Guest post by Jeff Horvath.
Photos courtesy of Ryan Bavin.
CMH Summer Adventures approached Canmore Collegiate High School’s SAGE Program and offered a trip of a lifetime to six students. The SAGE Program is the Stoney Adventure Group Experience. It is an intervention program to increase the high school completion rates for First Nations students. Currently in Alberta, First Nations students have a high school completion rate of 32%. Research clearly shows that without a high school education, the potential for social problems increases.
The SAGE program teaches students that they can face and overcome obstacles by using mountain travel as a metaphor for challenges in life. By increasing the students’ resiliency, we can transfer these experiences to the students’ school life.
And it appears to be working. Canmore Collegiate had its highest group of graduating First Nation students in 2011. Six students from the Stoney First Nation walked across the convocation stage in the spring. CMH wanted to celebrate this achievement by offering the graduates a trip to Bugaboo Lodge for two days of heli-hiking.
In early July the students travelled to the breathtaking site of the Bugaboo Lodge, with the panoramic views of the famous spires nearby. The students were blown away by the beauty. We were all anxious to get aboard the helicopter, and the boys in our group were giddy and laughing nervously as we took off for the first time.
We landed on Groovy Ridge, and exited the helicopter to stand in the snow. Paul and Ryan, our guides, soothed any nervousness we had with their professional confidence and reassurance. Paul is a walking encyclopedia of mountain knowledge and making learning fun is his strength. Botany, geology, anthropology and climatology were all discussed as we hiked. One group member jokingly asked why the sky was blue - Paul had an answer! We ended the hike after some snow sliding in our rain pants. Feeling like world-class lugers, we eventually met up with the helicopter for the ride back to the lodge.
We arrived back to the lodge in time to get ready for the best tasting barbecue we’ve ever had. After dinner, Pat Morrow gave a presentation about local climbing legend Conrad Kain. It was enlightening to hear more about the history of the area and how it plays a big part in the mountain climbing community. That night we had the best sleep in the crisp mountain air.
The next day we were very excited: We were going to experience the via ferrata! Mikey, our CMH Guide, gave us a safety talk as we got our harnesses and safety gear on. We then followed him up for the most exhilarating experience of our lives. We surprised ourselves with our comfort on the rock face. Our past climbing experience in the SAGE program helped us but we had never climbed that high in our lives. We celebrated when we reached the summit by having lunch with the spectacular views of the Bugaboo range all around us.
We want to thank CMH for their generosity and commitment to First Nations students on their journey in education. Our two days felt like a week and this truly was the experience of a lifetime. We were humbled by CMH honouring our students for graduating. My educational philosophy has always been to provide students with experiences that expand their world view. With a greater world view, young people can dream bigger and provide them with the hope needed to achieve great things. CMH has given these young people an experience they will never forget.
In the Stoney language, we would like to say "Ish Nish" (thank you).
Ahhhhh, summer vacation...It comes but once a year and whether it is four months long, eight weeks, or two weeks, it's hard-earned time-off to rejuvinate and reward yourself.
With my summer vacation starting in just mere hours, I was giving some thought to five things that I want to do on my summer vacation.
5. See Something New
With family obligations that pull us either east or west each year it could easily become more of the same-old same-old so we make an effort to throw in a couple of new sights en route each year. Take a different route, take couple of days break from the family and take a side trip. Spice it up a little. Discovering new sights, hikes or activities gives some added excitement to the annual trip to Grandma's House.
4.Try Something New
We're planning to canoe out to an island and camp for a couple of nights but maybe you're considering paddling down the Grand Canyon? Climbing along a via ferrata? How about a new recipe? Vacations allow us time to experiement. And you never know, you might find something habit-forming!
How many times have you come home from vacation feeling like you need a vacation? It's so tempting to book your flight so that you arrive home at the last possible minute before having to punch the time-clock, but try to work in some good down time on your vacation or arrive home with a day to spare. You might want to consider some of the tips in this article by Ellen Barone about what to do when the hardest part is going home!
