Canadian Consulting Engineer


August 1, 2004
By Nordahl Flakstad

In his native Ireland, Choc Quinn's student pastime of hill walking evolved into climbing abandoned quarries. The urge to climb eventually drew the 1977 graduate of Dublin's Trinity College to Scotland's fabled Ben Nevis and France's Mont Blanc. B...

In his native Ireland, Choc Quinn’s student pastime of hill walking evolved into climbing abandoned quarries. The urge to climb eventually drew the 1977 graduate of Dublin’s Trinity College to Scotland’s fabled Ben Nevis and France’s Mont Blanc. By 1981, he was ready for more distant challenges, notably Alaska’s Mount McKinley.

Having scaled North America’s highest peak, Quinn found himself in Vancouver. He had no intention of staying, but a fellow Irishman encouraged him to look for work and within a day he had three offers — one with Read Jones Christoffersen, where the professional engineer spent 15 years.

In Vancouver, says Quinn: “I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. I would sail on a Saturday and go climbing on Sunday.”

An economic downturn led to his transfer to Calgary, where the sailing might not match Vancouver’s, but where the climbing seemed limitless. Quinn tackled the Rockies, but also challenges such as the Lotus Flower Tower, a 2,500-ft granite spire within the Cirque of the Unclimbable near the Nahanni River in the Northwest Territories. To the south, he tested his technique and courage at sites such as Yosemite Park’s formidable El Capitan. He also ventured further afield to the Himalayas to climb K2, at 8610 metres, the world’s second highest peak. The party had to turn around close to the summit when winds lifted them off their feet. Fortunately, they returned to safety, something 13 other climbers then on K2 didn’t manage. In 1983, he joined an international expedition that scaled Mount Lenin in the Pamirs. Here, on the Tajikistan-Kyrgyzstan border, the climbers faced the danger from nearby fighting between Soviets and Afghan guerrillas.

Now he decided to climb walls — of buildings. When a client on short notice needed to check the exterior of a highrise before buying it, there wasn’t time to position a swing stage for the inspection, so Quinn volunteered: “Oh, I’ll do it using my mountaineering stuff. It’s only a 20-storey building. No problem.”

Within minutes, harness strapped on, he rappelled down the building.

Soon, similar assignments reached the engineer-cum-Spiderman from as far away as Toronto and Des Moines. Although he did not actively market these services, calls kept coming once Quinn formed his own firm in 1996.

He still does some high-level inspections through his company, now known as Quinn Saretsky Structural Engineers, with Kevin Saretsky, P.Eng., as partner. However, the firm’s bread and butter is structural design for industrial and commercial applications. Quinn sometimes inspects communication and transmission towers, work that has taken him atop the Calgary Tower’s radio antenna, 600 feet above street level. That kind of job requires some sang-froid, but Quinn relies more on his mountaineering skills when suspended on a 600-foot rope, rappelling and hopping across the face of a 30-storey high-rise.

“It’s a very simple technique,” says Quinn, but concedes, “it’s a high-risk kind of game.”

He radioes information about building conditions to the ground while dutifully recording observations into a dictaphone and taking photos. Quinn also designs fall-protection systems.

These days his “fun” includes ice climbing on waterfalls near Calgary, warmer ascents in summer, plus regular visits to indoor climbing walls. There, Quinn brings along his 12-year-old daughter Nicole.

For Quinn, climbing has more to do with getting closer to, than away from people.

“Some people like to get to the top of the highest mountain. What is even more important for me is building friendships with my climbing partners. In climbing, quite often someone else’s life is in your hands. You have to have absolute faith that the colleague at the end of the rope is doing the right thing.”


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