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Four winter dream travel destinations for summer lovers

  
  
  

Last summer you joined us in British Columbia for a deluxe mountain vacation with great food, spectacular accommodations, and unforgettable days with reliable and comfortable helicopter access to the heart of some of the world’s most beautiful and unique scenery. Now winter is upon us, so where can you go for more summertime beauty?

The Southern Hemisphere, of course!

Sure, there are places in the Northern Hemisphere where warm temperatures will give you a break from winter weather, but the days are still short and you won’t really get complete  immersion in summer like a winter visit to the southern latitudes.

The southernmost piece of continental land on earth is one of the most legendary travel destinations in the Southern Hemisphere: Patagonia. Like the mountains CMH Summer Adventures calls home, there is nowhere else like it on earth. Also like CMH, there are great mountain lodges known for warm hospitality and unbeatable views.

trekking torres del paine

The two gold medal destinations in Patagonia are the Torres Del Paine National Park in Chile (photo above) and Los Glaciares National Park in Argentina (photo below).  Some have called the Bugaboos the Patagonia of North America, but we prefer to think of Patagonia as the Bugaboos of South America.

best photo of patagonia

For Los Glaciares, stay at Los Cerros in El Chalten, visit the glaciers of Perito Moreno where a boat ride takes you up close (but not too close) and personal with huge walls of ice hanging over - and sometimes falling into - the lake.

In Torres del Paine, the Hotel Salto Chico is undoubtedly on the short list of the world's most incredible mountain lodges. With well-established tourist infrastructure, arranging horseback rides in the area or fishing tours of the spectacular lakes is about as easy as ordering room service.

Worried about the legendary winds and ferocious weather in Patagonia? Across the Southern Ocean from the wind-whipped steppes of Patagonia lies an often overlooked wonder of natural beauty. The southeastern part of Australia, the state of Victoria, is home to plants, animals and geography that every adventure traveller should see at least once.

12 Apostles Australia

The Great Ocean Road is perhaps Victoria’s most famous destination, with the otherworldly 12 Apostles standing proud as the region’s most enduring landmark. Further inland, the Grampians Mountains and nearby “outback”, where kangaroos and koalas are more common than people, are an easy road trip from the more popular tourist destinations on the Great Ocean Road.

beach in tasmania

If you want to go off the map, so to speak, catch a catamaran ferry to the island state of Tasmania. Besides wild beaches and exotic hiking, the island’s bed and breakfasts are as friendly as visiting your mother’s house. While you're there, don't miss the seafood dining at Hobart's charismatic harbor restaurants.

Then, when you return home from a trip halfway around the world, you can appreciate North America’s most spectacular travel destinations that much more. If the Southern Hemisphere is not in the cards for this season - too far away, too expensive, too much time - winter is the ideal time of year to plan for next summer, and nothing is more comfortable than world-class adventure travel that can be experienced in a long weekend, right here in the Canadian Rockies.

Photos by Topher Donahue.

CMH Glacier Trek photos - a pleasure cruise on a sea of ice

  
  
  

While glaciers Like Mt. Everest’s Khumbu Icefall make the news for being dangerous, there are many places where a day on a glacier can be a phenomenal and safe experience that is unlike anything else on earth. To judge all glaciers as dangerous because of stories from the Khumbu is about as accurate as judging all sailing dangerous because of stories from the Southern Ocean.

There are also glaciers that are about as benign as sailing in the Florida Keys in nice weather - and the part of the Canadian Rockies that CMH Summer Adventures calls home are laced a friendly web of safe and spectacular glaciers.

If you’ve never been hiking on a glacier, think of it as an opportunity as unique as sailing on the ocean for the first time - minus the sea sickness...

Here’s how it works:

