How I Was Introduced to Mountaineering

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I've always been an active and adventurous person, but in the past, those activities often refrained to indoor workout machines or simple local day hikes. Slowly over the years I got into backpacking and realized how incredible it was to combine photography and exercise in remote areas—since then I've been hooked. A year later, in early 2016, I met a group of adventurous people through a Portland Meetup group and heard about a Basic Climbing Education Program (BCEP), hosted by the Mazamas.

The Mazamas is a nonprofit organization, here in Oregon, that introduces people to a variety of activities in the great outdoors. Their climbing program is how I got my foot in the door and became an outdoor enthusiast—specifically mountaineering.

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BCEP is an eight-week course that gave me the tools and skills to get outdoors and explore. The overall program had approximately 150 people split up into groups. All groups were equipped with an experienced leader or leaders with an impressive ratio of BCEP assistants to students. We had weekly lectures followed by hands-on assignments. Lectures and assignments covered navigation, proper gear, weather conditions, safety, snow and rock climbing, and much more. Even the small tips given to us by our instructors and assistants were invaluable; otherwise, I would have had to learn the hard way to pack snacks next to my body while alpine climbing to avoid munching on frozen rock-hard snacks.

We also had weekly conditioning hikes to practice our rappelling skills outdoors and to build up our climbing legs, prepping us for climbs like Mt. Adams and Mt. Hood. A Snow Session was also mandatory, spending a night at the Mazamas Lodge near Mt. Hood. We spent the day covering crevasse travel and rescue, kick and plunge stepping, snow anchors, digging a snow pit, and taking turns sliding down a hill to practice self-arresting, a technique vital for mountaineering if you fall.

Our sessions gave us all an opportunity to cement our skills. It was all about repetition so it became ingrained in us. I remember my first big rappel during our condition hikes. While it wasn't my first ever rappel, it was my first time relying more on myself to set up my rappel and conduct my safety checks. I recall being so nervous, nervous that I was going to mess up the knot, forget a safety check, or worse freak out before that final descent. While most of those things did happen, it was learning the skills, trusting my BCEP leaders and assistants, along with repetition that allowed me to move past my fear and use muscle memory. Once I completed my rappel, I was so excited knowing that I can begin exploring the outdoors in a whole different way. That was when I knew mountaineering and rock climbing were going to be a big part of my life. 

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I still have a LOT to learn about mountaineering and rock climbing, I'll continue taking classes expanding my knowledge and skills in mountaineering and safety. From here there are few classes that will help me take on more challenging mountains, like wilderness first aid responder courses, the Mazamas Intermediate Climbing School, which is a 9 to 12-month commitment and is the next step above BCEP. I also have my sight on search and rescue with one of my local organizations, while this is a little harder to be a part of, it will help me apply the skills I learn, learn new skills, and give back to my community.

If I were to tell people in my past that I've become a mountaineer, some would probably be utterly amazed, while others probably couldn't fathom why I would ever want to involve myself in a risky sport. For me, I can't imagine missing out on exploring the great outdoors, pushing my boundaries, and truly enjoying nature. I wish more people, especially people of color, got out and explored, maybe even try something new and intimidating. Not only do I find it good for our health, but I think we would all appreciate our natural areas more and get involved in protecting them.

Rebecca Ross