Attitude for altitude
Local school superintendent avid rock, ice climber
ISHPEMING — Some of Bryan DeAugustine’s days — make that a lot of them — are spent walking the halls of NICE Community Schools, where he is superintendent.
Other days are spent off the ground, such as on a mountain summit in Wyoming or on an ice cliff not far from Lake Superior.
DeAugustine’s altitude-centric activities give him views most people don’t see, although that’s only one reason he likes to travel vertically in the outdoors.
He became interested in climbing when he was a student in the 1990s at Grand Valley State University, stopping by the local Inside Moves, an indoor rock-climbing gym.
“Just kind of took, and I’ve been climbing ever since,” DeAugustine said.
After moving to the Upper Peninsula, he started ice climbing in the winter of 1996.
DeAugustine had been an active person, though, before he embarked on climbing excursions.
“I’d always been an athlete in school, but the opportunities to play football, basketball or baseball, like you did when you were a kid, were slowly getting smaller and smaller unless you were a college athlete,” he said.
DeAugustine and his then-girlfriend, Heather, now his wife, tried climbing at the gym.
The activity fit into his love of all things alpine and snowy.
“I always liked the mountains and wintertime and things like that, so rock climbing led to ice climbing, which led to some guiding for Down Wind Sports, and I’ve been doing that for almost 20 years now, helping out with the Michigan Ice Fest,” DeAugustine said.
Down Wind Sports, located along Third Street in the city of Marquette, is a big presence in the local climbing world.
Some climbers might prefer rock while others might favor ice. Is there a difference?
He said the climbing styles are similar, yet vastly different at the same time.
“Ice, obviously, changes a lot because it melts and thaws and refreezes,” DeAugustine said. “Rock climbs typically for the most part are the same every time you climb them.
“Rock is really gymnastic. It takes a little bit different movement style to make it up a rock climb, whereas ice climbing is a little more making that sure you’re reading the ice well and getting good placements with your ice tools and the crampons that are on your boots.”
Even a rock-climbing wall can present a challenge by being a chess match of sorts, requiring the participant to think ahead and figure out what hold to use from movement to movement.
“I often say that too to our clients, that it’s like putting together a puzzle with your body, and that’s what I like so much about it,” DeAugustine said. “I think it keeps your mind sharp and it’s a good way to stay in shape and get you outside all year-round.”
There’s a social aspect to climbing as well, even though it might be hard to have a tea party while ascending a steep cliff.
“You meet a lot of people,” DeAugustine said. “The climbing community is really friendly and that’s a good way to interact with people from all over the country and around the world.”
Of course, he gets out in the world beyond the borders of Marquette and Alger counties.
“I’m a really big fan of the Teton Range in Wyoming, which is part of the Rockies, so I do a lot of climbing and skiing out there,” DeAugustine said.
Not that it was easy climbing in the Tetons.
He said it took him, maybe, four tries to climb the Grand Teton, which he acknowledged isn’t that hard in the scope of mountain climbing. Getting lost on the route or being caught in an unexpected snowstorm, though, can be obstacles, even on a supposedly easy climb.
“I tend to be really cautious and conservative when I climb, so I try to be really careful,” DeAugustine said. “I haven’t had any big hair-raising adventures or anything but I’m definitely learning from mistakes and try to do my best to get to the top.”
He doesn’t have to go far from home to find good climbing spots, noting there’s great rock climbing in Marquette County, elsewhere in the Upper Peninsula, and near Nipigon and Sault Ste. Marie, both in Ontario.
He’s also been to the AAA Walls near Big Bay.
“They’re great,” DeAugustine said. “It’s a great sport-climbing area. It’s where the bolts are in the rock and you’re clipping those versus putting in gear as you go.”
However, he stressed the local climbing community takes good care of the environment while pursuing its passion.
“It is a resource that we want to be careful with,” DeAugustine said. “We want to be careful with the rock. We want to make sure to leave no trace and practice good ethics when you’re in the outdoors.”
A little bit of climbing has made it into the NICE school district.
DeAugustine said Aspen Ridge Middle School teacher Heidi Verville reads a mountaineering book at school plus takes sixth-graders to the Physical Education Instructional Facility at Northern Michigan University to learn to rock climb.
“She’s always asks me to come and chaperone, and I help belay, where you’re holding the rope to make sure everyone’s safe,” DeAugustine said. “So, that’s really fun to kind of give back and see all of our sixth-grade students get a chance to rock climb.”
The entire DeAugustine family is into snow sports, with his wife also a skier and their 18-year-old twins, son Jackson and daughter Bailey, involved in skiing and climbing as well.
Jackson DeAugustine is a freshman at NMU, as is his sister.
“It kind of gets you away from the normal daily life that everyone has, and it kind of gives you a sense of thrill more or less,” he said. “I like the thrill of it. It’s really, really engaging, and learning all the ways to do things is really cool.”
One of those thrills undoubtedly is being at the edge of a cliff, hanging over ice, rock or trees. Another thrill maybe is deeper in nature — staying alive with just the knowledge of “how to do things,” he said.
His father, who is 46 years old, might not feel that age when climbing a rock face.
“I’m drawn to climbing because I feel like it keeps me young,” the elder DeAugustine said. “Climbing requires mental and physical focus at a level that’s unlike any sport I’ve ever tried. I really enjoy that feeling of having accomplished something so personally fulfilling at the end of a climbing day.”