Leader Spotlight: Kyle Breakey

Leader Spotlight is a monthly blog to showcase our incredible volunteer leadership at The Mountaineers. It is a platform for our leaders to share tips and tricks, favorite memories, and inspiration for new and rising leaders. Meet this month's featured leader: Kyle Breakey
Sara Ramsay Sara Ramsay
Education Manager
December 29, 2017

For our Leader Spotlight this month we talked to Kyle Breakey, a volunteer with the Bellingham Branch who sees a huge value in mentorship for leaders at The Mountaineers, both as a mentor and a mentee. 

Name: Kyle Breakey
Branch: Bellingham
Where do you live? Bellingham, WA
How long have you been a leader? 4 years (member since 2011)
What activities do you lead? Recently, I have primarily been leading Basic and Intermediate climbs, but I also help with various Basic and Intermediate field trips every year.

Leadership Questions

What inspired you to become a Leader for The Mountaineers?

I quickly discovered how nice it was to be able to choose an objective and advertise your interest in certain routes or summits. My friend and mentor SueB was my inspiration for becoming a leader. I, like her, really enjoyed facilitating trips to places that students had heard about or saw on the map and wanted to visit. Exposing peoples' capabilities to themselves, and witnessing that moment of triumph and budding confidence after completing something they have been fantasizing about, is very rewarding. Watching students progress into leaders and competent alpinists is incentive enough to lead some of their early adventures.

What is the favorite trip that you've led for The Mountaineers?

My favorite trip so far was a Basic climb in my backyard. I got to offer a climb for a good friend of mine so he could finally finish the last of the graduation requirements for the Basic Climbing Course (a year after he had expected to finish). We picked a stellar weekend and gathered a great group to join us - some Bellingham Branch members who just wanted to get out, some Basic students from the current year who still needed a climb to graduate, and one out-of-towner who turned out to fit right in. We enjoyed a stellar hike out to Hannegan Pass and over Ruth Mountain in late season conditions, dropped all of our heavy loads, and sauntered over to tag Icy Peak in the waning hours of a long summer day. Sunset lit up the sky and alpenglow fell on the small glacier as we exited back towards our packs. We arrived at camp as night fell on the PNW, and we camped at one the most scenic benches out there, with the north aspect of Mt Shuksan staring right at us. What a wonderfully fulfilling and gorgeous day that was. All we had to do the next morning was enjoy some coffee and the view before retracing our steps back to the trailhead, where flip flops and some non-caffeinated celebratory diuretic beverages awaited.

How has your leadership style evolved as you've gained experience as a Leader?

My experiences in leadership roles are a testament to the old Einstein adage, "the more I learn, the more I realize I don't know." Group dynamics, individual ability or comfort levels, weather, route conditions, planning, etc, are all complex, dynamic variables that offer continuous, valuable learning opportunities for leaders. I hope my leadership style continues to evolve as I gain experiences. Early on, I was pretty stoked to just get after it and "drag" people along assuming they'd be fine (and they were), but now I try and assess group capability as a whole rather than in smaller components. I'm still learning lots about limits, speeds, realities, and myself when put in awkward or difficult situations. I hope my leadership style continues to evolve to be really inclusive while still offering challenging and rewarding objectives for all participants.

Are there any learning experiences you can share with us, such as take-aways from a close call or a near miss?

I was on the Snow Creek Wall the day a giant loose flake was dislodged from its' delicate resting place near the Pressure Chamber pitch on Hyperspace. My partner and I were on Iconoclast, a route that shares the first few pitches with Hyperspace, and we had JUST finished the pitch that's plum below the upper pitches of Hyperspace when we heard yelling from above. I was on lead and watched the giant block fly right by me and my partner below. The block landed a mere few feet from a belay we had just vacated the pitch before. Luckily for us, and all parties below, no one was injured. That's one instance where you can't help but be reminded of hazards outside of your control. The learning experiences of the day were to never take anything for granted, be hesitant climbing below other parties on routes with rockfall potential, always stay alert, and to always look out for fellow climbers who may also be in dangerous positions. Experiences that result in serious consequences are not fun to deal with and they distract you from an otherwise wonderful experience in the alpine. Take my advice and avoid these situations altogether.

What advice do you have for aspiring leaders in The Mountaineers community?

Find a mentor, or several, and go climbing with them as much as possible. Extract as much knowledge and wisdom as you can, while gaining valuable experiences of your own, to help shape how you will make the types of decisions that leaders are responsible for making. The more experience you have under your belt, the more natural it will be to take on leadership roles, and there are LOTS of good mentors available in this organization. I'd like to admit that without the help of my friend and mentor SueB, I would have had a much harder time motivating to complete the necessary requirements for becoming a leader. Fellas are great, but some of the best mentors and trip leaders that I had the honor of shadowing and building confidence with have been female, so I especially encourage more aspiring women leaders to take on the challenge! It's fun, and there is a very good support system in place to get you going. Besides, we lost a wonderful friend, mentor, and outstanding leader this past summer so there are some very large shoes to fill.

ANYTHING ELSE WE SHOULD KNOW ABOUT YOU?

Joining The Mountaineers opened up so many different avenues of opportunity for me. I owe the Bellingham Branch of The Mountaineers a huge thank you, and I love being close to so many of the branch's members. In the same year I took the Basic Course, I networked my way into a medical course that started my volunteer ski patrol career at Mt Baker. This course got me involved with Bellingham Mountain Rescue, which I am still involved with as well. Joining The Mountaineers ultimately took me to some pretty awesome places I had never even heard of until I started mountaineering, for which I am incredibly grateful. When I'm not out playing in the Cascades, I have been known to stay where oxygen is more abundant and go mountain biking, paddling in my home-made wooden kayak, or chasing pressure gradients at a local kiteboarding beach. Living in Bellingham is rough, but somebody has to do it. I am a chemist in my professional life, but no one cares to talk about work.

Editor's Note: Sadly, Sue Bennett (SueB) PASSED AWAY in July 2017 as the result of a climbing accident. She was a beloved 15-year member of The Mountaineers community - a Bellingham Branch member, volunteer leader, and board member. In 2016, Sue received Bellingham's Branch Service Award for her leadership and dedication. We interviewed Sue in the summer of 2017, shortly before her passing. Learn more about her incredible advice and legacy in her 10 Essential Questions profile.

is there Someone that you'd like to see in the spotlight?

Send an email to Sara Ramsay to make a recommendation for one of our upcoming Leader Spotlights!