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

January 3, 2002

Solid as a rock: Eugene's Obsidian Club celebrates its 75th anniversary

For The Register-Guard

GEORG JASCHEK HELD a cup of hot chocolate in his hands and beamed through the steam at the white slopes outside the Willamette Pass Ski Lodge.

He shook his head at the thought of his fall into a snow bank and of having to be pulled out on the Obsidian Club's 3 1/2 -mile cross-country ski trek into the Rosary Lakes one day last month.

"I couldn't get up," he said. "I hit some slush with one ski and the other one was going faster; the right ski got stuck and I fell over."


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Obsidians skier

Dick Hildreth plods through the snow on a visit to Rosary Lakes near Willamette Pass with a group of fellow Obsidians.

Photos: MATT ANDERSON / The Register-Guard


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He also thought about the view of the lake, the silence of the snow, the challenge of breaking a trail.

"It was just beautiful," he said."I'm glad I finally kicked myself and got going."

And, oh, yes, he said he's going to add his name to the membership list of the Obsidians, the Eugene-based outdoor club that celebrates its 75th anniversary this year.

The club has never been healthier. It topped the 500 mark in memberships a couple of years ago and reached a new high last year.

Interest in the outdoors and exercise and concerns about safety have combined to attract people of all ages.

"A lot of women are delighted to find an organization like ours," said Sharon Ritchie, an event organizer and active member for 15 years. "They don't like to go out on a hike alone."

"I've always enjoyed the outdoors," added Sylvia Harvey, a past club president. "I don't enjoy hiking alone; I enjoy sharing it with someone who also appreciates it. They've become like family and have been there when I needed them."

"It's not like it was 20 years ago in the woods," said Bob Dark, a club member for more than 40 years. "There are a lot more people out there."

And a lot more crime, such as car clouting at trailheads and thefts at camp sites.

"There is strength in numbers," Dark said.

The club's numbers of young and old have been increasing.

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Obsidians meeting

Obsidian members (left to right) Janet Jacobsen, Georg Jaschek, Rick Ahrens and Peter Graham gather at the Willamette Pass lodge after some skiing.
Below: The rustic Obsidian lodge is perched inconspicuously among a grove of evergreen trees and obsidian stones at the end of Spring Drive in Eugene.

Obsidians lodge


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"Within the last couple years, the demographics of the group has changed," new president Rick Ahrens said. "There was a concern that we were becoming an older club. But there have been a lot of young ones who join and become active."

A hefty schedule with a variety of climbs, hikes and bus trips has kept the club alive and well, Janet Jacobsen added. She counted 115 summer trips last season, including hikes, bike rides and trail maintenance projects. This year's winter schedule has 56 events, topped off by the 75th Anniversary Winter Outing on Feb. 13-15 at the Mazama Lodge near Mount Hood.

Ritchie gives some credit for the recognition of the club to last year's president, John Jacobsen.

"He blew our socks off with the new Web site," she said. "I think it's brought in a lot of new people."

The site (www.obsidians.org), which includes schedules, photos and reports of recent trips, has had more than 8,000 visits. E-mailed responses have come from across the nation and parts of the world.

This past summer, 297 non-members participated in events. They paid $4 a person for each trip, plus five cents a mile for gas if they car pooled.

The Obsidians charge an annual membership fee of $20 for those who qualify with three trips. As members, they pay only $1 for each hike. Climbs and bus trips have variable fees.

One of the attractions of the club is the people you meet, said Janet Jacobsen, who led the cross-country ski trip into the Rosary Lakes on Dec. 7.

She pointed to Jaschek, who turned 70 the week after joining Jacobsen's group of seven. He last skied actively as a young man in his native Czechoslovakia. His family lost its home when Hitler's Germany invaded the Sudetenland before the start of World War II; he came to the United States as a displaced immigrant in 1952.

After retiring from farming and teaching, he and his wife sold the farm to Nature Conservancy and moved to Pleasant Hill a year and a half ago to be closer to their son.

"I'm just grateful to be able to do what I'm able to do today," he said. "Twenty years ago, I was a quadriplegic."

Jaschek broke his neck when the tractor he was operating fell on him as he was making a second pass through a hillside pasture on the family farm in Ohio.

"I remember trying to breathe and thinking, `I'm going to die,' " he said. "My life went before me like a VCR on fast forward, and I thought about how my son and family would have to give up the farm. I passed out when they put me on the board."

Jaschek's wife saw the accident and called immediately for help, which probably saved him from lifelong paralysis, he believes.

"At first, I couldn't move my toes and fingers," he said. "My bowels were OK, but I had no legs."

