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How a 97-year-old grandmother inspired the birth of heli-hiking


In 1978, a bus tour operator named Arthur Tauck, who had joined CMH in the winter for helicopter skiing, realized a summertime tour of the same remote part of the Canadian Rockies, with easy helicopter access, comfortable lodging, and first-rate cuisine might appeal wonderfully to his elderly guests on bus tours.

helihiking bugaboos history

In 2001, CMH produced a coffee-table photo book titled, “Heli-Hiking and Mountaineering” in which Tauck penned an intro that reveals much about the sublime world of heli-hiking, his vision for its origin, and why heli-hiking is so ideal for older guests. 

Besides the obvious beauty of the remote mountains he'd seen while skiing, Tauck was curious how he might be able to take tours to other places besides the more popular Canadian Rockies tourist destinations.  He wrote:

“There was another question in my mind, too: would the senior citizens we cater to appreciate a mountain program given the frailties of age?

"Coincidentally, about the same time, I happened to visit my wife’s ailing grandmother, who was in a home living out her waning days.  It was a sad visit.  She was failing fast.  Among her last words to me were, ‘Arthur, inside this baggy old body of bones, I’m still 25.'  I cried, and later realized she had answered one of my questions.

"We had always designed tours around out perception of our elderly clientele’s  physical limitations.  Maybe that was a mistake.  My grandmother-in-law convinced me that we should let our clients determine their own limitations.  We should design tours that would engage their spirit and tenacity, that would leave them with renewed pride in themselves.

"I tracked down this guy Hans Gmoser (founder of Canadian Mountain Holidays).  I wanted to talk to him about my idea of introducing my clients to his lodges and letting them partake of the magic and purity of an alpine experience geared to their wishes and capabilities.  I envisioned a program like Hans’ heli-skiing where each day guests are divided by ability and heli-lifted to four or five different venues they could explore with a guide."

bugaboos lodge helicopter hike

Tauck gave CMH a call, and heli-hiking was born.  (Above, an early heli-hiking group prepares for liftoff from the Bugaboo Lodge.) It worked perfectly.  For decades Tauck Tours included a CMH heli-hiking segment during bus tours of the Canadian Rockies with elderly travelers. Tauck concluded: 

“The result was  a renewed sense of pride.  They met the challenge of satisfying their inner spirit at a time in their lives when they were beginning to accept the more sedentary life that comes with age.  It was a joy to watch them fanny-slide down snowy slopes, frolic like kids with snowballs in the midst of summer, and push themselves along ridge lines and up the slopes far above timber.  They learned about the flora, fauna, and the power of glaciation.  They embraced the mountain environment... and they bonded with one another and wished they could adopt the CMH staff that made it all possible. 

"Then, upon departure, while waiting for the helicopter to return them to reality, I would witness reflection, sometimes tearful.  Maybe it was about their accomplishments and the fact that they may never have such an experience again.

"I too, have found myself with moist eyes seeing their emotion.  I realized Hans and I were the authors of an experience that enhanced and sometimes changed the lives of many.

"We have watched, awestruck, amputees navigate the meadows and the glaciers.  We have seen the more fit eagerly reach out to embrace the challenges of mountaineering.  And we have witnessed families unite with teenagers, parents and grandparents, each at their own level of participation, but each sharing the same emotion.

"My original goal of creating Heli-Hiking to take advantage of added rooms in the Rockies for financial gain has long since faded in importance.  As it turned out, my personal gain is the realization that Heli-Hiking has rekindled the dreams that reside inside so many of us.  My only regret is that my wife’s 97-year-old grandmother never had a chance to live the experience she inspired.  God bless her.”

heli hiking wheelchair access

Since then, CMH Summer Adventures has hosted seniors, kids, world-class athletes, handicapped travelers (shown above in a wheelchair on Grizzly Ridge near the Bugaboos), families, famous mountaineers, and everyone in between.  CMH Summer Adventure programs have diversified to include safe-but-thrilling adventures for adrenaline-seekers, photo workshops and family adventures, but perhaps the most incomparable value in CMH Summer Adventures is still heli-hiking for elderly travelers who can experience Mr. Tauck's vision of engaging their spirit and tenacity once again and leave with renewed pride in themselves.

