To Serve, To Strive, and Not to Yield — Colorado Outward Bound Instructors Reunion


This post by WildSnow.com blogger  

My stint as an Outward Bound instructor lasted a few years in the late 1970s. Back then, Colorado Outward Bound (COBS) hired staff by simply calling mountaineers around the state and asking if we wanted to work for the school. I guess they figured most of us were dirtbags desperate for food money and weak for flattery — they were correct. I got my “uncle OBie” call from a nice guy named Steve Andrews, went to an “instructor orientation” that spring, and was soon tromping through the Colorado wilderness working on my tan and getting as fit as I’ve ever been in my life. The pay was dismal, but as we used to say back then: “we are the people, and this is the life.”

It was indeed good. Working summer courses was basically three weeks of backpacking and peak bagging, with a mix of students that varied from total klutzes to world-class athletes. I was usually nice to the klutzes, and did what I could to get them through a course (which, I’ll admit, at times involved not being nice). But I’d latch on to the athletic students and we’d make the mountains into our playground. Examples of just how good it was? For my first two courses as an instructor in the San Juans, I did first descents of remote canyons that involved tyrolean traverses, fixed lines and rappels. To spice things up, we bagged a few 14ers, went rock climbing, and even did a bunch of 4-wheeling to manage course resupplies and such things. Between courses, we’d hang out in Lake City at our base camp and drink beer, go rock climbing at Taylor Canyon, or trail running around Crested Butte.

Backcountry skiing

At the COBS reunion this past weekend. Louie Dawson with 1960s COBS instructor Stan Badget, who was also his literature teacher in high school.

I’d previously worked as an instructor for NOLS, and as far as I know was the first guy to have instructed for both outfits. Outward Bound was a LOT different than NOLS, with way more emphasis on personal growth through adventure, and virtually no emphasis on skills training other than essentials to get students through the course. Adjusting was hard. I showed up at my first course in the San Juans and was appalled when I found out my students would be doing three weeks of mountaineering in cotton jeans. The NOLS way was wool, baby. So I lost it, pulled course director Ted Kerasote aside, and told him I’d quit right then and there if I couldn’t get these kids into some survivable clothing. Ted calmed me down and it worked out, but I always had trouble going whole hog on the OB way, and tended to hybridize my style between the two. No one but the students noticed.

Spring of 1980 was the best. I was hired to teach a 23 day ski mountaineering course. Director Denny Hogan couldn’t face the thought of me whining about being chained to the non-skiers on the course, so he let me form a patrol of the 12 best skier/students (normal OB style would have been to mix up ability levels, for a better “social challenge”). During that course the students got to climb and ski at least 15 big Colorado mountains. The weather held the whole time, a big May high pressure with nearly 30 bluebird days in a row — perfect corn snow. Myself, I skied 23 major Sawatch range peaks during that course, including a couple of 14ers and a bunch of high 13ers. Some days, I’d even do a peak in the morning with the “kids,” then head out in the afternoon and ski another one. Like I said, this is the life.

So, it was good to bring back memories and join up last weekend with 1960s through 1980s COBS staff for a fun reunion up near Marble, Colorado. The thing about Marble is that’s where Colorado Outward Bound was founded in 1961, by non other than Paul Petzoldt, along with another 10th Mountain Division veteran and ultimate outdoorsman named Tap Tapley. So it’s the perfect place for an event like this.

Backcountry skiing.

Entrance sign at Marble Base Camp.

The legends of COBS’s early Marble days are crazy. Some of the instructors carried guns and shot marmots for food. No one knew the terrain, so they had to stumble through the Elk Mountains and figure it out on the fly. Story is that the famous Outward Bound mountain solo began here, when Tap Tapley messed up the food planning and was short three days rations. Rather than admit to the students they were out of food, he just handed out what was left and said it was time for their “solo.” The students found that fasting in the mountains by themselves was a valuable experience, and the process became part of the curriculum (though watered down in later years.)

Backcountry

Map wall at Marble Base kept us occupied for an hour.

More than 100 staff showed up for the campfire Saturday evening. The stories were hilarious. Children conceived in snow caves, girls trapped naked on overturned sailboats, lost staff wandering through the mountains as clueless as their students. Yep. The life.

Backcountry skiing.

