Mountaineering club climbs to the top


Photo courtesy of Chris Stolte

Jim Slagle, Will Franey, Ryan Frey and Bethany Drury of the ISU Mountaineering Club hike to the summit of Mount Elbert and watch the sunrise early in the morning.

Ben Theobald

Colton Kennedy grew up in the mountains of Idaho.

He started climbing mountains his senior year of high school in 2007, but it was not in the specialized way. 

“I started without ropes doing it the non-technical way,” said Kennedy, senior in mechanical engineering. “I came to a point where I saw people climbing with ropes.”

In the spring of 2010, Kennedy joined the ISU Mountaineering and Climbing Club so he could climb mountains the right and safer way.

“My first experience climbing technically was ice climbing,” Kennedy said. “It gave me infatuation with snow and ice knowing I was physically able to accomplish something like that.”

Many of the members of the club generally had no previous experience when they joined.

“I had no prior knowledge before joining two years ago,” said Bethany Drury, senior in biology and president of the ISU Mountaineering and Climbing Club.

The club gives those a chance to do climbing without investing their life savings.

“Our main function is letting everyone try it,” Drury said. “Having fun is the whole point.”

The club also makes sure that those who join will be experienced as well as safe.

“We will teach you what you need to know to be safe,” Drury said. “We provide the equipment and plan the trips.”

One of Drury’s favorite experiences in the club was when the group went to Horse Shoe Canyon Ranch in Arkansas.

“It just has a nice community atmosphere,” Drury said.

Drury enjoys the confrontation that she must deal with when rock climbing.

“I go to the wall and it’s me and the wall,” she said. “It’s the greatest combination of physical and mental. I’m challenging myself to climb the wall the best I can.”

Depending on the weather, the club goes out to climb every third weekend in the fall semester. This summer, the club went to Colorado, where it climbed the two tallest mountains in Colorado — Mount Elbert being the tallest ranging at 14,440 feet and Mount Massive measuring at approximately 14,421 feet. 

“We started around 4 a.m.,” said Ryan Frey, senior in landscape architecture. “We hiked for about nine miles for Mount Elbert and 14 miles for Mount Massive.”

Frey has been a member of the club for three years.

“I wanted to do something adventurous,” Frey said. “I enjoy outdoor activities. Every year is different. It’s definitely a fun time.”

The group is planning a mountaineering trip for next May, when it will go to the state of Washington to Mount Rainier. It will be the biggest trip the club has ever done.

Rainier is the largest mountain in the Washington and Cascade Ranges and is the fourth-tallest mountain in the US at 13,211 feet.

Kennedy has climbed Mount Rainier three times. It all started when he had an internship in Seattle where he saw Rainier, located 54 miles southeast.

“Seeing that every day played with my psyche,” Kennedy said. “I had to figure a way to get on that mountain. It was then I decided to take lessons so I could climb the mountain.”

Climbing Mount Rainier was no easy task for Kennedy; it took a massive amount of preparation.

“It takes every amount of strength,” Kennedy said.

It was during those lessons this past summer Kennedy was asked to join a team to climb Mount Rainier.

“Somebody said, ‘Do you want to join the team?'” Kennedy said. “They have to see you as a valuable asset to that team. You can’t ask someone to join.”

The team was made up of four people including Kennedy. Two of the members were surgeons and one of the members was a wife of one.

“I remember a rescue chopper came about 100 feet over my head pulling one of the surgeons who had a broken leg off our route,” Kennedy said.

Kennedy was able to make it to the top of Rainier despite the challenges.

“When climbing, you have that short moment of triumph at the top,” Kennedy said. “Then you have to go all the way back down.”

After the first time, Kennedy felt comfortable enough to bring some of his friends with him, though like the last time unplanned events occurred.

“The second time I went with my friends, a car-sized boulder fell and wiped out our trail that we were going to take the next morning,” Kennedy said. “It is a completely out-of-your-hands situation.”

Before leading the club to climb Mount Rainier for the summer, Kennedy will climb Mount Rainier again in the winter.

“During that time up here you can expect hurricane-type winds,” Kennedy said. “It’s very dangerous during that time.”

Despite the danger Kennedy has faced and will face, his family has always been supportive of him.

“I have a unique family,” Kennedy said. “My family understands these risks. It’s a part of life.”

Mountain climbing is a team-focused activity where your life can very much depend on the person next to you.

“Bonding happens with either jubilation or misery,” Kennedy said. “The success of the team is in your hands and the lives of the team are literally in your hands. You need a definitive and decisive leader.”

Kennedy is looking forward to bringing the ISU Mountaineering and Climbing Club to Mount Rainier; to Kennedy, it is the expeditions that define the club.

“It’s about the trips we are taking and the adventures we are having,” Kennedy said.