International student Marlies Luepges wants a career in wilderness therapy, so she took it seriously when she had a chance to work in the field.

Marlies Lupges works with troubled teens through wilderness expeditions
Marlies Lupges works with troubled teens through wilderness expeditions

When Marlies Luepges volunteered for a wilderness therapy position last summer, she bicycled nearly 100 miles from her home in Bend to the firm’s Albany headquarters, including a trek over Santiam Pass.

The OSU-Cascades Campus junior, an Outdoor Recreation Leadership and Tourism major, says she bicycled to give her time to reflect before and after the interview “as I knew I would enter a whirlwind of emotions when re-entering a field that has become my main focus over the past three years.”

After the meeting, Catherine Freer Wilderness Therapy Expeditions accepted Luepges, an international student from Switzerland, for a 21-day wintertime expedition to Waldo Lake in the Cascades. She now has completed two treks with the firm, and is enjoying the experience she’s gaining.

The treks are intervention activities for 13- to 17-year-olds with a variety of problems, including mental health issues, depression, learning disabilities, emotional disorders and troubles with the law.

At Waldo Lake, 3-4 guides and 6-8 teens find a remote location where they camp in individual tents for three weeks. Much of the time is spent hiking, backpacking and snowshoeing.

At first the youngsters are distrustful and keep to themselves. “After a week out there, they start to feel supported and begin to express themselves,” Marlies says. “It becomes a nurturing environment. They know we’re as wet and cold as they are.” Parents “often are blown away” when they see the change the trek has made, she says.

Marlies wants to earn a master’s degree, probably with an emphasis in counseling, so she can be a counselor as well as a guide, perhaps in her own firm eventually.

And the bike ride over the Cascades? “It was much easier than I thought it would be.” Of course, she’d already bicycled over passes in Switzerland.

When it was time to return to Bend, she left early in the evening figuring she’d head east until she found a campground. She didn’t find any. “About 8:20, I started worrying. I figured I’d have to stop and ask someone if I could camp on their land.”

Then came a touch of serendipity. “I saw a Swiss flag on a house. It was a Swiss couple in their 70s,” she says. “They invited me to spend the night inside. It was a beautiful get-together for all. They’re now my adopted grandparents here.”

OSU-Cascades Campus home page

Outdoor Recreation Leadership and Tourism program

OSU International Programs Web site

Catherine Freer Wilderness Therapy Expeditions Web site

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