Vera Defoe: Remarkable Woman & Inspiring Leader

by Kate Evans

Vera Dafoe has been contributing to the Mazamas for 59 years as environmental activist, climb leader, role model, and member of many organizational committees. While she successfully led 152 Mazama climbs and summited 372 mountains, garnering the 16 Peaks, Redman, Parker, and Montague Awards, Vera is most likely known as the founder and curator of the Mazamas Museum. Vera Dafoe retired her ice axe this year at age 90 but is still an active Classics Member of the Mazamas.

Vera became involved with the Mazamas in her early 30s when she and two of her children attended the multi-day Oberteuffer’s Family Camp at the Log Lodge in July 1956. Vera asked Bill Oberteuffer if he thought she could climb Mt. Hood, and he said she could, but needed to get in shape. Twenty-two days after the camp on August 19, 1956, Vera struggled to the summit of Mt. Hood with 43 Mazamas. In 1957 she and Mazamas Pat Willner and Allison Logan Belcher climbed Adams and in 1958, Vera took the Mazama Basic School and summited Mount St. Helens.

Climb Leader and Role Model
Between 1958 and 1966 Vera was climbing more often leading a rope or being an assistant leader. Her first official Mazamas climb was Mt. Hoffman on a Yosemite outing in 1966. In the 37 years between 1966 and 2003 Vera led over 152 Mazama climbs and taught Basic School for many years. She also climbed in the Alps, Dolomites, Cascades, Sierras, Selkirks, Canadian Rockies, Tetons, Olympics, Wallowas, Sawtooths and Sierra Nevada, as evidenced by her impressive eight-page climb resume.

In an oral history interview with Doug Couch she describes her philosophy of leading as follows: “It was extremely important that the first time a person is trying it’s the most important time of all and they should succeed on that first time.” She also feels strongly that women and Explorer Post girls should see positive female role models. During the 1994 Centennial year she was serving on Executive Council and was dismayed that none of the Centennial climbs were being led by women; and so she stepped forth.

In 2003, at age 75, Vera led her last Mazama climb, and in 2005 she and Cloudy Sears—Vera's daughter—ventured on Mt. Dafoe in the Nuit Range of the Coast Mountains of British Columbia. Mt. Dafoe was named by members of the Explorer Post to honor Vera’s “long-term contribution to the success of the Post.” At age 85 in 2012 Vera also joined climbs of Fay Peak, Mt. Pleasant, and First Mother with fellow Classic Ray Sheldon.

Vera gladly served on many Mazamas leadership committees through the years and was known for her insistence to do things right the first time. When Jack Grauer presented the Parker Cup to Vera in 1984 for the, “ ... person judged to have rendered services of the greatest benefit to the club during the year,” he referred to Vera as “the conscience” of the Mazamas. Chris Mackert, former Mazama president, also calls Vera the Mazamas conscience for her integrity, ability to look at things critically and analytically, and her primary concern for the interests of the Mazamas.

Mazama Museum
Not only has Vera contributed to the Mazamas as a climb leader and role model, but she also created and has been the sole curator of the Mazama Museum since 1970—over 46 years. In her oral history Vera states that she started gathering historical equipment when she noticed there were, "... various pieces around and they were really museum pieces." She cleaned the equipment, washed the clothing, and assigned catalogue numbers using a catalogue system she designed using the best museum standards. Folks began bringing artifacts to the clubrooms (our home prior to the Mazama Mountaineering Center), and the Mazama Museum began. She often requested objects for the museum, and according to long-time library volunteer Tom Dinsmore, Vera wasn’t bashful about asking for items, including posthumous requests.

Eventually items moved from Vera’s basement to the clubrooms on NW 19th street, and in 1985, following a clubroom renovation, Vera finally had two lighted cabinets to display museum items. In that year she had exhibits under four themes: snow climbing equipment such as ice axes, crampons and boots; old camping gear and pack sacks; Mazama awards and emblems; and skiing equipment.
Mazama Archivist Jeff Thomas often shared detective work with Vera and she was especially helpful with locating, obtaining, identifying, and cataloging climbing hardware and other items. Currently the museum has nailed boots, early climbing hardware, 36 alpenstocks, and 196 ice axes, including one given to William D. Hackett by Argentine dictator Juan Peron when Hackett climbed Aconcagua. Those of you who attended the Doug Robinson benefit for the library this fall also saw Ty and Marianne Kearney’s bicycle, which they took to the summit of Mt. Hood in 1946, and the magic lantern slides from C.E. Rusk’s 1910 Denali expedition, using the Mazamas 100 year-old Balopticon lantern slide projector—all part of Vera’s Museum legacy.

