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VanCougs climb to new heights with the Recreation Program

As the spring 2016 semester came to a close, a group of VanCougs set out on Washington State University Vancouver Recreation Program’s annual three day trip to Smith Rock. I was fortunate to be a part of this year’s awesome group of students who set out to enjoy beautiful scenery with some great company.

As a new climber wanting to prepare for the trip, I made tons of visits to the local indoor climbing gym The Source in downtown Vancouver. I had been looking forward to this outing all semester and could not wait to finally do some outdoor climbing, especially at such a beautiful location known for its awesome climbs.

The trip began early on a cold, foggy, Monday morning. Students gathered at the Recreation Office annex to load up gear and hit the road. Smith Rock State Park is located right outside Terrebonne, a small town in central Oregon, which is about a three hour drive from Vancouver.

We pulled into the park around 10 a.m. and set up camp in the bivouac area. We later set out on a hike to Misery Ridge, one of the most difficult hikes I have done since I moved to the Pacific Northwest. The Summit Trail Loop that rings the entire park was roughly five miles long. The trail takes you through Crooked River Canyon, and offers amazing views of the park and surrounding areas.

The first mile or so was extremely difficult. The trail climbed 1,000 feet along switchbacks, all while winding in and out of direct sunlight. Not being in the greatest shape definitely caught up to me, but the motivation the group gave one another made it easier to keep going.

Once we reached the top and took in the spectacular view, I forgot how tired I was. We had a 360-degree view of the entire park and the town surrounding it, as well as a breathtaking view of the Cascades. A light breeze accompanied a clear view of Mt. Hood, Mt. Jefferson, Three Fingered Jack, Mt. Washington, all three Sisters, Broken Top and Mt. Bachelor. In this picture perfect location, the group took a moment to display our Cougar pride as we held aloft the WSU flag over the mountains.

Day two was the day we got to climb our hearts out. After breakfast at camp, we met up with our guides and geared up for the day ahead. The guides set up various leveled routes in different areas that were about 25 feet high. They then went over safety precautions and made sure everyone felt extremely safe, especially for first timers like me. We all got a chance to learn how to belay, a technique climbers use to exert tension on the climbing rope so that a climber is secure while rock climbing.

Having trust in the belayer is extremely important, as any climber should feel safe with them while climbing. Even the shortest fall could cause serious injury. I experienced this during one of my climbs. My belayer was not paying attention during one of my climbs, and I lost my footing and dropped about a foot. Fortunately, I did not get hurt, but it definitely sent a rush of adrenaline though my body.

That momentary rush of fear did not stop me from enjoying the rest of the day. By the end of the day everyone was exhausted and we played card games as the sun set on the final day of the trip.

Climbing outdoors for the first time was such an exhilarating experience for me, and the experience was made all the better by being able to enjoy the beauty of my surroundings with a great group of people. It could not have been a better start to my summer. I plan to continue my adventurous summer both on my own and with the activities and trips the WSU Vancouver Recreation Program has to offer.

For information on this summer’s upcoming trips stop by the Recreation annex on campus to pick up a schedule or find it on CougSync under the events calendar.

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