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The A Number One Best Thing About Heli-Hiking

  
  
  

by Adventuretravelperson

It’s conceivable, I guess, that you recall my posts about the six things I sort of forgot about Heli-Hiking, and which once again became wondrously clear to me soon after my wife Mary and I embarked on a lodge-to-lodge hiking trip a few months ago. 

Best thing about heli hiking  The Mountains photo by Robert Holmes

To recap: I was thrilled to reacquaint myself with CMH’s bubbly and bright staff; delighted once again by its masterfully designed lodges; re-charmed by the fun, ease, and unobtrusiveness of helicoptering; impressed by the professionalism and graciousness of the guides; and pleased to meet such engaging fellow hikers.

And now for the sixth thing that I didn’t quite forget, but which turned out to be far more enthralling than my creaky memory remembered, the absolutely A number one best thing about CMH Heli-Hiking: the mountains. Those world-class mountains.

(You’re reading the ruminations of a serious mountain fan here. I’ve been besotted since I first poked my head above timberline in the Colorado Rockies, long, long ago, and--before I learned to love the sea--I was so singly mountain-minded that I agreed with the eccentric philosopher Joseph Zondlo, who once wrote:  “How strange to call mountains mere scenery. Without mountains there would be no scenery, except the odd novelty and the dumb and compulsive oceans.” I’ve calmed down a little, but I still believe that, as John Ruskin said in the middle of the 19th century, “Mountains are the beginning and end of all natural scenery.”) 

So: If I ran across someone who wanted to find out what all this mountainy fuss was about, someone let’s say from the Maldives (highpoint: just a little taller than Shaquille O’Neal), I couldn’t do better than to take her or him up to CMH’s domain, the particularly handsome and personable sub-ranges--the Selkirks, the Purcells, the Cariboos, the Bugaboos, etc.--that make up the  Colombia Mountains,  one of North America’s greatest ranges, a proud member of the Patagonia-to-Alaska American Cordillera, and an older sister to the neighboring (and quite dissimilar but nonetheless quite fetching) Canadian Rockies. 

Like most mountain fans, I’m averse to pitting one range against another; they all have their charms, they truly do. Yet the Colombias are inarguably world-class. Why? Because they are brilliantly classic. They embody the classic Western idea of what mountain beauty is all about. (Other world cultures will have to weigh in for themselves--with praise for the misty, knobby peaks of Chinese scroll paintings, for instance.) 

The locus classicus of mountain beauty is, of course, the Alps. But as the English novelist and journalist C.E. Montague wrote back in the 1920s, “A range of mountains may not be the Alps. and yet still have a career.”

CMH’s mountains--gloriously sprightly after 180,000,000 years on the job--share the Alps’ morphological drama: a fine collection of showy, spiky peaks; lots of variety of form; solid, serious rock set against healthy white snow; soaring, elegant, eye-catching ridges; lots of exciting verticality. They rise from classic green forests; their glacier-carved valleys provide interesting scenic interludes. And their almost sentient glaciers catch and hold and intrigue the eye. (Like most mountain guys, I’m enchanted by glaciers: No two are alike. Rugged and spunky individualists, they nonetheless obey the laws of physics with a molecular devotion.)

In some ways, the Colombias even out-alp the Alps. As Topher Donahue recently pointed out on The Adventure, “It’s hard to believe, but there are more summits without names than named peaks” in CMH’s bailiwick (which, during Heli-Skiing season, is larger than 19% of the countries in the United Nations, very much including the Maldives). I sometimes say, without exaggerating unforgivably, that from the Bugaboos, CMH’s southernmost hiking outpost, it’s wilderness, a pure, almost-unthinkable-to-Americans wilderness of unnamed peaks and rarely visited forests and vast tundra, all the way to the North Pole. I’ve never seen a non-CMH Heli-Hiker in the heights on any of my Heli-Hiking trips, but more tellingly, I don’t think I’ve ever talked with a guide who has either. The Alps are gorgeous, but they host a lot of folks. The Colombias, by contrast, might as well be on a lush and oxygenated moon.

