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reed magazine logoMarch 2010

On the Ledge

How Reed’s climbing instructor prevented an accident from becoming a tragedy

By Ted Katauskas

Rodney Sofich hung up the phone.

It’s not exactly like him to deliberately drop a caller—especially a reporter from the Oregonian—but he had reached the limit of his patience. The reporter had called to interview Sofich, Reed’s instructor of backcountry navigation and rock climbing, about how he helped rescue an injured climber in North Cascades National Park last summer. He had politely declined to comment. She had persisted.

“I said, ‘This conversation is inappropriate. There’s no story here.’ She said, ‘Well, you work with college students, maybe you can teach them something…’ And I said, ‘When the opportunity arises, I will teach them,’” recounts Sofich.

A professional mountain guide with an unwavering steely gaze, a stubborn shadow of stubbly black beard, and a military-short buzz cut, the 37-year-old Sofich is one of 65 coaches and outdoor instructors who make up Reed’s robust physical education program (see next page). In addition to showing students the ropes—literally—twice a week, Sofich also leads them on wilderness expeditions, including the renowned four-day Odyssey Trips that take place during O-Week.

“I’ve always been impressed with him,” says Michael Lombardo, director of physical education and athletics at Reed. “He’s an absolute expert and yet he’s so humble. He doesn’t like a lot of attention. But I know this area, I know what that terrain is like, the distance, the elevation, the rigors of what he must’ve gone through… If I was going to put my life in anyone else’s hands in an outdoor environment, it would be Rodney. Absolutely. He’s made of steel.”

Every summer, elite mountaineers make a pilgrimage to North Cascades National Park to hone their skills and train for expeditions to monstrous peaks in Alaska, Asia, and South America. The park, a rugged 680,000-acre alpine wilderness just south of the Canadian border, offers several forbidding challenges. First, sheer geographical remoteness—getting to the base of North Cascades climbing routes typically requires backcountry travel of a day or more. Second, hazardous crossings over glaciated terrain. More than half the glaciers in the Lower 48—300 in all—are found here. Third, a skyline defined by cloud-slicing knife-edges of rime-crusted snow (some so sheer, traversing requires a technique wherein the mountaineer straddles the ridgeline as though riding a horse, and scoots to the summit).

North Cascades

The North Cascades boast many forbidding climbs: Dorado Needle is the high point on the left-hand side of this panorama. Eldorado Peak is the high point on the right.

jason racey •

reed magazine logoMarch 2010