2. Get Some Exercise
Whether you are planning on a walking or hiking vacation or want to ride your bike, make some time to stretch your legs and let your mind wander. It's good for your heart, lungs and your soul. But don't feel pressured to summit Mt Everest or walk across the Gobi Desert if that's not your style. Find something that fits.
Even if your vacation is 2 weeks puttering around the house and day-hikes in the countryside, make an effort to reconnect with yourself, your family, your friends and the earth. It's easy in our day-to-day lives to put your nose to the grindstone and just 'get 'er done'. And even on vacation the tempation to check your e-mail, update your facebook status and check your twitter stream is strong, but try to limit these activities and enjoy the time with friends, family and a new place. Take the time on your vacation to ground yourself again. Strengthen those important relationships and tighten the bonds. It makes re-integration into your normal life a little more tolerable.
What about you? What are the top items on your Summer Vacation To-Do List?
This is a guest post by Adventure TravelPerson
The other day I came across an article ostensibly about CMH Summer Adventures in the Wall Street Journal. The writer, one Michael J. Ybarra, was described as “the Journal’s extreme sports correspondent.” (Words you thought you’d never read.)
Here’s the story: Michael Ybarra came to Canada to make a big-time climb on the South Howser Tower, got rained out (for the third time), and decided, surely on the WSJ’s dime, to check out this Heli-Hiking thing. I thought the presumably young man’s article, “This Vacation Left Me Climbing the Walls” (translation: I’m too extremely sporty for Heli-Hiking) was sort of a snarky bit of work, and if you bear with me, I’ll tell you why.
Off to Bobbie Burns Ybarra went, spending a day “hiking up to a ridge, admiring wildflowers, the rugged terrain and expansive views,” and another day on the new via ferrata at Mount Nimbus. “To keep things interesting,” he writes, “I decided not to use any of the rungs and just climb the rock like I normally would on a mountain--which turned out to be pretty easy, even in running shoes.” Reading this, I had a vivid mental picture of a CMH guide sighing deeply and rolling his eyes at this hotshot who’s had enough of wildflower admiring and wants to climb the via ferrata in running shoes, without the rungs.
Anyway, Ybarra generously thought the via ferrata “a good way to let people without training or experience discover the thrill of being in a high and exposed place with very little risk. Everyone in my group,” he concludes condescendingly, “seemed to have a great time.”
But something was missing for the Journal’s extreme sports correspondent. He didn’t “feel the connection to the natural world I usually seek by going into the wild…everything was first rate. I was being treated like a king. I was miserable.” He has the self-awareness to wonder if he “can have fun only if I’m scared, exhausted and in danger,” but he turns his back on the undangerous Bobbie Burns and hits the hiking trail, eager to make that climb on South Howser and connect with the “natural world” by reveling in a little fear, exhaustion, and danger. He finally summits, and finds “the sights incredible” from the top. “It was like being on the helicopter,” he writes, “only this time, I felt like I had earned the view.” (It may be niggling to point out that his CMH experience surely included views from places other than the helicopter.)
Anyway, I suppose that Mr. Ybarra is a fellow well supplied with youth and quite possibly similarly stocked with the arrogance that often attends it. And I don’t want to be too hard on him. But I thought his article sadly disrespectful of the company that treated him like a king. He doesn’t have time to mention the CMH guides, many of whom have made climbs I suspect he’s only dreamed of. And I thought him condescending to his fellow guests, who may or may not have “training or experience,” and I wondered what they thought as he displayed his extreme sportiness by disdaining the normal (and tremendously fun) way to climb a via ferrata. “Everyone is my group seemed to have a great time,” is not a sentence that betokens a lad who bonded with his fellows, or gave much thought to their ability to connect with nature in their own way.
