Fall is one of the sweetest times of the year to visit wilderness destinations, and adventure travelers are starting to figure it out. This year, Yellowstone National Park saw their second highest October visitation on record with 175,000 visitors. While that may sound like a lot of people, it is still a quiet time compared to the peak month of July when nearly a million visitors pass through Yellowstone.
Being a rock climber, Yosemite is one of my favourite National Parks, but the high season is almost unbearable. The campfire smoke and automobile exhaust hangs in the deep valley, giving a muddy hue to the otherwise spectacular views. An air quality website gives Yosemite an air quality score of 1.5 out of a possible 10 - with 10 being the best. Not so pristine. I used to visit the park every year to climb on the big walls and countless smaller cliffs, but the urban flavor of the area eventually cut into my enjoyment of the place and I found myself seeking less popular destinations.
Then a couple of years ago I visited Yosemite in November. We spent a week on a vertical camping trip while climbing the legendary 1000-metre wall of El Capitan. The mist that clung to the valley floor in the morning wasn’t tinted brown, but rather the perfect white of an Ansel Adams photograph. The sounds floating on the breezes weren’t the noise of cars and tour buses, but instead the sounds of birds and waterfalls. The nights were cold, but a big sleeping bag and down jacket felt like a worthwhile trade-off for the experience of savoring Yosemite Valley without the acrid flavor of tourist season.
Even if school, work, or family doesn’t allow you to choose the ideal season for adventure travel, there are a lot of overlooked places where you can travel during the peak travel months, and still experience a wilderness adventure without competing with thousands of other people.
Western Canada is one of those places. Sure, during the summer, the most popular destinations around Lake Louise and Banff can be as crowded as Old Faithful on the 4th of July, but the lesser-known destinations of the Canadian Rockies are as quiet and beautiful during the peak summer months as Yosemite 200 years ago. Take CMH Summer Adventures, for example; thanks to helicopter access and guided expertise, it is possible to explore a valley as spectacular as Yosemite with as many people as you can count on one hand - or less.
Photos of escaping the crowds in the off-season for a yoga session on Yosemite's Taft Point and a busy day at CMH Bugaboos by Topher Donahue.
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:
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.
The 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.
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