-based Gentlemen's club, including a certain imprecision in the qualification for membership.
Until 1974, the club was strictly for men only, but in 1975, within months of membership being opened to women, a merger with the Ladies' Alpine Club was agreed, and the Club thus gained about 150 new members.
By the last quarter of the 20th century, the club had evolved into Britain's senior mountaineering club, with a clear qualification for membership, for both men and women, and an 'aspirant' grade for those working towards full membership. However, it still requires prospective members to be proposed and seconded by existing members.
Though the club organizes some UK-based meets, its primary focus has always tended towards mountaineering overseas, and it is associated more with exploratory mountaineering than with purely technical climbing.
These higher technical standards were often to be found in offshoots such as the 'Alpine Climbing Group' (ACG), founded in 1952. The club has produced a suite of guidebooks which cover some of the more popular Alpine mountaineering regions. It also holds extensive book and photo libraries as well as an archive of historical artifacts which are regularly lent out to exhibitions.
The club's history has recently been documented by George Band in his book Summit: 150 Years of the Alpine Club, and its artists in The Artists of the Alpine Club by Peter Mallalieu. Its members' activities are recounted annually in the club's publication the Alpine Journal.