Reaching new heights

October 26, 2012 01:22 pm

Jerry Isaak is in his second year as the coordinator of the EOU Outdoor Program. Isaak is the first full time professional coordinator in the programís history.
Jerry Isaak is in his second year as the coordinator of the EOU Outdoor Program. Isaak is the first full time professional coordinator in the programís history.

Eastern Oregon University’s Outdoor Program makes strides under its first full-time professional coordinator 

Eighteen months ago Jerry Isaak traded easy access to the Scottish Highlands for the opportunity to be an hour from the Elkhorns and the Wallowas … and for a chance to make history at Eastern Oregon University.

Isaak left Scotland, where he was a graduate student at Edinburgh University, to take a position at EOU as the full-time coordinator of its Outdoor Program. He became the first full-time professional coordinator the program has had since it was founded in the early 1970s. 

Today Isaak has the Outdoor Program on an upward trajectory.

“The program is really growing and becoming more robust,” said EOU President Bob Davies. “Jerry brings a lot of experience and energy and the students are responding to it. It is great stuff.”

Isaak did not experience culture shock when moving to Northeast Oregon from Scotland, for he is quite familiar with the Pacific Northwest after living in British Columbia most of his life. He left British Columbia in 2010 to work pursue a masters degree in outdoor education on a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholarship.

Be it Canada, Northeast Oregon, Scotland or other parts of the world, Isaak has long been drawn to mountainous regions.

“Mountains are special places,” Isaak said. “There is less clutter and more room to think.”

Isaak made a number of trips to the Scottish Highlands while based in Edinburgh, and even climbed to the top of Ben Nevis, its highest mountain at 4,409 feet. The Scottish Highlands are considerably lower than the Elkhorns and Wallowas, but they still are formidable because they are remote and prone to extreme weather, Isaak said.

“They are not to be underestimated.”

Isaak welcomes the physical and intellectual challenges posed by mountain environments. He noted that to become competent at operating in remote mountainous regions, numerous skills are needed. These skills are not difficult to develop, however, but “are learned best over years from experience and mentors,’’ Isaak said.

As the coordinator of the Outdoor Program, Isaak will be leading an increasing number of trips to the Elkhorns and Wallowas for skiing, camping, rock climbing, rafting and other activities. Trips to the Anthony Lakes Ski Area are also planned.

Outdoor Program Coordinator Jerry Isaak, standing with rope, leads an EOU rock climbing class.
Outdoor Program Coordinator Jerry Isaak, standing with rope, leads an EOU rock climbing class.

The new director is also involved in taking steps to establish connections with outdoor-oriented organizations such as the Wallowa Avalanche Center, the U.S. Forest Service and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Work with the Wallowa Avalanche Center has led to the establishment of a new student internship program with the center. The student intern will be helping the Wallowa Avalanche Center collect weather information related to avalanche conditions. The information will then be posted on the organization’s website.

The Outdoor Program students assisting the ODFW and the U.S. Forest Service will be monitoring populations of cougars, wolves, martins, wolverines and other predators. The students will do this by recording and reporting tracks or other signs of the predators.

Also new on the Outdoor Program front are classes it will offer as part of the EOU curriculum. One of the classes soon to be available to students will cover avalanche fundamentals.

The EOU Outdoor Program has long been known for providing quality equipment to rent for skiing, rafting, kayaking, camping and other actives. The equipment inventory is being expanded by Isaak. New items available this year include a helmet with a video recorder attached.

All Outdoor Program equipment can be borrowed at no charge by EOU students. Faculty, staff and alumni who pay a small fee are also able to check out the equipment.

Isaak is extending the availability of the equipment to the public for the first time in recent memory. Since the start of fall term, community members have been able to rent equipment for a fee. Money raised from rentals to the community will be used to help fund Outdoor Program activities, Isaak said.

Isaak, who was born and raised in the Frasier Valley, 40 miles east of Vancouver, B.C., came to Eastern with a wealth of outdoor experiences and training. He studied adventure guiding at Thompson Rivers University in British Columbia; was the Chief Mountain Leader of a 2011 British Youth expedition to the Arctic; and has climbed, trekked or skied in North and East Africa, the Himalayas, the Alps and throughout western Canada and the United States.

Isaak has completed his requirements for a master of science degree in outdoor education from Edinburgh University and will soon receive his degree. 

He and his wife of nine years, Katie, are the parents of three young boys.

Jerry Isaak said that he is approaching his favorite time of year as winter approaches. Skiing and ice climbing are among the activities he enjoys most.

“I love winter. Every day I wake up I hope that snow is falling.’’

EOU’s Outdoor Program is based in the Hoke Union Building. For additional information go to or call 541-962-3621.