This is a guest post by Toronto-based Family Physician, Dr. Jean Marmoreo
The words were out of my mouth before I had a chance to think.
”Yes, I want to do some climbing.”
We were on our second day of Heli-Hiking in the Canadian Rockies with CMH Summer Adventures. Hiking and walkilng mountaintop to mountaintop is their summer venture - a truly unique and greatly under-appreciated bit of Canadiana. But they don’t stop with helicopter drop-off day hikes rounded off with great meals. Guests can opt for unexpected, challenging and rewarding adventures like mountaineering, rock climbing, or scrambling up hammered vertical routes on sheer mountain faces.
I thought I had done it all two years ago with a mountain ascent up Pigeon Peak, a granite spire at 11,000 feet that towers over Bugaboo Glacier. It was a fantasy brought to life with an intrepid alpine guide whose instructions I followed to the letter. But my response surprised me. After all, I’ve climbed on rock walls twice in my life -- thrilled with the accomplishment of getting to the ceiling, but oh so safe and oh so short.
This summer, it was another guide who said: “Well then, we’ll get your harness and shoes right after breakfast”. Those would be rock-climbing shoes, affirmed Geoff, the better to grip the tiny ripples in the rock face while you clamber upward. The helicopter would drop us near the start of the mountain face so we wouldn’t even lose time getting there. “Us” in this case was myself and another woman from Toronto.
“How long will we be out? “ I ventured much more timidly.
“Oh, about three hours,” Geoff replied. “Five pitches and some neat traverses, a few scrambles and some repelling.” Geoff had actually constructed this route five years ago but his words flew over my head. Pitches, I figured were ascents up rock faces. Five meant five ascents over three hours. Repelling would be welcome, I thought.
So, kitted out the next morning with ropes, helmets, harness, and of course the ‘ballet’ shoes, the three of us climbed into the helicopter and were off.
The heli landed and after a short scamper over remaining snow, sliding down its trough, we were smack on a mountain face. Roped in, but not yet in our slippers, Geoff reviewed our knots, carabineers, etiquette and safety. Then he climbed to secure the first level.
“Gosh, this is so amazing ”, enthused Anne, my climbing buddy. ”I haven’t done this in 25 years. I never thought I’d get to do it again.” She is 48 years old.
“Gosh, what was I thinking” was the play-by-play in my head. I’m turning 70 this month.
The hardest foothold is always the first and that first ascent wasn’t very pretty by my estimate. I quickly went into what I call doctor mode. When doctors are under stress they learn very fast to clear head clutter and focus on the task. Concentrating only on the rock and the footholds, feeling with my outstretched hands for the perch of rock edge, I soon began moving slowly up.
At the first stop, we put on our rock shoes, packed our boots in our backpacks and began the first of the five pitches. Thirty metre rope lengths defined the distance up the rock face. After ascending two pitches, we exchanged our shoes for our boots, then traversed the slope and rappelled down – twice – before lunch took us to a high overhang looking deep into the valley below.
Three more ascents- at times I felt and I looked more like a spider climbing a wall- pointing more downhill than up, pushing as much with my upper body as I was with my legs.
A bit of self–rappelling, a slab of traversing, and a final scramble up the slate finished the day and we were atop the cliff. Valleys fell away on both sides of our perch. There was no wind as we drank in the mountaintops that stretched into the horizons surrounding us. It had taken an hour and a half longer than Geoff estimated but who was in a hurry to finish? Certainly not us and certainly not me once I got my mojo.
Will I ever go back for more climbing?
Fancy trying your hand at a bit of Bugaboo climbing yourself? Give CMH Summer Adventures a call at 1.800.661.0252 or learn more about their High Flying Adventures online.