And speaking of oxygen: The Colombias have a lot of it. Well-glaciated by dint of their high latitude, they have a big and high mountain feel without the altitude. (Though of course they get up into the respectable 10- and 11,000-foot range [3- to 3350 meters], topping out at lordly Mount Sir Sandford at 11,542 feet, or 3519 meters). Most mountain lovers are acutely aware of altitude, knowing that every major upward increment places you in a very different world. And generally speaking, the more altitude, the more huffing, puffing, and, at very high altitudes, the more danger.

I’ve spent a lot of time at altitude, in the Himalaya, the Andes, and elsewhere, and when the helicopter delivers us to timberline or higher in the Colombias, I always unconsciously prepare for a little heavy breathing. But the air at 7,000 or so feet, timberline in the Colombias, is rich and almost soupy compared with a similar place in similarly winsome mountains. (The highest timberline I’ve ever encountered, just in the bye and bye, was in the Ruwenzori, the fabled Mountains of the Moon, in Uganda. We were hiking in a giant lobelia forest at 14,300 feet before we emerged into the timberline). Wandering at timberline is a CMH joy. The great Gretel Ehrlich said it for many of us: “To be above the tree line is to be fully alive.” 

I may have tried your patience, but this subject is so close to my heart that it sometimes seems contiguous with it. Since I’ve done a lot of quoting, I’ll close with a favorite from the Zen person Chang Ch’ao. It sums up my feeling about mountains in general, and CMH’s heart-stirring mountains in particular: “If there are no famous hills then nothing need be said, but since there are, they must be visited.”

If you haven't experienced CMH's mountains first hand, contact CMH Reservations.  They will happily put a catalogue and dvd in the mail for you by way of an introduction. Or, for faster service, watch this collection of videos on CMH's YouTube channel.

The Skyladder Via Ferrata: Bugaboos Via Ferrata Christened

  
  
  

There is something challenging about naming a climb. It’s a bit like naming a boat; the thing needs to reveal a bit of its personality before it gets an official name. To sailors and climbers, christening a climb or boat prematurely just doesn’t quite feel right, and if you’re the superstitious sort it could bring downright bad luck.

At first, naming the newest CMH Summer Adventure, a Via Ferrata built by the Bugaboo guides, was elusive.  It was referred to as the Bugaboos Via Ferrata but, while nearby, it really isn’t even in the Bugaboos. Then we started out calling it Trundle Ridge, the name of the angular rock formation where the Skyladder is installed, but that wasn’t quite right either as the route climbs a glassy-smooth, near-vertical face rather than a ridge.

This winter, the guides had enough time to dwell on their new Via Ferrata and to give it an official name: The Skyladder Via Ferrata.

Upon hearing about the official name, I looked back through my photos from last summer and realized the name Skyladder fits perfectly. It is indeed a ladder in the sky:

skyladder via ferrata bugaboos

Do you have questions about the CMH Summer Adventures that include Via Ferratas, alpine hiking past glaciers, zip lines above raging whitewater or adventure trails through old growth forests? Give us a call at (800) 661 0252. We love talking about adventure.  Or, if you know you want it, book online.

Summit of Excellence Award for Peter Fuhrmann

  
  
  

2010 WINNER Peter FuhrmannIn August of 1971, a call came in to Banff Park wardens of an army cadet who had been hit by falling rock while climbing on Mount Edith, a peak within sight of the town of Banff. The wardens had been training that summer for the first time with helicopter rescue, techniques that had been brought to the Rockies from Europe by Peter Fuhrmann, a local mountaineer, alpine guide, and rescue specialist. Without the helicopter, the rescue would have taken hours, and put rescuers and the cadet, suffering from serious head injuries, in danger. With the helicopter, a sling, and a stretcher, the cadet was flown off the mountain within 20 minutes, bypassing heavy tourist traffic in town, and deposited at the Banff Mineral Springs Hospital.

