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Canadian / American Rogue Rendezvous

Author: jmaher
Date: May 02, 2007
Everything started at three-thirty in the morning on April twelfth. Wild Bill was beating on the front door letting me know that it was time to be on the way to the airport. This was way too early, but I wasn’t going to argue with a free ride to the south side of Atlanta and one of the world’s busiest airports. I come here often, mostly on the way to and from Panama and the tropical rainforest, but this time I was on the way to the temperate rainforest- Vancouver Island, to be exact- by way of Salt Lake City, Utah.

The morning passed in a fuzzy blur of airplanes, security gates, and coffee, things finally coming to rest as I stepped off the airplane in Victoria to be met at the gate by Reg (HelloNature) Brick, who would be one of my climbing students. The next two hours were spent in Victoria as Reg packed his bags and got himself ready for the two of us to continue the journey on to Port Alberni and the home of Brad (Dietley) Dietrich.

The two hour drive up the island was quite scenic, with beautiful views of the coastline. Then we arrived at The Cathedral Grove, a beautiful area of forest with the highway running right through the middle. We stopped to look and explore. The trees were mostly douglas fir and big cedars and their old growth status was very obvious. These trees were huge. I looked upward, exploring potential rope settings with my eyes. Reg was curious: Were these trees really something that we could climb? I assured him that we would be back and I could immediately sense his unease with the idea. He had never climbed anything like this.

The journey continued, over The Hump and down into the city of Port Alberni, until pulling into the driveway at Brad’s house. At last the two of us came face-to-face, after quite a bit of internet communication, and the treeclimbing talk began, not to stop for the next ten days.

I had come here to do a Basic Climbing Class and then do a bit of climbing with Brad and Reg before teaching a Beyond The Basics the following weekend. It only took a couple of days before we realized we had a full scale rendezvous in progress and the First Annual Canadian /American Rogue Rendezvous was underway.

The following morning, Friday the thirteenth, we were joined by Anne Worrall of the Canadian Broadcast Company who was interested in doing a documentary on people who love trees. While the day was rather cold and wet (normal, I was told.) it was almost no time before we had Anne dangling on a rope DRT-ing her way to a rafter in Brad’s garage. She was loving it! Then along came Linda Fawcus, one of my students for the Basic Course, followed shortly by Reg and Cindy Heseltine, my other Basic student. Everybody was there and the class began with the understanding that the climbing itself would start the next morning either at Brad’s fathers place or on Brad’s garage rafters, depending on the weather.

Saturday morning was cold and drizzly wet (normal, I was told.) and we started the day with knot tying and DRT climbing bridge creation in Brad’s garage on the rafters. Next we were multi-pitching across the garage ceiling from rafter to rafter. A break in the weather sent us scurrying over to Brad’s father’s home and we were soon climbing our way into the trees on his property and a fine time was being had by all.

Sunday was another cool and drizzly morning (normal, I was told, again) but better than Saturday. We were back at the trees again with a plan to continue the class there before going into a forested area at Loon Lake for a climb in some douglas firs. As we headed out for Loon Lake, Linda had to leave us in order to catch her ferry back to the mainland, but the rest of us went on to Loon Lake to find ourselves a good climb. After a fifteen minute walk (every walk in British Columbia is a fifteen minute walk!) we found ourselves a couple of nice trees and Brad and Reg selected one for themselves while Cindy and I picked another. These were classic first ascents in wild trees. I did the lead climb in front of Cindy, while Brad did the lead in front of Reg. Cindy and I topped out at about seventy five feet with plenty of tree left overhead, but she was happy with herself for having gotten that high. Not bad for her first “real” climb in a forest. That brought the Basic Class to an end.

Monday morning, once again, was cold and wet (normal, I was told). Or maybe it was just wet and cold. Whichever. The bottom line is that the water was pouring from the sky and the temperature was down. No problem! Evan Dietrich, seeing a chance to play hooky from school, was all for doing a climb. Brad was all for doing a climb. Not to be outdone, I agreed that it was indeed a wonderful day for a climb. Off we went into the wilderness and ended up a short distance away in a forested area, examining the merits of a large hardwood. The first shot ended up in a tangled mess of Zingit and a bag seriously hung up way high off the ground. More shots and the lead climber was on the way up to a first setting at about seventy feet. A second rope was rigged for SRT and the lead climber was shortly joined by Evan, for whom this was his highest climb. Brad was up last, about the same time that the rain finally stopped. It was a nice climb, if any climb in the rain and cold can be described as nice. It wasn’t long before we three were back on the ground, headed for the house, and a chance to change into dry clothes after soaking one’s cold wet feet under a hot water faucet.

