The Adventure

CMH Glacier Treks - Join the new exploration

Posted by Topher Donahue on Thu, May 31, 2012

glacier trek bugaboosIn the most spectacular adventure travel destinations, sometimes the obvious hides behind the scenery.  This year, the CMH Bugaboos guides realized they were missing out on what is perhaps the most obvious, unique and valuable adventure in the Bugaboos: heli-supported glacier treks around, under, and among the world-famous Bugaboo Spires.

For decades now, the Bugaboos guides have been hiking around the edges of the Bugaboos spectacular glaciers while leading CMH Summer Adventures, climbing on the spires, and even unofficially tracking the recession of Vowell Glacier by placing cairns at the edge of the ice each season, but the CMH Glacier Trek in the Bugaboos is an entirely new exploration.

The guides’ decision to begin offering what could be the coolest adventure at CMH was in part due to their own desire to spend more time on the glaciers and among the massive spires - and in part due to changes in the world of adventure travel. 

“People are looking to do something a little bit different.” said Peter Macpherson, the CMH Bugaboos assistant manager.  The success of the via ferrata programs in both the Bugaboos and the Bobbie Burns shows how much people enjoy unique adventures in nature’s wildest environments, but the airy exposure of the via ferrata and the technical demands of alpine climbing are not for everyone. 

Glacier Treks add a thrilling, explorative, but technically easy element to CMH Summer Adventures in the from of a stunning all-day adventure that isn’t possible anywhere else in the world. 

When I spoke with Dave Cochrane, CMH Bugaboos area manager, about the new program, the excitement was obvious in his voice.  “You don’t need technical skills at all, but we’ll use ropes for parts of it to walk around crevasses and exposed places. It’s truly an adventure!” he said.  (Some routes will include easy rappels, controlled by the guides, to descend from one glacier to another.)

Depending on conditions, Glacier Trekkers may use crampons on their boots to give them better footing on the ice, and ice axes as walking sticks, but there will be no technical climbing involved. While you explore the heart of the Bugaboos, your guides will share their knowledge of the range's fascinating glaciology and geomorphology as well as the area's colourful human and climbing history.

Hiking through the Bugaboos Spires is something that has traditionally been the elite realm of technical rock climbers, but with CMH Glacier Treks, anyone with enough fitness for an all-day hike will be able to participate in the incredible experience of walking under kilometre-high pillars of vertical granite (like in the above photo with Pigeon Spire near the top of the Vowell Glacier), looking down into the mouths of ancient crevasses - and then returning by helicopter to the comforts of the Bugaboo Lodge for a massage, a spa, and an intimate gourmet dinner.

glacier treks equipment

The Bugaboo Provincial Park prohibits helicopters within the boundary of the park, so Glacier Trekkers will be lifted by helicopter from the Bugaboo Lodge to a starting point along the border of the Park, traverse various glacier systems lacing the spires within the Park during a full day adventure - including Vowell Glacier, Crescent Glacier, Cobalt Glacier, Bugaboo Glacier or Howser Glacier - and then finish with a helicopter pickup at a different location at the park boundary. This will make CMH Glacier Treks, while not technical, committing in terms of all-day endurance. Glacier Trekkers will need to be fit enough for the full day’s adventure without an early helicopter pick up as has been available for tired hikers while heli-hiking.

“Walking through the Bugaboo Spires,” mused Dave, “It’s pretty exciting to think about - there is nowhere else in the world you can do that!”

Photos by Topher Donahue

Summer 2012 is the inaugural season for CMH Glacier Treks. For more questions about the most exciting adventure at CMH, visit our website or contact CMH Reservations at 1-(800) 661-0252.

Tags: Adventure Travel, heli-hiking, Bugaboos, CMH Summer Adventures, Via Ferrata, Announcements, Guides

Shocking Glacial Recession - A Second Perspective

Posted by Topher Donahue on Thu, Aug 18, 2011

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:

“Hi Topher,
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.


glacier recession bugaboosThe 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.

Tags: weather, CMH Experts, Guides, photos

A Via Ferrata, Rock Climb and Alpine Climb All-in-One?