(A few months ago I blogged on this site about the wonders of the via ferrata. “I’m a survivor of the 60s,” I wrote, “and have experience with being around high people, and I’ve got to admit that I’ve never seen people with such sharp eyes, clear minds, and lifted hearts who are that high. Listening to people talk about the Via Ferrata is almost as uplifting as climbing it.” I did not get the impression that Mr. Ybarra did much listening during his stay with CMH.)
And I felt a little sorry for a fellow who seems to want to “connect with nature” but perhaps can only do so while he’s in some kind of danger. That attitude personifies, for me at least, a kind of extreme sports mentality that often has as much to do with love of mountains as gynecology has to do with love of women. And it’s indicative, in my not-always-entirely humble opinion, of a kind of zero-sum mindset, in which blessings must be earned, in which there’s no free lunch, in which nature must be strenuously courted, almost seduced, must be earned. Speaking as someone who has experienced some danger, fear, and exhaustion in my day, I am glad--relieved, really--to have reached a point where it’s clear to me that nature offers itself for admiration freely, almost wantonly, in just about any context, to anyone who cares to take up the offer.
Reading his article, a great insight by G.K. Chesterton came to mind: “There is no way in which a man can earn a star or deserve a sunset.” Or a view, for that matter.
Long before CMH guides installed the now famous Mt. Nimbus Via Ferrata, they began leading adventurous guests up 2880-metre Mt. Syphax. The glacier approach, moderate rock climbing, snow ridge, spectacular summit complete a mountaineering experience that is achievable for just about anyone with the desire to try.
However, the descent was tricky. A short but extremely exposed knife-edge ridge of rock was followed by an overhanging headwall. Both obstacles were too much for most guests, so the CMH Bobbie Burns guides anchored a cable on the knife-edge and installed a few metal rungs on the overhanging headwall. It was here that the idea of a Via Ferrata as part of CMH Summer Adventures was born. Here is a photographic tour of the Mt. Syphax, a climb that - in terms of diversity of terrain, remoteness of location, and achievability of success - is like nothing else on planet Earth.
The view past the lodge into the nearby Bugaboos and, after a short helicopter ride into the alpine, the first steps across the glacier:
A basic lesson in technical skills and cruising on easy alpine terrain with a mountain guide:
The exposed climbing below the summit and the moment of success:
Crossing the airy snow ridge at the summit:
Balancing along the knife-edge rock ridge with the comfort of a Via Ferrata cable for security:
And just when the day is nearing its end, you reach the crux of the first Via Ferrata ever built by CMH guides on the steepest part of the Mt. Syphax climb:
As if that’s not enough, a 60-metre free hanging rappel puts you back on the glacier to meet the helicopter for a quick lift to happy hour on the deck of the Bobbie Burns Lodge:
This Saturday, July 9, is the first day of CMH Summer Adventures 2011!
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.
Ask the reservations team at CMH Summer Adventures and they likely cannot count the number of times they hear from guests "I have heard such amazing things about the Bobbie Burns Mt. Nimbus Via Ferrata, I really want to try it!"
In response, we are offering two dates throughout the season to allow you focus on just that. For those guests that have previously heli-hiked with us or those that just can't make it for the full three days of a Short Escape, we are offering a 2 night trip that will allow guests to enjoy a half day of heli-hiking and a full day on the Mt. Nimbus Via Ferrata route.
So, what's all the hype?
Via Ferrata, or 'iron roads' have become the hottest thing since sliced bread for anyone looking for a amazing adventure vacation. Simply put, it makes ordinary people into mountaineers, allowing you to attain great heights and exhillaration in a relatively safe environment. You can find them scattered throughout the US and Canada, as well as Europe. The Mt. Nimbus route constructed at the Bobbie Burns a few years ago is the most extensive route in North America.
How does it work?
