Climbing into the Wild
By Alexis Perry
"This class is not for the faint of heart," Brad Pointer tells students on the first day of Intro to Mountaineering. This isn't news to most, as Pointer, the course instructor and U-Rec assistant director, had previously emailed the 18 registered students, urging them to start training, uphill and weighted when possible, and inviting them on dawn patrol hikes up Mount Spokane. Students like Sarah Scott '21 had been working out every day to build stamina in hopes of summitting Mount Hood with the class in May.
Pointer's statement isn't meant to scare students away. Instead, he hopes to clue them in to the resolve, dedication and perseverance mountaineering requires. "The moment when people realize that this is harder than they thought, that's where I capture them," he says, "and then they start getting serious."
Intro to Mountaineering is a six-week immersion in the essential skills of mountaineering, which culminates in a trip to climb Mount Hood. Students learn skills like tying figure-eight knots and gathering rope into a mountaineer's coil, and they practice crevasse rescue and avalanche safety. They try on crampons, learn to properly pack a 40-plus-pound backpack, and practice rope-team travel in The Loop.
"The exciting thing is that students get the chance to do something that is unique and powerfully impactful," Pointer says, "and it's part of their academic curriculum and gives them credit."
The course provides an opportunity to deep dive into the skills, gear and lingo of mountaineering, which are fairly exclusive to the sport and would be difficult to learn outside of expensive courses or guided climbs. "The opportunity to do this while at Whitworth is something I won't be able to ever do again," Tristan Renz '20 says. "It's kind of a once-in-a-lifetime chance."