Meet a Teacher: Chip Mehring
By Jim Collins
From the high camp above treeline on the southern flank of Mount Baker, surrounded by the remote, corrugated ridges of the North Cascades, eight Lakeside students take in a view of the world they can get from no classroom. They can see Vancouver Island, the deep green and blue of the San Juan Islands archipelago. Above them, the Easton Glacier sweeps upward toward the crater rim at 9,800 feet. It is one of the most stunning vantages in the state of Washington. Trip leader Chip Mehring notices things the students do not. It has been the lowest-snow winter in the 20 years he’s been leading this trip, and now, this final week in July, possibly the warmest summer. He sees rocks where there would normally be snow. The glacier above them, gray and rotten, is worryingly lined with large, gaping crevasses. He sees fewer climbing parties descending than he would expect.
Of the 17 or 18 multi-day trips that Mehring helps plan and oversee each year as the Upper School’s Outdoor Program coordinator, the Mount Baker mountaineering trip stands out.
Students get the perspective-changing experience of being far removed from their comfortable, familiar, and increasingly electronic daily lives.
With a 10,781-foot summit, the Mount Baker trip is the most physically and mentally demanding. “What I love about this trip,” says Mehring, whose 31 years here have defined the outdoor experience for generations of Lakeside students, “is how far it extends boundaries. People who have never been especially physical discover how far they can push themselves. People who are disorganized quickly learn that doesn’t work when they’re part of a roped team traveling on a glacier.” These trips build trust, teamwork. For many, they provide an introduction to the natural world that leads to becoming stewards of our natural resources.
High on Mount Baker, the students spend a final day honing skills, occasionally smelling the sulfur venting from the crater far above them. They learn about knots and crampons, belaying, rappelling, using ice axes to make self-arrests, practicing crevasse rescues. Alas, when summit day arrives, the students discover their direct route is climbable but in unstable condition. Forced to constantly zigzag around the deep crevasses, they gain only 250 vertical feet in an hour, far too slow a pace to attempt the summit safely.
And so another valuable lesson: the need to assess, to adjust a plan, to be flexible. No summit this time. But eight young lives have been changed and enlarged by the experience. The more important goals have been met.