Volunteer Spotlight: Rex Breunsbach

by Brian Goldman

Many of us in the Mazamas (more than 550!) have hiked quite a few miles with affable, self-effacing Rex Breunsbach. In less than a decade, he has led over 500 hikes, traveling over 7000 miles. He leads a popular Wednesday hike from the MMC that often fills quickly.

What made you decide to start hiking? 
I always liked walking around in cities when I was doing business, but I never hiked in the Gorge until 2010. I saw a brochure for the Trails Club and hiked to their lodge. They told me there was another group called the Mazamas that did more hiking. I was hooked after that. I wasn’t very good at first. I worked at a desk for 50 years. I practically had to crawl on my knees coming back from the Trails Club lodge my knees hurt so bad. I hiked some with Kate Evans and she said I should become a hike leader and join the committee. That got me into leading hikes.

Has your health changed since you started hiking? 
I lost 75 pounds, most of that before I started hiking, but hiking has allowed me to keep it off. My diet was just to eat less. The Jenny Craig diet really did help at first, especially with the portions.

Do you do any exercises to stay limber? 
I do some yoga, mild yoga, not fanatic stuff, probably not enough. It’s a good complement to hiking.

Do you have any favorite hikes? 
I think Larch Mountain is my favorite Gorge hike. Greenleaf Peak, too. One consequence of the Gorge fires is that it pushed people out to try other hikes like Greenleaf Peak.

Any good stories?
We were on Spyglass Ridge in the Smokies and on the way up there are some granite slabs that have some markings so helicopters can land. We went up there and sat on the ridge, similar to Angel’s Rest. As we sat there for lunch a young couple came up behind us and asked us if we came up by helicopter—as if we were too old and feeble to get up the hill.
Any hikes or outings that didn’t turn out as expected?
I’m such an optimist and they generally turn out well.

Ever got lost?
I’ve ended up bushwacking occasionally and it would have been better if I’d stayed on the trail. Sometimes a trail you can see on a GPS doesn’t exist.

Why do so many people show up for your hikes? 
Oh, you get a following and I have an email list that really got it going. I like to keep the group together and they appreciate that. After awhile, you get a core that likes to hike together. I enjoy the camaraderie. I like sending out a group photo afterward.

What equipment do you prefer? 
I like my Deuter pack for the Gorge, especially in the winter. I’ve moved to ultralight when backpacking.

Any favorite foods while hiking? 
Heath bars.

If someone’s never hiked before, how would you encourage them to start? 
Maybe start out with the Rambles - pick a hike that you’re comfortable with. Some people enjoy seeing flowers, others the birds, the trees - nature. Maybe some place like Latourell Falls, with lots of water and trees.

Any favorite places you’ve traveled? 
I thought it was the Alps but now I think it’s the Dolomites, especially in terms of rock formations and scenery. My favorite trek has been the Haute Route from Chamonix to Zermatt.

You’re 76 now. Are you slowing down? 
Oh, yeah. I learned that if you go at a reasonable pace you can get anyplace. My proudest hike lead was getting 23 people on top of Mt. Washburn at 10,219 feet. A lot of them hadn’t done any strenuous hikes for a long time. If you have the time, you can get most anybody up these hills—just don’t run. In Patagonia, our hike leader started out really slowly but we all got on top and had a good time when we slowed down and enjoyed it rather than overheating ourselves. It’s better to go slowly than running and running, stopping and then starting.

Anything else? 
Hiking is my drug of choice.

Interested in hiking with Rex? Head over to Mazamas.org/calendar, click on the Leader filter, and type in Rex's name.

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