Map wall detail. Part of Marble OB's contribution to mountain culture is their naming numerous terrain features in the Elk Mountains. Most of those names are only used by OB, but some have snuck into the common vernacular. If the Marble Base goes away, so do the maps and most of the names, though some maps will no doubt remain in archives.

For me, the most powerful experience of the reunion was when we circled in a mountain meadow for a reading of that famous passage from Tennyson’s Ulysses:

“We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are,–
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”

Backcountry

Ropes course at Marble Base was probably one of the first in the country (this is the modern version, now deactivated but still in good shape).

The second most powerful part of the deal was hanging out at the Marble basecamp. Idealists at Outward Bound will tell you that the school is not their buildings or their basecamps, but rather their people and the mountains. They’ve got a point. But. Reality strikes. When a group of buildings has existed since 1962, and been the basis for such a powerful force in North American mountain culture, those buildings have significance–even spirit. This place does, for sure. Sadly, the OB Marble basecamp is up for sale. If it goes away, that’s a tragedy that will make me cry. Folks at the reunion spoke of getting a non-profit started and buying the camp ourselves. If it comes to that, great. Otherwise…

Backcountry

COBS staff from the 1960s, many of whom worked for decades. I don't know who all these guys are (apologies), but that's Leslie Emerson smiling in the back (for years she drove all the boys crazy), Steve Andrews at the back in the blue jacket, Denny Hogan on left in blue shirt, Gary Neptune in sweater, next to Denny, Stan Badget at left front with beard, John Evans, polo shirt, in middle (the school director for years), reunion organizer Marlene Manown front/right in green tshirt, well known avalanche expert Art Mears on right front, and far right is photographer Chris Brown. You look at this group, and realize they're the foundation for hundreds of Colorado mountain people who've been associated with COBS over the years. Yes, the school has had a HUGE influence on our mountain culture -- good to acknowledge that.

And yes, Outward Bound is the mountains and their people. Nice to hang out with some of those.

I guess I should add a photo of yours truly working my fourth 3-week course of summer, 1979. This was the last one of that year, late summer in the Collegiate range of the Sawatch Mountains, Colorado. What a way to spend summer, tromping around for 12 weeks in the alpine! I still hear from a few students — by all accounts they loved it as well.

Outward Bound 1979

Colorado Outward Bound 1979, I'm teaching rescue techniques to my patrol in the Collegiate Peaks out of Leadville. John Waterman took the photo, he was working with me. We had a great time, to say the least!

Comments

39 Responses to “To Serve, To Strive, and Not to Yield — Colorado Outward Bound Instructors Reunion”

  1. Halsted September 15th, 2009 5:13 pm

    Lou,
    I heard that Tap Tapley was still alive a couple of years ago, and living down in New Mexico. I’m not sure if he’s still alive. He was my gym/wood shop teacher when I was in the 4th grade. Gym class with him was a blast. He’d take us out and let us climb all over these rocks and sled down these wild slopes in the winter. :cool:

    I worked with Denny Hogan at the CAIC. And he was my COBS instructor in the 70′s.:blink:

  2. Lou September 15th, 2009 5:50 pm

    Indeed, I’ve heard Tap is still around. I interviewed him back when I was researching the Trooper Traverse, as he was one of the soldiers on that trip. That’s how he got hooked up with Petzoldt. Pretty interesting he was your gym teacher!

  3. Jon Jay September 15th, 2009 7:06 pm

    Hey Lou,

    Wasn’t Mark Udall involved with Outward Bound back in the day?

  4. Lou September 15th, 2009 7:18 pm

    Absolutely. He didn’t show up at the reunion so he didn’t get a mention :angel:

  5. Mark September 16th, 2009 8:50 am

    Amazing culture and people. It was great you got to work and make all sorts of first ascents/descents all while staying in fantastic shape.

  6. Todd Goertzen September 16th, 2009 10:08 am

    Sorry to have missed the reunion. Glad to see the Modern Version of the ropes course is faring well… Lyle Schultz and I built that version in ’88. Thanks for the nostalgia and the pictures. If someone could figure out a way to bottle Leslie E’s smile and sell it as feel good medicine – they’d be incredibly wealthy.

    Given your close proximity – please keep us informed on any scuttle-butt regarding the sale of the Marble Base Camp – thanks again

  7. Mark September 16th, 2009 11:06 am

    With the growth of Outward Bound and NOLS-type courses, I would hope places like the Marble headquarters would only bring more business and interest.

