Backcountry kids

Adventure Camp teaches youth backcountry skills

While most high-schoolers were off skiing or visiting family the week after Christmas, a group of five young outdoor enthusiasts was still attending class.

But they weren't being quizzed on world history, English, or how many sides are on a parallelogram.

They were learning the skills it takes to survive in the backcountry.

"The mountain is just as much a part of our backyard as the river," said Bob Brownback, Hood River Parks and Recreation outdoor program manager. "We feel it's our duty to help educate people about safety on the mountain just as much as on the water."

With that in mind, Brownback -- an accomplished mountain climber and backcountry survivalist -- and outdoor program coordinator Scott Baker organized the first-ever Holiday Adventure Camp, Dec. 27-30.

Brownback and Baker devised the curriculum, promoted the course and taught the skills the kids will need if they venture into unpredictable backcountry terrain.

"This program is similar to teaching water safety at the pool," Brownback said. "We prevent having to rescue people through education."

Parks and Recreation also rallied the help of Mt. Hood Meadows, which contributed three learn-to-ski packages (lift tickets, equipment) and four additional lift tickets for Dec. 30; the Alpinee Hut, which offered a sort of home base for the students and instructors; and the Hood River County Commission on Children and Families, which provided four $100 scholarships that went toward the $135 class fee.

"All who asked, received," Baker said of the scholarships. "In return, the kids will perform five hours of community service with Parks and Rec, and hopefully remain involved with similar courses in the future."

Baker and Brownback hope that the Holiday Adventure Camp will be the first of many -- with another one tentatively planned for spring -- and would like for it to rival the learn-to-windsurf classes in the summer.

"Our idea is to have regular outings and events, and organize a true Alpinee Club again," Brownback said. "We'd like to get people involved at a young age so they can help us build the club back to where it once was."

Some of the skills covered at the Holiday Adventure Camp were an introduction to map and compass, trip planning and preparation, snow shelters, packing for winter travel, avalanche awareness, beacon searches, and even some rock climbing techniques on the Alpinee Hut chimney.

"The camp was a real success," Baker said. "The kids had a great time and learned some very valuable backcountry skills and knowledge. We hope they tell their friends about it because we don't want it to be the last one."

In addition to discussing course material in the warm confines of Alpinee Hut, the kids also took advantage of many hands-on learning opportunities. One exercise sent them out on a "blind navigation" route in the snow-covered woods at Post Canyon, and each hiker had to rely on the other to help the group find its way.

They also learned snowpack evaluation, avalanche rescue scenarios, and how to build a four-man snow cave -- a skill that both Brownback and Baker have mastered over the years. Some kids even learned how to ski.

"Surprisingly, three kids didn't even know how to ski or board before this course," Baker said. "They're all converts now."


Baker said Parks and Recreation is trying to organize another adventure class for spring break, but will offer snowshoe trips on school holidays in the meantime. The first scheduled snowshoe trip is on Martin Luther King Day (Jan. 21). They will also try to go President's Day (Feb. 18) and on teacher in-service days.

For more information about the snowshoe trips, adventure classes or other Parks and Recreation activities, call Brownback or Baker at 386-1303.

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