SPU students backpacking

With mountain hikes, rock climbing, skiing, and countless outdoor activities nearby, your after-class and weekend adventure possibilities are endless! Here’s a guide to exploring your Pacific Northwest backyard.

Bears! Tobijah Rogers knew he might encounter wild bears on this hiking trip. Now, here they were — three black bears — in the middle of a valley, a couple hundred yards away.

Tobijah Rogers and Stephanie Butcher in front of a rock climbing wall
Tobijah Rogers

Backpacking in the Olympic Mountains, the SPU junior and his friends kept a safe distance, but with each step, Rogers’ excitement grew. “There’s just this anticipation,” he remembers, “this ‘wow, I’ve never gotten this close to a bear before.’”

Bear encounters are extremely rare, but if you love the great outdoors, SPU’s Pacific Northwest backyard gives you direct access to almost any outdoor adventure you could can imagine.

Whitewater rafting, rock climbing, skiing, snowboarding, hiking (usually bear-free!), kayaking … with so many mountains, lakes, and trails nearby, every weekend can be a new adventure.

Want to explore the mountains but don’t have the gear? That’s where Rogers comes in. As coordinator of SPU’s Outdoor Recreation Program (ORP), he rents tons of gear to students.

Buying your own gear is expensive. Even renting it isn’t that cheap, so ORP offers a long list of camping gear, all at discounted prices. Whether it’s a sleeping bag, tent, or backpack, no item costs more than $10 to rent for the weekend.

Stephanie Butcher rock climbing indoors
Stephanie Butcher

“I was in eighth grade when I went on my first backpacking trip with my dad and my uncle,” says ORP Assistant Stephanie Butcher, a junior. Gathered around the campfire that night, she knew it was only the start of countless adventures outdoors.

A nursing major, Butcher is considering becoming an expedition nurse or a wilderness nurse, where she would provide care for rock climbers and hikers. She spends her summers leading rock climbing trips with Peak 7 Adventures, a local Christian nonprofit that works with underprivileged kids and their families.

One of Butcher’s favorite SPU memories is hiking Lake Colchuk, near Leavenworth in Central Washington, with four friends. “We woke up early and hiked to the lake,” she remembers. “There was a blanket of snow, and the sun was about to come over the mountain. The lake was completely frozen over. The ice was clear, so you could see how blue the lake is.”

Overcome by the beauty, the friends stood together at the top, soaking it all in. As they rested, it wasn’t just the view that warmed Butcher. She laughs, “I brought a Jetboil so I could make hot chocolate at the top.”

The mountain view and lookout point

A chance to disconnect

Rogers remembers climbing Mt. Forgotten, about two hours from SPU, one snowy winter. “You’re huffing and puffing up this snow slope,” he says. “You get to the summit of this peak and you can see all these beautifully white-lit mountains all around you. You can see for miles.”

When people talk about having a spiritual experience — a mountaintop experience — Rogers understands. “The outdoors are a chance for solitude, for silence, to disengage from the world and society.

It’s very easy to hear God and to experience something like that in the outdoors, compared to when you’re in your normal routine in life,” he says. Away from technology and distractions, a refreshing clarity emerges.

SPU students in the Sasquatch Hiking Club in their hiking gear
Sasquatch Hiking Club in a lookout atop Mount Pilchuck

Build deeper friendships

Looking to build stronger friendships? Try doing something outdoors. “You have deeper, better conversations,” Butcher says. “You get to know people out of their usual context.”

During his first year at SPU, sophomore Brandon Pope joined a group of Seattle Pacific runners, including sophomore Andrew Baklund. “We’d go to Discovery Park, go down on the beach and run,” he says. Post-workout, the group sometimes got together for breakfast. It’s a big way in which Pope felt a sense of community his freshman year.

“It really allowed my friendships to go deeper,” he says. “That was my intentional group that I started to build friendships with. Even to this day, we’re all still pretty close.”

Brandon Pope and Andrew Baklund sitting, eating, and talking in a tent
Sophomores Brandon Pope and Andrew Baklund camp and explore the Northwest.

This past spring break, Baklund embarked on a camping road trip with some men from his residence hall floor. “We just wanted to go on an adventure,” he says. The men explored Oregon sand dunes. They camped on an Oregon beach and in the California Redwoods. They visited a lighthouse on the California coast.

“We cooked breakfast together outside,” he says. “We made pancakes, sausage, and eggs, all using a camp stove; washing the dishes out with a plastic jug of water.” Cooking, traveling and exploring together, the friends made countless memories. Baklund says, “There’s something about being out on your own, independent, and not missing out on anything.”

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