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Robert Speik teaches popular wilderness mountaineering classes at COCC


Wilderness Mountaineering is one class that COCC students don't want to cut

The Bulletin
By Deanna Darr
March 11, 1999

Going to school has never been quite so adventurous.

Of course, class rarely involves strapping on a harness and climbing a mountain, traversing a glacier or rappelling down a cliff.

It's all part of the course of study, though, when wilderness mountaineering is the topic. In an outdoor-oriented area like Central Oregon it's understandable that this is one Central Oregon Community College class that's always full.

In its fourth year at COCC, the Wilderness Mountaineering class has enjoyed extreme popularity. The class's basic goal is to educate students about the basics of mountaineering, including how to work with ropes, knots, ice axes and assorted techniques for dealing with various situations and equipment.

"Bend is a wonderful outdoor community," said course instructor Robert Speik. An experienced mountaineer who co-founded the Cascades Mountaineers, Speik has also been a volunteer ranger in the Three Sisters Wilderness Area.

Speik said that when he first came to Bend he began looking for an outlet to 'meet potential climbing partners. When he realized there was no training course offered in the area, he approached COCC with the idea of starting one.

Modeled after the Mazamas Climbing Club training classes, Speik said the class is designed for anyone who wants to be able to lead groups on outings.

While the majority of students have some experience in the back country, the class is set up so participants of every level can take something from it.

Due to popularity, classes have been limited to 15 students, but two sections are offered. Students meet for three hours on Monday or Tuesday evenings for 10 weeks.

During this class instruction time, students learn about basic rules of conduct, lightweight clothing and gear, physical conditioning, nutrition and navigation.

One third of the class time is devoted to practicing elements learned in lectures.

This means some unusual sights for anyone walking through the building, as mountaineering students practice setting anchors, rappelling, belaying and controlled sliding in the hallways and stairwells of COCC.

Speik said the class also focuses on how to minimize the risks associated with the activity. "No peak in Oregon is worth giving up your life to summit," he said.

Another emphasis of the class is the idea of an outing as a shared adventure. "It's not the peak, not the route - it's the shared companionship" that makes a trip special, Speik said.

To solidify knowledge, an additional field exercise portion of the class is offered.

For three consecutive Saturdays, class is held at various locations throughout Central Oregon. Rope work, rappelling and belaying are practiced at Smith Rock, ice ax arrest and traversing snow and ice are taught at Mount Bachelor, and wilderness navigation is practiced in the desert.

Not all students who take the class participate in the field exercises, and it is possible to take only the field portion of the class. Either way, students say they are able to take away some valuable knowledge.

Dagmar Eriksson, an avid hiker from Bend, said she took the class to learn the basics of mountaineering. While the trip-planning aspects of the class have been the most informative, she said the hands-on experience of the field exercises was invaluable.

"This is the only way to do it, "she said, waiting to belay down a draw in Smith Rock during the first Saturday expedition.

Keith Richards, of Sunriver, said he took the class so he could get some experience and "go out and try some of this mountaineering stuff."

Matt Nielsen of Bend attended the class so he could learn how to lead a group himself. He said the class is a great way to expose people to the thrill and adventure of mountaineering, as well as educate them about the safety precautions necessary - something he has learned a bit about himself.

"It kind of makes me wonder how I lived through some of the climbs I've done," he said.

For Speik, the field exercises are the best way to see the true payback for his work. "It's just so much fun and so rewarding to see people reflect back what you've thrown at them," he said.

While the Wilderness Mountaineering class is offered only during the winter quarter, Speik will teach several other classes during the spring session.

Alpine Rambling, a class much like the mountaineering class but for those who don't want to lead a group, Wilderness Navigation and Lite Pack'n, a class based on lightweight backpacking, will all be taught in the spring session.

Speik will teach several one-day classes in the fall, including a global positioning system and map class, alpine anchors and alpine belaying.




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