Photos courtesy Canadian Mountain Holidays archives.

The world's most comfortable adventure?


REI Adventures describes a stay with CMH like this: “...a high mountain adventure of helicopter rides and spectacular encounters with nature, combined with private rooms in remote, alpine lodges and fantastic food.”

comfortable alpine adventure

Indeed, there are few outings in the adventure travel world that combine such lofty adventures with such comfortable and relaxing hospitality.  By day you can explore pristine alpine areas, under the watchful eye of an experienced mountain guide, where you can’t find even a single human footprint, trail, or road - and by night you can relax in a hot tub overlooking paradise of the wilderness kind. 

heli hiking splendorThen the next day you can be lifted by a Bell 212 helicopter, known as the safest helicopter ever made, to a place that would be among the most photographed viewpoints on earth if there was a road to get there.  From there, you can wander across tundra overlooking white glaciers, steep black mountains, and enjoy a lunch where the only difficulty is deciding which way to sit to take in what part of the 360-degree panorama.

That night you’ll enjoy a massage, a gourmet meal shared with knowledgable mountain guides,  and a fine bottle of wine. 

When it’s time to leave the Lodge, you’ll be happy if you’re one of the lucky ones who booked the Lodge-to-Lodge adventure, because while the rest of the group is going back to the real world, you’ll hike across an easy ridge and the CMH wizards of logistics will take the rest of your travel kit, suitcases, and clothing to the neighboring CMH Lodge

That night you’ll be comfortably at home in a different lodge, with a different world-class view, but the same hospitality and incomparable wilderness comfort of CMH Summer Adventures.  The CMH Lodges were built to provide easy and comfortable access to some of the most difficult to access mountains in North America. 

Imagine Yosemite with only a couple dozen people in the entire park or the Tetons where the nearest paved road was 50 kilometres away.  Then imagine a comfortable lodge that feels more like home than a hotel, with a staff that is passionate about adventure, hospitality, and wilderness.  Combine the two visions and you'll just begin to understand the CMH flavor of wilderness adventure.

spa with a view

Upon waking in the morning, it will be as if you are in your own personal National or Provincial Park - the second in less than a week.  Mountain guides will accompany you on relaxing adventures (or tough hikes, climbs, or Via Ferrata ascents if you prefer) and share their vast knowledge of the geology, glaciology, and ecology of the area - as well as keep your holiday safe, easy and stress free.comfortable alpine lodge

Most of the world’s travel options that provide the kind of adventure found with CMH Summer Adventures require weeks rather than days, athletic fitness rather than everyday walking ability, and third world travel logistics and complications rather than a short flight to Calgary and exemplary service that allows you to just relax and enjoy yourself. 

In fact, here’s a challenge: does anyone out there know of anywhere else on earth that offers both adventure and comfort equal to CMH Summer Adventures?

Photos by Topher Donahue and Andrea Johnson.

Adventure travel lodges - a photo essay


Some of the most famous lodging in the world treats you to extravagant comforts and luxury while others require nearly roughing it in canvas tents.

In trying to describe the experience of staying at a CMH Lodge, the usual descriptions of lodging don't really fit.  Instead, the CMH Lodge experience is more of an emotion, a verb, alive. 

It is a combination of the feeling of the day’s adventure into the wilderness of Western Canada - adventures for world-class athletes, octogenarians, and everyone in between - and the intimate comforts of a remote mountain lodge with all the amenities an adventure traveller could desire. 

To capture what CMH Lodges have to offer, one could make a long list of features, from spas to bars, but what really makes them special is the feeling they inspire.  To communicate this, I felt photos were the best way to explain the emotions of a CMH Lodge. 

From the first moment of the day, with a fresh cup of coffee and a view out your bedroom window of the alpenglow on the Bugaboo Spires...

