I spent a portion of the past weekend up at the Bobbie Burns Lodge with our staff and guides as they are gearing up to welcome our first heli-hiking guests later this week. It was great to see so many familiar faces and to tap into their energy. There were some legends in the lodge, for sure. Some of our guides have been with CMH for years and years and have helped to craft the Summer Adventures program and make it what it is today.
One of those legends is JF Lacombe. JF is primarily responsible for the hiking program in the Bobbie Burns and his passion for these mountains, his guests and CMH runs deep. Sarah Pearson caught up with JF last week and had a chat about summer and what keeps him coming back.
Sarah: JF, how long have you worked for CMH and how did you end up here?
JF: This will be my 15th year taking guests out hiking, but I have been with CMH for 20 years all together. I first learned about CMH in Montreal as a young kid when I went to watch one of those crazy Warren Miller movies. I thought to myself – that would be the greatest job in the world! When I turned 18 I did what many young Quebecers do, I went out west to work for awhile in the Canadian Rockies and I happened to pass the CMH office in Banff. So….I stopped in and boldly asked Kobi Weiss for a job. He smiled and said “Sure thing – but first get yourself an ACMG license.” So, ten years later I returned as a certified guide and he gave me the job.
SP: I have always enjoyed hiking with you at the Bobbie Burns because you demonstrate a real passion for the area. What is it that keeps you coming back to guide each summer in the Bobbie Burns?
JL: I love the hiking of course, but really I come back every year because of team of guides I work with – they are fantastic people and so amazing at their jobs. Secondly – the new guests I get to meet from all over the world. They are overwhelmed by the experience and the vast beauty of our western Canadian mountains. And of course, I love catching up with all our returning CMH Heli-Hikers - it is so wonderful to see these folks come back again and again.
SP: Tell me a little bit about your favourite hike at the Bobbie Burns.
JL: It is hard to choose, but I would say Anthea's is one of my favourites. It combines so many different elements that I consider make up the perfect hike. It has a summit to be reached; you are travelling along side a massive glacier; goats might be spotted; there is wonderful geology for those interested in that sort of thing; and also small wonderful wildflower gardens. It is amazing.
SP: The Bobbie Burns is becoming quite well-known as the place for some high-adrenaline adventure such as the via ferrate and zipline courses. But for our guests who are more interested in some fantastic hikes, what does the Bobbie Burns have for them.
JL: The Bobbie Burns is a hiker’s paradise. Beside the fact that there is no-one out there but us, the hiking terrain is untouched and endless. There are so many wonderful hikes with beautiful lakes and long continuous ridges with amazing views – hikes where you can travel through all sorts of different kinds of mountain environments. That is what makes the Bobbie Burns special – places like Valley of the Lakes.
SP: Each morning when you plan out the hikes and the hiking groups, what are the factors you take into consideration? (or basically "How do you make sure everyone gets what they requested when you have people wanting to take it easy and others who want to cover some serious ground")
JL: At the end of each day the guides will take the time to ask each and every guest – how was your day? By simply asking questions - was it too fast, too slow, challenging enough, long enough, who do you want to hike with….by doing that - by asking people what they want – we can then go back to the guides office and create the hikes the guests want to do. Sometimes we will be in that office deciding on the best hikes and groupings until 11 at night. We also watch people on that first afternoon to see what they are interested in….are they looking at flowers, taking lots of photos, interested in the geology?….and we use that knowledge to match the hikes to the personalities and interests of our guests. There is great effort made each and every day to ensure our guests are getting the hikes they want, and it is wonderful for me to see people really enjoy those hikes that very next day.
SP: What is your favourite guest story from your years as a CMH hiking guides?
JL: That is a really hard question because every day is pretty special, but for me it is about the people I meet. Like the time when the weather changed and a group of us took shelter behind some boulders and I had the most interesting conversation with a 92 year old man who was once a pilot in the army, then a doctor, then a professor of medicine, and somewhere along the line he also invented the bar code. It was an amazing afternoon talking with this man. There was also the time when I was with a group and we were taking a break in the meadows at the end of the Game Trail – a hike that connects the Bobbie Burns to the Bugaboos. We thought we were completely alone, so I was practicing my golf swing with my hiking pole. I made a great swing and suddenly from no-where someone yelled “fore.” We were all completely taken by surprise as Mark Kingsbury, past President of CMH, and his family wandered out of the woods. When we are out there hiking, we always consider ourselves to be completely alone – so it was really quite a shock. That was pretty funny – his family and I still laugh about that day.
Have you had the chance to Heli-Hike with JF at the Bobbie Burns? If so, share your stories here. If not, this Heli-Hiking video will give you a taste of what it's like!
Photo: JF Lacombe sharing his passion with Heli-Hiking guests at the Bobbie Burns by Robert Holmes.