Crucial to the development of equipment and training for alpine and avalanche rescue, a past chairman of the Alpine Club of Canada, founding member of the Association of Canadian Mountain Guides (ACMG), and a dedicated member of the Bow Valley community for almost six decades, Fuhrmann will receive the 2010 Summit of Excellence Award at this year’s Banff Mountain Film Festival.

A mountaineer who has led high alpine ascents in Peru and the Himalaya, Fuhrmann immigrated to Canada from Germany in 1955, and helped create the ACMG in 1963. In his early work for Parks Canada, he helped build important outposts in remote backcountry areas – Balfour, Bow, and Peyto huts, all part of the ACC’s hut system. He is recognized for modernizing rescue training techniques within the mountain parks, introducing the helicopter sling and taking generations of young wardens on grueling training missions that they called “Fuhrmann Sanctions.” He also introduced the idea of helicopter bombing for avalanche control, and many of his rescue techniques have since spread to rescue teams throughout North America. Fuhrmann is also widely credited with saving the ACC in the 1980s, modernizing it and attracting enough new members to revitalize the organization, building and restoring alpine huts, strengthening management, and eventually partnering with Hostelling International to create the Lake Louise Alpine Centre, a jewel in the crown of hostelling in Canada. His involvement with the Town of Banff’s hospital board led to the relocation and expansion of the Mineral Springs Hospital. During a months-long nomination process open to members of the mountain and Bow Valley communities, Fuhrmann’s nomination for the Summit of Excellence received resounding support from mountaineers, alpine rescue specialists, current and retired Parks Canada personnel, and citizens throughout the valley. Sponsored by Canadian Mountain Holidays, the Summit of Excellence Award is presented annually to a person who has made a significant contribution to mountain life in the Canadian Rockies. This year’s award will be presented on Sunday, November 7, the final night of the Banff Mountain Film Festival by CMH's Marty von Neudegg. Given annually since 1987, the Summit of Excellence Award is presented in memory of Calgary climber Bill March, an internationally respected mountaineer, author, and educator.

Past recipients of the award include: Sid Marty (2009), Don Vockeroth (2008), Bernadette McDonald (2007), Gill and Tony Daffern (2006), Glen Boles (2005), Craig Richards (2004), Willi Pfisterer (2003), Barry Blanchard (2002), Bob Sandford (2001), Chic Scott (2000), Guy Lacelle (1999), John Martin (1998), Sharon Wood (1997), Tim Auger (1996), Brian Greenwood (1995), Kiwi Gallagher (1994), Roger Vernon (1993), Jon Whyte (1992), Don Forest (1991), Pat Morrow (1990), Hans Gmoser (1989), Jim Davies (1988), and Bruno Engler (1987).

This article, written by Laurie Harvey, originally appeared on the Banff Mountain Film Festival website and appears here with their permission.  Read the original article here: 2010 Summit of Excellence Award.

What Pack do I Need for Heli-Hiking?

  
  
  

The easy answer is: NO PACK AT ALL. 

For anyone who doesn’t bring a pack, CMH lodges provide daypacks that are small enough to hike or climb unencumbered, but big enough to hold your lunch, water, sunhat, and jacket.  With a helicopter to provide easy escape from the mountain elements, we have a lot of options and you don’t need to carry too much. 

If you want your own pack for heli-hiking and other summer adventures, that’s great.  Using your own pack is nice.  But don’t fret it.  That’s why we call it HELI-hikingIt’s not about the pack.

