They had just reached the site where the snowfield meets the rocks when they heard the sound. Looking up, they clocked one climber on the rock face where, just moments before, there had been two.

“We looked at each other and realized we had to figure out what to do,” recalls Elise Bugge (’19 Env. Sci.), who was preparing to climb the rugged West Ridge of Forbidden Peak in the North Cascades with her boyfriend, Andrew Larson (’19 Fin.).

They wouldn’t reach the 8,815-foot summit that day. But, thanks to experience and training from the Outdoor Recreation Center at Washington State University, the pair knew how to respond. “The ORC would have us practice emergency scenarios and run through what to do if we needed to do an evacuation,” says Bugge, who worked for the center for three years.

The morning the climber fell, she and Larson helped establish a fixed line to the injured alpinist⁠—bleeding and drifting in and out of consciousness⁠—then warmed him with an emergency blanket, kept him from dehydration, and monitored his vital signs for four hours before rescuers arrived via helicopter.

Bugge credits the ORC’s regular skills reviews and audits as instrumental in her ability to recall her training and help the hurt mountaineer. A year after the incident, she says, “We’re thankful he’s OK.”

The ORC has been introducing Cougars and community members to the wild since 1971. While trips are among its most popular offerings, it’s not all camping and kayaking. Participants can learn lifesaving skills, from wilderness first aid to backcountry bear safety. For adventure facilitators, like Bugge, training and skills checks are required.

Jonathan Stahl, director of the ORC and assistant director of adventure programs and experiential learning for University Recreation, wasn’t surprised to learn Bugge and Larson, a former climbing wall supervisor, helped save a life in Washington’s wilderness. He experienced Bugge’s skills firsthand when he tore knee ligaments during a backcountry ski trip in Oregon’s Wallowa Mountains two years ago.

Since its inception five decades ago, the ORC has grown considerably, developed a loyal following, and, hopefully, Stahl says, created thousands of lifelong outdoor enthusiasts and stewards of the environment. “Students find community and different ways to move and explore beyond Pullman, and feel comfortable in their bodies,” he says. “It does change people’s lives.”

Colt Fetters had been planning a construction career. “I wouldn’t be where I am now if it wasn’t for the ORC,” says Fetters (’14 Const. Mgmt.), operations coordinator for outdoor pursuits at Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado. Stahl and the ORC, part of University Recreation, “helped me understand there are careers in outdoor education. It opened doors for me and helped me see the possibilities.”

Fetters worked for the ORC for four years at the climbing wall, in the rental shop, and as an adventure facilitator, guiding several trips to Nevada’s Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area and numerous excursions closer to campus, such as kayaking on the Snake River. “There were a lot of afternoon trips and weekend trips⁠—too many to count. Sometimes, I was leading trips once a week throughout the semester.”

The ORC started out as the Outdoor Activities Program (OAP), a service organization of the Associated Students of WSU, sharing a roughly 10-by-10-foot office with gym supervisors in the Physical Education Building. “The rental shop was a metal cabinet in the corner, and staff was a .25 full-time-equivalent graduate assistant and me, teaching classes and organizing trips,” Chris Tapfer (’73 Rec.) told the Daily Evergreen in 2001.

The OAP’s earliest volunteer, Tapfer ended up running the center for nearly three decades, retiring from WSU in 2011 as the University’s emergency management coordinator. “I’m proud that I was involved right from the beginning,” he says. “The Outdoor Activities Program started out as an experi-mental program at WSU to both provide recreation and education for the WSU community. It was and is a success due to the hundreds of students who have worked for the program and the many, many thousands of students, faculty, staff, and community members who have taken part in using its resources and participating in its activities and programs.”

Today, the rental shop is stocked with more than $250,000 worth of equipment, and the ORC typically employs five professional staffers, two graduate assistants, and 30 to 40 students. There are two participation levels: members of the Chinook and Student Recreation Center, who receive subsidized rates, and nonmembers. Most participants are students.

A longtime advocate of Leave No Trace principles and practices, the ORC participates in Earth Day activities as well as regular trail and other cleanups at Illia Dunes, Granite Point, and more. Every year for the past ten years, it has delivered about 175 Leave No Trace certifications. It also hosts several annual events, including the Pullman Pulldown Bouldering Competition, Outdoor Photography Contest, and Palouse Outdoor Festival. Its noncredit classes and clinics cover everything from basic backpacking, beginning bouldering, and building primitive shelters to women’s wilderness hygiene and route setting. And its resource center is stocked with guidebooks and maps to help adventurers plan their own outings.

Or, they can go with ORC leaders. Backpacking in the Selkirks, Grand Canyon, and Yosemite. Snowshoeing and cross-country skiing in Montana’s Lolo National Forest. Whitewater rafting on Idaho’s Salmon River. Kayaking on Lake Powell and in Glen Canyon in Utah and Arizona. Trail running on campus. “We’ve even camped in the WSU Arboretum,” says Stahl, noting participation has stayed strong throughout the pandemic via virtual clinics and physically distanced activities. “We’re not providing transport, but we’ve been meeting people at Moscow Mountain or Kamiak Butte or the Snake River. Every weekend, we have multiple trips going and most are full.”

Two years postgraduation, Bugge remains grateful the ORC hired her at the start of her sophomore year. “Coming to WSU, I really had no idea what I wanted to do,” she says. “The ORC helped me find what I love⁠—as a hobby as well as a career as an environmental scientist. I would definitely not be the same person without the ORC.”

Until last August’s emergency in the North Cascades, she had mostly helped treat trekkers’ blisters on the trail. “That’s a good thing,” she says. “You never want to have to actually use those emergency skills.”

Bugge and Larson have both been back out climbing. Forbidden Peak, one of the “Fifty Classic Climbs of North America,” remains “on the to-do list,” she says. “We’re definitely planning to try it again at some point in the near future.”


Web extras

ORC timeline

Memories of the ORC from WSU alumni