Mt. Hood Climb Service Day
“The great force of history comes from the fact that we carry it within us, are unconsciously controlled by it in many ways, and history is literally present in all that we do.” James Baldwin
Each year, on the second Wednesday in May, the students and faculty of Oregon Episcopal School, as well as many staff members, parents, alumni, and friends, gather for Mount Hood Climb Service Day. This tradition began as a way to observe the Mount Hood Climb tragedy that occurred in May of 1986, taking the lives of nine members of our community, including seven students, the school chaplain, and a dean. This was an unspeakably sad event that had a ripple effect not only across our school community and Oregon, but also across time, still touching our hearts and guiding our decisions today.
Back in 1986, as we waited for news of our climbers, we were joined in hopes and prayers for a positive outcome by people from the mountaineering community, from our fellow Oregonians, and from others around the world. Those same people shared in our grief, and in the face of unimaginable heartbreak we witnessed the true meaning of community through their compassion and generosity. Our Mount Hood Climb Service Day has been held every year since 1987 to honor those lost, and to give back to the community that came together in support of OES in our time of need.
As a school community, we’ve held the story of the climb close, choosing not to discuss it much outside of OES and honoring the wishes of the survivors and the families of those who perished. But it’s important for us to recall that what we feel and how we choose to act connects us to all of humanity. We do not suffer, and we do not heal, alone.
At our annual school gathering, we commemorate by name each person we lost, and we pause in a moment of silence and reflection. Then we begin a full day of service endeavors, all designed to reflect a spirit of gratitude and hope.
Our Mount Hood Climb Service Day has a clear and hope-filled purpose. These many years later, our day of service has matured into an invaluable tradition and one of our most important endeavors. Those of us who are out engaging with the community on our day of service carry the story within us. It is present in all we do.
Although our students perform service in many ways throughout the school year, Mount Hood Climb Service Day stands out as a cornerstone of our service-learning program. We send dozens of service-learning groups out with a celebration and a blessing. Locally, more than 50 agencies benefit from the hands-on presence of these OES ambassadors. Through our engagement with these agencies we remember our responsibility to care for children, the elderly, and people living in poverty, in hunger, or without homes.
As an Episcopal school, we affirm that love is stronger than death. Throughout the year, as well as on this day, we seek ways to live out our mission to realize our “power for good.” By commemorating the community’s experience on the anniversary of the Mount Hood Climb, we reflect the justice, peace, healing, and hope of which we are all capable.
Though it’s been more than thirty years, we still ache from the experience and feel very protective of the memories of those we lost. But we also believe in healing and growing from our experiences, and the climb was a defining moment for the OES community. It’s a tragic and important piece of our history, and while time helps to heal, we will never forget who and what was lost 33 years ago. And we will learn and grow from this part of our history, because after all, we are a school first.
If you would like to discuss any of the history or context for Mount Hood Climb Service Day, please feel free to contact Head Chaplain Phillip Craig at 503-768-3138.
For further reading, please see the OES student newspaper article, “Thirty Years Later, OES Mt. Hood Tragedy Lives On In Memory and Service,” published by The Dig on the 30th anniversary of the Mount Hood Climb tragedy.