BCEP – A weekend at Horsethief!


Who are the Mazamas, you may ask? And what’s BCEP, you may enquire? Well, let me fill you in dear reader. When I first moved to Oregon, I pretty quickly heard about a mountaineering group in town called The Mazamas.

Similar to the AMC back in Boston, they teach classes and do conservation outreach projects. Over the years, I’d interacted with them tangentially – attending a few classes, volunteering with a few groups, but I’d never been able to actually take a course officially. I’d applied to their Advanced Rock climbing class, but wasn’t accepted for one reason or another.

Now, nearly seven years after first moving to Oregon, I was trying again. This time beginning at the bottom – while you may notice that I’m not quite a beginner when it comes to the outdoors, I was tired. These last few years haven’t been easy, and I was just tired of fighting… the chance to just sit back and meet new people while enjoying a few group hikes was more than worth the price of admission.

Saturday and Sunday, 26-Mar-2022 & 27-Mar-2022

When I first moved to Oregon, back in the Spring of 2015, the first climbing spot I went to explore was Horsethief Butte. My friend Brian had come to visit for our mutual birthdays (his in June, mine in July), and we had a blast exploring a new area and new type of rock.

Since that adventure, I’ve been out to Horsethief quite a few more times… but none in the last few years. Smith, Vantage, and a few other crags have captured my gaze with their taller walls and easier camping.

I’d heard that BCEP teams did their “intro to rock climbing” courses at Horsethief, of course – back when I lived in Hood River, I’d learned to keep tabs on that so that when I did go out, I could avoid the mob of Mazamas laying siege to the entire area… but now, it was my turn to lay siege!

Our start time was a bit later than the usual start time for a hike – 8:00am, instead of 7:00am, which might not seem like a lot… especially when the meeting point is half an hour farther away than the usual ones… But you know what? That extra half an hour of sleep in the morning can sometimes make all the difference, and I was feeling excellent when I finished parking.

I threw my pack on, met up with everyone, and soon enough I was back in my element!

Rock! Anchors, ropes and cords! Equalized anchors, carabiners set opposite and opposed, and lockers interspersed as necessary. Rapelling and belaying, exploring and wandering.

A blast.

There were a few different BCEP groups set up, laying siege to Horsethief, along with a few other non-affiliated groups of climbers sharing the space – leading to a rather raucously energetic environment for the day. Our team had set up a few specific practice stations – Belaying, rope travel, various types of climbing, all of the parts I’ve come to know and love. I worked through them one after another, enjoying myself and helping out however I could… all while keeping an eye out for opportunities for some excellent photos of Mt. Hood (and the cliffs!) peaking out through the clouds.

I rotated through various other areas throughout the day, mostly staying with my own group. Nothing against the others, of course, but it’s been an amazing opportunity for me to get back to my roots of teaching climbing, and reviewing the various skills and processes that I’ve been using for the last 15 years. I’ve learned new names for knots, different ways of tying things, and confirmed more than a few skills that I’d taught myself in years past.

One cool aspect – I ran into some friends from Boston! They were in a separate BCEP group, hence why I hadn’t run into them before, but… Hey! Small world!

In short – the day was amazing! We climbed, belayed, and had a simply glorious time… possibly getting a bit too much sun in the process, but… hey, that’s part of the fun!

This was a full weekend adventure though, so the fun didn’t even remotely end after the climbing did! Once we finished up on the walls, and packed in all our gear, we made our way East to the campsite for the evening – A spot I’d heard of before, but never actually had occasion to visit; Maryhill campground.

It… I mean, it was nice, but it wasn’t really anything to write home about. Your standard issue roadside campground, partially made for RVs and partially for campers, it was pretty much exactly what one would expect from a campground. The main items of note for us were the cooking area, and the firepit – two areas I’d normally ignore, but in this case… well, we had five groups all camping together, so the communal areas became quite critical quite quickly.

Almost as soon as people started arriving, people started cooking.

