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Yamnuska Mountain Skills Semester 2010

Student Zenn Teoh reviews his experiences on the most recent Spring 2010 Semester program:

Yamnuska Spring Semester 2010 students ice climbing in the Bow Valley"Two weeks post graduation it's hard to believe that the Yamnuska Mountain Skills Semester for Spring 2010 has concluded.  Looking back at the MSS one can hardly fathom what we have achieved as individuals and as a group.

Three months ago we were slowly gathering together at Room 201 of the Hostel (which I dub 'Club 201′) before finally all meeting each other at the Yamnuska office.  We definitely hit the ground running, finding ourselves swinging ice tools and kicking crampons on our very first day.  From that point the gears rarely shifted down.  We ice climbed our way around the Rockies, slowly but surely gaining more confidence as the days progressed. This was finally put to the test on a multi-pitch ice excursion.  And just like that the first week was over.

Back at Club 201 there was very little reason to be shy, clean and teetotal, we were all old friends now!

Crampons were then exchanged for skis, ice tools were exchanged Yamnuska Mountain Skills semester students live in the Bear Hostel, Canmorefor ski poles.  Figuring it was going to be difficult ice climbing with our newly allocated equipment we made the smart decision to go skiing instead.  And so we learnt the art of ski touring.  The days were spent skinning up and skiing down hills, becoming more avalanche aware and practicing avalanche rescue techniques, and for some cursing our skis/boots/lack of coordination.  We experienced cold and miserable days at Healy Pass, fantastic powder and summits on the Wapta and then there was Rogers Pass.  Rogers Pass was touted to be the ski touring Mecca of the Rockies, we were unfortunate enough to be caught in the worst snow conditions experienced in many years, nonetheless it made for a memorable trip.  Despite what they say one doesn't have to be a good skier to enjoy ski touring however a small group of us discovered that it certainly assists with minimizing high velocity collisions with the snowpack.

By now we were celebrating our one month anniversary on the course, Club 201 at this stage resembled a cross between a gear store and a bachelor pad.

Yamnuska students practice their first aidAs previously mentioned the gears rarely shifted down while on the MSS, however post ski touring for a period of 10 days the gears not only shifted down but the wheels nearly fell off the bus.  The skis were packed away and in their place were splints, epipens and more mnemonics than you could poke a stick at.  Yup the dreaded Wilderness First Responder (WFR)(first aid) course was upon us.  A necessity if you want to work in the outdoors industry, the course is run out of a classroom with scenario based activities to break up the monotony.  The difficulty was re-adjusting physically and mentally after a month of action packed activities.  It was reminiscent of being back at school, with teacher at the front and the exam at the end.  Club 201 became quite subdued at this stage and we barely spoke to each other except to enquire on our roommate's symptoms, allergies, medication, prior history, last ins/outs and events (that's what the mnemonic SAMPLE stands for by the way!).  In the end after many coffees, cram sessions and sleepless nights we all passed the course.

Making a beeline out of the classroom we found ourselves once more in the wilderness having replaced the splints, epipens and mnemonics with ropes, harnesses and rock shoes.  We commenced the rock climbing section of the course spending the next few days learning rock rescue techniques before being set loose to take a break from the MSS and perhaps even for our instructors to have a break from us.

Club 201 would be empty for nearly three weeks as the majority of us took our mid course break down in Penticton, BC.  Being gluttons for punishment we snubbed the idea of a lakeside break sipping pina coladas and instead chose to keep the ropes, harnesses and rock shoes and climbed to our hearts content in the beautiful Okanagan.

At the end of the break we were sad to be leaving Skaha however Yamnuska students climbing Warm Rock of Skaha, British Columbiathis sadness was short lived as we were informed that the rest of the rock climbing section would be held in Skaha.  We spent another two weeks at Skaha by the end of which everyone was confidently and gracefully ascending vertical terrain.  Upon our return to the Rockies we spent a couple days spent learning and practicing scrambling techniques and finally finishing with a day of multi-pitch climbing.

Yamnuska Mountain Skills students push hard for the summit of Mount ColumbiaWith little skin left on our fingers we exchanged hot for cold and headed out to the Columbia Icefields to become mountaineers.  After 3 weeks of sleep-ins, warm weather and walking on proper trails we were jolted back to the reality of the mountains.  4am wake ups, whiteouts and negotiating crevasses saw us summiting Boundary Peak and A2.  This was great preparation for our final week of the MSS

For the big expedition to Mount Columbia the skis/boots/lack of coordination that some of us had cursed were now coaxed out of retirement.  And so we embarked on our final week of the MSS with everything but the kitchen sink strapped to our backs.  Physical and mental strengths were put to the test and in the end courage, stubbornness and a touch of luck enabled the group to make the summit of Mount Columbia.  Although this was only one of many challenges we faced on the MSS, Columbia was a big milestone for many as it signified reaching the destination of a three-month long journey.Yamnuska Mountain Skills Semester 2010 students top out on the highest peak in Alberta, Mount Columbia!

Back in Canmore the skis, boots, axes, crampons and every other piece of equipment was exchanged for the Georgetown Inn which hosted our graduation dinner,  Club 201 hosted the "after party" and downtown Canmore hosted the "after after party".

And thus brought the Yamnuska Mountain Skills Semester Spring 2010 to a close.

So what now for the twelve of us? Most have dispersed to their cities/countries of origin, returning to what is commonly known as a daily routine however this time armed with enough knowledge to tackle the mountains more confidently in their spare time.  A small cohort of us who are still in denial have decided to keep the dream alive and are staying on in Canmore, consolidating on the skills learnt and hoping to become guides in the not too distant future.  It's a cliché but three months ago we arrived as strangers and now we have all definitely left as friends.

A big thanks has to go out to the team at Yamnuska for providing us with such a fantastic experience none of which would have been possible without their skill and professionalism.

Finally to all those aspiring alpinists out there who have toyed with the idea of doing the Semester, go for it!  I can guarantee that you won't be disappointed.

See you in the mountains!!!

Yamnuska Mountain Adventures run their three month mountain skills semesters in the Canadian Rockies in the Spring and Autumn each year.  They also run a series of shorter adventure related courses throughout the year.