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January 6, 2004

Local instructor finds focus in Washington wilderness

From: Summit Daily News, CO - Jan 6, 2004

Richard Chittick

If you ever thought that spending 31 days in Washington's North Cascades might be a life-altering experience, you are probably right. Just ask Rayanne Harris.

The French Creek resident completed a month-long National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) outdoor educators' course last summer, and she's convinced it's one of the best things she's ever done.

"I did it for a little bit of a break and a little bit of soul- searching, which these courses are famous for," she said as she glanced out of the window of Cool River Coffee Shop in Breckenridge where she works.

Day-in and day-out she worked with two NOLS instructors and 10 classmates to traverse back and forth over the North Cascades, a dramatic and remote mountain range northeast of Seattle.

In the course, Harris learned about mountaineering, rock climbing, snow camping and basic wilderness travel.

"We started mountaineering the second day. It was a real eye-opening experience," she said.

"For the first 20 days we were pretty much moving - getting up at 5 a.m., packing up the trail and moving to our next locations."

All of this helped her figure out what she wants to do next.

"I realized a path I wanted to take; I want to go to nursing school and incorporate it into teaching and the outdoors," she said.

"Last summer was definitely a good summer as far as my professional development."

It makes sense, as Harris was already deeply entrenched in outdoor education before taking the NOLS course, teaching for the Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center.

She teaches skiing in the winter and rock climbing, kayaking and backpacking in the summer, mostly to deaf people.

Harris found her way into this niche after stepping in as an interpreter for her older sister, Raychelle, when she wanted to learn how to rock climb. Raychelle is deaf, as are both of their parents.

Shortly after the two began rock climbing, they set out to climb Mount Rainier.

According to Rayanne, they ran into a lot of roadblocks because of the hearing impediment while trying to summit the 14,411-foot volcano in central Washington.

She realized that if she could guide entire groups of deaf people into the wilderness, the hearing impediment would no longer be a language barrier.

"I want to combine nursing with travel with education with outdoors, somehow, some way," she said.

The certified wilderness first responder and emergency medical technician credits her growing proficiency at rock climbing in part to local climber Mary Harlan-Harbaugh.

Within the next year, Harris will be leaving Summit County to attend nursing school, and already sent applications to the University of Colorado, Regis University, the University of Northern Arizona and Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

But she'll be back.

"I'm heading back here as soon as I can," she said, adding that if she attends CU or Regis, she'll likely continue working for the BOEC from Boulder or Denver.

© Copyright 2003