With Notebooks in Hand, Up the Mountain We Go!

Whitworth English Department Mt. Baker May Trip with John Pell

By: Emily Church

I never thought that through following my passion for writing and English, I would find myself on the side of a mountain. I’m sure that’s what many of us thought, and yet, that’s where we were. Three incredible days spent on Mt. Baker.



Preparation Week

During the first week of class, while reading and analyzing the different writing styles of adventure stories like Wild by Cheryl Strayed, Nanda Devi :The Tragic Expedition, and  Points Unknown: The Greatest Adventure Writing of the Twentieth Century,  we were also being prepped for our trip up Mt. Baker. In order to learn to write about adventure, once must take an adventure themselves. In partnership with the U-Rec team and experienced mountaineer Brad Pointer, the class learned what it meant to wear a harness, how to tie a figure eight on a bight, a prusik, and a girth hitch knot with various types of rope, what to do with the string of carabiners on your tool belt, how to walk on a rope team, and how to use an ice axe to protect yourself from falling down the mountain. During one of our exercises on the rock wall, we were made to dangle, as if we had just fallen into a crevasse, and had to tie knots and move carabiners which allowed us to climb up the rope. It was a terrifyingly fun experience.To practice maneuvering around on rope teams, we took to the loop. I’m sure we looked pretty goofy walking around the loop of campus tied to rope teams and carrying ice axes and large backpacks.


The day before our early morning departure, the gear and supplies were loaded into backpacks that we were going to have to carry from the parking lot to base camp, an altitude gain of around 3,000 ft. The backpacks were well stuffed with tent gear, ice axes, helmets, cooking fuel, sleeping bags, extra clothes, food, and toiletries. Those on the U-Rec team who had done some backpacking cautioned us to pack as light as possible, for ounces equaled pain.

Day One

The students of El 396 Adventure and Travel Writing, the U-Rec volunteers, and John Pell arrived at Whitworth to depart at 5:30am. After a seven hour van ride across the state, our glacier that we were going to summit lay before us. For almost everyone in the van, that was the moment where the climb became real because that was when we came face to face with our goal. At the trailhead, once the van was unpacked and our fifty pound backpacks were loaded onto our shoulders, Brad gathered the group to pray before the long hike up to basecamp. For endless miles together we crossed waterfalls, dirt trails, and a brief encounter with snow before reaching our basecamp.


Basecamp was an island of rocks in the middle of the mountain. The summit was only a mere 4,000 ft. away. That night the group ate our freeze dried mountaineering food by light of the sunset, astounded by the view of our classroom for the next two days.


Base Camp

Day Two

Day two was a day of taking it easy with a little bit of snow training. It was time to put what we learned in the context of the U-Rec to real use. While we didn’t go jumping into crevasses, we still got to practice catching ourselves in the snow with our ice axes and simulated group rescues in our ropes teams. That evening by the heat of the cooking stoves, we sat together eating dinner and telling funny stories. Danny started us off by asking “Does anyone have any embarrassing poop stories?” Of course the group had many to contribute. Poop was a common topic on the trip because whatever you brought up to the mountain had to come back down with you, which meant that we were going to have to carry our wonderful blue bags down with us. One of the joys of mountaineering for sure. We built community in our new classroom as we bonded over blue bags, awesome blisters from the hike up, aching muscles, fears surrounding the summit climb, and the beautiful views.



Sun set from base camp

 Day Three

A 2am wakeup call brought the class out into the starry morning air to begin the climb towards the Coleman-Demming Glacier summit. Hooked into our three rope teams, we ascended up the mountain. We coached each other through fear and doubts as we hopped over crevasses and looked down into the depth of the mountain. Pell kept us going with words of encouragement and his general humor. When they had talked about crevasses and had pointed to some on the side of the mountain in the distance from us, I thought that we would be steering clear of them. It was much to my surprise when I found myself staring down into the depth of a crevasse that was right in front of me. I froze, which meant that my rope team was forced to stop because I was the leader. I knew we were going to have to jump over, but I wasn’t sure if I could make it. Then I heard John’s voice from the other side, “Its ok Emily. You just got to give a little hop.”



