Jeremiah Haas: Turning passion into a career

A skilled climber, effective leader, and soon-to-be father are just a few of the many hats Jeremiah Haas wears.

Haas is the assistant director of outdoor programs at WCU’s Base Camp Cullowhee and his passion and enthusiasm for adventure are unparalleled as he has had over a decade of experience in the outdoor field. While his job involves many administrative tasks and responsibilities, he transforms into his true self when he is outdoors taking on many different adventures and challenges.

Haas found his connection with the outdoors at the age of 15. Through friends he found out about a summer camp in Baraboo, Wisconsin. Here, he spent a week learning how to rock climb and set up anchors which sparked his interest in climbing, his favorite sport.

Haas climbing up the face of an ice wall. Photo by

Haas climbing up the face of an ice wall. Photo by Cody Bradford

From there, Haas would go on day and weekend trips with friends as he gained more experience. In 2004, he moved to North Carolina and started working as a commercial climbing guide and from this point he dedicated his life to the sport. Along the way he has worked many miscellaneous jobs such as a restaurant manager, a brick mason, and hanging Christmas tree lights at Biltmore Estate as well as downtown Asheville and Hendersonville just to make the climber lifestyle work for him.

“When I wasn’t working, I was out climbing. There were years where I would spend 200 plus days a year out climbing,” said Haas.

Although he has an extensive background in a variety of team sports, Haas truly enjoys climbing. As he explains, for him it is a personal challenge with a more internal dialogue that you get to have with a variety of media whether it be rock, ice, or mountain. Another key component that he cherishes is the feeling of insignificance one can often find in a very large place where you may be the only one around.

“It is feeling like a smaller piece of this larger puzzle in the world,” Haas adds.

Haas’ love for climbing and being outdoors has brought him to local adventures as well as explorations of foreign countries.  He has conquered summits reaching 18,000 feet in the Peruvian Andes, climbed massive ice walls, navigated rapids of high intensities, and along the way he has met some of his closest friends.

While being involved in the outdoors yields a lot of physical and mental health benefits, it also has its own risks. Accidents are prone to happen in the outdoor adventure field and this is something Haas has experienced personally several times, growing and learning from each one. Haas has lost several close friends in climbing and mountaineering accidents.

In the spring of 2007, along with two of his friends he ventured out to Looking Glass Rock. It was planned as a day trip and none of them had been on it before. With a start time at noon and sunset fast approaching as they climbed, they had underestimated the commitment of time. With the occurrence of minor mishaps and not bringing along their headlamps, the group quickly found themselves repelling down a wall not only in the dark but in the pouring rain. With hopes of reaching the bottom, Haas repelled and was relieved when his feet reached the rock slab. If he had reached the end of the rope without finding the bottom, he would have needed to ascend back to his group members and they would have needed to spend the night on the wall.

“Always plan ahead, prepare, and provide ample time while exploring new terrain. Things change in nature!” advised Haas.

Thankfully, his skills and training from the American Mountain Guides Association made it so he was able to deal with the situation in a safe manner, not allowing his fears to take over.

“It is something we accept as outdoor people and adventure athletes, that there are inherent risks and perceived risks and as an individual you have to decide what is an acceptable amount of risk you’re willing to take,” explained Haas.

With growing older and being a family man, Haas is much more aware of the risks. With his first child, a baby boy, on the way this coming June and married to his wife, Whitney, for a year and a half, he has noticed his mindset change.

“I won’t stop adventure sports because it’s a part of who I am, but it causes you to not be so selfish and think more about the bigger picture,” said Haas.

Haas on a ski trip in Colorado this year. Photo by Al Smith

Haas on a ski trip in Colorado this year. Photo by Al Smith

One of Haas’ most memorable trips that includes this risk factor was an expedition he led while working for Appalachian State University. He took 19 students to New Zealand’s South Island for what he referred to as a “world-class expedition.” Towards the middle part of the trip, the group went on a white water rafting expedition down the Karamea River. As they were nearing the end, the group had to maneuver through treacherous class 5 rapids. As they made it through, two or three people were launched into the water and into a whirling hydraulic. They were lost for a moment before resurfacing and both turned out to be fine.

On that day Haas believed he might have lost two or three participants. These learning moments inspired him to create his own mantra that he enjoys passing along to students: “Slow is smooth and smooth is fast.”

The way he describes this motto is that it can relate directly to climbing but also to life. The meaning is that the more you take your time to think about your processes, the smoother things will go for you. If you move too fast out on a rock wall, or in your life, you may miss very eye opening and foundational experiences. So slow is smooth and once you have taken your time and found your way you will often be faster because you took the time to consider your steps along the way.

Haas found his place in the Base Camp program in January of 2015. He currently runs the entire program as he is serving in the role of interim associate director. He is responsible for leadership training and oversees all staffing for the adventure shop, climbing wall, student trips as well as the other professional staff. He has led the Tuck River Cleanup and is a part of various committees as he continues to collaborate with other departments and serves as a liaison between the Health and Wellness and the Parks and Recreation departments.

Before coming to WCU, Haas worked at two other university outdoor programs: Appalachian State University for one year and UNC Asheville for two and a half years. He explained that he was drawn to Western Carolina University  because “of the pristine location, the medium-sized institution, and wanted to take the position to help further the program and manifest his vision for Base Camp Cullowhee.”

“I’d like to work on creating a more formalized outdoor guide/instructor development program and also continue to bring about more collaborations, sponsorships, and partnerships in the local community,” Haas said.

Haas guiding a small group on a climbing trip. Photo by

Haas guiding a small group on a climbing trip. Photo by Azissa Singh

A large contributing factor to the job is not only having a passion for working outdoors, but also having a passion for working with students. Haas works alongside student workers at Base Camp’s location in the campus recreation center every day and has built strong bonds with each of them through training in the facility and outdoors.

“Jeremiah is very understanding. He stays calm and tries to find the best in all situations. A different side of Jeremiah is revealed when you get him out of the office – he takes on a funny, care-free wild side,” said sophomore Mary Kindred, one of the student workers at Base Camp Cullowhee.

One of Haas’ senior student workers adds to this description, pointing out that Haas makes an effort to give everyone a memorable adventure.

“He makes a huge effort to not only provide our participants with an amazing experience, but also created time and opportunity to train me in a variety of climbing and rope-work skills,” said senior Jackson Fox, another student worker of the Base Camp Cullowhee staff.

Haas is the epitome of the statement, “do what you love and love what you do.” He is driven by his passions to guide both students and faculty on the WCU campus in their journeys to embrace the nature they are surrounded by. He encourages anyone who is interested in getting involved in the outdoors or those who want to rent equipment to come by and visit Base Camp Cullowhee.