That afternoon the rendezvous attendance expanded with the arrival of Carlos “El Pluto” Ormond from Vancouver. Brad had already taken me on a tour of the waterfront in Port Alberni and at our suggestion Carlos immediately agreed with the idea of going along on a boat ride the next day for the trip down the Alberni Canal to the quaint little town of Bamfield, thirty or so miles away by water. Trust me, I was ready for anything that would get me out of the cold and the rain for a day. A nice comfortable ride on a big boat with a restaurant and lounge and lots of deck space to walk around on sounded rather wonderful to me. It would also provide a look at the countryside without having to do a lot of walking.

At eight the next morning we were at the boat dock and boarding the good ship “Frances Barkley” for a ride down toward the coast. I was bundled up in five layers and was comfortably warm for the first time in four days. The boat was big, the boat was comfortable, and the experience was worth the cost. It turned out that not only was this boat for the transportation of people, it was also the supply boat for every community between Port Alberni and Bamfield. We were the floating post office, a package delivery service, a delivery service for concrete and building supplies, as well as a passenger cruiser. And the scenery was awesome! Every turn in the waterway provided views of miles and miles of trees and forest and the climbing possibilities seemed endless. Don’t ever listen to Brad when he tries to tell you that he has no good trees to climb.

Bamfield was a quaint waterfront community with houses spaced along a walkway that paralleled the waterline. Everyone was friendly and I could see myself coming back here and spending a little time just hanging out. The Broken Islands, a haven for kayakers, is only a few miles “out there” and there were kayaks to rent in all directions. An hour after our arrival we were back aboard the Frances Barkley for the ride back up the canal to home. A wonderful day.

Wednesday was cool, but at least it wasn’t raining. Reg Brick joined us at Brad’s house shortly after breakfast and we headed out for a climb in a forested park nearby. A short walk (fifteen minutes!) brought us to a spot with several large fir trees fifty or so yards off the trail. There were several trees to choose from and after only a few minutes of discussion we chose the one that we thought would offer the least challenge in getting a line up. After about three tries with the bigshot we were able to get a setting that had our line over several large limbs. Bombproof, I thought! Even though we didn’t have a clear view of the rope coming down through the clutter, we knew we were over a number of good limbs.

I started up as lead climber and fort-five feet off the ground encountered the first of several problems. The rope passed right between two nice big limbs that didn’t leave enough room for me to squeeze through. The climb came to a halt as I re-rigged in a manner that allowed a detour around the limbs. Finally, back on course, I continued on up to our setting, took a good look around for hazards, and began placing settings for everyone else. It was a nice climb for everyone, with enough of a challenge to provide a learning experience for all of us. Both Reg and Carlos reached new heights that day and the best part about the climb was that we didn’t get rained on! We even managed to come down in time to get Carlos to the bus station for his ride out of town.

On Thursday, I finally prevailed, and we headed back south toward the Cathedral Grove and the big trees that had caught my attention on day one. The Cathedral Grove is part of a provincial park and we weren’t sure whether it was OK to climb there or not. The solution was to turn down an access road that led across the backside of the grove toward several summer cabins on Cameron Lake, then climb one of the big trees just outside the park boundary. This would put us in a “gray” area that was neither park nor private property. Reg and I had already looked here during the drive down from Victoria and had scouted several very respectable trees here that were just as good as any along the trail that ran through the park.

The morning was actually nice with warm temperatures and no rain. A short (fifteen minute!) walk brought us to the base of several trees overlooking Cameron Lake. Reg liked one that was right on the shoreline, I preferred one that was several yards away. We argued the merits of the two trees and I won by virtue of the fact that everyone voted me to be the lead climber. I had offered the job to either of them but the position was mine by default. So. We would climb “my” tree.

This time we were using Brad’s Tree Entry Device (one more name for something that looks a lot like a bigshot), with his yoke and my short breakdown pole system. As is usually the case when you are excited about making a climb, the first shot resulted in a major tangle of Zingit that required quite a few minutes to sort out. It took several shots before we gained control of things and got a line in place. The entry setting was about seventy to eighty feet up. Off I went, yo-yoing my way into the dark greenness over our heads.

