www.registerguard.com | © The Register-Guard, Eugene, Oregon
April 9, 1998
Obsidians Continue Great Oregon Mountaineering Tradition
By JOHN PEGG
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
"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
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
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
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