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Bellingham
Saturday, August 8, 2020

Over the river and through the woods

By Ian Ferguson

Western’s campus is cozily nestled alongside the hills of Sehome Arboretum, and at any given moment students are minutes away from rock climbing, biking, and hiking trails. Travel a bit  further, and the road will lead to a vast amount of outdoor opportunities; whether it’s a six-day trip through the North Cascades, or a quiet hike through rolling hills of the Chuckanuts, adventure is waiting right outside your door.

The Associated Students Outdoor Center strives to get students who are eager to enjoy the outdoors to embark on explorations with the Pacific Northwest as their playground. The Outdoor Center offers student excursions and equipment rentals, including mountain and road bikes, backpacking camping gear and a host of winter sports equipment.

An illustration of a backpacker, wearing a baseball cap and a backpack.
Illustration by Cole Sandhofer

Emily Schauble, the Outdoor Center excursions coordinator, said the center aims to make many of their excursions as beginner-friendly as possible. This fall, the center offers 16 excursion opportunities, 15 of which require no prior experience.

Schauble said excursions like Intro to Backpacking, Intro to Outdoor Sport Climbing and Intro to Sea Kayaking are specifically designed to orient beginner students to the outdoors. They give students many of the skills and safety knowledge needed to enjoy their time in the outdoors.

“Our leaders are super compassionate and supportive through all steps,” Schauble said.

She said the Outdoor Center understands that some students may find obstacles in obtaining the necessary gear to be safe in their outdoor ventures. Outdoor gear can be a pricey investment for beginners who just want to get their boots dirty. To combat this, students can borrow gear such as headlamps, raincoats and thermal layers free of charge as part of an excursion.

“If that’s a barrier, we can sort that out for you,” Schauble said.

Emma Vasilj, a senior and Outdoor Center trip leader, said her love for the outdoors began when she came to Western and  began rock climbing. She started working at the front desk of the Outdoor Center in spring of her freshman year and is now an avid rock climber and nature enthusiast.

“The Outdoor Center is such a friendly and empowering environment,” Vasilj said. “I went on a few trips and I felt really confident.”

Vasilj said the Outdoor Center does all they can to create a safe environment on their excursions. All of their trip leaders at least have their Wilderness First Aid certification  and every trip features at least one trip leader.

On beginner-level excursions, trip leaders assume that students have no previous knowledge, Vasilj said. Something as trivial as putting up a tent might be something that a student has never done before.

The more intensive courses, like overnight backpacking trips, start out with an instructional day on campus prior to the trip. Instructors go over all safety precautions and students are encouraged to ask questions and voice their anxieties.

Whether the fear be rolling an ankle on the trail, or turning a corner to the sight of a massive bear, Vasilj said this practice tends to remedy any worries students might have.

And while she said they have encountered bears on their excursions, Vasilj said she has never had a bad encounter and all of the trip leaders are well-versed in what to do if they see wildlife.

Vasilj said the Outdoor Center sees themselves as an introduction to the outdoors.

“At the Outdoor Center, we put safety first,” Vasilj said. “If you learn to do something safely first, from there on it’s all you.”

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