Last week, the Bodacious Babes hit the Bugaboos and experienced a flavor of beauty that has to be seen to be believed. No words can do it justice, so instead here’s a photo essay on one of their hikes in the Canadian Rockies that is surely in the running for one of the most beautiful places on earth.
It started with pilot Perry dropping us off near treeline aboug halfway up a mile-deep valley on the remote western side of the legendary Bugaboos.
Before the sound of the helicopter had receded into the distance, we were so awestruck by the beauty that some clapped, some laughed, some cried and some hugged.
All of us spun in circles wondering if we’d ever been anywhere more spectacular.
Once we were able to compose ourselves enough to walk, we began wandering through a landscape somewhere between the the Shire of Tolkien’s Hobbit, and the mountains of the Himalaya.
Clouds of mist swirled around the peaks behind us as we hiked through lush fields of wildflowers and past clear running streams.
Above us, the lofty Howser Towers formed an almighty backdrop.
After following the crest of a moraine left by a long-departed glacier, and just about when it seemed it could get no more beautiful, Lyle, our guide, took us past a tarn the colour of the sky in a setting that inspires painters and poets alike.
After a long morning that seemed like both an eternity and an instant, we reached a glacier guarding the high pass to reach the more popular side of the Bugaboos. After a lunch and moment caught between meditation and a nap, pilot Perry returned and whisked us over the pass to another slice of paradise - but that’s for another story.
For questions about Girlfriend Getaways with CMH Summer Adventures, a women's trip that rivals the most fun a person can have, contact Canadian Mountain Holidays at 1 (800) 661-0252.
Photos by Topher Donahue.
Take a normal hike: You drive to the trailhead and hike up a trail towards your destination. Upon arriving at the destination, you eat a snack, take a photograph, turn around, and head back to the trailhead. In the process you walk along ground that has been walked by hundreds if not thousands of other people.
Sure, the scenery may be beautiful and since you’ve never been there before it can be an exciting day of discovery, but the well-known destinations and the trail’s confining influence both limit true exploration.
Take a heli-hike: You fly to a location in the middle of what is arguably the most extensive mountainous region in North America. When the helicopter leaves, the guide has a general plan of where to go, but from the first step, the world is yours to explore, and the fact that there is no trail to follow encourages following your curiosity and wonder.
Of course - with unstable glaciers, huge cliffs, slippery waterfalls, dense forests, as well as sensitive ecosystems that could be damaged with curious feet - wandering too far from your guide is a really bad idea. But within the vicinity of the guide, the world is your oyster and no two heli-hikers follow the same path all day.
One of the features of the Rockies that I find most compelling are the slabs of polished stone, scoured by thousands of years of glacial action. While some people choose to walk on sponge-soft tundra, I often wander along the rock slabs, studying the patterns of erosion and the rainbow of colors in the varnished surface.
Later in the day, when the alpine sun warms the alpine cirques to beach-like temperatures, the guides sometimes choose hikes across the ancient ice of a flat, safe glacier. The glaciers are often scattered with boulders that have melted out of the glacier as it melted. I am always fascinated by sticking my head into the shade of the boulders, where the ice chills the air, the temperatures are like winter, then stepping back into the sunshine for a sensory exploration of temperature changes and the extreme nature of the alpine world.
In the forests, debris from mid-winter avalanches looks like the aftermath of a hurricane. Heli-hikers wander slowly through these areas, in awe of the power of moving snow, touching trees the thickness of a man that were snapped like matchsticks. The smell of pine sap is fresh in the air, as if the avalanche happened minutes before, even when the snow has long melted away.
Sure, sometimes heli-hikers follow animal trails, and have goals of reaching lakes, summits, or viewpoints, but much of the time individual exploration gives heli-hiking an incomparable feeling of wandering from one wonder to another as if we were astronauts on our own planet.
Photo of heli-hikers doing their own thing in CMH Bobbie Burns.
In 2007, with CMH Summer Adventures, I visited and photographed Iceberg Lake, a stunning location with glaciers and waterfalls pouring off of Mt. Malloy into a turquoise lake above the Bobbie Burns Lodge. In 2011 I returned again. In just four years, the recession of the glaciers was shockingly obvious.
Over the same four years, my kids grew from infants to sturdy little kids and I added a few wrinkles and grey hairs – but the glacier changed far more dramatically than my children or me. Here are two photos that show that the glacier must have receded about 50 feet each year for the past four years.
By my estimates, within a decade this glacier will no longer be visible from Iceberg Lake.
These second photos show the Malloy Glacier where it pours over cliffs into Iceberg Lake. While much larger than the ice tongue in the above photos, the change is still dramatic:
Notice the middle tongue in the photos. In 2007, the left photo, the middle ice tongue connects to the main glacier. By 2011, the right photo, the middle tongue has deteriorated to an icy cliff.
From a mountaineer’s perspective, the difference is even more dramatic. In 2004 the icefall would have been climbable for an experienced team. By 2011, nobody in their right mind would venture onto the broken and unstable ice.
During the same time, the view from the Bugaboo Lodge reveals that a massive cookie, the size of two football fields, fell out of the Bugaboo Glacier, revealing bare rock underneath.
Most of the glaciers on the planet reveal similar changes, but during a CMH Summer Adventure, we cover so much terrain and the helicopter allows for so many dramatic views of the glaciers, that the changes are visibly shocking. Photographer Jim Balog did an extensive project photographing glacial change for National Geographic, but somehow it is far more powerful to see it for yourself.
When I got home from the trip, I talked to my wife about the differences I’d observed in the glaciers over four short years. She replied, “I guess we’d better take our kids - so they can tell their kids that they touched glaciers.”