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Teen climbing camp a successful model

Bugaboos camp introduces high schoolers to challenges of climbing in remote wilderness



When he was 17, Pat Morrow was invited to join some of Canada's top rock climbers for a climbing expedition to B.C.'s fabled Bugaboos. Then a novice, Morrow was thrilled to be included, despite the fact he stayed on the easiest climbs while his hosts tackled cutting-edge new routes.

Inspired by the adventure, Morrow pursued climbing, in 1986 becoming the first person to complete the Seven Summits, climbing the highest peak on each continent, for which he received the Order of Canada. Since then he's pursued an enviable career as a photojournalist and filmmaker, recording intriguing mountain cultures around the world with his wife, Baiba. And he often reflects on the value of his earliest climbing experiences, particularly that Bugaboos adventure.

Last month, in an ongoing effort to introduce teenagers to the wonders of the Bugaboos' sky-scraping granite spires and glistening glaciers, Morrow hosted the sixth annual Conrad Kain Centennial Society Bugaboos Teens Camp. The three-day program was launched in 2009 as part of the CKCS's aim to honour Kain's arrival in Canada in 1909, and his legendary contributions to Canada's climbing and guiding history and culture.

The camp, open to Grade 10 and 11 Columbia Valley students, introduces teens to the excitement and challenges of climbing in a spectacular setting, and also to the experience of being in remote wilderness.

"I came here when I was 17 and was blown away," Morrow said. "The aim of the camp is to expose the teens to as many people as we can — CMH Bugaboo Lodge housekeeping staff, cooks, guides, the Conrad Kain Hut custodian — people who are making a living in the outdoors doing what they love to do. I thought this was the nicest legacy to remember and honour Conrad Kain, and introduce kids to the big mountains he explored, and to his conservation philosophy."

An Invermere native, after 20 years in Canmore, Alberta, Morrow returned to the region in 2007, settling in Wilmer. As CKCS chair, largely through word-of-mouth he recruited seven teens for the first camp. Two local ACMG Mountain Guides, Kirk Mauthner and Tim McAllister volunteered their services that year. They've guided the camp every summer since, the past couple of years with fellow ACMG Mountain Guide Jen Olson. Since 2009 some 57 high-school students from Invermere, Kimberley and Cranbrook have participated.

After that first year, Morrow found the most effective way to entice participants has been by presenting a slide show at the schools shortly before classes end for the summer. By focusing on Grade 11 students, the participants return to school in the fall to share stories and photos from their experience. It's worked, as many of the 2014 participants learned of the program through friends and siblings.

Group size is set at 10 — large enough to have meaningful impact on the community, yet small enough for the guides to safely manage in scrambling and basic mountaineering terrain.

While Columbia Valley students are fortunate to have the world-class Bugaboos in their backyard, Morrow suggested the program could work equally well in Revelstoke, the Valhallas, West Kootenays or Whistler.

Generous sponsorship from partners including the Columbia Basin Community Fund, BC Hydro, CKCS members, Canadian Mountain Holidays, BC Parks, the Alpine Club of Canada and the Association of Canadian Mountain Guides, enable the program to run on a budget of $5,000 to $6,000 a year, including food. One year, a former participant organized the meals for the trip. In the Bugaboos, overnight accommodation is provided at the ACC's Conrad Kain Hut. Parents commit to carpooling to shuttle the kids to and from the trailhead.

From there, the teens hike six steep kilometres to the hut carrying backpacks, a first for many of them.

"Some come from families that don't hike and don't ski," Morrow said. "It's only three days, they can only look at it as a kick start. It's up to the kids if they want to take it to the next level, and want to take up climbing in any sort of serious way."

The teens are taught self-arrest techniques by the guides before they tie into a rope to trek across a glacier, navigating around and sometimes jumping over deep crevasses. They also scramble up rock ridges to stand on summits hundreds of metres above the glaciers at their base.

"It gives them exposure to nature in its rawest form, even if they never step foot in the high mountains again," Morrow said. "And I encourage them to bring cameras and take notes, and to contribute by telling their own stories about the adventure, especially though social media. That way it's a bit more active than just the experience in the moment."

Two graduates who had previously shown interest in photography and filmmaking as career choices prior to participating are now both continuing in that direction.

In addition to the adventure component, the program introduces the kids to a range of outdoor-related career options, including guiding, park warden/ranger, helicopter pilots and engineers and lodge maintenance personnel. Adult participants in this year's camp included Cranbrook's Mount Baker Senior High School outdoor-ed teacher Leigh Cormier, and BC Parks regional manager Brett Yeates.

Having keen outdoor-ed teachers is a big help, Morrow said, particularly since outdoor education is not currently mandatory in B.C. schools.

A bonus this year occurred while touring CMH's Bugaboos Lodge, when the group met the company's co-founder, retired guide and colourful octogenarian, Leo Grillmair.

"That was an eye-opener for them, especially the kids who would not otherwise be exposed to that industry," Morrow said. "They get to be exposed to so much above and beyond teaching them how to put their hands on the rock, how to handle the rope."

At legendary Applebee Campground, pro climbers Will Stanhope and Matt Segal shared tall tales of working back-to-back summers to put up a new route.

Over the years one or two students who weren't in the best of physical shape, or who became psyched-out by exposure to heights experienced moments of difficulty, but those challenges were quickly overcome.

"They all pulled through, they respect each other," Morrow said. "Part of it comes from being in a foreign environment and experiencing it together. And there's peer pressure to do their best and not slow the group down. There are no complainers."

Cormier agreed, saying the camp was as amazing as her students had described.

"It's such an amazing opportunity for the kids to have this exposure, learning these skills from the guides," Cormier said. "And it's free. That's unreal."

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