CMH's professional mountain guides walk you through a thorough safety briefing ensuring that everyone is comfortable with the way the system works. Each guest is given two lines attached to a harness around the waist and legs. Sturdy caribiners are the link between your lines and the steel cable that is permanently fixed into the rock. You then climb up re-bar steps drilled deep into the rock face and, maintaining an attachment to the steel cable for the duration of the route, simply meander their way up steep (ok, near-vertical) rock faces and across suspension bridges. On the Mt. Nimbus route there is some down-climbing involved as well as a thrilling rappel 60 metres down to terra firma before a nice hike through the valley back to where our helicopter picks you up for the flight back to the lodge for a celebratory beer on the glorious deck. This video gives a great overview of a day on the route.
Other Adventure Options at CMH
One and a half days not enough for you? Don't fret. There's also a four day and three day High Flying Adventure option for you that may also include the Bobbie Burns Adventure Trail with its seven ziplines across the Vowell River or the high ropes course the guides constructed in the forest behind the lodge.
Looking for something more challenging? Full on mountaineering for beginner or experienced climbers is also an option for you.
At CMH Summer Adventures, we offer the most comprehensive mountain adventure vacation imaginable. You tell us what you're after - meandering through meadows, trekking along 20 km ridgelines, exploring glaciers with crampons, ziplines, via ferrates, painting workshops... you name it.
Bottom Line: However you want to experience the mountains, our mountain guides can make it happen. Call us at 1.800.661.0252 and start planning your Summer Adventure!
Photo: Guests making their way along the Mt Nimbus Via Ferrata by Bruce Howatt.
By Adventure Travelperson
I was talking with a travel-writer friend last night about the Mt. Nimbus Via Ferrata at CMH Bobbie Burns. He’s done it and I’ve done it, but what kind of surprised both of us was the fact that so many people who don’t have much or any background in climbing do it. And do so well on it. And are amazed they did so well. (Not to mention really, really loving the experience.) Because, from below, or actually right in the middle of it, the Via Ferrata can look a little--how shall I say--daunting. Yet all kinds of people scamper right up there with no trouble. For a lot of them that involves pushing past limits. Self-imposed limits, usually.
Back when I was leading treks, I’d get to the airport to fly off to Asia and there in the departure lounge would be eight or ten of my clients (I could always tell the trekkers from the civilians because of all the Patagucci gear and the Vibram-soled boots, which most travelers to Bangkok avoid wearing). And I’d get to chatting with them. In the early days, especially, back in the 80s, not many of them had been on Himalayan treks, or any kind of trek for that matter. Some were experienced hikers, but some weren’t. But just about all of them were concerned that they’d maybe bitten off more than they could comfortably chew, that they’d be lagging on the trail while the rest of us galloped on.
There was very little predictive value: I used to say that if you asked 10 people if they were good hikers, two would say yes, and two would say no, and six would say I don’t know. And of the two who said yes, one would be wrong, and of the two who said no, one would be wrong, bringing us, if my calculations are correct, to two out of ten people who knew whether they were going to be good on the trail. But the kicker is that over the years probably 97 per cent of my clients (and my company’s trekking clients in general) did absolutely fine on the trail.
What I learned is something CMH is good at propagating: Like Yogi Berra is said to have said, “It’s 90 per cent mental. The other half is physical.” The Via Ferrata isn’t much more difficult than climbing a ladder (albeit a rather airy ladder) and most people can climb a ladder. And ground is ground, whether it’s in the Himalaya or the Colombia Range or in that backyard hill. And most everybody can walk on the ground. Most everybody can climb and walk far more and better than they think, and--here’s the payoff--when they do walk and climb more and better and farther, they tend to be thrilled that they did it. It’s a wonderful thing, isn’t it.
What adventures have you been on that have pushed you (happily) beyond your limits?
PS. My wife Mary took a look at the above blog about the Via Ferrata’s effect on the people who climb it and said, “You disexaggerated” (she’s got a way with words). “You know what it’s like to be in the bar scarfing up hors d’oeuvres when a Via Ferrata group floats in. Those people are high!” She’s right. I’m a survivor of the 60s and have experience with being around high people, and I’ve got to admit that I’ve never seen people with such sharp eyes, clear minds, and lifted hearts who are that high. Listening to people talk about the Via Ferrata is almost as uplifting as climbing it.