Even a trusty book bag works, but a pack with a little more space makes packing - and then later finding your sunscreen in the bottom of your pack – that much easier.  If you prefer your own, here are a few things to look for in a good heli-hiking pack:

  • Around 25 litre capacity - buy your friend the bigger pack.  
  • Roomy exterior pocket for easy access to cameras and trail favors - tight pockets look cool in the store, but are a pain to use.
  • Lightweight material and design with no frame or super-light internal frame - heavy helicopter should equal light pack.
  • Hydration system is handy but not necessary – why not just stop and look around while drinking?
  • Ventilation along the back area – it gets warm heli-hiking under the bright alpine sun.
  • External strap system of some kind in case you need a little extra space - adventure travel doesn't happen by the litre.

Touching mountains as wild, vast and un-developed as the Columbias of British Columbia with only a small daypack on your shoulders is a treat that only heli-hikers get to experience.  The light-footed sensation of moving easily through such terrain, surrounded by untouched wilderness the likes of which few modern humans ever see, is alone worth the price of admission

Heli-hiking-as-good-as-it-gets photo by Topher Donahue





5 Favorite Mountaineering Photos

  
  
  

For the past 20 years I’ve been trying to capture the mountain experience with a camera.  It doesn’t work. 

Somehow the experience is always so much more.  In choosing these five favorites, I learned that I am partial to pictures that show the person small and the mountains big - just like it feels when you’re out there.  Here are my top five, a little taste of the adventure surrounding the photograph, and why I like each photo:

#1 Summit Ridge, Silberhorn Arete, Mt. Tasman, New Zealand
Mt Tasman is, to put it simply, the most geometrically beautiful peak I’ve ever touched.  From the summit you can see the Tasman Sea on one side, and the Pacific Ocean on the other.   We spent nearly two hours on the summit, gazing out over this awesome planet.  I like this photo because of the depth.  The footprints on the sharp ridge in the foreground, the climber in the middle distance, and the summit at the edge of the photo combine to tell a story about the mountaineering process in a single photo.

#2 Paso Superior, Fitz Roy Range, Argentine Patagonia
The otherworldly light and shapes in this photo put it easily in my top 5.  This thrill-filled trip included three first ascents in three weeks, rappelling through one of the most violent storms the locals had seen since the 70s, and watching from a Buenos Aires hotel window as Argentina’s economy collapsed and people took to the streets. The story of the epic trip was chosen for publication in the anthology Adrenaline 2002: The Year’s Best Stories of Adventure and Survival.  

#3 Jan’s Perch, Columbia Mountains, British Columbia, Canada
A trip to the Columbia Mountains with CMH introduced me to the region’s fantasy-like mountains and fantastic ease of access.  It was a great awakening for me to learn that you don’t have to endure white-knuckles, thin air, and bad food to get to these kinds of places.
This shot stood out among the 100,000 others in my archive because this is the way I want to feel when I’m in the mountains: Being part of an intimate team of adventurers having a great time while surrounded by pure wilderness for as far as the eye can see.  

#4 Mills Glacier, Longs Peak, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
My first time to the top of the 4000-meter Longs Peak was when I was 7 years old.  Since that time I’ve spent several months of my life climbing, skiing, hiking, taking pictures and learning on the peak’s diverse terrain.  
This photo reveals an unusual perspective looking almost straight up with a fisheye lens to capture the vertical walls of the Chasm Lake cirque and the infamous Diamond; however, it is the climber’s body position of enthusiasm, motion and awe that put this photo in my top 5.  
    
#5 Rinrijirca, Cordillera Blanca, Peru
According to the guidebook, this was supposed to be an easy route – a good warm up for harder climbs in the region.   And at one time the guidebook was right.  But by the time we got there, a couple of decades after the first ascent, global warming had changed the peak so dramatically that an easy snow ridge had turned into an overhanging ice climb.  
This is the only photo I have taken that does alpine climbing justice.   I like the gymnastic element of the climber’s figure juxtaposed against the tortured high-altitude ice  - that, and I don’t think I’ll go back to this particular route again!

It would be fantastic if you let us know by posting here which my photos is YOUR favorite - and why.  Thank you!