  1. Pick just the right pair of boots from CMH Summer Adventures' collection of high quality and clean hiking boots.mountain boots
  2. After a deluxe breakfast, sit in the helicopter for an easy ride from the lodge to the toe of the glacier.  2 bugaboo lodge view
  3. Enjoy your guide’s comfortable way of taking care of you in the mountain world.3 mountain guide and rope
  4. Strap crampons on your boots.  Makes strolling on ice about as tricky as a walk in the park.4 crampons
  5. Pick up your ice axe - a glorified walking stick for the mountains.5 ice axe
  6. Enjoy casual hiking across the sea of ancient ice that carved the very mountains surrounding you.6 hiking on a glacier
  7. The rope just makes it even safer, but is unlikely to be used.  Think of it like wearing a life jacket on a mellow boat ride - you most likely don't need it, but it's smart to wear it.  7 safe glacier experience
  8. Feel the camaraderie that comes of spending a day in the heart of the mountains together.  8 happy girls on an adventure
  9. Feel the confidence that comes of doing something you never thought you’d do.9 feeling strong on a glacier
  10. Walk beneath cathedrals of stone, while your guide makes sure you have the right kind of trek for you - not too hard to enjoy, but challenging if you want it.10 memorable summer vacation
  11. Celebrate however you see fit on top of a world-class viewpoint.girls on top
  12. By the time we returned to the Lodge, the clouds cleared, and we enjoyed a fine meal and the Bugaboo's incomparable dinner view with a few great people who had become even better friends than when we arrived.fine dining after adventure
For further questions about CMH Summer Adventures' one-of-a-kind adventure travel program, give us a call at 1 (800) 661 0252.

The Bugaboos right now - a kingdom of wildflowers

  
  
  

As the previous winter’s snows melt up the hillsides of the Canadian Rockies, springtime follows close behind, even into the late summer.  In a phenomenon not unique to the region, but perhaps more pronounced in the Columbia Mountains than mountain areas with less heavy snowfall, the wildflower season can last well into late August or even early September.

flowers alpine stream

The Columbia Mountains, a subrange of the Rockies, is a freak of nature that reveals itself in many forms.  The heart of this unique quality is the range’s precipitation patterns. The region receives enough annual precipitation to qualify as a rainforest, but most of it falls in the winter months in the form of snow - to the tune of 12 to 18 metres (40 to 60 feet) each winter, leaving the long, sunny, summer days to the flowers.

fireweed colour

The Columbia River is the largest river in a region containing one of the world’s richest reserves of fresh water.  As the deep snowbanks melt, armies of wildflowers bursting with every colour of the rainbow creep of the mountainsides, following the streams and trickles of the melting snow. 

Even in the late summer, when the other legendary wildflower zones are dry, with their blooms long since faded, the flowers of the Columbia Range are quite often still in full glory. 

Last week, during a photo shoot in the Bugaboos, I had a hard time keeping my lens out of the dew-soaked bouquet that spread all around us.  By the end of each day, my knees were soaked, my memory cards full, and my optical nerves saturated with colour. 

flowers in the snow

One morning, we were greeted with a dusting of fresh snow where the helicopter dropped us near treeline.  It melted quickly under the bright alpine sun, leaving the blossoms even more brilliant than the day before.

flowers and sunrise

Even the flowers surrounding the Bugaboo Lodge, while nurtured by human hands, were in full glory and formed a fanatsy-like foreground to sunrise on the famous Bugaboo Spires.

A photographer, Jeff Wendorff, who runs wildlife and landscape photo workshops was there to check out CMH Summer Adventures and decide if it was a good venue for a photo workshop.  At the end of our three days together, I asked him if he thought the Bugaboos would work for his workshops. 

His reply?

“Absolutely.”

photographer in flowers

Photographers interested in current photo workshops with CMH should visit our website.  It is highly recommended that anyone booked on a CMH Summer Adventure bring the best camera they own with extra batteries and memory cards - it’s more beautiful than you think.


Bodacious babes on the world’s most beautiful adventure

  
  
  

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.

heli hiking landing

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. 

brought to tears by beauty

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.

happy women in the mountains

All of us spun in circles wondering if we’d ever been anywhere more spectacular.

women in paradise

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. 

women hiking group

Clouds of mist swirled around the peaks behind us as we hiked through lush fields of wildflowers and past clear running streams.

waling in paradise

Above us, the lofty Howser Towers formed an almighty backdrop. 

reflecting on beauty

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.

napping in paradise

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.

Six Favourite Climbs in the Bugaboos

  
  
  

There are a few mountains and ranges on this planet that are so compelling as to be almost beyond belief.  The Fitzroy Range in Patagonia.  The Tetons in Wyoming.  The Matterhorn in Switzerland.  Half Dome in Yosemite.  The Karakoram in Pakistan.  The Bugaboos in British Columbia. 

It doesn’t really matter how one visits these areas - be it by car, bus, boat, plane, helicopter, foot or bicycle, hiking or climbing - it’s all (better than) good.

