www.registerguard.com  | The Register-Guard, Eugene, Oregon

April 9, 1998

Obsidians Continue Great Oregon Mountaineering Tradition

For The Register-Guard

FLYING down the snow slope, head first, on your back, you reach out and dig the pick of your ice axe into the snow. Suddenly there is a jerk, turning you around. You roll over and dig your ice axe deeper into the snow as you slide to a stop.  Above you there is applause. "Good job!" someone shouts.  This is practice, part of the Spring Climb School put on jointly every year by The Obsidians outdoor club and Eugene Parks and Recreation Department.

"Traveling on glaciers and snow is serious business," said Doug Nelson, a mountaineer and member of the club. "Learning how to arrest your fall on snow is one of the basic skills of a mountain climber.  "A slip on ice can happen in a second, sending you out of control into the rocks or into a crevasse ... That's why we practice."

The Obsidians have been promoting mountaineering safety since the early 1930s. A relatively low-key group, the Obsidians are known mainly for leading weekly hikes, cross-country ski trips and similar outings.  But the Obsidians also include a small mountaineering group that leads climbs of most of the major peaks in Oregon every year.  "It may be one of Eugene's best-kept secrets," Nelson said. "I've seen guided climbs of Mount Hood cost $400. All our climbs are open to the public, and non-members pay only $6, which we use to replace ropes and equipment.  "The only thing we ask is that you are physically and technically able to do the climb. That's why we do this climb school every year. It gives students the basic mountaineering skills they need and it introduces them to our club. It is a great deal."

Eugene Parks and Recreation Department provides a lead instructor, the equipment and insurance.  The Obsidians provide the assistant instructors from their core group of accomplished mountaineers. The combination assures that students are always supervised for safety and are able to get one-on-one help in developing skills.  In addition to learning how to arrest a fall on a snowy or icy slope, participants learn about snow anchors, roped travel, basic rock climbing, rappelling and belay methods, and climbing ethics.

Sue Sullivan, a mountaineer who recently returned from a high-altitude climbing trip to Bolivia, will teach the "snow" part of the class this year.  "One class will not make you a mountaineer, but I believe that after this class you will be a more aware person in the mountains," she said.  "What we are teaching is really basic, but without it you can quickly get into trouble. These are skills you can read about in books, but until you actually have it shown to you, it doesn't come together."

There are a number of groups in the Eugene area that offer an introduction to mountaineering. Lane Community College is teaching a spring term class, and Recreational Equipment Inc. (REI), the outdoor equipment store, offers periodic clinics on different mountaineering-related subjects.  But The Obsidians outdoor club is by far the oldest tradition in the Eugene area.  "If you look in the guide books to Oregon mountains," Doug Nelson said, "I can go down the list of first ascents and check off those made by the Obsidians. They were pioneers in Oregon climbing. Willy Unsole, the first American on Everest, was an Obsidian. I'm proud to be part of that mountaineering tradition."

This year's Spring Climb School starts April 15, with an evening classroom session at the Obsidian Lodge. The on-snow sessions will be April 18 and 25. For additional details or registration, call the Eugene Parks and Recreation Department at 682-5329 or stop by the River House, 301 N. Adams St.

Guest columnist John Pegg is an avid outdoorsman who has been active in The Obsidians for 12 years. Guest columns, 800 to 1,000 words in length, may submitted for consideration to: Outdoor Editor, P.0. Box 10188, Eugene OR 97440.

Copyright 1998 The Register-Guard