A Sunny Day at the Bluffs
Day 2 - Monday, July 10
8am Monday morning, July 10. Once again we find ourselve at the Starbucks, meeting over some flavoured tea and hot coffee. Chris and Kirk have requested that we bring our crampons with us for a 'fitting session'. This was an excellent idea, as it turned out, as we discovered several 'mismatches' between various peoples' crampons and their boots (i.e. for some reason or another, the crampon wasn't compatible with the boot onto which it was destined to be fitted). We managed to swap crampons around between us until everybody had something that worked for them, and this highlighted an important rule-of-thumb: get your gear sorted out before you are in the middle of the backcountry! Good call.
Heading to the Smoke Bluffs
For our second day, we'd continue on the local climbing cliffs in Squamish. We headed this time to the Smoke Bluffs, a spot very close to town - in fact, it is in the town itself. Weighted with ropes and gear, we headed up to an overhanging section of the bluffs called 'zombie cliff'. It was here that we'd practice our rope ascending techniques. These techniques are needed primarily for glacier travel, and are used to ascend a rope if you've fallen into a crevasse on a glacier.
Kirk deftly scampered around on the cliffs above, setting up ropes for us to ascend, while Chris stayed down below and gave us more instruction on setting up anchor systems. We learned about proper selection of anchor locations, naturally occuring anchors, and artificial anchors (e.g. trees, chockstones, and rock gear), and we got to practice with these.
Making a chockstone anchor
Once the ropes had been set up, Chris demonstrated the technique of prussicking up the climbing rope. (A prussick knot is a type of ratcheting knot that is used to attach a smaller rope to a larger rope). Once he finished inchworming his way up the rope and back down, we all had lots of time sliding up and down the ropes (as you can see from all the pictures!!)
Ascending at the Zombie Cliffs
Catherine alone on the wall
Andrew and Kirk Ascending
Switching to Rappel
We then packed everything up and headed over to a different section of the Smoke Bluffs called 'Neat and Cool'. This turned out to be a nice clean set of slabs and flakes right above a Squamish neighbourhood. The day, which had started out gray, was again turning out to be very pleasant indeed - warm and sunny with scenic puffy clouds. I mentally crossed my fingers and hoped that our out-in-the-backcountry weather would be as nice!
After a lunch break, we separated out into two groups. In one group was Brian and myself, and everybody else in the other. Brian and I were to get a bit of more advanced instruction, primarily because we had stated that we had taken some mountaineering instruction before. The others went off to practice additional rappel techniques.
Kirk then led a flake climb and then had Brian and I come up together in a sort of simul-climb second up the rope. I think the objective of this exercise was for the guides to get a real sense of how much more "experienced" we (i.e. Brian and me) really were.
I found the climb that we did (called "corn flakes") pretty fun! However, I think Kirk discovered that Brian and I really weren't all that much better than everyone else. Our instructors were slowly but surely completing their assessments of the individual and overall skill level of our group.
After the climb we followed after everyone else, who had just done a 2-pitch rappel. From there, we climbed a bit more at the Neat and Cool cliff to get some more rock climbing experience under our belts. Once again, Brian and I got a slightly different bit of instruction from Kirk, this time in the area of placing rock protection - always a useful subject to go over. Brian and I spent the next little while placing various nuts, spring-loaded camming-devices, and tri-cams into the features at the base of the cliffs. Shortly thereafter it was time to call it quits, and we packed up and headed back to the parking lot.
Kirk-Break at Neat and Cool
Before class was out for the day, we discussed the remainder of the course, which was to be held in real alpine terrain. Chris and Kirk had chosen the Joffre range, a set of mountains near Pemberton BC, about 2 hours drive north of Squamish. We agreed that we'd all meet the next morning at 9am at a gas station in Pemberton, and from there we'd head up to the trailhead and then on up into the mountains. We were to have all our gear packed into our packs and ready to go.
One last time at the brew pub (we were practically regulars!), where we watched the exciting and interesting final match of the World cup of soccer. I think everyone was pretty excited about heading up into the backcountry - my only big concern was the weather. The forecast was unsettled, and it wasn't at all obvious that it might trend towards the good side of settled. After dinner, back at the Klahanie campground, everyone went about carefully organizing what was going to go in their packs. Hmm... Pu's pile of gear seemed suspiciously small and light!