There are others as well, but these half a dozen mountain ranges are in many ways the crown jewels of topography on planet Earth.  At CMH Summer Adventures we consider ourselves extremely lucky to be able to explore in and around one of these jewels: the Bugaboos. 

After a rock climbing adventure in the Bugaboos, I stopped by the CMH Bugaboos Lodge and talked with a group of heli-hikers twice my age who had just spent a couple of glorious days on comfortable hikes along low-angled ridges and between turquoise lakes with postcard views of the Bugaboo Spires while heli-hiking with CMH Summer Adventures. 

We compared notes: 

  • They did things they didn’t believe were possible for them; I did things I didn’t believe were possible for me. 
  • They stepped onto summits looking over vistas of fairytale mountains; I stood on summits and looked around at the kinds of mountains climber’s dreams are made of.
  • They had a few of the best days of their lives; I had a few of the best days of mine.

In the end, we realized the mountain experience is the same for everyone - we just all find it in different places.  It’s one of the things that makes mountain sport so special - anyone can do it.  And of all the planet's alpine crown jewels, the Bugaboos is certainly the best suited for everyone to experience.*

With this fact in mind, here are six of my favourite technical climbs in the Bugaboos, places where I’ve spent the best days of my life.  As you look at the following photos remember that the Bugaboos has something to offer everyone and can make climbers, hikers and sightseers feel the same euphoria and elation that I felt during and after climbing on these beautiful spires. 

The West Face of the North Howser Tower:

west face howser

As the biggest wall in the Bugaboos, the West Face of the North Howser Tower is about a thousand metres tall, the same height as Yosemite’s famed El Capitan, but in an alpine setting.  Climbs are mostly 5.11 or 5.12 in didfficulty, and both long and extremely committing.  Of course, just looking at the peak is a complete mountain experience.

West Ridge of Pigeon Spire:

west ridge pigeon spire

One of the best rock climbs in the world, and at a moderate grade of 5.4, anyone who can climb can do the West Ridge of Pigeon.  In this photo, a climber in yellow near the summit is dwarfed by the massive peak.

The West Face of Snowpatch Spire:

furry pink bugaboos

The West Face of Snowpatch Spire gets high marks, not so much for the superior climbing but for the outrageous position overlooking the rest of the Bugaboo Spires, views down both the Vowell Glacier and Bugaboo Glacier, and an incomparable pointed summit to complete the ascent. 

Crescent Spire:

energy crisis bugaboos

One of the least committing climbing objectives in the Bugaboos, Crescent Spire, offers a climbing option for everyone, from 5.4 to  5.12.  Here, a climber stretches for the safety of a gear placement on Energy Crisis, a sustained 5.11 that follows a clean corner for 70 metres. 

The East Face of Snowpatch Spire:

snowpatch east face

Arguably made of the most beautiful stone in the world, the East Face of Snowpatch is worth hiking underneath just to stare upward at the black and white streaked rock framed against the blue sky and the white glacier.  If I could have a house that looked like a mountain, this would be it.

The East Face of Snafflehound Spire:

Snafflehound spire bugaboos

A lesser known and rarely visited spire in the Vowell Range just north of the main Bugaboos Group, the smooth East Face of Snafflehound Spire is home to the cleanest cracks I’ve ever seen.  Unfortunately many of the lines are not continuous to enough to make for climbs of reasonable difficulty, but our ascent of the face may have been the first 5.13 in the Bugaboos.

For those of you who are not familiar with climbing ratings, the “5” indicates that the climb is 5th class - meaning a rope and protection devices are usually used to secure the climbers in case of a fall.  The number following the decimal point, like the “10” in 5.10, gives climbers a subjective idea of how difficult the gymnastics of the ascent may be.  In the mountains, the grading can be viewed like this: 

  • 5.1-5.5 is considered beginner terrain
  • 5.6-5.8 is considered intermediate terrain
  • 5.9-5.11 is considered advanced terrain
  • 5.12-5.13 is considered extremely difficult terrain. 
  • The world’s most elite climbs are 5.14-5.15, but no climbs of this difficulty have yet been climbed in alpine environments like the Bugaboos. 

*The Bugaboos are the most suited for everyone thanks to CMH Summer Adventures with their unique helicopter access and diverse holiday programs for all ages and abilities in the area surrounding Bugaboo Glacier Provincial Park

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.

Nikon D4 review - The Ultimate Adventure Travel Camera?

