One winter storm after another is rolling over us. Two nights ago the wind chill was -37 C at my house. I’ve been daydreaming about warmer weather, and this morning I caught myself looking through photos to fuel my dreams of summertime fun.
The Via Ferrata images from CMH Bobbie Burns and CMH Bugaboos caught my eye as some of the more unique photos my camera has ever captured. I’ll let the pictures do the talking, and share the mind-expanding thrill, the eye-opening exposure, the lofty summits, the sphincter-tightening rappel, the happy faces, the bomb-proof safety systems, the sweet helicopter lift back to the lodge, and the extraordinary world of CMH Summer Adventures.
Do you want to do more than daydream about the ultimate summer adventure? Give us a call at 1 (800) 661-0252.
Photos by Topher Donahue
Last summer I photographed a CMH Summer Adventure for Families in the Bugaboos of British Columbia. Even when compared to the spectacular Bugaboo Spires jutting from the ice of ancient glaciers, the kid’s natural way of having fun in the wilderness stole the show. Here are five surprising photos from the trip that reveal just how much fun kids can have out there in the mountains.
When this boy caught a fish with his bare hands, during a squirt gun fight at the lush meadow surrounding Dead Elk Lake, it surprised the boy as much as the fish!
During the winter, we watch our guests having a lot of fun skiing in the snow, but no skier ever had more fun in the snow than the kids do while sliding down cool snowfields under the warm sun and the watchful eyes of the mountain guides.
Sue Arlidge, one of the most inspired child education specialists you’ll ever meet and one of the experts CMH brings in for our family programs, brought a kit to make ice cream using the chill from the snow. The kids used their own hands and energy to make homemade ice cream while sitting in the sun-drenched tundra next to an alpine snowfield. Nobody complained.
Lunchtime on this rock demonstrated just how healthy it is for kids to spend time outdoors. The all piled onto this rock, helped each other to find comfortable spots to sit, were courteous to each other, shared without a word of displeasure, ate hungrily, and stepped off of the rock better friends than when they climbed on.
Every kid loves the helicopter. Some parents are nervous at first, but once they realize how reliable, stable, and confidence-inspiring it is to ride in the twin-engine Bell 212 with its top-notch crew from Alpine Helicopters, even the parents start to have as much fun as the kids.
The CMH Summer Adventure is perhaps the world’s most accessible deep-wilderness adventure travel experience. It is also about the only trip you’ll ever take where age, fitness and skill have no bearing on how much fun everyone will have. You can be a marathon runner, and bring your father, your grandmother, and your kids – and everyone will be able to exercise as much or as little as they want. Most importantly, the entire family will have the best vacation they’ve ever had – on the same trip!
Everyone should stand on a summit at some point. It doesn’t have to be a big or dangerous mountain, but rather any mountain that makes you feel euphoric, rejuvenated, and happy to live on this beautiful planet. The last few steps onto a summit thrill even the most seasoned adventure travelers to the core.
My own summit record is pretty poor, sometimes because of trying difficult paths to the summit, sometimes from being too easily distracted by the rest of the mountain’s splendors, sometimes because of storms - and a hundred other good excuses. However, in 30 years of mountain adventure, I have managed to snap these 5 photos that truly capture the exhilarating feeling of stepping onto a summit:
First Ascent in the Columbia Mountians: This was the first time any human being ever stood on this summit, a peak in the Selkirk Mountains. The wide-open space around the climber, and her interaction with the environment enhanced by her martial arts stance, make this my single favourite summit photo.
Just One More Step: This climbing area along the Elbe River in Germany is famous for thrilling summits, and a climbing ethic that does not allow cams and nuts - the removable metal anchors used by climbers in the rest of the world. Instead, these climbers are using different sized cord, threaded and wedged creatively into the featured sandstone, to safely reach the summit.
Friends in Space: This summit, also near Germany’s Elbe River, is one of the more precarious summits I’ve ever seen. When four climbers proceeded to crowd onto the tiny perch, I had to snap a picture.