  8. Mark September 16th, 2009 11:10 am

    When I moved to Philadelphia I considered working for Outward Bound. They provide some pretty cool programs for city kids in massive urban parks and other areas.

  9. Jerry Shustrin September 16th, 2009 3:26 pm

    That’s Rick Medrick, fourth from the left, middle row (his head is right in front of the guy in blue in the back). Rick’s a very old friend of mine, former Exum Mountaineering Guide, Dartmouth College grad, owner of Outdoor leadership Training Seminar and former owner/operator of Arkansas River Tours.

  10. roy smith 1967 -69 September 18th, 2009 6:21 pm

    So sorry I couldn’t make it – I was in Crested Butte, where I bought a house for 12 grand in 69 – until September 9th but had to leave to go East.

    Where are all the English guys in the photo. Everyone seems to be older, thought not everyone … and really grown up. Oh dear. And why has everyone dyed their hair white?

    Where is Joe Nold and how is he; anyone? Joe met me at the Denver railway station in April, 1967. I had just arrived from Chicago and I will always remember looking out of the carriage window that morning, still 50 miles from Denver -just as dawn was breaking – and seeing the snow capped Rockies. This is a memory I will never forget nor all the great years with COBS and the many years that followed, Joe Nold was a terrific role model and I was fortunate to know him.

    I was with Rusty a few weeks ago, my old Rhodesian/English/American/Canadian buddy who I met on Mt Kenya in 1960. Rusty is doing great and persists in doing only new routes.

    anon

  11. Mike Soucy September 21st, 2009 8:17 pm

    Thanks for this Lou. I just came from working out of the Leadville basecamp, where I caught word of this. Fortunately, I am not yet old enough to have been invited, but can safely attest that Colorado Outward Bound is still producing as many mountain dirtbags as ever.
    I’m ten years in and can’t seem to stop because of the great folks and the office. And yes, the master maps that give away so many potential ski descents for the next season are a perk as well.
    It makes me sad to think about the Marble base ceasing to exist. It is literally where it all began for experiential wilderness education in the US. It’s true that it’s still just about the people and the great times that we have in the hills, but as you know, that place is an institution.
    Anyways, we’ll see. It would make a sweet ski lodge though, eh?

  12. Lou September 21st, 2009 8:27 pm

    Roy, great you dropped by here! And Mike Soucy, don’t wear those knees out!

  13. Molly Hutsinpiller September 23rd, 2009 7:03 am

    A great time for you all. I was so glad when Leslie Emerson hired me in the early 80′s after SOBS closed down from Santa Fe!

    I thought I was the only OB instructor wandering around lost with my patrol. Then I learned how to read a map! Digging a platform for the 12 of us to sleep, running out of food and water, and picking the twigs out of my hair before getting to resupply….. those were the days.

  14. Larry Gering October 6th, 2009 10:41 am

    I was a student in 1989 COBS C-483B Alpine Mountaineering in the Colorado San Juans. One of the people quoted above was the course director. For more than 20 years I’ve resented that COBS put an unqualified person with limited organizational skills, zero leadership skills and a general attitude of “who cares” in charge pf my course. The instructors were great; the director was not able to do the job. The quote above (and you can figure out who you are using the course info) just proves my claim.

  15. Lou October 6th, 2009 1:54 pm

    Larry, COBS definitely had a varied mix of skill levels in their staff, but in my experience most were exceptional. Sorry to hear that wasn’t the case for you.

  16. Jim Arnold October 21st, 2009 12:54 am

    Recently came across my course certificate for COBS, Course No. 14, Aug. 9 to Sept. 5, 1965, signed by Joseph J. Nold. An amazing time in the mountains, while the Watts riots began Aug. 11, and the Marines landed at Da Nang on Aug. 8.

  17. Lou October 21st, 2009 7:12 am

    Jim, wow!

  18. judith robertson July 28th, 2010 3:36 pm

    Hey Lou,
    Thank you for putting this page together. I am contacting you as I am working in Leadville, and am pulling together photos, documents, artifacts for a “marble memorial” room in the basement of the south dining hall. I was wondering if you might have photos from the old days that I could use, along with names as you have done for some of the above photos. Or anything else you think would be good to be preserved, honored, and shared.
    Thanks, and feel free to come visit any time.
    Judith

  19. Phil Whiting November 6th, 2010 2:57 pm

    I am a Brit who worked a summer in 1985. On one of the courses I met up with Denny Hogan. Nice bloke. I well remember Jim Gilchrist ‘funniest bloke in the world’ as well. We descended ‘Cat Flap Pass’ and named it on the map in the snow. Does it still exist?