  
  
  

This year, Nikon released the D4 at the top of their DSLR lineup, and as usual the web exploded with opinions and reviews.  I started shooting with the camera, but it seemed as though I was using a different camera than was being reviewed. 

First, there were the image tests.  Reviewers took test photos with the Nikon D4 side by side with the last top dog from Nikon, the D3s, and found there is no major improvement in image quality.  They tested the video and found it wasn’t as perfect as they had hoped.  Like the stock market, people’s expectations for new cameras seem to matter more than true value.

I went out and captured photos with the D4 that led me to an entirely different conclusion: for outdoor adventure, action, and nature photography, as well as indoor photography with difficult lighting, the D4 is probably the best camera ever made. 

Sure, images produced with the D3s are superb, but what I found with the D4 is that I am getting the results I want with much less effort than would have been necessary with the D3s in similar conditions, allowing me to pay attention to my own creativity rather than camera management. 

For example, the 3D focus tracking, which uses the colours surrounding the focus point to predict the next in-focus point, is so accurate and so fast that it allows me to pay attention to composition and timing rather than focus, and results in action sequences with 100% of the images in focus.

Sure, the pundits will argue that auto focus is a different category from image quality, and in the lab I’m sure it is, but in the real world I beg to differ.  For me, an adventure and lifestyle photographer, all the aspects of a camera are intertwined and image quality is the complicated sum of the camera’s various technologies and my own creative ability. 

Then there are the video reviews, which reported some of the D4 video settings aren’t as good as hoped. No surprise there. DSLR video is still new, and each generation is taking big steps.  The D4 has a 2.7x cropped sensor setting that delivers spectacular video results, while the other settings are not as good.  Perfect - I’ll use the spectacular setting. 

Nikon D4 photo sample

Then there is the discussion around the light meter.  The D3s was the first pro camera that I described as the ultimate point-and-shoot. And it was, but now the D4 nails perfect exposure and focus in difficult lighting situations more of the time with less effort.  Sure, I still mess with exposure and focus for different results, but when I pull the D4 out of the bag and fire away without paying attention to anything except the shutter button and composition, like for the above photo of my son running on a dike in northern Germany, the results are drastically better than the D3s.  

The D4 is the first camera that has an auto ISO that I’m willing to use - its parameters can be customized and automatically changes with the length of the lens attached to the camera. 

It is also the first professional camera that I would highly recommend to amateur photographers because it is so easy to use.  Let’s say you are going on the world’s most beautiful holiday and you love photography - then why not take the best camera that is also the easiest to use?

The D4 is a major game-changer for me.  Right now I’m in Europe, visiting the in-laws, traveling, and taking photos of whatever I please.  On similar trips in the past, I always took a smaller, lighter camera kit and saved my professional gear for professional assignments.  This time, I couldn’t leave home without the D4 for one simple reason: The Nikon D4 makes photography easier.

Finally there is the debate between the D800 and the D4.  In the real world, there is no debate.  If you’re a diverse professional or amateur who can afford both, you’ll buy both - they serve two entirely different purposes.  If you are a specialist, you should know which camera is best for you. 

From my favourite pocket camera, the Canon S95, to my professional Nikon kit, I do the same thing: learn the limitations of the camera and push my own limits within them. Every camera has limits, and next time I get the chance to go into the wilderness to document some of the word’s most photogenic adventures, I know I will be able to raise my own standards of photography by exploring the limits of the Nikon D4. 

5 Best Photos from August with CMH Summer Adventures

  
  
  

September already?  Wow, just like that we're down to only one more trip for the CMH Summer Adventures season for 2011 and then it will be time to get ready for some awesome skiing.

August was a spectacular month in the Bugaboos and the Bobbie Burns.  We had lots of sunshine and little rain which made for great hiking and great wildflower viewing.  And, even a few bears.

Here are the best 5 photos submitted by our guides in the month of August, 2011:

5: I love this photo because I was lucky enough to witness it all come together.  I was at the Bugaboos to hear Polar Explorer Eric Larsen give his "Into The Heart of Cold" presentation.  I hiked with our guide Lyle Grisedale one day and he took our group to Thunderwater Lakes and then up to an area called Pipeline where we walked along Francis Creek.  It was an awesome day that will live in my memory for many years:

CMH Summer Adventures   Francis Creek

4: Earlier this summer the guides at the Bugaboo Lodge completed the lower section of the Skyladder Via Ferrata.  These two guests were among the many who rose to the challenge this year and climbed Trundle Ridge in this fashion:

