Starting off on Rock
Day 1 - Sunday, July 9
Breakfast, day 1
We'd been instructed by the guide school to meet at the Starbucks in Squamish at 8am, which appealed to the coffeehouse sorts in our group. Around eight, we started looking around for "instructor-like" climber guys. There were several possible candidates, and as it turned out, there was more than one course starting this day.
Our two instructors, we'd been told a few weeks earlier, were Chris Lawrence and Kirk Becker. Although I had talked to Chris on the phone a few weeks before, answering a few questions he had about our group, I didn't know what he (or Kirk) looked like. We wandered around the Starbucks, trying to guess which climber-like guys were our instructors. The Squamish Starbucks is a common meeting point for courses like this, so it wasn't completely obvious. Eventually though, after a few incorrect guesses, we met up with Chris and Kirk.
The first meeting
Chris and Kirk both had the easygoing confident style that is often noticeable in experienced alpine climbers. We discovered that Chris had done many, many of these courses before (I think he said he'd done sixty), and that in addition to teaching mountaineering courses, he was also a busy mountain guide, heli-ski guide, was involved in search-and-rescue operations, and several other intensive outdoor activities. Kirk also had a wealth of mountain experience, although less than Chris'. His role in our course was two-fold: he was an assistant guide, of course, but also he was learning from Chris about the general organization and running of week-long mountaineering courses, which he was working up to leading himself.
Outlining the course
Chris and Kirk outlined the general structure of the course and asked each one of us about our experience level and abilities. After that, it was off to some climbing cliffs at Murrin Provinicial park not far south of Squamish. Our first order of business was some basic rock climbing skills.
Getting ready to climb
Arriving at the base of a popular and relatively easy one-pitch climbing cliff at Murrin, we got right down to business. Chris quickly set up three top-ropes while Kirk went over some basic knot-tying skills. This was followed by basic rock-climbing skills - tying in, belay techniques, safety checks, etc.
Then it was time to do some climbing, which we all did in our mountaineering boots (we had specifically requested this because we wanted to do our climbing work in the types of footwear we would actually use on alpine routes). There were a range of relatively easy climbs, from about 5.3 to 5.6 or so. It was a good exercise, especially for those of us among us who had never had basic rock climbing instruction. The day was coming along pretty nicely, weather-wise. It was sunny with a few clouds and very pleasant.
Kirk teaches the figure-eight
We moved afterwards to the top of the cliff, (upon which there was a power transmission tower), where we went over the basics of rappelling and anchor setup. Everyone got several chances to do rappels and set up mock anchors, and Chris and Kirk were careful and conservative about having us on backup belays where necessary.
After that, it was a wrap for the day. Once again we avoided a camp dinner, and instead headed over to the Howe Sound Brew Pub. After that, it was time to head back to the campground and reflect on the learnings of the day.
Two engineers... one knot?
Bits of Kit