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The screams echoed off the cliff as another 4 enlightened warriors in training strained at the ascenders and fought their way upwards. The rain streamed down and their feet slipped resulting in their bashing into the rock but still they yelled and pulled for the top. These weren't seasoned athletes, in fact most of them looked like they would be more at home in a mall getting themselves outside of a supersized McFatmeal. So how did I fit into this picture you might ask? I was working.
That's right, I actually worked a bit this year. While up in Squamish there was an extended dry period with a number of destructive forest fires. In response they closed off all the backcountry and nearly all the trails. This forced a motivational program to find something different to do since their usual trail was closed. They contacted a guide service and Pat and Jackie helped set up some activities for them. The first day they ran this things were sort of chaotic as they worked through all the last minute snafus. There were going to be less people available to work for the next days, so I was tapped to help out.
I had heard a bunch of odd stories that evening, but I didn't really know what I was in for until the 60 "warriors in training" showed up the next day along with another 7 or so volunteers to help out. As the first car pulled up someone jumped out and ran to start directing the others. Soon they were being led in some group stretching and chanting. These chants included things like "one step at a time", "suck it up princess" and "don't think". They all had name tags with their names written fairly small and their "warrior name" written boldly in color. These warrior names were things like "shining eagle" and "elephant" some appeared to be more appropriate than others. The majority involved words like "Bright, Shining, or Strong", and animals like "Eagle, Lion, Wolf, Butterfly" or maybe something like "Tree or Flower". We waded through the waiver forms and then started putting on harnesses. Not a big deal for most people, but every once in a while there was an individual that definitely did not have the body shape that the harnesses were designed for. One person aptly described it as "putting a harness on the bottom of a globe". Then the group was split in two and we went on to the activities.
The first activity I worked was climbing. This involved a number of top rope routes. The climbers were hooked up and then 3 other people were hooked up to the other end of the rope. They would back away as the climbers ascended to provide a belay. Some people were able to climb without too much trouble while others were much slower. All the other people would scream encouragement to the climbers. I missed it but evidently someone put "beams of green light" into another person's forearms giving them the needed boost to make it to the top.
The other activity at this cliff was a tandem climb where the lower climber was blindfolded and assisted by the higher climber. Once again some people did this fairly easily and others struggled mightily. The variability in the assistance provided by the non-blindfolded climber was drastic. Some people actually seemed to be less than helpful in that they tended to pull on the rope and say things like "grab the handhold by my foot".
The activity at the other cliff was climbing up fixed ropes with ascenders. This was done without etriers (foot steps) so that when there were no holds on the rock a lot of upper body strength was required. Most of the fixed ropes were in locations with a fair number of footholds, so by using them one could mostly use their legs for upward progress. We would hook up 4 people on the 4 ropes and then send them up. They had 7 minutes to get to the top. The fastest time up was under 30 seconds, but most people took at least a few minutes. We made an effort to try to hook the strongest people onto the more difficult lines, but some people simply were unable to make it very far and they ran out of energy before the top. Then we would have to go up next to them and raise them a bit to disconnect the ascenders which work like ratchets to move up the rope but will not slide down when they are weighted. Usually we would be able to get them to step up on something to unweight the rope, but often the heaviest people would need to be lifted up to disconnect them. I think I strained something in my back trying to hoist someone to disconnect the aiders.
That was the basic set up for the 240 some people that came through the program. Some of the more interesting aspects were some of the odd sayings they had. Such as "don't think" this was a way to try to avoid what they refered to as "mind frick". Unfortunately I don't have a copy of all of their sayings, but I am looking for a copy. Some other memorable quotes included "There is nothing like a warrior at the finish line" and "This isn't a contest to see who can hang out the longest, get moving", and something about breathing through your vagina. (motivational eh?)
The most impressive things was how hard they would try. I was primarily working on the ascending. Some of the people were not in the best of shape (to put it mildy), so when one man was struggling up the wall we were afraid he was going to have a heart attack. This was brought out more when we later learned he had just had quintuple bypass surgery 3 weeks earlier. Others would just continue upwards screaming at themselves and getting scraped on the wall. However we seemed to have a better safety record than some of the other activities as other people showed up with among other things a dislocated shoulder, a busted finger, heaps of scrapes and scratches, and maybe some busted ribs. This piqued our interest about what other activities were going on. People were a little secretive about what exactly they did because the activities were supposed to be a surprise. I assured them that there was no way I was going to pay to take one of these courses, and I was able to ferret out some more details. One of the activities among other things involved being strangled. Evidently if you tensed the correct muscles it would keep the arteries open and if you didn't, you would pass out. Some people were able to do this the first time, and others passed out repeatedly before they figured it out. Supposedly one person even proposed to their fiancee while she was being strangledů We all thought that was a bit bizarre. Then there was running a gauntlet of martial artists in the woods. I suspect that was where most of the serious injuries came from.
The last day we were invited to join them for a catered lunch. Not too bad. Of course I bloated myself on free burgers, fruit, salad, and cheesecake. It was impressive to hear all 250 of these people yelling at once. One of the odd things was that people would stand up while everyone was eating and say something like "I am Tom Grundy and my warrior name is Stubborn Rock and I deserve a standing ovation" (sometimes with a few more four letter words added). Then everyone would stand up and clap, and sometimes they would get an "aHO" or two (the preferred chanted cheer it seems). Finally each of the groups that led various activities were recognized and we were given t-shirts. There seemed to be a bit of percent inflation as he said we gave 1000% which I thought was pretty good, but another group gave 1001%.
We got a lot of mileage making fun of their sayings and warrior names and so on ("My Name is Etienne and my warrior name is "horny buck" and I deserve a girlfriend"), but we were all impressed how hard some of the people tried, and most of the people seemed to be getting something out of the program. Still, if they had served kool-aid at the lunch we all agreed we weren't going to drink any.