Gradually, his nerves started coming back in spurts, and in a month he had feeling in his legs. As his nerves came back, he worked to revitalize his muscles, and he returned to teaching six months after the mishap.

"I always thought everything was going to be OK," he said. "I had faith."

One muscle that hasn't come back is in his right hip.

"It affects my balance," he said. "I can't run worth a darn. But I thought I would like to do more, which is why I thought I'd join with a group. When you go outdoors, it's safer that way."

Jacobsen was glad she didn't hear the story before the trip, but it wasn't a total shock.

"You see it all the time," she said. "You wouldn't have the opportunity to meet these people if you stayed home all the time."

Bob Dark is as old as the club, although he didn't join until he was in his mid-30s. His first year was 1960, the year club members built the club house, where they hold monthly meetings and potlucks in the hills of southeast Eugene.

"Like so many others, I started because I wanted to climb," he said.

His first heart surgery in 1979 slowed him down, and his second turned him into more of a hiker than a climber.

"Now I have a pacemaker, and I might attend a bus trip or monthly potluck," he said.

Or help set up the cooking facilities at the annual summer outing - last year at Winthrop in the north Cascades and this summer at Wind River Mountain, Wyo., home of the Mountain Man Museum.

"We try to stay out of the contentious issues," he said. "We just want to get people into the outdoors. ... Some of our people are very conservation-motivated. Some think we're not active enough. Some think it's up to the individual. One thing we all are is good stewards. That's one of our tenets, to maintain and take care of the outdoors."

The club's modern cooking setup for the popular summer outing, often attended by more than 100 people, is far different from that used by Selma Vangsnes when she was the paid cook from 1955 to 1975.

Vangsnes, who turns 92 in March, said the club paid her $100 to cook for two weeks that first year.

"We had a wooden stove with a box on the back," she said. "The smoke went through and we used it as an oven. That's all we had when I first started. By the time I quit, they had a gas stove and fridge."

A few years when she was cook, they packed the stove and a half or a quarter of beef by horseback to a distant camp site.

"We'd take the beef down from a tree by pulley when we'd want to cook," she said. "I spent most of the day in the kitchen, so I didn't have much time left to do much hiking."

Dark said Vangsnes was legendary for her lemon pie.

Mountain climbing has been one of the club's features since its beginning in 1927.

Ray Sims wrote in 1934 about the movement to form an outdoor club after two University of Oregon students died when they were lost in a snowstorm in the Three Sisters area in September of 1927.

Of the first meeting, Sims wrote, "Alton Gabriel and two other fraternity brothers appeared and became disgusted at the idea of having women in the club as they wanted a real He-man organization, and so they refused to have anything to do with the club."

Six women were among the 42 charter members.

The club received its name after climbers noted vast slopes of obsidian during the first summer outing in 1928.

"The word `obsidian' seemed a good catchy name, and it also meant a very hard object, and we were feeling hard enough, climbing the Husband, North and Middle Sisters in four days," Sims wrote.

Mountain climbing is still an important part of the club.

Doug Nelson, the chairman of the club's climbing committee the past three years, said the club's mountain climbing classes in April, run in conjunction with the Eugene Parks and Recreation Department, are popular and often serve as a springboard to membership. And they have added two youth climbs this summer.

"If I have to explain it (the motivation to climb a mountain), they probably won't understand it (the answer)," Nelson said. "It has little to do with survival; it's non-production and won't put beans on the table. It's kind of like creating art. It enlarges us as human beings; it helps us strive to become more and fulfill our need for beauty."

And gender is not an issue.

"Women have come more and more into the forefront," he said. "It's very much a team sport, and women have become some of our best teachers."

Nelson points to Peggy Lee Mathes to illustrate the importance of desire in climbing.

Not allowed to engage in physical activity after being diagnosed with epilepsy as a young woman, Mathes moved to the Eugene area from Massachusetts and was struck by the grandeur of the Cascades. Her goal was to become a club princess (climb each of the Three Sisters), and climb 10 peaks in Oregon before the age of 50.

"I made it by nine days," she said.

What's encouraging to the Jacobsens is that the club has become a family affair for some.

They noted that John and Lenore McManigal, who both have climbed 10 peaks, used to take their kids to summer camp; now they take their grandkids.

Buzz Blumm, a active climber, and his son, Andrew, 5, scaled Mount St. Helens together and later climbed Dog Mountain.

On the Dog Mountain trek, Andrew, the club's youngest member, met the club's oldest new member, Colleen Milliman, who made Mount McLoughlin her first climb at the age of 75.

And thus have the Obsidians found their way - without a fatality or major injury in 75 years.

"A remarkable record," Dark said.

Copyright 2002 The Register-Guard