Steep and Flat: Mount Arapiles, at the edge of the Australian outback, is one of the least impressive mountains you’ll ever see. However, when compared to the utter flatness of the horizon surrounding it, Arapiles is as lofty as any peak. With some of the wackiest wildlife and oldest exposed rock on the planet, it is a world-class destination for rock climbers and adventure travelers.
A Long Way Down: If the climber in this photo dropped his helmet, it might not stop for over two vertical kilometres. This is the tiny summit of the massive North Howser Tower in the Bugaboos of British Columbia. From easy to difficult rock climbing and a via ferrata, to heli-hiking and backpacking, the Bugaboos offer some of the easiest access to this kind of terrain anywhere in the world. Adventure travelers compare the climbing and hiking in the Bugaboos to the most spectacular terrain in Patagonia and the Himalaya.
In the end, summit photos don’t have to be great photos to be great memoires. What is your favourite summit memory?
It’s that magical time of year in the Northern Hemisphere. Cool mornings and warm afternoons. The mountains are glistening with the season’s first snowfall. Elk are bugling. The deciduous trees are changing colour. Photographers everywhere are trying to capture the beauty of one of nature’s most spectacular displays, but getting a good photo of fall colours has never been easy, and today’s digital cameras make it even harder.
In the film days, you took whatever camera you had, put a roll of Fuji Velvia in it, and went out to photograph the changing of the season. Even with a cheap point and shoot, the colour saturation of film was so good that the colours of autumn looked vivid and memorable in the resulting photograph. Essentially, amateurs and professionals all used the same medium to capture the photo, even if they used a different camera.
Now, most people use point and shoot digital cameras with tiny sensors. I’m a professional photographer, not a physicist, so I don’t really know why fall colours taken with a point and shoot camera look so much worse than those taken with a professional DSLR, and even those don't look as good as film, but I’ve learned four big tricks for making my autumn photography look better regardless of which camera I'm using. This photo, taken with a professional grade Nikon digital camera, demonstrates all four.
1. Shoot in the shade. Your eyes are so much more sensitive to colour range than your camera that you are tricked into thinking you see a good photo just because you see a pleasing view. When the leaves are sunlit, they are often so bright that the sensor cannot record the subtle colours and instead records washed-out highlights. In the shade, natures colours – be it spring flowers or autumn leaves – are revealed to the sensor in a much more manageable hue. Those cloudy days, or shady hillsides like in this photo, often result in better photos than the perfect bluebird morning.
2. Crop other colours into the frame. Cameras and the human eye have one thing in common: colour is relative, not absolute. When you include other colours in the frame, it changes how the sensor and the viewer’s eye records or perceives the colour. For this photo I looked for a place where the yellow and orange contrasted against each other to make both look better.
3. Include compositional elements, not just the leaves. In this case, the ghostly aspen trunks give a sense of depth to the photo. Including singular evergreens amidst a forest of leaves, small meadows, a stream, or even a road or trail in the frame can often help your camera record a memory and an emotion rather than a just a photograph.
4. Buy a good camera. All sensors are not created equal. The difference between a good camera and a bad one has never been greater. Buy the best camera you can afford at the size you're willing to carry.
For a great chance to learn and shoot alongside a professional wilderness photographer in an unbeatable setting, check out the CMH Photography Workshop with John E. Mariott next summer in the Bugaboos.
Photo by Topher Donahue
This spring the CMH guides built a new Via Ferrata in the Bugaboos on a little-known rock buttress of smooth quartzite know as Trundle Ridge. Last month I photographed one of the first teams to ascend the new route. CMH Bugaboos assistant manager Peter Macpherson was our guide for the day. We talked about how diverse the CMH Summer Adventure program has become, and how hard it is to describe the experience. Grandparents can go on leisurely hikes near the helicopter, while their kids climb a via ferrata or hike all day, and their grandkids slide on alpine snowfields and splash in tiny streams - and then afterwards everyone sits down together for a gourmet dinner. How do you compare that to the average adventure travel experience?
