Monday, May 21, 2012

Alpine Skills Training at Northwest Outward Bound School

Outward Bound Instructor Sam Ecenia dives into Alpine Skills Training on Mount Hood to start of the summer field season for Northwest Outward Bound School's summer season.

The first staff training of the year for Northwest Outward Bound School's Odin Falls Basecamp in Central Oregon was a great success. Myself and five participants headed out to eastside of Mount Hood. Blue skies and generally excellent weather made for five very productive days from a basecamp we established on a moraine to the south of the Elliot Glacier, culminating in a summit climb via the lovely Cooper Spur Route (see photos below). We also spent a day working on rescue skills and student management on the basalt cliffs by the school's Bascamp along the Deschutes River at the end of the training. 

Along with being an instructor and trainer for Northwest Outward Bound School, I recently joined the Board of Directors for the school. After months of being involved with all the many things that go on behind the scenes to help ensure that Outward Bound Instructors have the chance to deliver life changing experiences to our students in the field, spending a week in the field with this group of instructors  in the backcountry was a good reminder for me about why the work that Outward Bound does is so powerful for students and instructors alike.

Heading up towards our camp on Mount Hood.

We set up our camp at the end of this glacial moraine above the terminus of the Elliot Glacier.

Our camp on the moraine above the Elliot Glacier on Mount Hood

Six year Outward Bound veteran Jess Stuecklen practices her self arrest skills.

Outward Bound Instructor Sam Ecenia self arrests after a face first digger. Being able to stop yourself from sliding on steep snow is a fundamental alpine climbing skill.

Outward Bound Instructor John Rudolph practicing his crevasse rescue skills--building a snow anchor and transferring the weight of a fallen climber from his harness to the anchor.

Jess bounds in a snow anchor. Participants had 15 minutes to construct an anchor and transfer the "fallen climber" to it during this drill.

Outward Bound Instructor Molly Hayes relaxes in camp after a full day of skills practice.

Mount Hood as seen from our camp location.

We left our camp at 2 am for our peak bid, arriving at the base of the steep terrain close to the summit just as the sun was about to rise

Sunrise over the Columbia River as seen from about 9000' on the Cooper Spur route.

Hard snow up to about 55 degrees made for fun and exciting climbing conditions on the way up.

Laura Berglund and Sam Ecenia pause for a moment as we get into the steepest portion of the climb

View from a belay close to the summit.

Sam Ecenia constructing a snow anchor for the final pitch of the climb. One of the basic educational concepts of Outward Bound is to "Impell People into Value's Forming Experiences". In classic Outward Bound fashion participants in the training practice all of the components of the peak ascent on the days leading up to the climb and then were impelled to put the skills into use to ensure the safety and success of our team endeavor on the climb.

After leading the final pitch of the climb, Jess Stuecklen belays Laura Berglund as she crests the summit of Mount Hood, the tallest peak in the Oregon Cascades.

View of the final portion of the Cooper Spur route which ascends the wind sculpted lower slopes before weaving through the bands of rocks to reach the summit.
John Rudolph demonstrates one of Outward Bounds educational tenets--craftsmanship--in the fine meal he prepared for us at the end of our summit day. Nothing says excellence in alpine cooking like long strands of gooey melted cheese!
The Northwest Outward Bound School Mission
To conduct safe, adventure-based experiences structured to inspire self discovery, self reliance, compassion for others, and care for our environment.

For more information about Northwest Outward Bound School, vist

The silhouettes of Mount Adams and Mount Rainer at sunrise as seen from the northeast side of Mount Hood. Northwest Outward Bound runs courses in some of the most stunning and wild places in the Pacific Northwest including mountaineering courses in the Oregon and Washington Cascades. To sign up for courses visit

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Creeping Voles Exposed

While scouting for teaching locations for the Wildlife Tracking Intensive at the end of April, Alexia Allen and I spotted a small rodent moving through the leaf litter in a riparian forest close to the Hoh River on the west side of the Olympic Peninsula. I quickly reached down and captured the little grey creature who was kind enough to pose for a few photographs!

Creeping voles are a relatively small species of Microtus, typically found in forests here in the Northwest

Field marks which identify this as a creeping vole include its small size, short tail, and small ears which blend into it fur as well as its forest habitat.

Creeping vole (Microtus oregoni)
Alexia Allen carefully handles the vole by its ruff.