In over 20 years of adventure photography, three days in the Columbia Mountains last weekend had to be about the most beautiful photo shoot I’ve ever done.
The beauty wasn’t just the mountains, weather, and resulting images, but the interaction of humanity and the wilderness that made it so exceptional.
“Wow, this Grizzly dig is really fresh.” Exclaimed JF LaCombe, our guide, with this concerned look on his face. We were hiking along just above tree line in International Basin, a remote, vast and uninhabited valley at the northern edge of the CMH Bobbie Burns heli-hiking area.
The dirt and grass clumps scattered across the tundra were still moist, and the grass flipped upside down by the hungry bear digging for ground squirrels was still green like a golfer’s divot left by a massive club.
“Wow, it’s a really big bear.” Said JF, when a hundred metres later we found another fresh dig, this one a 5-metre long trench. JF began yodeling with extra enthusiasm and we discussed the wind direction being not in our favor – meaning it was blowing towards us so our scent would not warn the bear of our presence, increasing our chances of startling the big bruin.
JF radioed ahead to the group 15 minutes in front of us. They had not seen the digs, but the other guide, Paul Lazarski, scouted ahead to see if he could locate the bear and prevent an accidental close encounter.
“I see the bears.” Came the radio call from Paul, “It’s a mother and two cubs about half a kilometer ahead of us heading into the trees.”
The whole tone of the day changed. We were in a group, so it wasn’t exactly fear that we felt, but more a heightened awareness of the wildness surrounding us. Everyone walked quietly, looking around more than at any time in the previous days of hiking.
The shelf we were hiking along in International Basin was dotted with small snowfields, wildflowers, and stone slabs. Part of the beauty enhanced by a sadness: we may have been some of the last hikers to see the International Basin (shown above) before the area is developed for extensive mining. For a couple of hours we traversed the valley, but soon the bench we were walking along would join the lower bench where Paul had seen the bears.
Paul's voice came on the radio, confirming that all the guides were thinking the same thing: Let’s get out of here. JF explained their thinking, “It’s not so much because of the risk to us,” he said, “but for her - she doesn’t need us hiking around here while she’s trying to feed her cubs.” 15 minutes later we found a suitable place for the helicopter to land, and Alex, our pilot, flew in and gave us a scenic flight to Valley of the Lakes were we spent the afternoon far from the mother Grizzly and her cubs.
As we hiked, far from Mrs. Griz and her family, I thought about the wild beauty of their terrain, and how lucky we are to be able to visit their home, and depart without leaving a trace.
The rest of the shoot was a shocking juxtaposition between the easy access provided by the helicopter and the sublime off-trail hiking after the steady rhythm of our high-tech ride receded into the distance.
Then, as if the alpine hiking wasn't spectacular enough, we spent an afternoon on the Bobbie Burns adventure trail, where I snapped this photo as I crossed a suspension bridge over raging white water tinted blue with glacial silt at the same time as another adventurer whipped under the bridge on a 100-metre zipline.
In the end, I was reminded of why I became a photographer: because making beautiful places look as beautiful as they feel is an endlessly inspiring challenge.
And they are off! This morning our first group of 2011 CMH Summer Adventurers, including guest speaker Brian Keating, headed off to the Bobbie Burns Lodge for a summer vacation like no other!
Our hiking and mountaineering guides have been at the CMH Summer Adventures lodges (the Bobbie Burns and Bugaboos) for the last few weeks getting the Mt Nimbus Via Ferrata and the Skyladder Via Ferrata set up, sorting through the equipment we provide our guests and checking out the trail conditions for our hikers, walkers and adventurers.
This morning we received our first conditions reports from the guides and I'm excited to share them with you here:
The big snow winter followed by the cool, rainy spring has resulted in more snow than usual for early July. Ridges are starting to show more ground but are also still quite snowy. However, snow is melting rapidly and creeks and rivers are at very high water levels. The alpine flowers are obviously also very behind although south aspects and areas that have melted out are starting to bloom. The lodge and valley bottoms are a bit on the buggy side with all the moisture lingering. The Mt Nimbus Via Ferrata is all dry other than the descent, which is an awesome snow slide. The ropes course and canyon ziplines are ready to go as well. There are hikes to do that will be fun and spectacular and the weather forecast is looking good with nice weather expected for the coming week.
The ridges are bare and offering some great hiking. There is still snow on the North Aspects of the basins and in shaded areas; the lee side of the ridges also have large cornices. Ridge flowers are starting to bloom and the Globe Flower, Mountain Avens, Purple Saxifrage, and Cinquefoil have been observed between 7500 and 8500 feet. Lower down in the forest there are lots of Canadian Violets, some Paintbrushes, Buttercups and Anemones. Routes to the alpine require a bit of snow walking but it carries well except where the sun hits it at 90 degrees and then it is a bit isothermal, but is no longer deep enough to be a problem. The alpine lakes are still partially snow and ice covered at the moment. All the snow we had this winter is resulting in incredible wildflower performance and it looks like it’s going to be a very colourful summer!
If you are joining us this summer on our Educational Speaker Series, Wildflower Photography Workshop, Bodacious in the Bugaboos or any of our other Summer Adventures, stay updated on current conditions throughout the Summer Adventures season by bookmarking our Current CMH Summer Adventures Field Conditions page on our website along with CMH's online photo galleries.
Photo: A taste of what is to come. Wildflowers by CMH Hiking Guide, Paul Lazarski
One of the most frequent questions from our CMH Summer Adventures guests is "What kind of wildflowers can we expect to see while heli-hiking this summer?". (That and, "What is the weather going to be like?" which, sadly we cannot answer!) As most of our hiking takes place at altitudes of 6,000 to 9,000 feet many of our guests are surprised with the variety of flowers we do see.
I took a quick peek back through last years CMH Summer Adventures online photo gallery and found some great shots submitted by our guides. A handful of our guides are able to combine their love of wildflowers with their photographic skills, making the photo galleries well worth a peek.
Here's a handful of glorious red blooms, and just a sample of what you'll see this summer at either the Bobbie Burns or Bugaboo Lodge:
1. Kick Off is by far and away one of my most favourite spots in the Bugaboos. This collection of wildflowers, Paintbrush and River Beauty (part of the Fireweed Family) blooms creekside in Kick Off.
2. I chuckle at natures resiliancy when I realize what soil quality really means for wildflowers! This Indian Paintbrush hardly needs any.
3. This Spotted Saxifrage with a hint of red is a treat to see in dry, rocky areas.
4.Even in late August, for our Bodacious in the Bugaboos trip we see vibrant and hearty Indian Paintbrush in a variety of colours.
5.Natures Flower Garden starts to bloom in early July when the Glacier Lily's peek out and continue through the season. We are treated to Purple Ragwort, Moss Campion, Fireweed, Monkey Flower and many other varieties. Around each corner and over each hill we find groups of flowers that surprise us like this one with the Bugaboo Spires in the distance.
Reports from the lodges is that the snow is melting quickly, the bears are awake and the Bobbie Burns guides are setting up the Mt. Nimbus via ferrata route already. We hope you'll join us this summer for a walk through Natures Flower Garden!
I am lucky enough to co-host a twitter sensation today known as #FriFotos started by Jonathan Epstein, Stephanie Diehl and Charles Yap and and today's theme is RED. We'd love it if you'd share your RED photos and play along!