From the view out the window of the helicopter of the CMH Bugaboo Lodge, just minutes after finishing a coffee, to standing on the summit of the via ferrata with the otherworldly Bugaboo Spires in the background, here are a few shots that tell the tale better than words:
The next day two of the via ferrata climbers went on an eight-hour hike along a serpentine ridge overlooking the Bugaboos. One of them sat on the tundra with a view of the Bugaboo Spires and a palette of watercolours, painting the toothy peaks and nibbling lox croissants. The other two went hiking with their kids in a wonderland of glaciers, wildly-coloured lakes, and beaches of crystalline sand.
Want to see more of what the CMH Summer Adventure is all about? Subscribe to this blog - or better yet find out for yourself!
Photos by Topher Donahue
by Paul Lazarski
As heli-hiking guides at CMH we are confronted minute by minute by a multitude of puzzle-like decisions. The true art of guiding is to make those decisions appear seamless and ‘easy' to the guest. Many decisions are made for purely environmental and sustainability reasons. Today the word ‘sustainability' is heard everywhere, both referring to many different things and meaning different things to different people. To a guide it means something very simple: caring for your home! In fact caring IS the essence of sustainability, creating a love of place and a sense of ownership, as in when you value something so much, you feel the need to share it with others.
In addition to the behind the scenes work back at the lodge, there are a multitude of in-the-field decisions that take place in the mind of a guide starting with the very first few steps away from the helicopter. As guests are taking in their first excited views of the mountains, they are unaware that the guide has already quietly scuffed over the helicopter skid depressions, protecting that moment for future guests. They will introduce the mountains, subtly changing his/her position and drawing the group nearer to a more group friendly ‘hardened' site. A hardened site simply refers to a micro portion of terrain that is more resistant to the footfalls of a group so as to minimize long term impact. We always impact our environment, the challenge however, is to walk through it in such a way so as to protect its integrity, not only for future guests but simply because it is the right thing to do.
If you watch the line that a guides leads, they will continually be connecting the dots, moving from one harder surface to another (rock, grasses, snow, dry meadows) avoiding if possible the environments that will be more impacted (heather, willow, moist meadows). Creek crossings are areas of special concern by forcing one over the same terrain time and time again leading to heavy impact. More importantly, simple avoidance if possible, can preserve the surrounding plant community. Lunch spots, vulnerable to trampling and washroom issues, need extra diligence when choosing. Often the guest only becomes aware of this process and these sensitive environments when they are asked to "spread out". When appropriate, the guide may describe their decision making process to guests. Education being the secret to good guiding, and the best education is that which leaves the guest with a deeper understanding but without the knowledge that they've been taught.
Being used to hiking in parks and along trails, some guests feel uncomfortable walking through mountain environments, however, plants respond to footfalls in different ways, recover at different rates and are more or less susceptible to lesser or greater numbers of people. Guides use pre-existing animal trails (like the one in the photo above) timelessly created by mountain goat, elk and bear to eliminate human impact. In 2004 CMH sponsored specific trampling plot studies, in which a variety of plant communities where deliberately walked through a varying number of times. In order to determine long term vs. short term impact, these sites are inspected at regular intervals. In addition, as part of this ABLE project (Applying Back-country Landscape Evaluations) hundreds of specific GPS landmarked plots were established to determine the impact and/or non-impact of hikers and game. Both trail and area plots measure the amount of, and percent of species, the amount of cover & bare ground and the width of pre-existing trails if any. These are checked and compared on a multi-year cycle.
The knowledge from these ongoing studies is part of a guides skill set and is paramount in creating a successful hiking day for our guests. All of these behind the scenes decisions are being processed within a framework of other issues (guest fitness & fatigue, the best view & lunch spots, terrain & bear safety, timing, heli pick up sites, guest interests & expectations, the avoidance of wildlife & other hiking groups, water sources and fragile or ‘tempting' geology) to create exceptional guests experiences.
