Mountaineers Moment: A Chance Connection During Intense Basic

While helping instruct during our Intense Basic Climbing course, The Mountaineers CEO Tom Vogl has an unexpected encounter which brings together Mountaineers past and present.
Tom Vogl Tom Vogl
Mountaineers CEO
June 28, 2017

We end every staff meeting by sharing what we call "mission moments." These inspiring stories of when we get to witness our mission in action reflect the positive impact of our work on the outdoor community and bring us the warm fuzzies inside. As staff, we find these reminders invigorating, helping us understand the broad reach of our mission to help people get outside.

Last week, I volunteered as an instructor for a climbing lesson as part of our Intense Basic Climbing course. We were at Mt. Erie for the day practicing various rock climbing and rappelling techniques. 

Transitioning from climbing to rappelling is complicated and each step is critically important in order to stay safe. I was stationed at a belay ledge where I had the job of cheering on the climbers as they ascended to the top of a slab climb and transitioned over to perform an extended rappel with an autoblock. The students talked through each step of the process to demonstrate and reinforce their knowledge as they explained it to someone else.

In full disclosure, I chose this route because Cebe Wallace - one of our long-time and most adored volunteers - was doing the slab training below me, and I just love watching him teach. He's so amazing and everyone agrees. When each climber would get to the top, I would ask them, "How was Cebe? Was he a good teacher?" And everyone enthusiastically agreed, "Cebe's the best!" This was all in earshot of Cebe, of course.

With fifteen total students, I was sitting at the belay ledge for most of the day. At one point in afternoon two older women came walking down the trail from the parking lot at the top of Mt. Erie. They had trekking poles and were out for a hike, but were clearly intrigued by the fact that we were down at the crag. 

I said hello to initiate a conversation, and they came down and asked what we were doing. I explained that we were teaching students to climb and rappel. One of the women, Connie, asked who we were with, and of course I was happy to share that we were a Mountaineers group.

"Wow, you're kidding," she said. "I'm a Mountaineer!" I asked her if she was still a member, and she quickly said, "Oh yes. I love reading the magazine I get in the mail. I don't get out climbing and hiking very much anymore, but I am a Bellingham Branch member now and I was the chair of the Navigation Committee and taught scrambling years ago. 

Then the other woman, Barbara, said "I'm not a member right now. I've been living in Montana, but moved to Bellingham recently. Back in the 80's I took the Basic and Intermediate courses."

After realizing our shared love for The Mountaineers, Connie and Barbara hung out with me for about 30 minutes chatting. They were fascinated with all the new gear and techniques, as things have  changed a lot since they first started climbing in the 70's and 80's. For example when Barbara first learned to rappel they were still doing the dulfersitz rappel method (where you put the rope over your shoulder  and between your legs). It's easy to forget that modern harnesses, belay devices, hollowblock cord and personal anchors haven't been around all that long. 

The questions from Connie and Barbara turned into an excellent teaching opportunity for our students. Whenever a question about the various required techniques would come up, the three of us would turn to the student to have them explain the method. It was so inspiring to watch the students explain to Connie and Barbara  what they were doing.

When Connie and Barbara were ready to get back to their hike, I asked them for a picture with another instructor and staff member, Steve Smith. They agreed, and in fact said, "Yes! I want a picture too. I need to show it to my husband so he knows what happens when he doesn't come on outings with us!" 

Steve idled alongside Connie, and we captured the moment.

This kind of Mountaineers Moment brings me so much joy, even now a week later. It reminds me about the multi-generational aspect of The Mountaineers. We learn skills to become adventurers, pass our knowledge along to others and eventually introduce the next generation to the wild places we love exploring. People like Connie and Barbara have such fond memories reminiscing about their experiences with the club and learning how things have changed since they learned to climb. Mt Erie with our Intense Basic program was a great way to spend an early summer day, that's for sure! 

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Doug Kabel
Doug Kabel says:
Fri, Jun 30, 2017 6:50 AM

Great article. I also took basic climbing in 1986. Amazing times with amazing people. Just a clarification though. The dulfersitz rappel method was taught, not because of a lack of equipment, but because it was, and still is, an extremely efficient rappel style which eliminates the need to gear up in a lot of situations. I hope it is still taught, since people might not always have their gear conveniently on their bodies.