Anyone want to be the first to go heli-bouldering in Canada?
Bouldering is the latest rage in mountain sport. For one, it doesn’t take much gear or experience, just a desire to climb, a pair of climbing shoes, and a pad; yet it provides a yoga-like zen and as much challenge as anyone could ask for without quite as much risk as the more high altitude or high objective hazard genres of mountaineering. And second, while most of the world’s most spectacular peaks have been climbed, there are literally millions of spectacular boulders scattered around the globe that are yet to be discovered.
In my three decades of globe-trotting in search of mountain adventure, the most impressive untouched bouldering area I have seen is smack in the middle of the rugged wilderness of CMH Summer Adventures near the CMH Bobbie Burns Lodge in a rugged part of the greater Canadian Rockies called the Vowell Range. The granite wonderland is just north of the world-famous Bugaboos rock climbing area, yet the Vowells see only a few visits, at most, each year.
We were there during the summer of 2005 to climb the first ascent of the east face of Snafflehound Spire, visible in the background of this photo, but the thing that stands out most in my memory of the trip is the hundreds of truck- to house-sized boulders scattered along the moraines below the glaciers.
Like a lot of other valleys in the area, access is the only thing keeping the area from being a popular and well-known world-class adventure travel destination. To get there, we chartered a helicopter which dropped us just outside the Bugaboo Provincial Park boundary.
Using a helicopter to access big climbs is nothing new, and CMH Summer Adventures uses helicopters almost daily during the summer months to access hiking, climbing, mountaineering and via ferrata adventures in the area. But nobody is yet using helicopters to go bouldering.
On our trip to the Vowells, we didn’t have a crash pad - the sturdy, closed cell foam pads boulderers use to cushion the landings - and we were not willing to risk sprained ankles when we had bigger climbs in mind, but I really wished we had brought one. We did a little bouldering, as seen in the above photo, but didn't even begin to scratch the surface of the potential climbs in the area.
Crash pads are awkward to carry, and don’t leave much room for sleeping bags, tents, food or the rest of the essentials for a remote wilderness adventure. For this reason alone, heli-bouldering might just have a place in the future of adventure travel, and there is nowhere better set up for it than the wilderness playground of CMH Summer Adventures.
Nobody has yet called the CMH Summer Adventures office asking about using helicopters to go bouldering, and CMH Summer Adventures doesn’t (yet) offer a program with bouldering, but maybe some day boulderers looking for adventure will realize what is possible with a helicopter and heli-bouldering will become part of the fabric of CMH just like the heli-skiing, heli-hiking, via ferratas and heli-mountaineering that have made CMH a visionary icon of the adventure travel world for the last 45 years.
Photos by Topher Donahue of bouldering near the CMH Bobbie Burns and a boulderer in Rocky Mountain National Park demonstrating why crash pads would be ideal for helicopter transport.
Any readers out there who would want to go heli-bouldering?