It can be rightly said, that a guide has a ‘love interest' in preserving the landscape and its ecosystems and is fully aware that it is his/her self that has the greatest power to protect the places they love. As guides we have a responsibility to think forward, so that we can proudly share the same amazing places with the same level of passion to our future guests.
photo by Paul Lazarski, Guests using a game trail on Rockypoint Ridge, CMH Bugaboos.
It was 1985. I was clomping down a Colorado trail in my hiking boots. We called them “waffle stompers” for the pattern left by the heavy tread. I was proud of my waffle stompers, and the suffering I endured while wearing them was part and parcel of mountain adventure. We stopped at the side of the trail to rest our weary feet, and I vividly remember watching two climbers coming down the trail with their packs heavily laden with ropes and various implements of vertical fun. My eyes were immediately drawn to their feet. No waffle stompers! Instead they were wearing lightweight running shoes and it seemed they were floating down the trail instead of walking. The rest of the way down the trail, my feet felt as if they were clamped in a hot waffle iron, and I would have given anything for a pair of running shoes. After that I became a committed light shoe hiker.
Fast-forward 20 years. Adventure travel is mainstream. I'm heli-hiking in the Bugaboos. I’m wearing running shoes. Everyone else in the group is wearing new-school hiking boots that are lighter and more comfortable than my old waffle stompers. The marshy area we crossed earlier has my tennies squelching with ice cold water and my toes feeling weirdly numb and tender at the same time.
Then, while walking across a short scree field, the sound of a huge ice avalanche calving from a vertical glacier face in the distance catches our attention and we all stop to stand awestruck by the display of wilderness power. Then I take another step onto a sandy slope without paying attention, slip, and in trying to recover my shoes scoop up handfulls of gritty sand. So now I have wet, sandy socks and I looked with envy at my fellow hikers in their lightweight high-top boots.
Today, outdoor footwear companies make a shoe for every occasion, and I realize there is a place for all of them. Here’s a list of iconic mountain adventures and the footwear I choose for each one:
- Short day hikes in warm weather, like visiting Yosemite’s Vernal Falls: Ventilated running shoes with cotton socks.
- Long day hikes in warm weather like Canyonland’s Joint Trail: Sturdy, ventilated trail running shoes with thin synthetic socks.
- Rugged trail hikes in alpine areas like Peru’s Santa Cruz Trek: Gore-tex approach shoes with wool or synthetic socks.
And, no matter what shoes I choose, I leave a pair of flip flops at the car, hut or lodge because my feet are always craving fresh air at the end of the day.
Do you have any footwear epics or opinions you'd like to share?
Photo by Topher Donahue
by CMH Guide, Paul Lazarski
After only a few minutes-long flight by helicopter, we step out on the bare glacial ice of the awe-inspiring Dartmouth Glacier. Here, guests are immersed in a truly wild landscape of expansive peaks and glaciers. Standing on the soft ice, reminiscent of frozen popcorn, we safely cross the glacier flats to view the distant ice fall above Bill's Pass. Until the summer of 2009, this area was off limits due to its ruggedness, however, warming ice conditions and glacial recession have made this new hike, at least in the short term, possible.
In reality, the ease of access to this area we enjoy today would have made earlier mountain visitors envious. In the minds of the early climbers and explorers our quick flight eliminates the oft-times long, arduous valley approach, through thick timber and tangled alder. Now we can enjoy the most time in the most exciting areas!
History has a strange way of repeating itself, today hikers and climbers launch personal pilgrimages to the mountains, seeking the same adventure, peace and perspective on life as did those of a much simpler time. Unknown, however, to most visitors to The Bugaboos and Bobbie Burns, is the fact that we are walking literally within the footsteps of history. There is a long lineage of expeditions to this area from American University Alpine Clubs, with climbers from Dartmouth, Harvard, Princeton and The University of California Berkeley launching expeditions as early as 1948. At a time when travel was less accessible, the ordeal of entering these high mountains proved quite challenging. Even after the introduction of road travel into the Bugaboos for example, climbers would load onto a shock-less 1946 Ford truck for the hellish eight hour 'drive' up to where the lodge is today.
