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2011 General Mountaineering Camp – Tsar-Somervell

November 20, 2011

Fine weather greats us on transition day.

Well, now that summer’s long since over and I’m thinking about ice, I ought to get this blog moving again.  A couple of summer updates are in order…I know, it’s already November and I owe a lot of people some pictures…been busy, what can I say?

 This summer marked the Alpine Club of Canada’s 105th(!) General Mountaineering Camp (GMC).  To my knowledge, this is the longest-running camp of this style in the world, and probably one of (if not THE) only annual camp of its type today.  It’s an event loaded with history, and in fact many of the early first ascents of major peaks in the Canadian Rockies happened as a result of this camp at the turn of the century.  Though it seems hard to believe now, climbing these peaks back then was a totally different, and far more involved, undertaking.  The “capital” of western Canada at the time was Winnipeg (and in fact, that’s where the ACC was inaugurated in 1906), and so any endeavours in the Rockies required quite the resources.

After its near-demise in the 1980s, the GMC has become an annual highlight for the club.  From my perspective as an amateur leader, I find it extremely rewarding and worthwhile despite the occasional challenges of leading others in the mountains. Volunteering alongside professional mountain guides and other leaders with vast amounts of mountaineering experience, it’s both an opportunity for some serious fun in the mountains with a wide variety of personalities, as well as a great opportunity to keep those mountaineering skills sharp.  I learn something every year, and to date I’ve only had one helmet fire that I’ll admit to!

This summer’s camp was located on the bench below Mount Somervell and basecamp afforded wonderful views of Mounts Tsar, Shackleton and others; at least when the weather cooperated.  To say this year’s camp was not without challenging weather would be an understatement.  I was there for Week 4 of the six-week long camp in the last week of July, and we dealt with everything from winter snow at higher elevations (and the concomitant avalanche concerns at times), to rain resembling falling pitchforks, to thigh-deep post-holing, soft crevasse bridges, whiteout navigation and unfrozen snow and “ice”.

I’ve often heard it said that the Inuit have a number of different words for snow; I’d say we encountered most varieties and I’ll also note that mountain guides have quite a few different words for bad snow…most of which I probably shouldn’t repeat here.

Despite the at-times horrendous weather though, we did manage to climb something on all but one of our seven possible climbing days (and we got to watch a lightning show to remember from our tents that day).  Most days I got really efficient at putting on my rain jacket only to take it off moments later.  Other days I just stayed wet from the moment I left camp.  Unfortunately, the heavy amounts of winter snow still falling at higher elevations left the bigger peaks out of condition with double-corniced ridges and treacherous snow slopes to negotiate, so Shackleton, Somervell and Tsar remained unclimbed during my stay.  Mount Tsar was the only one of the big prizes to be climbed this year, once during Week 1 and again during Week 5 (just my luck…) – congratulations to those parties, looked like a fantastic outing!

I had a great time, as always, having the chance to again see some old friends and mentors, hone my own skills, and make many new friends.  I also had the immense satisfaction of seeing a lot of smiling faces as many folks bagged their first peaks.

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