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.
While studying the mountain pine beetle, Biologists from the University of Colorado have discovered an unsettling effect of the recent trend warmer springs and shorter winters.
Jeff Mitton and Scott Ferrenberg used a study site at 3000 metres near the Mountain Research Station in the Colorado Rockies and found that longer summers are allowing beetles to begin their flight season more than a month earlier than historically reported.
Here’s the bummer in their findings: the pine beetles are reproducing twice during a season rather than just once.
By the numbers, each female beetle typically has 60 offspring, and each of those would have 60 more - resulting in a single female having as many as 3600 offspring in one season.
It is not known if the devastation caused by the recent pine beetle epidemic in the western United States and British Columbia, ten times worse than any previously recorded, has been caused in part by beetles breeding twice in a season, or if this new biological cycle is relatively new and we are yet to see the impact on the forests.
This year, the contiguous United States has been hit by the warmest March on record, based on data going back to 1895, with more than 15,000 high temperature records broken during the month.
I guess if you’re a pine beetle, that’s good news. For the rest of us, the decimation of the pine forests it troubling, to say the least. There are the obvious biological implications of a changing climate, but even at the immediate personal level the pine beetle is changing both recreation and work in western North America.
Silviculture, the practice of cultivating and managing healthy forests, is forecast to become a booming industry, but on the other hand, some logging communities and recreational communities will see their livelihood drastically compromised.
Hikers, hunters, fishermen, mountain bikers, backpackers, adventure travellers, and other outdoor enthusiasts between New Mexico and the Yukon Territories are seeing their favourite forests change from lush, shady, green places into red, dry, sunbaked, wastelands with the hazard from falling trees forcing land managers to close some trails and roads and campgrounds.
The impacts of climate change, regardless of the causes, cannot be ignored. At CMH, we take the responsibility of operating in the natural world quite seriously, and publish a sustainability report annually to give full disclosure of both our impacts and our progress.
Photo of a young adventure traveller enjoying the CMH Bobbie Burns adventure trail, and healthy forest in British Columbia, by Andrea Johnson.
Bouldering is the latest rage in mountain sport. For one, it doesn’t take much gear or experience, just a desire to climb, a pair of climbing shoes, and a pad; yet it provides a yoga-like zen and as much challenge as anyone could ask for without quite as much risk as the more high altitude or high objective hazard genres of mountaineering. And second, while most of the world’s most spectacular peaks have been climbed, there are literally millions of spectacular boulders scattered around the globe that are yet to be discovered.
In my three decades of globe-trotting in search of mountain adventure, the most impressive untouched bouldering area I have seen is smack in the middle of the rugged wilderness of CMH Summer Adventures near the CMH Bobbie Burns Lodge in a rugged part of the greater Canadian Rockies called the Vowell Range. The granite wonderland is just north of the world-famous Bugaboos rock climbing area, yet the Vowells see only a few visits, at most, each year.
We were there during the summer of 2005 to climb the first ascent of the east face of Snafflehound Spire, visible in the background of this photo, but the thing that stands out most in my memory of the trip is the hundreds of truck- to house-sized boulders scattered along the moraines below the glaciers.
Like a lot of other valleys in the area, access is the only thing keeping the area from being a popular and well-known world-class adventure travel destination. To get there, we chartered a helicopter which dropped us just outside the Bugaboo Provincial Park boundary.
Using a helicopter to access big climbs is nothing new, and CMH Summer Adventures uses helicopters almost daily during the summer months to access hiking, climbing, mountaineering and via ferrata adventures in the area. But nobody is yet using helicopters to go bouldering.
On our trip to the Vowells, we didn’t have a crash pad - the sturdy, closed cell foam pads boulderers use to cushion the landings - and we were not willing to risk sprained ankles when we had bigger climbs in mind, but I really wished we had brought one. We did a little bouldering, as seen in the above photo, but didn't even begin to scratch the surface of the potential climbs in the area.
Crash pads are awkward to carry, and don’t leave much room for sleeping bags, tents, food or the rest of the essentials for a remote wilderness adventure. For this reason alone, heli-bouldering might just have a place in the future of adventure travel, and there is nowhere better set up for it than the wilderness playground of CMH Summer Adventures.
Nobody has yet called the CMH Summer Adventures office asking about using helicopters to go bouldering, and CMH Summer Adventures doesn’t (yet) offer a program with bouldering, but maybe some day boulderers looking for adventure will realize what is possible with a helicopter and heli-bouldering will become part of the fabric of CMH just like the heli-skiing, heli-hiking, via ferratas and heli-mountaineering that have made CMH a visionary icon of the adventure travel world for the last 45 years.
Photos by Topher Donahue of bouldering near the CMH Bobbie Burns and a boulderer in Rocky Mountain National Park demonstrating why crash pads would be ideal for helicopter transport.
Any readers out there who would want to go heli-bouldering?
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.