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Peak fitness is the best route to the top

By Steve Lundgren
The Bulletin

With some of Oregon's highest peaks within an hour's drive of Bend, Bob Speik thought he would find plenty of alpine mountaineers when he moved here in 1993 after retiring.

But that wasn't the case, Speik said. When he looked for partners to join him in his obsession, he met few with the training he thought necessary for the sometimes hazardous hobby of peak-bagging.

So the former mortgage banker decided to pass on some of the knowledge he has gained in 27 years of mountaineering. Those years have taken him to the tops of more than 100 major peaks in the Sierra Nevada, the Cascades and the Swiss Alps.

Three years ago, Speik started teaching a mountaineering class at Central Oregon Community College. At first, the class was simply a lecture course. The field portion was left out because of liability concerns. Once those issues were ironed out, it became a combined lecture and field course. The class became the seedbed of a local mountaineering club that's grown to 80 members.

"I have a need to teach these skills, to pass it along," Speik said.

That was just a start. Now Speik teaches classes on wilderness navigation, "alpine rambling" and backcountry trail-building in addition to the mountaineering classes. He also works summers as a volunteer wilderness ranger in the Three Sisters Wilderness Area and has spent more than 100 days on three- to five-day solo backpacking patrols in the past two years. In the winter, he takes people on snowshoe nature hikes for the Forest Service.

It's such a busy schedule that fitness junkie Speik said he may have to take up long distance running again to keep his cardiovascular system in shape. Everything else takes too much time.

"It's more efficient," he said.

Not bad for a 69-year-old guy.

Speik came to mountaineering the long way. When the importance of physical fitness for average people started becoming popular in the late 1960s and early '70s, Speik got swept up in the wave.

He had just turned 40 and was living in the Los Angeles area when he took up long-distance running. 

Soon he was running marathons. Then one day, friends invited him to climb Bear Creek Spire in the Sierra Nevada. After climbing to the pointy point of that summit, Speik got stuck and his friends used a rope to belay him down safely. That lesson got his attention.

"Following that I was hooked," he said. "There's (almost) no mountain that can't be climbed with the proper technique and equipment."

Speik also saw mountain climbing as a natural extension of fitness training. He became involved in the Sierra Club's outdoor programs and learned about climbing. It complemented his interest in physiology. Eventually, Speik became head of the Angeles Chapter's mountaineering training program, which had 350 instructors and about 1,000 students a year.

Speik also became a member of the Mazamas, a Portland-based mountaineering club. That group has more than 200 organized climbs each year in the region. Club climbs are highly disciplined things, not the haphazard "walkups" that many people do. Climbers must meet certain fitness and skill requirements before they go on a climb. Then they must touch the top of a major peak.

"If you haven't summited you really haven't climbed the mountain. You've climbed on it," he said.

In January 1996, Speik and one of his former students formed the Cascades Mountaineers. About 20 people showed up for the first meeting. Since then, the club mailing list has grown to about 80 people.

The group has monthly meetings that sometimes feature such well-known climbers as Allan Watts, who pioneered many routes on Smith Rock, and Bob Sandberg, a local peak bagger. The club also has seminars that cover skills or places to climb.

Information on mountaineering classes through COCC are available in its spring Community Education catalog or by calling 383-7270. For information on the Cascades Mountaineers, call Speik at 385-0445.

'There's (almost) no mountain that can't be climbed with the proper technique and equipment.'