Travel lodge view siting in the sun, waiting for the helicopter to whisk you and your family safely into some of the most remote mountains in North America...

summer family vacation the view out the helicopter window as you leave the lodge for one of the most memorable days of your life...

bugaboo lodge spires returning to the lodge with your guide to complete the CMH Summer Adventures experience with all the comforts of home - and more...

coming home bobbie burns dinner with friends and family overlooking a wilderness wonderland...

bugaboo lodge dinner reflecting on the day over a three-dimensional map of the area...

bugaboo lodge commons a glass of wine on the deck with your best friend...

alpine wine tasting a quiet night a long, long way from the nearest highway and town...

bobbie burns lodge stars

...the emotion of the CMH Lodge is one of intimacy, adventure, beauty, comfort and complete escape from the complicated world in which we live.

Family Adventures: Bonding in the high alpine


Kids discovering nature close upCalling all families! Wanting your kids to turn off the television, shut off the x-box and step into nature’s ultimate playground? CMH Summer Adventures is offering family focused heli-hiking trips consisting of a three day escape into Canada’s pristine alpine meadows. Experience untouched wilderness feet-first in the Canadian Rockies.

With ‘nature deficit disorder’ on the rise in children, their mental and physical health is at stake. A CMH Family Adventure means you and your kids can have fun and stay active, while being completely immersed in the great outdoors. From sliding down snow-covered hills, to dipping toes in glacier fed lakes, there is no shortage of excitement. Guaranteeing big grins and glowing faces, our CMH Family Adventure leaders ensure each child is experiencing an engaging and educational trip. By incorporating games and activities throughout the day, your child will see nature in a new light. Family trips aren’t just for the youngsters. Teenagers, and those with a penchant for adrenalin, will have the opportunity to zip-line across river gorges; traverse a two story tree-top ropes course; rope up for some glacier trekking; or clip in to a via ferrata and summit a mountain peak.

If breathtaking mountain views, carpets of glacier lilies, and the tranquility of the atmosphere aren’t enough to fill your imagination, think of the quality time you will enjoy as you embark on this exceptional adventure together. You and your family will unwind, spend time exploring the land, connect with nature and create memories to last a lifetime.

CMH Family Adventures are available at both the Bobbie Burns (July 24 - 27 and August 8 – 11) and Bugaboos (July 27 - 30 and August 11 – 14). So put down the cell phone, pull up your hiking socks, and head outdoors this summer for a family adventure of a lifetime.

To learn more about CMH Family Adventures give us a call at 1-800-661-0252 or visit Nature’s playground awaits.

Private CMH Summer Adventures - Canada’s best kept secret


You and your partner want the ultimate remote getaway?

You and your family want to share a bonding experience of the most powerful, lasting kind?

You and your friends or group want to craft the perfect mountain retreat, tailored precisely for your level of fitness and enthusiasm for adventure?

helihiking custom relaxation

If you answered yes to any of these questions, a Private Summer Adventure Trip with CMH could be your ticket to the best holiday of your life. 

Here’s how it works:  

By booking a Private Summer Adventure Trip, CMH will reserve a private guide just for you.  This means the plethora of CMH Summer Adventures will be yours for the choosing, with helicopter access, at your pace, your level of difficulty, and with only the people you want to be with.  Daily options include:private helihiking

  • Easy hikes on across the tundra in the most spectacular alpine terrain imaginable.
  • Deluxe picnics in impossibly beautiful locations.
  • Simply relaxing in a postcard-perfect setting.
  • Playing on cool snowfields during the heat of summer.
  • Taking photographs of an alpine paradise at your pace with a helicopter to get your lenses up there.
  • Challenging all day treks to summits looking down on glaciers and a sea of mountains stretching as far as the eye can see in every direction.
  • An airy via ferrata climb near the world-famous Bugaboo Spires.
  • Mountaineering and rock climbing adventures at your choice of difficulty and commitment.
  • Glacier treks across ancient ice caps and between huge granite walls.
  • Ziplines across a wilderness canyon.
  • Design your own adventure!

CMH Private Summer Adventure Trips are a holiday that can be the most relaxing, easy, beautiful days you’ve ever had - or the wildest, most breathtaking, exciting but safe adventure you can imagine. 

What do you want your holiday to be?


Family Hiking: How to know if your kids are ready to hit the trails


Family Hiking with CMH Summer AdventuresIt's a question we hear quite often "How old do my kids need to be to go hiking?"  And our response: Any age will do!