The University that left the most extensive legacy in the area were those climbers from The Dartmouth College Mountaineering Club (DMC). Located some 3,600 km (2,300 miles) distant in New Hampshire, The DMC led numerous expeditions into The Purcells, from 1952 to 1959. For us today this time period holds a certain romance and sought after simplicity. Climbing gear was very sparse, often comprising of only a long ice axe, Tricouni boot spikes or heavy iron crampons for crossing ice, the occasional iron rock anchor and a rope. There were no harnesses, climbers wrapped multiple loops of the rope around their waist, tying them with the age-old marine style bowline knot. Climbing objectives respected the skills of the day, ropes more often than not were wrapped around protruding rock horns for fall protection and climbers chose routes that would reduce the chance of a rope-constricting fall. Celebrating their achievements, climbers would construct small rock piles on the peaks, placing within a small metal tube and there leaving their names on paper for posterity. It was on one such remote peak in the summer of 2003 that a CMH guide discovered part of the legacy of the DMC. While opening the rock cairn to place a similar record of his guests achievement, he found a small aluminum Kodak film canister with the initials DMC scratched on it face. Since that time, other DMC film cans have been found and left to remind future guests, of the simple human value that 'we were here'.
The legacy of those early Dartmouth Mountaineering Club climbers lives on in the names of numerous peaks, both in The Bugaboos and Bobbie Burns Ranges. Many features were named in their honour, such as Collins Creek, Bill's Pass and the Dartmouth Glacier on which we stand today. Most, however, were named by the east-coast climbers themselves, often reflecting their university associations, faculties and personal backgrounds. In 1952-53, history major Bob Collins named Mounts 'Sir William' Wallace, Robert the Bruce, Syphax (after the slave of Julius Caesar) and The Scotch Peaks. Expedition leader Peter Robinson named The Whirpool & Catamount Glaciers (for an ice waterfall and a camp visiting cougar), Mt. North Star and Mt Stone (after the President of Purdue University). Likewise in 1953, a physics and biology major named Mounts Kelvin (for Lord Kelvin - discoverer of absolute zero) and Snaflehound Spire (for the sneaky bushy-tailed wood rat).
The DMC accomplished numerous first ascents including Virgin Peak in 1952 and The Whipping Post, which they named in 1956. The later part of the '50s produced more expeditions and more names including Osprey Peak, Robinson Glacier, Mt. McCarthy, Shaft Seven, Climbing Ridge, The Fountain of Youth, and Pleasure Island. One of the most famous of their achievements was the North Purcell ski traverse, from The Bugaboos to Rogers Pass. Bill Briggs, who later gained renown for his stunning accomplishments in the Grand Tetons, accompanied his DMC friends on that first ever expedition.
Many DMC expedition members went on to be famous, Peter Robinson became geology professor at the University of Massachusetts while Bill Briggs achieved ski-mountaineering fame by being the first person ever to descend The Grand Teton on skis.
For the modern heli-hiking / mountaineering guest, equipped with all the modern conveniences of breathable waterproof fabric and lightweight gear, its hard to imagine long lines of woollen clad climbers, sporting long wooden ice axes, heavy canvas packs and iron pitons ascending some of the most arduous peaks in Western Canada.
Today the DMC achievements live on only in their archived mountaineering club journals, and in the imaginations of the few who know and greatly respect their accomplishments. By joining me this summer in the Bugaboos and Bobbie Burns you can help to keep their memory alive and relive some of the same awe and wonder that spellbound those early adventurers.
photo: Bill's Pass, CMH Bugaboo, by Paul Lazarski