Last weekend, a group of students from San Juan College were led by Josh Kling, owner of Kling Mountain Guides and an instructor at the college, on a mountaineering trip between Durango and Silverton, Colo., in effort to summit the Grand Turk and Sultan.
“San Juan College provides a great opportunity,” said Kling, who has instructed Outdoor Leadership Education and Recreation classes at San Juan College since 2005. “ I enjoy instructing these classes because lots of people who would normally be prohibited by cost from activities like this are given the opportunity to learn about them.”
Driving into Colorado on U.S. Highway 550, the San Juan Mountains provide a spectacular view. For many people, the view from the highway is the closest they get to these mountains because climbing them seems unattainable.
The climb begins early so the group returns before the sun softens the snow on the mountain.
Though this is the first time many of the students have climbed a mountain, the process of testing avalanche beacons, using crampons on boots and putting harnesses on goes by quickly because the group has practiced it several times in classes during the weeks leading up to the climb.
Gear is expensive and accumulating the required knowledge and experience takes time, but the college program is one of the most cost efficient ways to take a mountaineering trip in the Four Corners.
“Many people can't afford a professional guide like (the service I provide in Durango), so I like to give them the chance to get this experience,” Kling said.
When the class is over, Kling says the students will have the required knowledge to take these trips on their own.
“It is tricky enough that people can't do it on their own but after the class they can,” said Kling.
During training classes leading up to the final trip, the class spent a day at Chapman Hill in Durango learning how to self arrest and how to team arrest a falling climber. Another day trip focuses on crevasse rescues.
On the final three-day trip, the class snowshoed into the mountains carrying gear in packs and on sleds. A campsite is set up including sleeping areas and a kitchen is dug out of the snow.
The second day is devoted entirely to climbing the mountains before the group breaks camp and heads back to Farmington on the third day.
Other peaks in the San Juan Mountains such as Snowden, Twilight, and Engineer have been climbed by classes in recent years, but this year it was the Grand Turk and Sultan that were summitted.
Students take this class and similar OLER classes for a variety of reasons.
“I took the class because there is a lot of cross-over with the canyoneering-type rescue that I do at the canyon,” said Sarah Shier, a search and rescue ranger at the Grand Canyon. “We usually have an emergency vehicle full of our necessary gear, so it is interesting to learn about low-tech, light-weight ways to accomplish the same things in the backcountry.”
For Michael Barela it was about pushing personal boundaries.
“I may not ever pursue another alpine climb, but I will say that I now have the mental fortitude to chase down my own Mount Everest,” he said during the final class presentation.
If you are interested in taking the class next year or finding another outdoors trip to take, class schedules can be found at www.sanjuancollege.edu on the Outdoor Leadership Education and Recreation page. You can also visit the college's Health and Human Performance Center.