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:
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.
Hiking is a personal thing. So is risk. One person’s hike is another’s Mount Everest and in many cultures “adventure travel” is a way of life. In the Himalaya, the Andes, and in undeveloped mountainous regions from Mexico to Mongolia, hiking, often on dangerous trails, is how people go to the store.
In tracking down the world’s most dangerous hikes, I realized there is an issue of definition.
There are the dramatically exposed hikes, and then there are places where the mountains are exceedingly wild, but the hiking is as safe as wilderness travel can get. The CMH Summer Adventure program takes people of all ages and abilities deep into the Canadian wilderness for hiking and myriad other adventures, but it is supervised by professional mountain guides, and orchestrated so carefully, as to better fit a list of the world’s safest hikes.
So, rather than use the typical definition of hiking like this excellent Backpacker Magazine article on dangerous hikes, I considered hiking in it’s most diverse definition, and came up with some of the more outrageous outings the planet has to offer.
1. Stolby, Russia
This one wins - hands down. Take a Siberian town with a few 100-metre rocks nearby, and a culture that accepts risk like most people accept a good night's sleep, and you have the recipe for a horrifying local tradition. While the “Stolbists” are arguably free soloing, or rock climbing without ropes rather than "hiking", the fact that the entire Stolby community participates together makes it look a lot like hiking – hiking on a really steep, slippery and dangerous trail.
2. Mt. Huashan, China
Some might call this a Via Ferrata, but with zero oversight and dubious construction, this hike along a rocky ridge has to be, inch for inch, one of the most exposed pathways on the planet. It has been made safer with the addition of a cable in the most vertical sections. Hikers can clip into the cable with a tether, much the same as the modern Via Ferrate in the CMH Bobbie Burns and Bugaboos areas - but without the comfortable safety management provided by a friendly mountain guide.
3. Wendenstock, Switzerland
The trails around the base of this massive peak in the Swiss Alps have claimed the lives of experienced climbers. Tiny, difficult to follow trails are covered with slippery grass, often wet from dew in the morning, and a fall would result in a tumble of several hundred metres. Step for step, the Wendenstock offers the most dangerous hiking I’ve experienced in three decades of mountain adventure.
4. Keyhole, Longs Peak, USA
Once the snow melts, The Keyhole can see a hundred ascents each day, but the consequences of tripping over your shoelaces can be deadly. And, with a summit over 4000 metres above sea level, it’s pretty common to feel a little light-headed while navigating the peak's most exposed sections. Although the Keyhole is the “easiest” route to the top of Colorado's Longs Peak, a dozen hikers have perished in falls on the route – more fatalities than have happened on any other route on the peak.
5. Your Next Hike
If you’re reading this blog, you’re probably not the kind of person who is going scrambling in Stolby or hiking on the Wendenstock, but for any given individual, the adventure that is most dangerous is the one you’re willing to do. Walking backwards while you look through a camera, stepping onto an icy snowfield, or taking that shortcut are the kinds of things that get even the most sensible hikers into trouble. The key is to keep a close eye on the potential pitfalls in every outing, and to stay focused on avoiding them.
Do you have any dangerous hikes you 'd like to share?
One winter storm after another is rolling over us. Two nights ago the wind chill was -37 C at my house. I’ve been daydreaming about warmer weather, and this morning I caught myself looking through photos to fuel my dreams of summertime fun.
The Via Ferrata images from CMH Bobbie Burns and CMH Bugaboos caught my eye as some of the more unique photos my camera has ever captured. I’ll let the pictures do the talking, and share the mind-expanding thrill, the eye-opening exposure, the lofty summits, the sphincter-tightening rappel, the happy faces, the bomb-proof safety systems, the sweet helicopter lift back to the lodge, and the extraordinary world of CMH Summer Adventures.
Do you want to do more than daydream about the ultimate summer adventure? Give us a call at 1 (800) 661-0252.
Photos by Topher Donahue