Whether you are packing your infant or toddler in a carrier and carrying the load yourself, or encouraging your pre-schooler to walk 'up here, just around the next corner to the next rock' before your next break, kids are always ready and love to get out there.  And what better example can we set for our children than by showing them that it is fun and it feels good to get outside and explore.

Kids of all ages have loads of energy to burn and are normally quite happy to spend a few hours chasing squirrels, jumping over rocks and roots and checking out the bugs.  Like our neighbor's dog, our kids tend to put on more miles than we do on a walk or a hike as they run ahead, run back to tell us some crazy story and run ahead again.

Keep your own expectations in check and look to your kids to signal when it's time to stop for a break or turn for home.  Another helpful hint: Don't underestimate the power of chocolate!

For some additional tips on hiking with kids and some great suggested hikes in the Banff area, click here to watch this video of CMH Summer Adventures' Ellen Slaughter on Calgary's Breakfast TV.

Do you hike as a family?  Share any tips you have for successful outings with us in the comments section below!

Photo: A dad and his kids enjoying an above-the-world heli-hike on a Bugaboo Family Adventure with CMH by Topher Donahue.

An Introvert's Guide To Small Group Adventure Travel


by Ellen Barone

You don’t have to travel solo or stay home just because you’re an introvert—if you take along this advice. (As for the insatiable wanderlust that may result? You're on your own.)

Small Group Adventure Travel

Some of my most memorable (and solitary) travel experiences – sea kayaking with whales in Alaska, trekking to Machu Picchu, Heli-Hiking in the Canadian Rockies, photographing lions in Africa, crossing the Moroccan Sahara by camel, and snorkeling with Galapagos sea lions – have occurred on small group adventure trips.

For me, guided adventures, especially in challenging destinations, offer all the benefits of independent travel with none of the hassles or risk. But as an introvert accustomed to spending much of my time alone, it can be a challenge to balance my need for silence and solitude within the extroverted dynamics of group travel.

If the idea of sharing your vacation with others is keeping you from booking the trip of a lifetime, here are four travel-tested suggestions to help you maintain your independence.

 1. Carve out time alone each day.

Don't be surprised if you find yourself enjoying the company of your travel companions more than you thought you would: Adventure travelers are a convivial, globetrotting tribe. To avoid social overload, however, be sure to carve out time alone each day. Hang back on a trail hike. Enjoy a solitary meal. Skip a planned excursion for some solo exploration. Tuck away in a quiet spot with a good book. Carry an iPod and earphones to tune-out as needed.

2. Splurge for your own room.

If you’re not traveling with a beloved who understands and respects your needs, most tour outfitters offer solo travelers the option of single accommodations. It may (or may not) cost more than sharing twin accommodations with another tour member of the same sex. But believe me, it’s worth it. I’ve gone the roommate route and regretted it every time, no matter how much I liked the person. Having time alone to recharge at the end of each day, or a private place to retreat to, is vital to maintaining balance.

3. Develop the art of being alone in a group.

As an Introvert, I am not shy or anti-social, nor do I dislike people: Quite the opposite. I have good social skills. I am a popular speaker and teacher. I love to meet new people and engage in long conversations about meaningful topics. But too much external stimulation exhausts me. So I’ve learned to pace myself with mini meditative moments. Whenever possible, I mentally disengage from life’s periphery long enough to be alone with my thoughts, to observe the world around me and within me. Try it. It’s a portable and soul-nourishing habit that’s as restorative at home or work as on the road.

4. You don’t have to do it all.

By design, adventure travel itineraries are action packed. Active exploration of our amazing planet is what it’s all about. One of the biggest challenges for introverts, however, can be balancing the need for downtime with the desire to do everything on the agenda. Don’t be ashamed or embarrassed to opt out when you need to or to suggest alternative ways to experience a place or activity that better suits your style. On a Galapagos cruise, for example, I set out with the group for an island hike as planned but arranged to spend the afternoon at an isolated beach to photograph and journal alone; easily reuniting with the others on the return leg of the hike. It’s been my experience that unless what you’re suggesting is unsafe or logistically impossible, most guides and trip managers are happy to accommodate any requests that will enhance your vacation.