Our Library and Historical Collections manager Mathew Brock states that our library, archives, and museum are second only to the American Alpine Club’s and we have one of the “ ... premiere mountain artifact collections in the United States.” Mathew also commented favorably on Vera’s “ ... level of dedication and attention to detail, her professionalism, and her thoroughness and consistency for over 46 years.”

Since 1985, Vera has prepared creative displays of museum items, sometimes including her iconic marmots, and in 2001 she was recognized for her years of dedication with the Redman Cup, which honors a notable artistic contribution to the Mazamas. Barbara Marquam, in presenting the Cup, spoke of Vera’s captivating exhibit in 1999, the year Mallory’s body was found on Everest. Vera’s exhibit replicated photos of the equipment used by Mallory on Everest in 1924, " ... using strikingly similar gear from the Mazama Museum’s extensive collection to link our heritage with one of mountaineering’s most dramatic events. This display, together with more than 50 others Vera has created in 30 years of museum stewardship, showcase unique facets of the Mazamas and mountaineering culture and history. Vera captured our attention, tantalized our curiosity, kindled our imaginations and tickled our funny bones.”

The Redman Cup also honored Vera for her many Bulletin and Annual articles and other publications. Two articles in Off Belay show Vera’s playful, sometimes subversive sense of humor. One describes using “aerator sandals”, a.k.a. crampons, to aerate the lawn. In another, Female Anatomy and the Wind Chill Factor, a three-page, illustrated ”scientific treatise” explores wind chill hazards faced by the female climber, “ ... during the performance of certain bodily functions.”

Environmental Activist
Vera earned the Montague Bowl for her conservation work both in and out of the Mazamas. Ray Sheldon called Vera a watchdog for environmental issues, and she is a self-described “constructive troublemaker.” Over the years Vera was involved in many environmental issues, such as fighting the expansion of Timberline and Meadows ski areas, protecting Silver Star, the responsible re-opening of Mount St. Helens after the eruption, beginning the Mazamas involvement with the annual beach cleanup, improving the water quality standards in Bull Run, and helping to achieve wilderness designation for the Menagerie area in the Willamette National Forest. There are two Columbia Gorge victories of which she is especially proud: defeating the Port of Cascade Locks’ plan for an aerial tram to the Benson Plateau, and her work as a Gorge Commissioner to federally protect the Columbia River Gorge.

Stewardship is core to Mazama values—conserving the mountain environment, protecting our history, and sustaining a healthy organization. As Mathew Brock states, “Vera has created a lasting legacy of preservation, both historical and environmental.” During this volunteer recognition issue of the Bulletin, we only thought it fitting to thank Vera for her years of leadership in the Mazamas. We hope that you will be able to join us to thank her in person at the Classics Luncheon on January 20.


Bringing Kids to the Mountain

By Michael Vincerra

For a few short days in winter, under dreary gray skies, 5th-grade students are transported from the Centennial School District in Gresham and East Portland to the Mazama Lodge at the base of Mt. Hood. Transported not only to an alpine world of snow, adventure, science, and learning, but also to a classroom unlike any other. Volunteers, teachers, and parents assure that these students will spend three weekdays immersed in an alpine classroom, where they “learn how to learn,” with an eye toward stewardship of our natural resources.

For 5th graders who see Mt. Hood’s rugged profile from city streets, arrival at Mazama Lodge means a chance to explore nature and have fun. To parents, teachers, and volunteers, it means the chance to pass on a love of nature and curiosity to 11 and 12 year olds—hoping to inspire another generation of outdoor enthusiasts.

Since its inception in 2015, the Mazama Mountain Science School (MMSS) has grown its student body 4 times over, serving about 150 kids in 2015 to 650 kids in 2017. Whereas in the winter of 2015, it educated 3 schools of 5th grade classes, in 2017, it will educate about 11 schools of 5th grade classes.

The Mazamas partnered with the Centennial School District to fill a gap in the outdoor education system. As a result of this partnership, all seven Centennial elementary schools will be a part of MMSS. Elementary schools from the Portland and Parkrose School Districts also attend. MMSS offers a 5-to-1 adult to student ratio, which means fifth-graders get plenty of outdoor mentoring and skill development in a safe, secure environment, from professional instructors and volunteers.

