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Staff Profile: Chris McNeill

My first contact with Outward Bound was in the fall of 1969. John Hazel gave a talk to the UBC outdoor club. In the winter of 1970, I joined the team as an assistant volunteer instructor in OB Keremeos. Over the next 35 years, I instructed and Course Directed sailing, kayaking in the East coast and Vancouver Island, and a great variety of land-based courses in Keremeos and Pemberton. Some of my fondest memories of Keremeos include the quiet walk, which was really a sprint around the base, across the river, over a rickety old railway bridge, sometimes through the river, over obstacles, around the ropes course and through the local fields. This was the students’ introduction as soon as they got off the bus.

A favorite course route for students was a circular traverse from a trailhead on Ewart Creek heading upstream and eventually into haystacks lakes, from there into Cathedral Lakes area. On the course we would take a tour of the lakes then down the trail to the Ashanola river and back to the pickup point. What stands out for me was the fun everyone had hanging around the base!

Pemberton area had a tremendous variety of course areas suitable for full on mountaineering instruction to introductory hiking courses. There were numerous wonderful traverses suitable for 3 to 21-day courses and we had road access to many different points for course starts, ends and resupplies. The area was blessed with a lot of good rock sites scattered over several course areas along with loads of peaks from easy walk ups to serious technical climbs. The scenery could be magnificent if the weather cooperated. Some course routes had a bit of bush which had to be carefully managed, but once you got above the bush, there were many wonderful meadow and ridge traverses. Many areas were very seldom visited by other groups and we were very lucky to see goats, mountain sheep, black bear, dear, grizzly bear, cougars, Lynx, Wolverine and fishers. Duffy lake area was a favorite area with lots of peaks, several rock sites, many great traverses of varying degrees of difficulty and fabulous solo sites in Marmot meadows.

I discovered early in my time in Pemberton that less difficult route plans with several peak experiences allowed the students to have more control and ability to make group decisions. This resulted in better courses than route plans with too many guided activities.

Another longtime favorite route was the southern Chilcotin, which was superb for the final unaccompanied expedition The open country allowed instructors to closely shadow groups if there were any concerns about group competencies ss it was generally easy terrain with open meadows and a great trail system. By this time in the course students were experienced and had the skills to deal with any of the obstacles they might encounter! Final expeditions were very successful.

No matter where the course was run, they had several things in common: good pre-course screening and communication was essential, instructors who carefully planned the courses, from the first introduction to the final goodbye, and unstructructed time was imperative so that students had a lot of time to themselves. Outward Bound Canada bridge is a bridge to students’ successes by demanding the question, “what can you use from this course for your future endeavors?”

Happy birthday OBC and my wish is that we continue to make a lasting impact for the next 50 years!