The group taking a moment to rest

The views were breathtaking. Looking back we saw the vastness of Mt. Baker stretched below us.


Our great leaders, John Pell and Brad Pointer

In the end, three members of the class made it to the summit, located at about 10,700 ft., but everyone succeeded in reaching a new limit of their own. The trip demonstrated to us the amazing places that writing could take us and the value in sharing a story like that. I don’t think any of us will forget that trip any time soon.



Emily Church (’17) is an English Writing and Sociology major at Whitworth University from western Washington and dreams of one day traveling the world. She enjoys writing, reading, painting, collecting journals (not writing in them), fall leaves, summer warmth., and adventure.

Kristin Bertsch (’17) wins Founders Day scholarship 2015

The Whitworth Founders Day Scholarship is an annual scholarship that recognizes two students with high academic achievement who have made innovative and realistic proposals for strengthening an aspect of Whitworth College. The scholarship was established in 1999 in memory of Whitworth College’s founder, George Whitworth.

This year’s winner, Kristin Bertsch said the following about her plans for the next semester:

During the Spring 2015 semester, I and twelve of my closest friends (or so we will be after three months sharing hostel rooms) will embark on a quest through England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, and the Republic of Ireland, learning the lives of the people in their respective geographic contexts. Our learning will enable us to use art, history, economy, and literature as frameworks for understanding the unique and intertwined cultural histories of the region.This blog will function toward two ends: firstly, to keep those at home abreast of the happenings on our journey; secondly, and perhaps more importantly, to awaken us all to the beauty of life as it manifests in underappreciated ways. This blog is for me, as a way of recording my adventures. This blog is for you, so that you might feed your own soul which pines after the beauty of life. This blog is for whatever goodness can be derived from it. I hope My Awfully Big Adventure will speak to yours.
A native of the Spokane area, I am currently in my second year of study at Whitworth as
kristinan honors student of English Literature, with special focus in Women’s Studies, Medieval and Early Modern Studies, and Art History. My participation in the Britain and Ireland Semester Program is generously sponsored by Whitworth University, the U.S. Department of State, and the Benjamin A. Gilman Foundation in partnership with the Institute of International Education.
Congratulations Kristin!

Postcard from Iceland by Kirsten Bleeker (’15)

The air in Iceland smells of waffles, the sea, and the eternal threat of volcanic eruptions. This is everything I have been looking for. This is a country where fish is the prominent menu item, the way to say goodbye is “bless bless,” and both men and women sport top knots and tight pants. Many of the university buildings are absurdly modern. I don’t start my classes for a few more days, but they range from Italian fashion (the only art history course offered in English) and Japanese literature. I’m hoping to introduce the importance of setting up a snack and tea roster on the first day of class. Although dried cod and beer might be the Icelandic equivalent of comfort food. All is well here in Iceland, and I wish a wonderful Fall semester upon you all in Westminster! I will be updating my blog from time to time: http://www.icelandisreal.wordpress.com.

iceland1  iceland2

Kirsten Bleeker is spending her last semester of undergrad at the University of Iceland, and will be graduating with a BA in English Literature and a minor in Art History.

Tea Time For Brontes & Gaskell Seminar Students

tea party

by Ana Quiring (’14)

Last month, our Brontes and Gaskell seminar, led by the illustrious Pam Parker, had the chance to get back to our Victorian roots with a tea party as Taste and See Tea in North Spokane. We were treated to a delightful and never-ending parade of tea with names both titillating and sublime (Cabana Boy and Creme d’Earl come to mind), as well as a delicious tasting menu of dainty sandwiches and scones. The outing fit perfectly with our discussion of Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South, which features more than one tea party, always rife with careful propriety, class tension, and witty repartee. Although we can’t boast the first two nearly as well, I’d like to think we had the last in spades.

Ana Quiring is an English major, a Brontes and Gaskell enthusiast, on a good day, and a teacher’s assistant for whomever will have her, mostly Pam Parker.