“We couldn’t do the MMSS without Mazama volunteers, but the majority of the volunteer chaperones are parents of the kids,” says Ann Griffin, MMSS Project Coordinator. Chaperones guide the participants through 14 learning stations—from compass usage, mountain geology, animal tracking, volcanoes, plate tectonics, glaciers, the greenhouse effect, and more. The MMSS curriculum was developed as a collaboration between the Mazamas and the Multnomah Education Service District (MESD), who provides professional instructors. MESD is known for developing Outdoor School for 6th graders and Oregon Trail for the 4th graders. Shauna Stevenson, with the MESD, is largely credited as leading this curriculum development.

Griffin reflects, “I think as an organization we’re asking questions as we grow, ‘How do we make sure that we take care of our volunteers?’ ‘How do we plug people into what they really want to do? How do we make sure that they [volunteers] are recognized?’” In 2017, there are 11 different sessions of approximately 55–60 students who attend Mazama Mountain Science School. In groups of 3 –5, kids move through the learning stations with a chaperone, asking lots of questions. A chaperone could be a Mazama volunteer or a child’s parent. For 2017 Griffin estimates about 7 volunteer chaperones will participate. Mazama volunteers play a critical role as chaperones. For many of the students’ families, it is difficult to take three days off from work, for economic or other reasons. Mazama volunteers fill an important gap.

Freda Sherburne is an Environmental Educator, retired from Metro, and former ODS staff member who volunteers for Metro parks programs, leading K–5 students in science and nature activities. Sherburne volunteered with MMSS in 2015 and 2016. “Because of my background in environmental education, I was also able to take on a teaching role when needed or to help parent chaperones lead their activities.” Sherburne’s professional background was a great asset to MMSS. If only for the fact that children are exposed to alpine environments and their stewardship, the MMSS provides experienced volunteers to these fifth graders, placing them where they can make a big difference. Sherburne muses, “I do remember seeing the joy of the students as they did science activities outside in the snow. For some students, this was their first time on Mt. Hood.”

The MMSS is the centerpiece for Mazama youth outreach initiatives, which include partnering with Centennial School District for grant writing and curriculum development. Yet this is a school. So what are the educational outcomes? The goal is to get more kids into the outdoors. The difference is getting kids curious about things like how densely-packed snow can provide insulation, or how to find true north on a compass or by the North Star, by focusing on nurturing curiosity more than test scores. MMSS continues working with Centennial to find ways to reinforce the lessons that students learn on the mountain—their new classroom. “At the end of the school,” says Griffin, “we ask kids, ‘Do you think that you’d be more likely to come back here (Mt. Hood)?’ When the kids say ‘Yes,’ we consider that a win.

Mazama Mountain Science School
Est: 2015
Mazama Lodge, Mt. Hood
Website: tinyurl.com/MAZMSS
Contact: Ann Griffin,
Mazama Mountain Science School Project Coordinator
MMC: M–TH: 10:30 a.m.–3:30 p.m.


2017 Basic Climbing Education Program Information Night

2017 Basic Climbing Education Program (BCEP)

by Patrice Cook, BCEP 2017 Coordinator

I was lost on Table Mountain. I was 8 miles from the trailhead at the PCT. I was alone and had never done this hike. In fact, I was new to hiking and had done less than 4 gorge trails. The only people I had seen that day were on horseback, and that had been more than an hour ago.  As I was in a scree field unable to find the trail, I knew they would not be coming this way. I had no compass, no map, no directions other than one page from a book, no extra water, food, or clothes. I think I actually dressed in cotton. This was my wake-up call.  I did finally find my way to the summit.  There I met a group of seven.  They helped me find my way down and even drove me back to my car after a dip.  It was a recently graduated group of Basic Climbing Education Program (BCEP) students and an assistant.  They told me of the Mazamas and this class I could take to become a better hiker; even meet some folks to go with. That was my start.  BCEP and this organization, this family I call the Mazamas, has changed my life.

BCEP applicants learn about our course through YOU.  Through your excitement and love for the outdoors and through your stories of how it made a difference in your life.  BCEP continues to be an amazing experience.  We need your support.  We need you to talk about BCEP with your friends, family, colleagues, co-workers and connections.  Help us build our community and increase our membership with individuals who love the outdoors as much as we do.

We will have 20+ BCEP teams looking for roughly 250 people to share our knowledge of hiking, climbing, and the great outdoors.

