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.
It’s a good question, considering how much excellent hiking can be found in places like the Appalachian Mountains, the Rockies, the Sierras, the Alps, the Andes and other areas where cars, planes and trains provide easy access to the high country.
For me, after spending the better part of four decades as part of the mountaineering culture, a culture where helicopters and bush planes are commonly used to access some of the world’s ultimate climbing destinations, the concept of using a helicopter to access the world’s ultimate hiking destination makes perfect sense.
I’ve used helicopters to access world-class adventure travel destinations in the Alaska Range, the Canadian Rockies, the New Zealand Alps and the Himalaya. The reason is simple: the helicopter gets you out there to places where few other people ever go, to places where you feel like you're visiting a different planet.
This photo, taken during a CMH Summer Adventure in the Columbia Mountains of Western Canada, shows the kind of world the helicopter allows you to experience:
It is nothing like hiking in the automobile-accessible areas of the Rockies, the the Alps or the Andes.
It is a world where there are no trails that were not first formed by hooves and paws.
It is a world where you and your friends can be the only human beings for as far as the eye can see in every direction.
The CMH Summer Adventure differs in one significant way from the other aircraft-accessed mountain adventures I've experienced. In the typical mountaineering use of helicopters and planes, we use the aircraft for a relatively long flight to a destination at the base of the mountain we want to climb, and then the aircraft leaves us for days or even weeks. With CMH, the lodge locations, smack in the middle of the wilderness, makes the helicopter a reasonable tool for daily access.
The helicopter flights during a CMH Summer Adventure range from less than 5 minutes, to about 15 minutes. The combination of the short helicopter flights in and out of the high country and the wilderness lodge in the heart of the mountains, is the key to the unique and unforgettable CMH experience.
The helicopter allows you to spend the day in this alpine wonderland, and then take a short flight to the comforts of an isolated luxury lodge for an evening of fantastic dining, a massage, a spa, and a glass of wine on a deck overlooking some of the most pristine wilderness in North America.
So why use a helicopter? Think of it as affordable space travel in your own backyard.
Ever since CMH invented heliskiing in the mid-60s, and then heli-hiking in the 70s, the safety of guests, guides, pilots and staff has been objective number one. Of course, in the beginning nobody knew as much about mountain dangers as we do today, and technology available in those days left a lot to be desired. After nearly five decades of learning, however, safety at CMH is an institution.
Today, all aspects of CMH Summer Adventures, from the lodge activities, to the helicopter to the via ferrate, ziplines, hiking routes and mountaineering objectives are designed around providing the safest adventure possible; and the guides, staff, and pilots are all trained in managing safety to the highest professional standards.
To find out what CMH guides and staff are thinking about out there when it comes to safety, I asked Lyle Grisedale, a hiking guide, what he felt were the biggest safety concerns of CMH Summer Adventures. Here are the four areas of concern he outlined, as well as how CMH manages the issues:
- The Helicopter: Of course the pilot, engineers and staff are all trained in working around the helicopter, but the guests are usually not so familiar with the machines. To manage this, CMH and its partner company, Alpine Helicopters has developed a safety briefing that every guest must attend, even the many guests who visit CMH every year. The twin engine Bell 212 helicopter used by CMH Summer Adventures is known as one of the safest helicopters ever made, and Alpine Helicopter’s fleet of Bell 212s is known throughout the aviation industry as one of the most well maintained 212 fleets anywhere.
The Association of Canadian Mountain Guides provides the training courses for CMH Mountain Guides, and each season CMH runs in-house training for every employee. From the person who cleans the rooms, to the area managers, everyone who works at CMH receives specialized training in safety and guest care.
- Terrain Management: In the alpine areas where CMH operates, there is a lot of terrain where there is virtually zero risk, however, there is also a lot of terrain where it’s just not wise for a human to go. There are cornices of wind-deposited snow that form on ridges and mountaintops and can fall unexpectedly, areas with frequent rockfall from huge alpine faces, glacial icefalls that shed ice avalanches all summer long, and river drainages that would swallow a human without a trace. Training and familiarity with the terrain allows CMH guides to show guests the wildest and most spectacular places – the icefalls, the alpine faces, the cornices, and the glaciers - all while staying on the safest terrain.
- Wildlife: Hiking in groups almost entirely eliminates the risk of a dangerous encounter with a bear, but guides are trained in dealing with bears and in some situations guides carry non-lethal deterrents like bear spray, bear bangers, or air horns in case a bear gets too curious. Those adventure travellers who are lucky enough to see a bear in it’s natural habitat with CMH - and natural habitat is what CMH is all about - usually count a bear sighting as one of the highlights of their trip.
- Environment: While the alpine environment is largely devoid of poisonous plants, snakes, spiders and other nasties that are common in other areas, there are still a few plants you wouldn’t want to eat, water you wouldn’t want to drink, and places you wouldn’t want to go hiking in a lightning storm. While CMH maintains safety as the number one concern, a close second is stewardship, and that means protecting the environment where we operate with programs like Second Nature as well as contributing to environmental initiatives at a local level in the region of British Columbia where we operate.
