If I stand up to peer out the window of my new home office, I can just make out the top of Mount Baker over the foothills.
Even thirty miles away, it cuts a pretty imposing figure. The topographic prominence of the nigh-11,000 foot giant is challenged regionally only by Mount Rainier. A loose compaction of ice and rock near Sherman Crater threatens to one day flood Mount Vernon under 16 feet of lahar at a moment’s notice. Excluding Mount Rainier, the volume of ice and snow on Mount Baker exceeds that of all the other Cascade volcanoes combined.
The Outdoor Center isn’t spooked or scared off by all that, though. For the last thirty years, past incarnations of the Outdoor Center have been sending teams to conquer the mighty local peak. Crazier still, they’re willing to extend a helping hand and give you a shot at the experience of a lifetime as well.
Nikki Oleson is an Excursion co-coordinator for the Outdoor Center.
“The idea of climbing Mount Baker is really exciting for people,” said Oleson.
“You stand up and think— oh my god! I’m on top.”
Every year, the Outdoor Center works up a full, four quarter calendar of outdoors adventures for every level of expertise. If you’re not quite up to climbing mighty Mount Baker yet, you’ve got plenty of other options.
The Outdoor Center codes the trips for three levels of physical fitness, in addition to a flag indicating technical expertise preferences. Level one trips include things like local mountain biking, overnight backpacking in the Twin Lakes area and sunset kayaking around beautiful Chuckanut Bay. Level two trips range from a weekend surfing adventure in Shortsands, Oregon to a rock climbing trip out of Vantage, Washington. The only other level three trip listed for fall quarter is an intermediate whitewater kayaking trip scheduled for late November.
According to Oleson, Excursion trips are designed to provide students a chance to build skills for their own, independent trips. By building confidence in their abilities in a supportive environment with knowledgeable Outdoor Center guides about, students can feel prepared to tackle future trips of their own.
Oleson also explained that Excursions are a great way to get to meet local people who share your recreational interests, whatever they may be.
“Bellingham has an awesome outdoor network of amazing people.”
The Mount Baker trip this quarter is on the weekend of October 1 and 2. The first day is a moderate ascent with a heavy emphasis on training for alpine ascents.
As you can guess, climbing glacier-clad stratovolcanoes isn’t exactly like climbing the hill to grandma’s house. The first day will be a sort of glacial orientation for adventurers with heavy dirt-stomping experience but a lack of training in the strange vocabulary unique to ice travel.
Trip attendees will learn or brush up on all the requisite skillsets, from crevasse rescues to ice axe emergency tactics. Students will also get a chance to learn about Leave No Trace, the de facto backpacking policy mandating leaving the wilderness in the same state you found it— packing out the totality of what you packed in.
The next morning, the final ascent affords trip goers the vista of a lifetime. Resist the urge to insist you can see your house from there.
One great feature of the Outdoor Center is the unbeatable student prices. A guided trip of this sort could easily run six or seven hundred dollars. The Outdoor Center charges students a mere $135, a break-even price.
“Trips fill up fast,” explained Oleson. “It just depends on much space we have.”
Excursions are offered on a first-come, first-signed-up basis.
A mandatory pre-trip meeting for the Mount Baker excursion is taking place this Wednesday, September 28 at 6:00 p.m. in the Outdoor Center, downstairs in the Viking Union. There’ll be a meeting immediately afterwards for students interested in acting as a guide.
For those opting out of the alpine experience, you’ve got some other, entry-level choices coming up during the month of October. The Twin Lakes backpacking trip is October 8 and 9, and comes in at $45. The sunset kayaking trip around Chuckanut Bay is going down twice in October, once on October 12 and another on October 26 and has an entry fee of $35. Most trips have orientation meetings the week before, usually at 6 p.m.
Seasoned outdoorsmen may be interested in becoming a trip guide for the Outdoor Center. Trip guides get special training in meeting qualification requirements and recieving appropriate certification, learning things like emergency first aid and search and rescue techniques. Drop by the Outdoor Center for more information or check out http://www.as.wwu.edu/programs/outdoor/.