Teacher of teens and alpinists, Lisa Rust tackles middle school, mountains

Rust climbs a sheer rock face.

Rust climbs a sheer rock face.

Lisa Rust started her 18th year at Hood River Middle School this past week, teaching literacy, social studies and climbing wall classes to seventh graders. She began at the school as a science teacher in 1997, and wouldn’t dream of teaching any other age group.

“I love teaching middle schoolers — they are a really fun age,” she said. “I ‘get’ them and I know how to support them and guide them in a structured, safe, yet comfortable environment. I wouldn’t teach any other grade. They are just starting to understand sarcasm, are able to laugh at themselves, and they are still influenced by the adults around them, not just their friends.”


Lisa Rust helps Hailey Rodriguez during a seventh grade social studies class.


Rust prepares to reach the summit of Mt. Hood

Rust graduated magna cum laude in Political Science and Environmental Studies at UCLA before attending law school. And although she later graduated from the University of Idaho College of Law with a Juris Doctorate degree in 1995, and passed the Oregon State Bar Exam to become a licensed attorney in 1996, she knew early on that law was not something she was interested in practicing.

“My mom was a career teacher, so I think I always wanted to teach, too,” she said. “I took a semester off during law school to get my Idaho teaching license just as a backup.

“I decided very early into law school that I could never enjoy a profession that deals exclusively with solving other people’s major problems,” she said. “I would much rather teach our youngsters how to enjoy lifelong learning, experience the thrill of life’s adventures, and experience joy. Having summer vacation to foster those same values in my own life and family is a real bonus too!

“Fortunately, I got my teaching job at HRMS before I even tried to get a legal job,” she said.

Rust also happens to be a professional mountain guide.

She started out with rock climbing at Joshua Tree National Park while in college with the UCLA Outdoor Club. From there, she started climbing “all over the western United States with my college roommate,” she said. “Two girls climbing alone was not a common sight back in the early ‘90s.”

While it was unusual, Rust “really wanted to have independence as a woman climber,” she said. “I didn’t want to have to rely on finding a guy to go climbing with, so I just went out with my girlfriends and did all the technical stuff myself. I did a lot of self-teaching, and referring to instructional books like ‘Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills.’ I made some mistakes during my early days of climbing, like rappelling off the end of my rope, but they were mistakes I never made again.”

In 1993, she got a summer job guiding rock climbing at Smith Rocks north of Redmond, “a world famous sport climbing area,” she said. “I quickly wanted to climb longer and higher routes, which eventually lead to mountaineering.”

She said she was fortunate to get a job in 1996 as a climbing guide on Mt. Rainier with Rainier Mountaineering, Inc., which opened doors to other excursions. “I guided for RMI for nearly 10 years, and during that time, reached the summit of Mt. Rainier over 50 times, and had the opportunity to climb and guide trips on many of the world’s highest mountains, including six expeditions on Mt. McKinley (the highest mountain in North American), as well as ascents of Aconcagua (the highest in South America).”

Actually, one of her best experiences was “getting flown into and dropped off at the Kahiltna Glacier on Mt. McKinley,” she said. “Always fun!”

And in 2003, she led a climb to the summit of Mt. Elbrus, the highest mountain in Europe, for Adventures International, a local guide service owned by Scott Woolums.

But the highlight was in April-May 2002, when she had “the rare opportunity, as a woman, to climb and work as an assistant guide on an American Women’s Everest Expedition that reached the south summit at 28,850 feet,” she said.

Five women and three guides made the climb. “Two of the guides were men, and they needed a third guide,” she explained. “The lead guide had the foresight to realize that he might want the third guide to be a woman, so he asked me.

“What many people may not know is that back in the late ‘90s, and even early 2000s, mountain guiding was a male dominated profession, and women are just now beginning to be recognized as professionals in the international guiding world,” she said.

Mountaineering has traditionally and historically been a mens’ endeavor, Rust explained, which is why it’s taken so long for women to be recognized as professionals. “Most of the world’s greatest first ascents were made by men and all-men expeditions. However, there have been many inspirational and pioneering women throughout the history of mountaineering that have inspired myself and many other female climbers and guides.

“I think women are finally becoming recognized in the climbing world because a greater number of women these days are getting out there and doing it,” she added. “If more women had climbed in the past, it may not have taken so long to get recognized and respected in the sport and profession.”

These days, she “keeps busy” climbing local mountains each year — like Mt. Adams, Mt. Hood, and Mt. Rainier. Her next “big” climb will be on Africa’s Mt. Kilimanjaro with daughter, Bergen, 9, a fourth grader, and son, Cooper, 5, a kindergartener, both at Westside Elementary, when they are a little older.

Actually, the Rusts — husband John, Supervisor of Community Education, is also an avid climber— started taking Bergen rock climbing when she was two. “She has already climbed Mt. St. Helens and made an attempt on Mt. Hood this year,” Rust said. “She has done a 500-foot alpine rock climb on Chimney Rock in northern Idaho and a 200-foot free rappel of the Monkey Face at Smith Rocks. She has no fear of heights and is always excited to climb anything.”

Cooper is another story. Although they’ve also started climbing with him, “even at age 5, he has not shown the same interest in the sport. He’s more into fishing right now, and that’s fine with us!”

You might say that climbing brought the Rusts together.

“John and I met in Law School,” she said — he also has a Juris Doctorate degree from the University of Idaho College of Law. “I asked him if he wanted to go climbing and that was it — we were married four years later.

“John is an accomplished climber and guide as well, although he started guiding several years after I did,” she said. “He has always been supportive of my guiding and long expeditions away from home. He loves the fact that he has a wife who is more than understanding and accepting of his desire to get away and go on long climbing trips with his buddies. We have a mutual respect for and support of each other when it comes to our shared joy of climbing.”

Rust gives back to the outdoor recreation and climbing community by serving as a Crag Rat, Hood River’s volunteer search and rescue organization, on Mt. Hood and in the Gorge area. “I’m also proud to say that over the past 18 years of teaching rock climbing at the middle school, I have taught thousands of kids how to climb, how to take risks and accomplish something they never thought they could do, and to push their individual comfort zones and experience success,” she said. “These are life lessons, and climbing is a metaphor for life.”

And she’s still challenging herself. She’s learning to ride horses on her property in Odell — Bergen’s idea, although “ever since I was a young girl, I’ve wanted (horses) too,” she said. “Learning new tricks at an old age is never an easy thing to do. I’m more afraid on the back of our 10-year-old paint gelding than I am sleeping on the side of a 3,000-foot cliff!”

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