The climb went much better than the one of the previous day and it wasn’t long before Reg and Brad were following me up. I kept tossing short pitches above me, then climbing up and placing settings for the two of them. Up we went, pitch after pitch. I don’t remember exactly but I think it was about twelve pitches to the very top of the tree, where I discovered a magnificent view across Cameron Lake. As we neared the top, the pitches got so short that Brad and Reg were placing most of their own. I finally topped out and a later measurement of throwline told us that we had climbed to one hundred and sixty seven feet. There were other treetops about, but none were much higher than ours, although there are reported to be some trees in here that measure over two hundred feet.

After hogging the topmost setting and the warm sun for quite some time I finally yielded my spot, started down and traded position with Brad. I continued on down, setting almost as many pitches on the way down as I had on the way up. Reaching our entry limb, I just hung out and waited for the two of them to get their fill of the top of the tree. It wasn’t long until I was joined by Brad, who, after a few minutes of chatter, continued on to the ground. Reg was still at the very top of the tree.

Then there was a problem. From the top of the tree, Reg’s voice announced that he had made a “rookie” mistake. My heart went THUMP! and I started making ready to go back up. “What’s the problem?” I shouted, trying to sound calm and hoping the calmness would inspire a bit of confidence in someone having a problem.

“My rope is stuck in the top of the tree! I tried to pull it out and forgot to take the big knot out of the end before pulling it up.”

I felt immense relief! “You’re still tied into a good setting, aren’t you?” was my next question.

“Oh, yeah. I just can’t get my rope and sleeve to come down.”

I started to go back up, then decided to give him a few minutes to see if he could sort out the problem on his own. “Great learning moment,” I thought to myself. Those few minutes turned into more than an hour, but he did finally work it out and got the rope freed, having climbed back to the top. The difficult part had been to sit on my limb quietly, letting him work it out for himself, while not even being able to see him way up above me. A rain of loose bark falling on my head announced his descent even before I could spot him. We were soon all down on the ground, none the worse for our little problem, and it was time to find some dinner. I had been off the ground for almost seven hours and I was more than a little bit hungry.

I will say right now that both Brad and Reg are better climbers than they know. The two of them could have handled this tree without any help from me, and Brad is quite ready to be a lead climber. Next time, Brad, you will be the lead climber while I take a seat and watch!

On Friday morning, we were back in school again, and this time it was the Beyond The Basics class. Once again our attendance expanded as we were joined by Carolyn Temes who had come over from Victoria. Friday turned into a long day with the students being introduced to a diverse array of techniques and styles with which most of them had been previously unfamiliar. For Brad, this day served to affirm most of the things he had already learned on his own. For Reg and Carolyn most of the stuff they were seeing was new.

Saturday was more of the same with the addition of some basic rescue scenarios. Midway through the morning we were joined by Trina DeMonye, one of my former students from the tropical rainforest who lives on the mainland but was raised on the island. Class ended late Saturday afternoon and Brad and I headed over to Reg’s mom’s place where Reg treated us to dinner. A wonderful way to end the class.

Sunday morning was spent packing all my stuff up and sorting out the climbing gear. Gatherings of this sort usually result in everyone having their gear scrambled throughout the group and it is not uncommon to come away with a lot of gear that belongs to someone else and have a lot of your gear sitting in someone else’s gear bag. Now that I am home, I find that I have one more carabiner than I thought. One of you guys is probably one carabiner short!

By lunchtime on Sunday, Reg and I were on the drive back to Victoria. I sat silently as we passed through the awesome Cathedral Grove, wondering how I could get back here. Then we were driving through the Goldstream Park just out side Victoria and Reg was showing me a bunch of really nice trees right there in the park. This would require ninja tactics, however, and I wasn’t for doing that.

Then Reg was showing me a spot only a few yards off a busy street in a wooded area near his home where there was a number of large gnarly and inviting madrone trees. Lots of potential here, I thought to myself, and realized that I was already thinking ahead to another visit to this place and these people.

Monday morning and I was off to the airport for the flight home, another exceedingly long day ahead of me.

The trip had been very enjoyable and very worthwhile. That we were already calling it a rendezvous and planning another one speaks for itself. A total of ten people had participated at one time or another during the ten days I was there and we had done a lot of good climbing and exchanged a lot of information and good ideas. The teaching and the learning had gone in both directions and the total experience was very positive.

The hospitality extended by both Brad and Reg was exceptional and already I am aware that “my” bedroom will be waiting for me when I return. Thanks Brad, and thanks Reg! Most of all, however, let me thank Carol, for putting up with a bunch of grown children who kept parading through her home for ten days and who had to take care of the domestic chores while the rest of us played. Carol…don’t be too hard on Brad now that we are all gone!

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