Climbers at the summit of The Tooth. Contributed / Ralph Wessels

Kitsap Mountaineers teach students to climb ‘essentially anything’ in the Pacific Northwest

“If you climb Mount Baker, you get up there toward the very top and you’ll see steam coming up out of the mountain from the volcanic action that’s still there,” Ralph Wessels said.

“You get on top and you just have this magnificent view from all over the place. It’s just gorgeous.

“It’s something you just can’t experience unless you do that type of climbing.”

Wessels is a chairperson of the Kitsap group of the Mountaineers, which will offer its annual basic climbing course starting in January, providing instruction about how to safely and competently climb on rock, snow and glacier.

“People who take this course gain confidence in climbing and mountaineering,” Wessels said. “The knowledge, ability and skills they develop allow them to become competent climbers.

“Some people take the course with a specific goal in mind … some people take the course to expand or challenge their abilities.”

The class lasts more than four months. It includes five classes and seven field trips, two of which are overnighters. To complete the course successfully, students must complete three climbs, one on rock, one on glacier and another can be climbing rock, glacier or alpine. Students are also required to complete a navigation course, wilderness first aid course and a stewardship activity, to graduate from the beginner class.

“The course appeals to a wide variety of people, but a common theme seems to be that the participants are goal-oriented, adventurous individuals,” Wessels said. “We have students who range in age from their teens to their 60s. Regardless of whether a person has some or no past climbing experience, the course is geared to progressively build upon the knowledge gained in the course.”

Wessels said that learning from the Mountaineers is a good way to get comprehensive climbing training. He said many courses are specific to what’s being climbed: rock, glacier, alpine, for instance.

“Once a person goes through this course … they can really go out and climb essentially anything in the Northwest,” Wessels said.

After the basic course is completed — and if a student finds they are incapable of completing the requirements in those four months, it’s OK because they have two years after starting to complete the training — the Mountaineers offers an intermediate class, which students have four years to complete.

A requirement for that class includes educating others about climbing, so many of the volunteers leading the basic climbing course are enrolled in the intermediate course right now.

Wessels added that some people prefer a specific type of climbing — in gyms, climbing rocks, alpine, glaciers — but for him, “the best climb is just a nice day with a good group.

“It can be on rock or it can be an alpine climb or a glacier. There’re rewards for each of those.”

He said that meeting like-minded people in the climbing course is one of many benefits.

“One of our students from the 2016 course did a very nice article on a blog,” Wessels said. “He kind of (entered) the class with a perception. He found out just how fun rock climbing was, which he really didn’t anticipate.

“I think that’s part of the appeal and rewards of taking a course like this, where you make those connections.”

Read the blog post on the Mountaineers Kitsap branch website, www.mountaineers.org/about/branches-committees/kit sap-branch. Visit the website to register for the class; the registration deadline is Jan. 10, and there is a limited number of spots available.

“So why do people like climbing? It’s a fun and challenging activity that allows people to go to locations that they would otherwise not see,” Wessels said.

“The Pacific Northwest has some of the best climbing one can find, particularly with the number of volcanic peaks and the Cascades nearby. Climbing can also take people far beyond our Northwest locations.”

Michelle Beahm is a reporter for the Central Kitsap Reporter and Bremerton Patriot. mbeahm @soundpublishing.com.

Climbers work on a multi-pitch climb on The Tooth, a basic alpine climb in Mount Baker — Snoqualmie National Forest. Contributed / Ralph Wessels

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