What about you? How do you, or the introvert in your life, manage to stay balanced in an extroverted world? Use the comments box to tell us.

Ellen Barone is freelance journalist specializing in travel and frequent contributor to the Adventure blog. For the latest travel news, tips, and reviews, visit her website at

Related Reading: Quiet: The Power of Introverts In A World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain. A passionately argued and impressively researched book filled with indelible stories of real people, Quiet shows how dramatically society undervalues introverts, and how much we lose in doing so. Listen to the author’s powerful Ted talk

Photo of the author enjoying some alone time while Heli-Hiking with CMH Summer Adventures.

CMH Glacier Treks - Join the new exploration


glacier trek bugaboosIn the most spectacular adventure travel destinations, sometimes the obvious hides behind the scenery.  This year, the CMH Bugaboos guides realized they were missing out on what is perhaps the most obvious, unique and valuable adventure in the Bugaboos: heli-supported glacier treks around, under, and among the world-famous Bugaboo Spires.

For decades now, the Bugaboos guides have been hiking around the edges of the Bugaboos spectacular glaciers while leading CMH Summer Adventures, climbing on the spires, and even unofficially tracking the recession of Vowell Glacier by placing cairns at the edge of the ice each season, but the CMH Glacier Trek in the Bugaboos is an entirely new exploration.

The guides’ decision to begin offering what could be the coolest adventure at CMH was in part due to their own desire to spend more time on the glaciers and among the massive spires - and in part due to changes in the world of adventure travel. 

“People are looking to do something a little bit different.” said Peter Macpherson, the CMH Bugaboos assistant manager.  The success of the via ferrata programs in both the Bugaboos and the Bobbie Burns shows how much people enjoy unique adventures in nature’s wildest environments, but the airy exposure of the via ferrata and the technical demands of alpine climbing are not for everyone. 

Glacier Treks add a thrilling, explorative, but technically easy element to CMH Summer Adventures in the from of a stunning all-day adventure that isn’t possible anywhere else in the world. 

When I spoke with Dave Cochrane, CMH Bugaboos area manager, about the new program, the excitement was obvious in his voice.  “You don’t need technical skills at all, but we’ll use ropes for parts of it to walk around crevasses and exposed places. It’s truly an adventure!” he said.  (Some routes will include easy rappels, controlled by the guides, to descend from one glacier to another.)

Depending on conditions, Glacier Trekkers may use crampons on their boots to give them better footing on the ice, and ice axes as walking sticks, but there will be no technical climbing involved. While you explore the heart of the Bugaboos, your guides will share their knowledge of the range's fascinating glaciology and geomorphology as well as the area's colourful human and climbing history.

Hiking through the Bugaboos Spires is something that has traditionally been the elite realm of technical rock climbers, but with CMH Glacier Treks, anyone with enough fitness for an all-day hike will be able to participate in the incredible experience of walking under kilometre-high pillars of vertical granite (like in the above photo with Pigeon Spire near the top of the Vowell Glacier), looking down into the mouths of ancient crevasses - and then returning by helicopter to the comforts of the Bugaboo Lodge for a massage, a spa, and an intimate gourmet dinner.

glacier treks equipment

The Bugaboo Provincial Park prohibits helicopters within the boundary of the park, so Glacier Trekkers will be lifted by helicopter from the Bugaboo Lodge to a starting point along the border of the Park, traverse various glacier systems lacing the spires within the Park during a full day adventure - including Vowell Glacier, Crescent Glacier, Cobalt Glacier, Bugaboo Glacier or Howser Glacier - and then finish with a helicopter pickup at a different location at the park boundary. This will make CMH Glacier Treks, while not technical, committing in terms of all-day endurance. Glacier Trekkers will need to be fit enough for the full day’s adventure without an early helicopter pick up as has been available for tired hikers while heli-hiking.

“Walking through the Bugaboo Spires,” mused Dave, “It’s pretty exciting to think about - there is nowhere else in the world you can do that!”