Mark your calendars, for this year’s adventure. Information Night is Feb 2 at the Mazama Mountaineering Center. Classes run March 5 through April 25 at our new home at the OHSU Life Sciences Building (more to come on this). Help us make 2017 a great year full of worthy stories.

BCEP Information Night, Thursday, February 2nd, 6:30 p.m. at the MMC

Click Here for More Information and to R.S.V.P.


Rebolting at the Crags

A Look Into Rebolting and What it Takes to Keep Our Climbing Areas Safe

by Kevin Machtelinckx

The next time you take a big fall on that sport-climbing route that pushes you to your limits at your favorite local outdoor climb spot, take a moment to think about the forces that are being exerted on that little steel bolt keeping you from eating some serious dirt. Topher Dabrowski talks a little bit about what goes into monitoring and replacing those anchors that we all trust with our lives when climbing outdoors.

Donate to the "Portland Rebolting Fund" at mazamas.org/donate today and help keep our favorite routes safe.

When people think of outdoor volunteering, they often think of cleaning up recreational areas, trail maintenance, removing invasive plant species etc. What activities are the equivalent in the climbing community?

Those are all valid volunteer activities within the climbing community since our climbing areas aren't immune to trash and vandalism. They require maintenance for access trails/roads and, of course, need the same attention for the removal of invasive plants, although some of that happens on much steeper terrain. However, there are some unique opportunities specific to the climbing community. One of these is climbing route maintenance, which encompasses bolt and anchor replacement, route safety assessment, and annual route cleaning. Many climbing routes utilize bolts and pitons as fixed protection, but these can be quite old and have been compromised by corrosion, thermal cycling and various types of loading. In addition, pitons are susceptible to expansion and movement of the rock itself. Volunteers will access routes and make assessments for the health of the anchors and whether or not they require replacement. At the same time, we will also clean out cracks that may get chocked with dirt and vegetation, trim tree branches that grow into route lines and fall zones, inspect routes for loose rock and risks associated with any potential rock fall, and replace rappel slings and rings.

Why is what you do important to the community? What is the current state of bolts in Portland/the Gorge/Smith Rock/other areas? 
Unless one is free soloing, climbing anchors are an essential part of the sport. Climbers use them as a backup should they fall while ascending a route and as a means to facilitate a retreat. An effective anchor is one that doesn't fail under the anticipated loads associated with climbing, falling and descending and it should do so over a given period of time. Many of the anchors that we climb on have been installed anywhere from 30 to 50 years ago and, given the materials that were available, the anchor design and the environmental exposure, are reaching or have passed their reasonable service lives. Time has come to replace these anchors, as it keeps us all safe from injury (or worse) and minimizes accidents associated with anchor failures. Accidents and rescues cost money and can often give justification to land managers to shut down a climbing area for fear of responsibility and liability.

Each climbing area is unique in terms of the quality of aging anchors and much of that is due to the environmental conditions that can affect corrosion and hence reliability of anchors. For instance, climbing areas adjacent to maritime regions are strongly affected by corrosion due to the salt content in the air, which can attack anchor materials. The accelerated corrosive actions can render a bolt useless in just a few years, whereas in a dry desert environment, such as Joshua Tree, some of the original anchors show very little sign of corrosion and can be almost as strong as the day they were placed. Rock composition also affects anchor reliability for reasons not related to corrosion but due to the strength of the medium in which the anchor is installed. For example, compare bolts placed around the same period at a local area such as Ozone to those at Smith Rock. At Ozone, the rock is a very hard basalt whereas at Smith the rock is made up of layers of basalt over ash and tuff. The rock at Smith is much more variable and typically has a harder casing over a softer core. Bolts at Smith tend to become loose much faster, as the material around the anchor crumbles and disintegrates under repeated loading and thermal cycling. Evidence of this is the number of "spinners" (bolts with loose hangers) one comes across at Smith. We don't see that same issue as often at the crags in the Gorge, but we have seen faster rates of corrosion due to increased humidity and routes with anchors located in seeps. Let's just say that given the number of questionable bolts that we have pulled at local crags, it’s timely that the current rebolting projects are well underway.