7 Tips for Hiking Off-Trail

  
  
  

One of the surprising elements of CMH Summer Adventures is that most of our time is spent with no trail in sight.  Sometimes the bears, moose, and other animals go the same way we want to go, and then we can follow age-old animal trails for short distances.  The rest of the time we walk gently on carpet-like tundra dotted with tenacious wildflowers, across scree slopes made of billions of tiny rocks, over chaotic boulder fields of burly talus, through lush old-growth forests, on low-angle slabs of ancient stone, and everything in between. 

With groups of adventurous hikers, we’ll encounter all of these terrain features in a single day.  With hikers wanting only the easiest hiking, we use the helicopter to access the ideal, mellow terrain.  

For everyone, hiking off-trail requires paying attention and walking with a focus beyond that which we are accustomed to while hiking on well-used trails in National Parks and popular recreation areas.  For some suggestions on better walking off-trail, I asked Erich Unterberger, an IFMGA guide and lifetime adventurer who, beginning as a kid in Austria, has spent most of his life in the wilderness, away from any trails or roads, while wearing hiking boots, rock climbing shoes or skis.  Erich took time away from building his family a house in Revelstoke, British Columbia to give us some pointers, and here’s what he had to say:


As for walking off-trail, I don't know when I last walked on a trail. I think I always walked, or looked to walk, off the beaten path.

  • What I look for when I’m off-trail is safety first.  I always check for any hazard above like loose boulders, cornices, etc.
  • You want to make sure to avoid sensitive areas like marshy places or heather slopes
  • Pick your line from a distance - almost any peace of terrain has a path of least resistance through it.
  • When you are crossing a steep side-hill, point your downhill foot outward to minimize stress on your ankles.
  • When crossing talus or scree slopes, you need to look a few steps ahead.  This gives you better balance. 
  • Take small steps.  This makes covering ground easier and more efficient.
  • I often use a walking stick which comes really handy for rugged sections and makes walking downhill much easier.


Exploring off the beaten path is one of the most rewarding aspects of mountain adventures. The CMH guides will outfit you with the needed equipment, like boots and walking poles if needed.  Most importantly, they cutomize each adventure to ensure that you get just the right kind of experience to be safe, exciting and eye-opening for you without it being too difficult for your ability and fitness level.

Heli-hiking photo by Topher Donahue

The State of Adventure Travel

  
  
  

What’s the state of the travel world as we enter 2010? Travel Journalist Don George posed four questions to each of the leaders of the Adventure Collection companies to get their assessments of the travel industry as we start the new year. Here is a perspective from Marty von Neudegg, Director and General Counsel of Canadian Mountain Holidays. Visit Don's Place on The Adventure Collection website for feedback from the other AC directors.

Mt. Nimbus, Canadian Mountain HolidaysDG: Surveying the travel industry today, how would you compare where we are in Jan. 2010 to where we were in Jan. 2009?

MVN:From our perspective, Jan 2010 was far different from Jan 2009. In Jan 09 the world was reeling and our bookings had not only stopped but were going backwards with cancellations. This year, people are travelling again! The bookings have been as strong in late 2009 and early 2010 as we have ever seen in our history. Many are telling us that they made a mistake last year by staying home, that they miss our mountains and that they need to get out again. Others are saying that the worst is now over and they feel good about traveling again. And the guests who do come just seem very happy to be here.

DG: Where do you think the industry is headed this year?

MVN: The “cycle” of booking has changed dramatically from past years. Generally many people are now waiting until the last minute to book. Contrary to common thought, however, they are not just looking for deals and discounts. They are looking for value and want to be sure that whatever money they are spending is being spent in the best possible way. That could mean that it comes down to a better price, but it could also mean that they are watching the weather and will book when they are confident that the weather will provide what they are looking for, like cold snow or clear skies. Many travellers are willing to risk not getting the first choice of space in favor of getting a better shot at full value.

DG: What do you think will be the emerging dominant trends in travel and particularly adventure travel this year?