CMH Summer Adventures   Skyladder Via Ferrata

3: "Gemini" in the Bugaboos is one of our guides' favourite places to hike.  This particular day in early August it was picture perfect:

CMH Summer Adventures   Gemini Lake Meadows

 

2: We hosted two photography workshops in the Bugaboos this summer.  One with Bryan Peterson and the other with John E. Marriott.  The conditions were excellent for both trips and the participants and our guides got some great photographs:

CMH Summer Adventures  Sunset on the Howsers

 

1: A taste of things to come.  Bruce, Carl and the Bobbie Burns team have been working this summer on another element of our High Flying Adventure.  Here's a sneak peek:

CMH Summer Adventures  The Gorge

 

For more photos from this past summer at the Bobbie Burns and the Bugaboos, visit CMH Summer Adventure's online photo gallery.  Post your favourite summer photos on CMH's Facebook page!

Shocking Glacial Recession - A Second Perspective

  
  
  

After the photos that I posted last week on The Adventure, showing four short years of dramatic glacial recession, Lyle Grisedale, a CMH Hiking Guide, sent me the following note and photo via email.  It seems well worth sharing:

“Hi Topher,
Just read you recent blog and thought you would be interested to see the attached photo. For the last 10 or more years Paul Lazarski has built a cairn at the toe of the Vowell Glacier in the Bugaboos at the end of our summer season. The recession is dramatic. We have the dates written on the survey tape attached to each cairn but are looking at making some kind of plaque to attach to the rock instead of the tape.

From the 2001 cairn (where this photo is taken) the glacier is clearly visible in the distance. We used to take hikers out for walks in the ice and could step onto the ice near this cairn, so you can get an idea of how much ice has melted in 10 years.

We have not put up a cairn the last two years as the toe is under an ice-cored moraine, the ice in the moraine is melting and there is considerable rockfall making it a bit of a dangerous place, especially on a hot sunny day.

Cheers,
Lyle”

glacier recession bugaboosThe tape marks the site of the toe of the Vowell Glacier, visible in the distance, in 2001.  The peak on the left is Bugaboo Spire.

The changing of Earth's climate, with its myriad symptoms and causes, is visible to the human eye in the mountains like few other environments on the planet.  Just about every skiers, hiker, climber, hunter, boater and others intimately in touch with the mountain world have similar stories to tell about the changes that are happening right now.

It just so happens that the Columbia Mountains in Western Canada, where CMH calls home, hold some of the most diverse inland glacial terrain on the planet.  Watching these changes occur while heli-hiking in these rugged mountains, be it as a guide, hiker, photographer, or helicopter pilot, is about as close as it gets to experiencing time travel beyond human scale.



Photo Gallery: The 4 Emotions of Adventure Travel

  
  
  

Adventure travel is a bit of a misunderstood concept in the first place.  Driving through an ice storm to visit the relatives for Christmas is certainly adventurous travel, but not really what comes to mind when we think of adventure travel or read about it.  Even among classic adventure travel destinations, one person's ideal adventure is another's nightmare.

Billions of words have been written about adventure travel experiences, and millions of photos taken of adventure travel destinations, but still the concept is difficult to define.  In an attempt to define adventure travel as a collection of emotions rather than experiences, I put together these 4 photos taken during CMH Summer Adventures that I feel demonstrate the adventure travel experience on an emotional level.

Love - When a grandma and a grandson have a laugh together high in the Purcell Mountains of Western Canada, love is pretty much the only feeling that comes to mind:

happy kid happy grandma

Euphoria – There is something about walking a suspension bridge between two rock spires at the rim of a kilometre-deep valley rimmed with glaciers that gets the endorphins pumping and brings out expressions that use facial muscles we didn’t even know we had:

via ferrata fear and happiness

Reflection – Gazing across views that only a few people on this planet have ever seen gives even the most insatiable multi-taskers cause to pause, turn off the mind, and stop thinking about both the past and the future for a little while:

glasses reflections helihiking

Wonder – Hiking though a warm summer day across the high tundra, and then taking a moment to peer through a natural ice window of a glacier takes us back to that childlike state where the world is filled with mystery and experiences stay with us forever:

ice window woman hiking

There are places we travel in hopes of feeling these emotions, but many of them are somehow disappointing, and there are others that take you by surprise and hand you an adventure travel experience that blows your mind.

 
Photos by Topher Donahue

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