Photos by Topher Donahue

Summer 2012 is the inaugural season for CMH Glacier Treks. For more questions about the most exciting adventure at CMH, visit our website or contact CMH Reservations at 1-(800) 661-0252.

Wade Davis speaks out about proposed Northern BC Pipeline


National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Wade Davis has been garnering a significant amount of media coverage in the last few months as he has voiced his concerns over the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline through Northern British Columbia that, if given the go-ahead, will transport 525,000 barrels of oil per day from near Edmonton, AB to Kitimat, BC.*

While the project is being sold to Canadians as one that will provide widespread economic and social benefits, Davis feels strongly that the development of the pipeline will destroy an area of cultural and environmental significance in this isolated and once-protected area of the country.

Wade Davis Sacred Headwaters bookcover dec2011This isn't the first time Davis has spoken out about the protection of Northern BC.  He recently wrote the text for a book entitled The Sacred Headwaters capturing the cultural significance of this area of Northern BC where he lives in a collection of stunning photographs and moving text.  In a recent Ted Talk, Davis speaks about the Tahltan people of this region and their association with this land. "For them the headwaters are a kitchen, sanctuary, the burial ground of their ancestors,” says Davis. The area is currently being surveyed by Imperial Metals and Shell as potential mine sites that Davis says will destroy the land and taint the water with toxic chemicals; a by-product of this mining.

CMH Summer Adventures is pleased to host Wade Davis this summer at the Bugaboo Lodge in southeastern BC.  For four days guests will have the opportunity to hike and walk with Davis while sharing discussions on these issues, and many more.  In addition to The Sacred Headwaters, Davis has also written Into the Silence which delves into the story of Mallory, Everest and the Great War and has become a National Bestseller in Canada.  Other books to his credit include Light at the Edge of the World: A Journey Through the Realm of Vanishing Cultures, The Serpent and the Rainbow, One River, The Lost Amazon and more.  While at the Bugaboo Lodge Davis will share excerpts from his Massey Lectures series: The Wayfinders: Why Ancient Wisdon Matters in the Modern World.

To learn more about this exclusive opportunity to travel, walk and converse with Wade Davis, please visit  To learn more about the Sacred Headwaters of Northern BC, visit

*Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipelines "Project at a Glance",



5 Favourite Alpine Reflection Photos


What is it about reflections that never cease to intrigue us?  We know if we look across a smooth body of water, from a low perspective, that we will see a reflection. Yet, when a reflection unfolds before us, our minds are captivated by the vision, and if we're holding our cameras, we can't help but take a picture.

Here are my five favourite reflection images from the kaleidoscope of wilderness adventures that make up CMH Summer Adventures. 

This first one, a reflection of a rock being thrown into a glacial tarn, is one of those pictures that I left open on my desktop for a long time. A moment of natural chaos and perfection in the waters of the Columbia Mountains:

water reflection splash

Here, in a technique I learned from the late, great photographer, Galen Rowell, two hikers are invisible against a shadowy background while their reflections do the hiking:

ghost hikers

Just a few steps from the CMH Bugaboo Lodge, a small lake provides both cool swimming on hot afternoons, as well as a photographer’s dream on clear mornings:

bugaboo spires reflection

This one, of the CMH Bobbie Burns Lodge shows the main ingredients of CMH Summer Adventures.  An incredibly remote wilderness lodge and the twin engine Bell 212 helicopter - known as the safest helicopter ever made - a flavorful modern recipe for adventure:

bobbie burns lodge reflection
Finally, my favourite reflection photo ever, shows a group of hikers dwarfed by the splendor of Western Canada’s sublime wilderness:

colombia mountains reflection
Perhaps the thing that fascinates us most about reflections is the symbolism of our own experience - a sort of affirmation of our ability to reflect on our lives and a hope that we can reflect on some of our experiences with the clarity of nature. 

For me, this metaphorical reflection is one of the main reasons I continue to go into the wilderness for adventures. While most of life is muddled with expectations, responsibilities, and complexities, my lifetime’s experiences in nature form a combined collection of memories that I can reflect upon with crystal clarity, every bit as crisp, colourful, and perfect as the lines in these images.

Photos by Topher Donahue.

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