A slow pole climb for Sci ’09

Hundreds of engineering students work together to retrieve a tam from atop the Grease Pole.
Hundreds of engineering students work together to retrieve a tam from atop the Grease Pole.
An engineering student comes prepared for the wet and muddy pit of the Grease Pole.
An engineering student comes prepared for the wet and muddy pit of the Grease Pole.

In the end, it took three hours, nine minutes and 16 seconds for the class of 2009 to conquer the Grease Pole.

As a tired but undefeated crowd broiled under Sunday’s hot sun, Matt Stanyon, Sci ’09, scaled the human tower, stretching his lanky frame to grasp a tightly-nailed-on tam. Getting a good grip, Stanyon dangled from the top of the Grease Pole, using his body weight as leverage to yank it from side to side. At the last moment, he secured some necessary support under his feet, successfully ripping off a large piece and ending the faculty of applied science’s annual challenge.

“I figured I’d just grab on to it and swing around, and if I fell ... there were lots of people in the pit to catch me,” Stanyon later told the Journal, while celebrating the accomplishment.

He added he wasn’t concerned about what might have happened if the support hadn’t been there when the tam ripped.

While a comparison with recent years makes three hours seem a long climb, it’s not close to the longest time to date. At 20 hours and four minutes of climbing time—spread over two days—Sci ’72’s climb sets the record.

Dean of Applied Science Tom Harris, Sci ’75, said this year was considerably faster than the climb he participated in as an engineering frosh in 1971.

“I think we should compare it to my year—this year took three hours, nine minutes ... my year took eight hours,” Harris said.

During the event, some students tried to revive another lost tradition.

Jason Pullman, security supervisor at Campus Security, said some upper-year students were throwing vegetables into the pit at the frosh.

“They had cucumbers and eggplants ... I don’t think people realize how dangerous they are,” Pullman said, adding that the bell peppers, also part of the vegetable arsenal aren’t as dangerous but were still confiscated.

“I must have grabbed 30 or 40 pounds of vegetables [from students].”

Director of Campus Security David Patterson said students throwing vegetables early in the day were asked to stop and were compliant.

Campus Security was also observed dealing with a minor setback in safety and security that emerged in the early minutes of the climb. A lack of proper fencing enabled on-looking students to crowd the event’s emergency exit, narrowing the area to less than five feet several times throughout the event.

“Apparently Commerce [unintentionally took] some of their fencing, so we’re a little short,” Pullman said.

Tyler Crosby, orientation chair for EngSoc, told the Journal that this information was incorrect, but wouldn’t comment further. He said that having more fencing in future years would be a good idea.

“Hopefully [we’ll have] more for next year,” Crosby said. “We need more for next year.”

Despite the length of the event and participants’ drive to finish there were no serious injuries.

Patterson said one student was transported to the hospital via ambulance, but sustained no major injuries.

“[It was] just a precautionary thing,” he said. “Regional ambulance was just going to take him in for observation.”

Aaron Sousa, director of Queen’s First Aid, told the Journal that other injuries were minor and fairly standard for the event.

“We saw minor cuts and scrapes, a little dirt in the eye—nothing too major,” Sousa said. “Considering the length of the event it went really well in terms of what we saw.” As time passed, muddy water left most frosh shivering and sluggish. When organizers decided there was a possibility participants could end up suffering from hypothermia if they didn’t warm up, they were encouraged to leave the pit for a while and stand by a campfire to warm up.

“If you need to go stand by the fire for a bit, do so, frosh,” announced Chris Zabaneh, EngSoc president. The crowd around the fire pit grew quickly as frosh shrouded in res blankets tried to warm up.

Chief FREC Tanya Faseruk, Sci ’08, said the event was a success in terms of achievement and safety.

“[There were] no major injuries—that was our major concern,” Faseruk said. “And the frosh did awesome.”

Dean Harris said the preparations for the event translated into positive results.

“It went quite smoothly ... it was well-organized and we’re very happy with the preparations,” Harris said. “Controlled chaos—that’s how I’d describe it.”

Rector Grant Bishop, Sci ’03, also said he was extremely pleased with the outcome. Bishop himself spared no time jumping into the thick of the event, helping organize the effort as soon his year was permitted to enter the pit.

“It was a marathon session, but one that truly delivered to the first-years what the event was about,” Bishop said. “It’s a truly special event, ... the idea of supporting one another ... the idea of teamwork beyond individual glory.”

He said this was the seventh year he’s participated at the Grease Pole.

“It was certainly the best climb in memory,” he said. “I’m intensely aware of that first climb every time I return to the pit.”

Cedric Tsui, Sci ’05, agreed.

“This was the best Grease Pole I’ve ever been to because it went really long and that made it really difficult, but at no point did anyone lose spirit ... everyone wanted it and that made it all the better,” he said.

Andrea Lougheed, Sci ’06, said she thought the climb took too long and was fairly tame.

“The frosh didn’t do a great job,” she said. “The upper years had to go in and help them.” She said she thought the collective efforts of the frosh were lacking in spirit, adding that several people left the event early due to its length.

Bishop said he thought this Grease Pole brought the engineers together, as a year and as a faculty.

“It’s always intense and there’s a lot of camaraderie in the core and everywhere in the pit,” Bishop said. “Everyone is always looking out for one another—that’s part of the spirit of the event.”

The camaraderie of this year’s event spanned decades and two generations. Alan Murray, Sci ’79, attended the event to see his daughter climb the pole as a FREC.

In the last hour, Murray decided to join the effort. His entry into the pit elicited a thunderous cheer, followed by chants of “Sci ’79” from engineers welcoming his arrival.

Zabaneh said he thinks the shared experience of the event supersedes the importance of either the length of the climb or individual effort.

“It doesn’t matter who gets the tam or when it’s attained, it just matters that they got it,” he said.

Grease pole History revealed

• Height of the pole: About 10 metres.

• The first Grease Pole: In 1956, Sci ’60 made the first climb to the top in eight minutes and 10 seconds.

• Location: From 1956 to 1988 the Grease Pole was held at Vivarium Field, a property owned by the University. In 1988, it was moved to its current home on land owned by EngSoc.

• The grease of choice: Until 1988 the pole was greased with axle grease, but now it’s slicked up by lanolin, a biodegradable grease made from sheep’s wool.

• Worst class for injuries: Sci ’88. Between 25 and 40 people were taken to the hospital in 1984, tying up all of the Kingston and regional ambulances. Injuries included a broken foot, a broken ankle, a foot puncture, concussions, hypothermia, a broken nose, and chest and respiratory problems.

• Projectile woes: In the ’70s and ’80s it became the goal of the upper-years to keep frosh from getting to the top. They pelted frosh with tomatoes, apples, melons, beer bottles and rocks. They even developed a machine called a funnelator to shoot fruit at frosh.

• Funnelator banned: In 1983, the funnelator and catapults were banned, and the Kingston police and the AMS treated funnelators as weapons.

• Slowest climb: Sci ’72 has the dubious distinction of being the slowest year to climb the pole. The official time was 20 hours and 4 minutes, over the course of two days.

• Chilly development: For the Sci ’91 climb, dry ice was used in the pit to lower the temperature of the water.

—Source: engsoc.queensu.ca

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