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Climbing Offers Level-headed Approach to Challenges for Dean Kenji Hakuta

October 26, 2004

About 10 years ago, Kenji Hakuta was on sabbatical leave from Stanford and decided to try something new. He picked up rock climbing through a weekend climbing class with UC Berkeley and has been climbing ever since.

My major goal in climbing has been to enjoy the company and the views, not necessarily to climb very difficult routes, says Hakuta. One of the classics that I”ve enjoyed the most is quite moderate. The Royal Arches climb goes up on the cliff behind the Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite Valley. When I did it with my friend Jamey Stowell, the sun had set by the time we reached the top, and we descended by rappelling down the polished granite face on a full moon. The moonlit vista was spectacular, even more beautiful than the climb.

Now that he”s Dean of Social Sciences, Humanities and Arts at UC Merced, Hakuta is a lot closer to that climb and others in the Yosemite area. He plans to get into bouldering; a form of climbing that requires no ropes or gear, just shoes since Yosemite Valley offers plenty of boulders to explore.

Climbing offers lots of insights into Hakuta”s work as a founding dean at UC Merced. An accident several years ago landed him on his back on a ledge with a major injury, but his first instinct was to get back in the saddle and keep climbing. He says the accident made him a more methodical and philosophical climber.

The same climb done grunting, frightened and falling a lot is different than when it”s done with good technique and a clear head, Hakuta says.

Not a bad lesson to take along as you embark on a university-building adventure.

And for Hakuta, rock climbing is also about the company you keep. The camaraderie built on his climbs is just as important as the sport itself. He”s enjoying similar companionship with colleagues and soon, students as he scales the peaks of starting a new university with his trademark organized, yet laid-back style.