MVN: Most seasoned travellers will not respond to hype or deals that look too good to be true. They are looking for authenticity and places that deliver on their promises. They are looking to get away for shorter periods of time, because business is still tough, but they want to really use that time well and connect with their travel partners, family and the destination in meaningful ways. We believe that there will quickly be a shake-out of those travel companies that waste their guests’ time with unreal discounts that force a poor quality experience. Those types of companies are not sustainable and the traveling public will remember who they are — because the better choices, with real value opportunities, will be easy to find.

DG: What for you are the principal inspirations/reasons for people to travel in 2010?

MVN: 2010 is a year to connect again. The time has come to rejuvenate and refresh. Individuals, families and friends are all looking for ways to have fun again. 2010 will offer many new opportunities to travel with some great companies who really want to have you as a guest and are fully prepared to give you what you have paid for. More importantly, they will offer real opportunities to make genuine connections with fellow travellers, new cultures and the land itself. When we reflect on our past travels, it is those deep and meaningful connections that are the most important part of the journey. When we stop travelling, those are the things that we crave and miss the most.

Let CMH help you craft a vacation with true value for you and your travelling companions summer.  Call our Adventure Travel Experts  at 1.800.661.0252 or e-mail them.

Heli-Yoga? Yes, but so much more...

  
  
  

by Angie Smith

I am a yoga teacher, a yoga student and co-host of Bodacious in the Bugaboos with my dear friend Ellen.  
Angie Smith by M Welch
Is this for real? Is this truly my life?  There are times when I pinch myself and think only in my dreams would I have a life that allows me to share my passion of yoga and philosophy with dynamic inspiring women every year with Canadian Mountain Holidays.

The setting could not be more inspiring, uplifting and beautiful.  With the comfort of the lodge, the mountain views from our yoga room, the friendly staff that make everyone feel comfortable; it all adds up to making the yoga experience that much more special.  The lodge acts as our home away from home and sets the tone for us to relax on this 3-½ day trip.  Leaving our busy lives behind to revel in the beauty of our surroundings, and most importantly – to be present.  

Our days begin with Sunrise Yoga.  I wait in our yoga room watching many of our group enter the studio carrying in cups of tea or coffee.   We delight in the beauty of the sun coming up over top of the magnificent Bugaboo Spire and Howser Towers – the light is cast, and a magnificent reflection is projected on the lake.  This is a wonderful way to begin our day together.  

Usually I ring a bell to begin the class amidst chatting in the room. We put down our warm drinks and step onto our yoga mats.  Om… The class begins…We do sun salutations, mountain pose, tree pose, breathing in the fresh air and sharing energy amongst one another.

Yoga has many different translations from Sanskrit to English.  The word yoga means union / to join; or to use my teacher’s definition – “intimacy”.  We don’t just do yoga on the Bodacious in the Bugaboos we experience yoga.  Watching the sunrise, walking up the mountain, flying high above the mountain peaks and alpine meadows in our helicopter taxi. You may chat with a new friend and be wholeheartedly attentive and present in the conversation.  Sitting in silence, breathing on top of Gemini Mountain beside a waterfall.  These are glimpses of what you may experience throughout your trip to help extend your yoga practice.

With a guided morning class, the energetic flow of the yoga practice sets a tone for our day.  We experience yoga in the now!  We experience the present moment, and to me this is yoga.  Of course, we get a little help, and inspiration, from Mother Nature.

Many people ask me – what makes Bodacious in the Bugaboos so special?  My answer is simple.  Bodacious trips are the perfect combination of pushing your own personal limits, connecting with new and old friends, being connected to nature and being or becoming connected to SELF with the aid of yoga.

In my mind, Yoga is anything that you put your heart and soul into – this can range from a practice on a mat to skiing or hiking.  Yoga is about being present.

On Bodacious in the Bugaboos I am considered a teacher, but what I LEARN from being part of these journeys every year is quite remarkable and humbly immeasurable.

Namaste,
Angie Smith

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