Yosemite mountain named for Olympian

Sean Janssen, The Union Democrat /

A 12,240-foot Sierra Nevada peak just beyond the edge of Tuolumne County and Yosemite National Park officially took on the name of a legendary Olympic athlete and Mono County conservationist this week.

President Barack Obama signed into law Thursday an act that gives the former "Peak 12,240," dubbed generically for its elevation, the name of Mount Andrea Lawrence.

Lawrence died in March 2009 at age 76.

She, among her many accomplishments, was the first American alpine skier to win two gold medals, claiming them at the 1952 Oslo Olympics.

In 2002, sportswriter and documentary filmmaker Bud Greenspan referred to her as "the greatest Winter Olympian of all time."

She retired to Mammoth Lakes and lit the torch at the 1960 Squaw Valley Olympics. Lawrence used her fame to aid in a lifelong conservation effort in the Eastern Sierra, fighting for protections at Mono Lake and Bodie State Historic Park among other area locales. She also served four terms on the Mono County Board of Supervisors.

The mountain that will forever bear her name lies in the Ansel Adams Wilderness Area of the Inyo National Forest, a stone's throw from the Tuolumne County line and Yosemite. The John Muir Trail passes close to the peak.

Naming the mountain for Lawrence took, literally, an act of Congress.

"Andrea Lawrence dedicated her life to protecting the treasures of the Eastern Sierra," U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, a sponsor of the legislation, said in a prepared statement. "Her passion and achievements were larger than life, which is why I cannot think of a more fitting tribute than to name this majestic peak in her honor."

An effort was launched in 2011, bypassing the usual, longer U.S. Board on Geographic Names process. The board typically waits five years after someone's death before considering a proposal to name a geographical feature after them.

Boxer, a Democrat, and Mono County's congressman, Republican Buck McKeon, ensured rare bipartisan support for the legislative effort.

A new name taking either route is uncommon, said Inyo National Forest spokesman Marty Hornick.

"It's pretty rare. If you have the right players there and the person is important enough, Congress can act fairly quickly," Hornick said. "The board can take, literally, a decade. For them to get this done in just a couple of years is really pretty quick."

He said a new name for a Sierra peak "probably happens a few times a decade." For example, Hornick said, in an even more unusual act of naming a peak for a living person, a 1990 bill dubbed a peak next to Mount Whitney in honor of Hulda "Grandma Whitney" Crooks. Crooks scaled the tallest summit in the Lower 48 states almost two dozen times between the ages of 65 and 91. She died at age 101 in 1998.

The Union Democrat
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