Posted by Topher Donahue on Wed, Jul 06, 2011

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:bobbie burns lodge   glacier morning
A basic lesson in technical skills and cruising on easy alpine terrain with a mountain guide:guiding lesson ropes

The exposed climbing below the summit and the moment of success:summit carabiner
Crossing the airy snow ridge at the summit:snow ridge   summit
Balancing along the knife-edge rock ridge with the comfort of a Via Ferrata cable for security:knife edge ridge via ferrata syphax
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:via ferrata   syphax   steep
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:rappel syphax free hang
This Saturday, July 9, is the first day of CMH Summer Adventures 2011!

Tags: CMH Guides, CMH Bobbie Burns, Via Ferrata, Guides

Youth Rank Hiking Among Top 5 Outdoor Sports

Posted by Topher Donahue on Mon, May 30, 2011

A study conducted in 2011 by the Outdoor Industry Association has revealed that young people enjoy hiking a lot more than many folks, especially their parents, might guess.

The study surveyed the participation in outdoor sports among people in the United States from the age of 6 to 24.  Only running, bicycling, camping and fishing were ranked above hiking.  Skiing and surfing, sports often perceived as hip young people's sports, rank far below hiking in terms of participation. 

Accesibility to recreation resouces has a lot do do with what's popular in the study, but what is surprising about the youth's top five is that four of them, including hiking, can have difficult, strenuous elements requiring mental tenacity that we usually associate with older athletes.  

family photo hiking
It also suggests that it’s not just the youth whose tendencies in outdoor sports reveals some exciting trends, namely that more peaople are getting outside to play.  The total number of participants in outdoor sports in the United States grew from 134 to 138 million between 2006 and 2010 - that's a million new participants each year.

Another revealing aspect of the study is the relative equality of outdoor sport across the income spectrum.  When broken down into 5 household income categories ranging from $25,000 to over $100,000, the fraction of participation is not dramatically different.

Essentially, the study says that getting outside, even for a simple hike in the woods or a run on a trail is good for people of all ages and every year more people are figuring this out.  A survey of people’s enjoyment while heli-hiking with CMH would likely reveal the same thing:  Young hikers enjoy the experience as much or more than anyone.

During a CMH Family Adventure, a common pattern emerges that shows how of the young hiker’s enthusiasm grows with participation. 

On the first day, the younger hikers in the group are excited about the helicopter, but tend to be generally more ambivalent about the hiking.  The pilot answers questions like:
    “Can I ride in the front?”
    “How fast does it go?”
    “What does this do?”

But everything changes after a day of hiking across thick, spongy alpine tundra, glissading on pristine snowfields under the crystal-clear alpine sun, watching marmots sunning themselves on a boulder, and feeling the euphoria that exercise in the mountains tends to inspire.

At breakfast the second day, the conversation tends to include not only the lofty experience of riding in the helicopter, but also revolves around the anticipation of what the day's hiking may bring.  The guides answer questions that reveal the change in the young people’s motivation for being there:
    “Will we hike by a glacier again today?”
    “Can we slide on the snow again?”
    “Do you think we'll get to see a bear?”

This transition suggests that hiking, be it heli-hiking or otherwise, needs to be experienced before it will reveal its secrets.  Like life, hiking is not a spectator sport.  But once we try it, hiking takes on surprising qualities.  It becomes a meditation as well as a work out, a bonding experience for a group as well as an empowering experience for an individual, and both a grounding and life-changing experience. 


Photo of heli-hiking in the Bugaboos by Topher Donahue.

Tags: Adventure Travel, heli-hiking, Family Travel, helicopters, Guides

A Camera's View of the New Bugaboos Via Ferrata Experience

Posted by Topher Donahue on Mon, Aug 16, 2010

This spring the CMH guides built a new Via Ferrata in the Bugaboos on a little-known rock buttress of smooth quartzite know as Trundle Ridge. Last month I photographed one of the first teams to ascend the new route. CMH Bugaboos assistant manager Peter Macpherson was our guide for the day. We talked about how diverse the CMH Summer Adventure program has become, and how hard it is to describe the experience. Grandparents can go on leisurely hikes near the helicopter, while their kids climb a via ferrata or hike all day, and their grandkids slide on alpine snowfields and splash in tiny streams - and then afterwards everyone sits down together for a gourmet dinner. How do you compare that to the average adventure travel experience?

From the view out the window of the helicopter of the CMH Bugaboo Lodge, just minutes after finishing a coffee, to standing on the summit of the via ferrata with the otherworldly Bugaboo Spires in the background, here are a few shots that tell the tale better than words:

VF montage

The next day two of the via ferrata climbers went on an eight-hour hike along a serpentine ridge overlooking the Bugaboos.  One of them sat on the tundra with a view of the Bugaboo Spires and a palette of watercolours, painting the toothy peaks and nibbling lox  croissants. The other two went hiking with their kids in a wonderland of glaciers, wildly-coloured lakes, and beaches of crystalline sand.