A critique of the Mt. Nimbus Via Ferrata in the CMH Bobbie Burns area was posted on YouTube as a comment to the video shown here:
The writer was “personally dismayed” to see the Via Ferrata and had a number of questions about it. Here are a few of their questions and my answers from the perspective of knowing the guides and the discussions around the via ferrata:
Q: Why is this area inaccessible to the general public?
TD: While the public could, in theory, access Mt Nimbus, it would be difficult. It would require driving 50km up a logging road, bushwhacking all day, and then scrambling on loose rock to reach the beginning of the Via Ferrata. To our knowledge, nobody had ever found the Via Ferrata without a guide and a helicopter or even hiked or climbed in the area without helicopter support.
Q: How was the route carefully sited?
TD: Mt. Nimbus was chosen in part because it was an utterly ignored piece of landscape that would never be seen by other wilderness users, in part because the loose and broken nature of the rock makes it unappealing to rock climbers, and in part because the terrain around it is durable rock and talus that can withstand human traffic without eroding tundra or other fragile ecosystems. The guides who installed the via ferrata are all mountaineers - if Mt Nimbus had been worthwhile as a traditional climb they never would have installed the via ferrata.
Q: Clearcuts and dams cover a small amount of a larger "operating area" but does that justify their existence?
TD: Comparing a Via Ferrata to a clear cut or a damn is quite a stretch - being how you can’t see the Via Ferrata until you are quite close to it and virtually zero living things were damaged in the installation or the ongoing use of the Via Ferrata. However, at CMH we are well aware of our delicate environment and publish a sustainability report every year that explains how we are doing in our endless quest to decrease our impact and increase our contribution to the good of the environment and the communities where we operate. To this end, CMH has implemented micro-hydro power systems and taken many smaller steps, like timed lighting in bathrooms and food-waste composting systems.
The critique concludes: “This critique doesn't even factor in the carbon footprint of the helicopter flights. While you may pay for your high-adrenaline, low-risk ‘adventure,’ the mountain environment (and the spirit of traditional mountaineering) pays in the end. On the one hand, this allows folks to do things they might not otherwise do, and see things they might not otherwise see. Hopefully, it leads them to appreciate the wild Rockies more than they did. Ironically, this kind of installation is destructive, permanently alters the mountain, and will likely lead to many more visitors (and human impact) than normal."
- Regarding the carbon footprint issue, between 2009 and 2010, CMH was able to reduce our carbon footprint while maintaining our quality of service and viability of our business.
- Regarding the destruction, the Mt. Nimbus Via Ferrata required many small holes to be drilled into the rock, but the rock surface can withstand millions of footsteps with no erosion. When the hardware is removed - and CMH will remove the hardware when the via ferrata is no longer used by CMH - there will be no sign of human passage.
- As for the spirit of traditional mountaineering, mountaineers use automobiles, helicopters and planes to reach the wild places, and too many mountaineers leave empty oxygen canisters, tents, trash, and fixed ropes all over the world’s most beautiful peaks. We can all improve.
I couldn’t agree more with the critique's final point about people going home from a CMH Summer Adventure with greater appreciation of the wild Rockies – that’s what it’s all about.
By Dave Butler, Director of Sustainability at CMH Heli-Skiing & Summer Adventures
This past spring I was lucky enough to get in a visit to Costa Rica. Amidst the beaches, wildlife and diverse landscapes that were a dramatic contrast to this winter’s amazing skiing here at CMH, I was impressed with, and inspired by the commitment there to sustainability. I saw this at both the national level and in individual towns and businesses. It got me thinking about what commitment really means.
The dictionary definition of commitment combines two key elements: responsibility and loyalty. At CMH, we’ve accepted a responsibility for, and have been devoted to fiscal, community and environmental sustainability since Hans Gmoser started the business nearly 50 years ago.
In Costa Rica, I saw successful tourism businesses built from the ground up with a focus on sustainability. In their planning, construction and operations, they use key sustainability principles to create businesses with a very high experience to foot-print ratio. I also visited tourism operations that didn’t start out with sustainability top of mind, but which are now working very hard to incorporate community and environmental stewardship into as much of their business as they possibly can, while at the same time remaining strong and profitable.
I saw both kinds of businesses working hard to continually improve. And that is one of the key pieces in our journey toward sustainability at CMH: no matter how much we’ve done, there is always more to do.
One of the new approaches we’re taking to help us continue to improve is to engage a small team of internal thinkers, leaders and influencers to critically consider: how we stack up against other businesses which lead in sustainability; how we can be more efficient and effective in our sustainability efforts; the business cases for taking action; and how we best monitor our results over time. Known as our Sustainability Advisory Group, this small staff group will take us to a deeper level of commitment to fiscal, community and environmental stewardship.
If you have any questions or ideas for us, please contact me directly. For some of you who have expertise or interest in sustainability, you may be hearing from us to get your perspective on how we can continue to improve. It’s a journey we believe is worth taking.