What is rebolting? How long can it take? What is involved (tools, techniques, hardware, glues, epoxies etc)? Does one need to be certified in order to rebolt?
Rebolting is the act of replacing existing climbing anchors on a route after determining that the anchors are no longer functionally safe. The actual process of rebolting a climb depends on where the climb is located (local vs. remote crags) and how many bolts need to be replaced. On the one hand, I have spent a whole weekend to address a route (Barad Dur on Wolf Rock) which involved 8 pitches of climbing and carrying the necessary kit while ascending (bolts, drill, bits, wrenches and related gear). On the other, rebolting a route at a local crag can involve simply rapping in and having the route rebolted in a couple hours. The basic process involves either climbing or rappelling the route so that one can hang in the area where the replacement bolt will be placed. The rock quality around the current anchor position is assessed and a spot for the new anchor is chosen. Sometimes we can utilize the original bolt hole. Other times we have to place the replacement bolt somewhere in the region of the original bolt. If using the original bolt hole, the old bolt is removed, the hole is drilled out and cleaned, and the new anchor is installed. If a new location is going to be used, a new hole is drilled, cleaned and the new anchor is installed. Once the new anchor is in place, it is tightened to the correct specification using a torque wrench so that an adequate preload is placed on the anchor. This helps set the anchor into the rock and minimizes the likelihood of a loose hanger. There is also another "bolting" technology, which is not mechanically fastened in place but is adhesively bonded to the rock. These are called glue-in anchors. They are phenomenally strong if placed correctly, but are more sensitive to installation errors and can lose 90% of their strength if installed incorrectly. Our group uses a mix of mechanical anchors and glue-ins for our replacement work.

Currently there is no certification process for bolting climbing routes and that is very concerning to me. Anyone with a pocket full of cash can go purchase a drill, buy a bag of bolts and start bolting routes. Perhaps it's a testament to the strength and robustness of climbing anchors that we don't have more issues with failures from bad installations. Then again, maybe climbers aren't falling as much as we anticipate; but I have certainly come across more than enough anchor horror stories. Our local American Safe Climbing Association (ASCA) Group that is actively replacing anchors is quite adamant about making sure that those who are rebolting are educated and knowledgeable about the process, following installation guidelines, and have access to the right tools. In realization that there is no formal certification, I am currently putting together a seminar that will be offered through Mazamas and will be required if one wants to volunteer with our local ASCA rebolting group.

Who organizes these outings? Are there different groups? Is it on an individual basis or are there established groups? Does Mazamas have a dedicated group?
The rebolting parties are managed through our local chapter of the ASCA and with support of Mazamas. The local chapter basically handles most of the southern Washington, Columbia River Gorge and local Portland area climbing areas, but we will extend our efforts to other areas in Washington and Oregon as needed. There are other groups in the Smith Rock region and a team of rebolters in Hood River that also initiate their own local work parties. We are grateful to all the volunteers that come out to help with the rebolting projects. The limiting factor up to this point has been that our group has only had access to one drill with the exception of those individuals who donated their own equipment. Our recent fund raiser has addressed this issue and we now have three bolting kits.

How do you raise funds? 
Fundraising activities rely heavily on the climbing community for support. Our local ASCA group has a fundraising campaign underway currently to raise $2,000 in the last quarter of 2016. This will go toward assembling rebolting kits, which will help us have more efficient rebolting parties and will support volunteers who don't have their own gear. The most costly items are the rotary hammer drills, which can run between $500 and $600 each. This fundraiser is asking for donations which can be made via the donations link on the Mazamas website (mazamas.org/donate). When you make a donation, please note "Portland Rebolting Fund" so the funds are directed to the correct account.

Fundraising also happens once per year by the ASCA Head Office and is strongly promoted and supported by Planet Granite who matches all the funds raised annually in the month of October. These funds go directly to the purchase of bolts and glue-in anchors which are then distributed to the local chapters on an as-needed basis giving consideration for the national efforts of all the ASCA chapters.

How can one pitch in and volunteer in climbing-related activities? 
There are a number of organizations that organize volunteer opportunities including the Mazamas, ASCA, Access Fund, American Alpine Club, and Washington Trails Association. Check out their websites for more information. If one wants to specifically get involved with the local rebolting they can contact us via our Facebook Group "Portland Vicinity ReBolting Effort" or via Adam Baylor at Mazamas.

To whom should one report sketchy bolts?
If one has issues with anchors that they have come across on a route, they should provide as much information as possible to help us identify the location of that anchor. This information can be submitted to the Facebook Group "Portland Vicinity ReBolting Effort" or via Adam Baylor at Mazamas. I personally also post information on Mountain Project to help get the word out on sketchy anchors. Information that helps in identifying the anchor in question should include date, closest town, climbing crag, route name, bolt number (starting from the ground), and a description of the issue.

Donate to the rebolting fund today at mazamas.org/donate.