Want to see more of what the CMH Summer Adventure is all about?  Subscribe to this blog - or better yet find out for yourself!

Photos by Topher Donahue

Tags: Adventure Travel, Bugaboos, Skyladder, CMH Summer Adventures, Via Ferrata, Guides

A Guides View: Why do we heli-hike where we do?

Posted by Jane Carswell on Fri, May 28, 2010

Heli-hiking guests using existing game trail on rockypoint ridge in the bugaboos

by Paul Lazarski

As heli-hiking guides at CMH we are confronted minute by minute by a multitude of puzzle-like decisions.  The true art of guiding is to make those decisions appear seamless and ‘easy' to the guest. Many decisions are made for purely environmental and sustainability reasons. Today the word ‘sustainability' is heard everywhere, both referring to many different things and meaning different things to different people. To a guide it means something very simple: caring for your home! In fact caring IS the essence of sustainability, creating a love of place and a sense of ownership, as in when you value something so much, you feel the need to share it with others.

In addition to the behind the scenes work back at the lodge, there are a multitude of in-the-field decisions that take place in the mind of a guide starting with the very first few steps away from the helicopter. As guests are taking in their first excited views of the mountains, they are unaware that the guide has already quietly scuffed over the helicopter skid depressions, protecting that moment for future guests. They will introduce the mountains, subtly changing his/her position and drawing the group nearer to a more group friendly ‘hardened' site. A hardened site simply refers to a micro portion of terrain that is more resistant to the footfalls of a group so as to minimize long term impact. We always impact our environment, the challenge however, is to walk through it in such a way so as to protect its integrity, not only for future guests but simply because it is the right thing to do. 

If you watch the line that a guides leads, they will continually be connecting the dots, moving from one harder surface to another (rock, grasses, snow, dry meadows) avoiding if possible the environments that will be more impacted (heather, willow, moist meadows). Creek crossings are areas of special concern by forcing one over the same terrain time and time again leading to heavy impact. More importantly, simple avoidance if possible, can preserve the surrounding plant community. Lunch spots, vulnerable to trampling and washroom issues, need extra diligence when choosing. Often the guest only becomes aware of this process and these sensitive environments when they are asked to "spread out". When appropriate, the guide may describe their decision making process to guests. Education being the secret to good guiding, and the best education is that which leaves the guest with a deeper understanding but without the knowledge that they've been taught.

Being used to hiking in parks and along trails, some guests feel uncomfortable walking through mountain environments, however, plants respond to footfalls in different ways, recover at different rates and are more or less susceptible to lesser or greater numbers of people. Guides use pre-existing animal trails (like the one in the photo above) timelessly created by mountain goat, elk and bear to eliminate human impact. In 2004 CMH sponsored specific trampling plot studies, in which a variety of plant communities where deliberately walked through a varying number of times. In order to determine long term vs. short term impact, these sites are inspected at regular intervals. In addition, as part of this ABLE project (Applying Back-country Landscape Evaluations) hundreds of specific GPS landmarked plots were established to determine the impact and/or non-impact of hikers and game. Both trail and area plots measure the amount of, and percent of species, the amount of cover & bare ground and the width of pre-existing trails if any. These are checked and compared on a multi-year cycle.

The knowledge from these ongoing studies is part of a guides skill set and is paramount in creating a successful hiking day for our guests. All of these behind the scenes decisions are being processed within a framework of other issues (guest fitness & fatigue, the best view & lunch spots, terrain & bear safety, timing, heli pick up sites, guest interests & expectations, the avoidance of wildlife & other hiking groups, water sources and fragile or ‘tempting' geology) to create exceptional guests experiences.

It can be rightly said, that a guide has a ‘love interest' in preserving the landscape and its ecosystems and is fully aware that it is his/her self that has the greatest power to protect the places they love. As guides we have a responsibility to think forward, so that we can proudly share the same amazing places with the same level of passion to our future guests.


Paul Lazarski

photo by Paul Lazarski, Guests using a game trail on Rockypoint Ridge, CMH Bugaboos.

Tags: Bugaboos, CMH Bobbie Burns, Guides