Did I mention that my BCEP leaders are amazing cooks? Let me reiterate it – not just the leaders, but freaking everyone in my BCEP team is an amazing, simply ridiculously good, cook. I hadn’t had a chance to prepare anything ahead of time, and it turns out that was definitely for the best – we had so much food, of such amazing quality, that everyone was absolutely stuffed by the end… with quite a bit still left over.

We did our best, of course, but soon enough had to throw in the towel and roll ourselves over to the second communal area of the evening; the firepit wasn’t going to start itself, of course.

The rest of the evening was a continuation of amazingness.

Great desserts, excellent company, and tons of stories and conversation around the fire. It was great, and intense, and… strangely a bit melancholic for me; I’ve missed this type of camaraderie, but hadn’t been fully aware of how much I’d been missing it. Being thrown back in was… interesting, and a bit intense for me. No matter how much time seems to pass, I keep getting reminded of just how much healing I still have to go through…

Emotions aside, the evening came and went in a flurry of positivity. I heard stories of climbing on far off continents… and even some nearby places – I ended up spending quite a bit of time talking to two polar opposites: one guy who learned to climb the same places I did (up in New Hampshire) and one lady who’d first climbed in her hometown in France.

Hearing the differences in backgrounds, and being able to add in my own, was like coming back home after a long time away from town… as strange as that sounds. It’s something I’ve known about myself, but I’m being reminded of with this BCEP group – I’m neither a true introvert, nor a true extrovert. I need both to be happy, and it’s been way too long since I’ve recharged my social battery around a campfire.

The night went on, the fire burned and died low, and I slipped back to my tent before sleep overtook me.

Sunday morning broke, but I was already up… as crazy as that sounds. Coffee was brewing, a pancake scramble was sizzling, and I was doing my best to wake myself up to the adventure of the day.

Our group was done for the weekend – of the five BCEP groups at the campsite, three had climbed on Saturday and two were going to climb on Sunday… with our Saturday complete, most of the folks were sleeping in and heading home later in the day.

I’d volunteered to help another of the students teach a boyscout group how to climb, though, so was up and at ’em early, since Mazamas and Boyscouts both have some weird obsession with the dawn…

I ate, cleaned up, packed up, and rolled up to the parking lot ready to rock the day. This one was a lot more chill – I wasn’t leading, that role fell to the other guy, so all I was doing was acting as a backup. Confirming knots and anchors, and making sure to keep the scouts from getting into too much trouble. It was lovely, and gave me a chance to relax and appreciate the cool morning and beautiful rock.

Stepping back a moment though, I want to comment on a cool part about the scouts we were teaching… while it was the boyscouts, as far as I’m aware, the group was actually just two kids – a brother and a sister, earning their climbing merit badges. They were young, maybe 6 and 9, but impressively capable for their age… and both had their requisite 3 climbs, 3 belays, and 3 rappels complete before the day got too hot.

Before heading out, I took a few extra minutes to enjoy the cliffs one last time… the drive back to Wilsonville wouldn’t be too long, and I wasn’t going directly home anyways, but I still made a point to appreciate the stillness of the gorge. There were calls and sounds from the nearby BCEP groups, of course, but… I’ve been around climbing areas for long enough that those faded into the distance for me without much thought.

On the way home I stopped off at a friends house for dinner, getting to try Sonoran Hotdogs for the first time (Ed note: See the recipe, below!) and watch a few episodes of PeaceMaker. Sort of a socialization cooldown for me – instead of going directly from “60 people around a fire” to “alone at home with my thoughts”, I was able to step it down… not a bad plan, especially when the socialization is such a “new” experience for me in recent years!

An amazing ending to an amazing weekend.

Sonoran Hotdogs!
I’ve visited Arizona quite a few times, but somehow never had one of these… and holy crap was I missing out!
– Wrap hotdogs with bacon, and grill ’till the bacon is fully cooked and maybe even lightly charred
– Toast some sweet potato buns
– Put the hot dogs in (removing any toothpicks used to hold the bacon in place!!!), and top with the following:
Pinto beans
Diced tomatoes
Diced onions
Yellow mustard
Jalapeno sauce
– Serve hot, with a single hot pepper on the side

References for first adventures:




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