  20. jim arnold November 27th, 2010 1:45 pm

    So, a little over a year since my comment in Oct 2009 about my COBS Course 14 in 1965. I just came across my daughter’s certificate for a short course March 28-31 in OB Zimbabwe (a Scripps/Pitzer College course). Through the nonprofit she started, she provides adventure and significance for attorneys representing stateless refugees in several countries. See AsylumAccess.com. The spirit of OB lives on in many ways.

  21. Lou November 27th, 2010 4:26 pm

    Jim, thanks for dropping by!

  22. jack scarborough December 1st, 2010 10:46 am

    Hi lou
    Don’t know you, but I completed COBS in 1980 ! (creston peak ) area, I am intrested in my instructor, ED Young and director, candice, do you know what these guys are up to these days, and do you know if there will ever be a renuion for this class, it would be a blast to jazz it up after 30 years !…yikes !

  23. Lou December 1st, 2010 10:55 am

    Jack, sorry, I don’t know where those guys are, nor do I know about course reunions. Lou

  24. Bill Cushman January 7th, 2011 3:08 pm

    January 7, 2011. I just today discovered this site and was shocked to learn that the Marble base camp was for sale two years ago! Has it sold? I can’t help hoping not. My course was the old Teacher Practicum in June of 1979. Leslie Emerson was director of the four patrols that made up the course, and Ron Gager was my patrol instructor. They were superb! I’ll be grateful if someone can and will send me their addresses, for I’d like to tell them that after 31 years the course and their leadership are still vivid in positive and wonderful ways.
    Willi’s Rock, Mount Ritchie, the Meadow Mountain Traverse, Snowmass, and on and on. Thanks, OB!

  25. Ryanlikeslightweight July 30th, 2011 12:40 am

    Tap is still around and doing well. He lives in NM in the summers and has a house in Baja next to the NOLS branch down there for winters. He “discovered” NOLS baja, so it’s pretty cool to walk the beaches with him and hear stories from the old days. I had a chance to share some birthday cake with him on his 70th birthday a few years back, and he entertained me for hours with stories of he and Paul training soldiers to survive in the Alutians, starting COBS and later NOLS with Paul. Amazing fella. Great story Lou, it too bad that the marble base is for sale, lots of history and memories there I’m sure.

  26. Anne Evans leonard June 8th, 2012 7:55 pm

    I Was 10 years old in 1962 when my dad (Jay Evans) was a ,COBS instructor. We drove from Hanover, NH in. VW bug- 4 of us. As a child it was heaven in the Rockies for the summer. From there we went to Hurricane Island in 1965. My dad is still alive and I can get more ’62 COBS names if anyone is interested . Fun times in the early stages of OB for sure!

  27. Bill Scott June 27th, 2012 8:37 pm

    I just stumbled on this story. I was a student on COBS 1, June 1962. My patrol instructor was Ralph Clough, and Tap was the Chief instructor.
    I went on to work for NOLS for years, and worked a number of times with Tap. Haven’t kept up with anyone else who was there at the time, but it was a great learning experience for me.
    I still have a photo of the entire COBS group – I think there were four patrols, maybe 50 students all together.

  28. Suzanne Mark July 12th, 2012 5:31 pm

    I was ina 21 day COBS course in the Sangre de Cristo range in 1981, I was 17. Anne Montgomery and Les Boyd were my instructors. I will be forever grateful for that experience. Before then, I had no athleticism, and I “found” that I had strength. I wonder where my instructors are now. Wherever you are, THANKS.

  29. Suzanne Mark July 12th, 2012 5:33 pm

    OOps, I think it was Les Loyd. Thanks!

  30. Joe Keoughan July 13th, 2012 3:55 pm

    Hello all,

    I just discovered this thread and meeting report. I was an instructor from about “69 to about ’74. I recognize old friends in the photo incl. Dennis Hogan and Steve Andrews plus others I remember seeing around Basecamp. I often thought I would like to wander on up there someday to see the old place again.

