ORAC students reach new heights

WKU students climb an 80-foot wheat silo covered in ice during a weekend trip to Cedar Falls, Iowa, on Feb. 7. The group included seven students and three ORAC leaders. ORAC graduate assistant, Ben Phaneuf, of Brownsville, Texas, says that the ORAC has been offering this trip since 2005, which makes it a unique staple to WKU’s campus. (Alyssa Pointer/HERALD)

Aaron Mudd

Students looking for a break from their studies and a different kind of education might be interested in the Outdoor Recreation Activity Center, an organization that offers students weekend trips to learn wilderness skills. 

ORAC is an organization associated with the Department of Intramural-Recreational Sports. It gives students opportunities to go on trips, featuring events such as backpacking, rock-climbing and even white-water rafting.

London senior Matt Martin first got involved with the Outdoor Recreation Activity Center after a friend told him the organization needed more help. As several students graduated, they found the need for more people to lead trips. Martin accepted the job.

Martin said the easiest way for students to get involved is to sign up for a trip.

“We offer them every weekend almost,” he said. “Once you come on one trip, you’ll wanna come on a bunch more too.”

Martin’s first experience leading a trip was last August. Martin said it was challenging for him.

“I was nervous before I went,” he said. “But after I was out there and had met everyone and saw how nice everyone was, it kind of went away.”

The trip took Martin and other students to Georgia for white-water rafting on the Ocoee and Hiswassee rivers.

Martin recalled another trip he took last fall.

“Before Thanksgiving break we hiked a section of the Appalachian Trail,” he said. “That was probably my favorite trip because you got to spend the most time with the participants and you got to learn more about them and hang out with them more.”

This semester Martin continues his involvement with ORAC. Although he traveled to other states to backpack or rock climb, Martin looks forward to an upcoming trip right here in Kentucky. The organization plans to take a group and hike around the Cumberland Falls, an area close to Martin’s hometown. 

Perhaps ORAC’s most popular trip this semester is its spring break journey to Moab, Utah. Ben Phaneuf, from Brownsville Texas, works with ORAC as its coordinator while attending graduate school at WKU. Phaneuf said that the trip was the first one in the semester to fill up. 

“It’s in a desert environment, something that’s super humbling,” Phaneuf said. “If you climb a mountain, you’re inspired. You sort of feel built up. Whereas in the desert, if you spend any time out there, you’re humbled time and time again.”

Phaneuf remembers climbing up a frozen grain silo in Iowa, which isn’t as dangerous as it sounds, he said. Climbers inch up the icy silo by creating ledges with special picks while pushing themselves up with their feet. Phaneuf said that ice climbing is a lot like rock climbing. 

“I think they’re both really good sports for just giving people a crash course in being creative with things and thinking things through,” he said. “Rock climbing and ice climbing are actually very safe sports. There’s a lot of fear in people’s mind and it’s pretty much all mental.”

Harrisburg Ill. freshman Chloe Carr also took the chance to go ice climbing in Cedar Falls, Iowa which she said was a once a year opportunity.  Carr rode up to Iowa in a van with other students and played word and board games to help pass the time. She said she wasn’t afraid to try ice climbing.  

“I was the first to volunteer to go up and do it,” she said. 

Carr said she would recommend getting involved with ORAC to anybody.

“Just be open and be ready to do things,”

Phaneuf said that safety is the organization’s top priority when planning adventure trips and that the members try to design trips for beginners. He points to his experience and the presence of a wilderness first responder on every trip as the two factors that keep adventure trips safe. 

For Martin, the value outweighs the risks. Leading trips is something he gets a lot out of.

“It’s definitely helped with my leadership and my patience,” he said.