    I know for me this was the Center of the Universe during those years. It was an amazing escape from the boring and tedious Midwest into a world of cutting edge education, the new world of climbing, and just plain fun in the mountains.

    Is the old place still for sale? What ideas have come forward to use the place?
    No doubt the road up to it is a problem because of expense to upgrade it. If it’s still for sale I’ll bet that has something to do with it.

    How about a bunch uof us buy it and just use it for a hideout? We could hang around the mess hall, drink lots of beer and then walk to Aspen. Just like in the old days!

    Joe Keoughan

  31. Lou Dawson July 13th, 2012 4:08 pm

    Joe, there was and perhaps still is lots of positive energy behind the concept of buying the camp. But it’s a difficult project and in reality the camp isn’t in the most ideal spot. Difficult access, for example, and the physical plant is pretty run down. Nonetheless, something might come of it. I’m not in my office to access notes about this, but perhaps someone else will chime in. Lou

  32. judith July 13th, 2012 4:26 pm

    Hey all,
    check out the website for the 50th:
    outwardbounds50thanniversary.weebly.com

    Please feel free to come up and visit in Marble.
    And join us for the september anniversary event…. registration details on the above website.
    jrobertson@cobs.org

  33. Lee Lindstrom October 2nd, 2012 10:57 am

    I like Suzanne was on a course in 1981 C-289 Sangre de Cristos My patrol leaders were Ed Young and Hutch I have always wondered what happened to them. My course was the most rewarding thing that I have ever done. Thanks to all that made is such a success.

  34. John Ensign November 23rd, 2012 10:29 pm

    I was a member of the first teachers course (C28T) and will never forget the great experience that I had and what I learned. I spent the next three summers working logistics for courses at Marble and have many great memories of the camp and the wonderful people that I got to know. I visited the camp a few years ago just to bring back the memories and to take in the views of White House Mountain and Treasury Ridge that we all enjoyed every day.

  35. Jim Robins September 13th, 2013 7:13 pm

    Greetings -
    I was in course C-13, Bridger Patrol, and was in line with Lou Covert the day he was struck by a rock and fell to his death from West Maroon Peak. I remember one patrol mate, Mike Guillaume, but few others. The guys called me “Smokey” cause I came with a “Smokey the Bear” looking fedora that I pinched from my grandfather’s closet.

    Wonder if anyone else from C-13 Bridger Patrol is still out there ? I was 16 and now 65.

    Thanks -
    Jim Robins
    Santa Fe, NM

  36. Chanan Hoffman October 22nd, 2013 8:22 pm

    Hi all,

    I am the son of Howard Hoffman who was involved with the C-13 course and was there for Lou Coverts death, as well as a participant of the colorado outwardbound for some time. I am reaching out on his behalf to Jim Robins, and anyone else who might be interested in reconnecting with him.

    all the best,

  37. Phil Kanning May 25th, 2014 12:46 pm

    I was in Bridger Patrol C-8 in 1964. Steve Webster was our instructor and i was wondering if any of the instructors or students from that era had any information about him. Thanks –Phil Kanning

  38. Betty Austin June 15th, 2014 10:01 am

    I’m the unidentified female in the picture of staff from the ’60′s, representing COBS from the ground in offices in Denver and at Marble, there for 18 years before moving on to Australia Outward Bound at the great office upheaval of 1981 folllowing our anniversary celebration with Sir Edmund Hillary.
    I wrote the staff newsletter and sent out all the instructors reports to the students and donors so if you worked as instructors before 1982 I see a lot of you by your handwriting..Roy Smith, Bob Godfrey, Vic Walsh, Chris George, Joe Nold, Brian Serff, among the many. My daughter Janet worked for Susan Grimm in the kitchen and then for Tapley at Camp Stoney. My two young sons set squirrels traps at Marble where we spent summers during the teachers’ practicum while Godfrey was course director. The rededication of the Marble base camp is Labor Day weekend and some of the people sought in the comments on this article have been at some previous Marble gatherings (Ed Young, who’s in the area, and Joe Nold). As COBS is building momentum again hopefully there will be donations to the school in tribute to ones lost. Godfrey, Harry Frishman, Art Agatsuma, Mark Hess, Bill Forrest, George Gardner, Roger Nicholson, Thelma Lovett, Steve Truitt, and most recently Gerry Golins.

  39. Lou Dawson June 15th, 2014 10:08 am

    Thanks Betty! Lou

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