Lenny guides our group of 7 up out of Anenome Basin (named for the white flowers that look like shaggy seed pods at this time of year) to Grizzly Ridge (named for the creature that had clawed out the marmot holes everywhere).
I bounce through a field of wildflowers and up to a waterfall that leads into a sparkling tarn, feeling giddy as I pick my way over terrain where the only trails are those beaten out by hoofs and paws. This far away from established routes, I don’t have to feel guilty about trampling delicate meadows – I’m just another animal passing through.
When the bare granite spires of the Bugaboos appear, it takes restraint to keep from bursting into song. We lounge on the ridge, waiting for the helicopter to carry us back to the lodge (what a surreal thought!).
And this is just the half-day hike on the first afternoon with Canadian Mountain Holidays.
Mount Nimbus Via Ferrata
The following day, the helicopter sets down at the start of North America’s longest via ferrata. We plunk helmets on our heads, step into harnesses, and attach our via ferrata gear. The two lanyards and carabiners mean we’re clipped in at all times, so there’s nothing to fear from a fall except a possible scrape or bruise.
As we begin our ascent, we fall into the pattern of clip-clip-slide. Carl, one of the creators of the route, leads the way. The cables and rungs mostly lead up, but sometimes traverse along the side of a cliff or run over gaps bridged with planks.
This mode of travel is awesome and freeing – the route looks like something out of an Indiana Jones movie, but can be traveled by a range of ages and abilities (the guides recommend age 12 and up and the fitness to run a mile). I find traditional rock climbing a bit masochistic, so this is the perfect way to get in my fix for heights with minimal effort. And for those who fear heights, every step feels like an accomplishment.
A walk along the Dragon’s Spine leads to a flat lunch spot, where I take out my book. The guides laugh when they see the title – Seven Years in Tibet. It turns out one of the guides, Tom, was a stunt double for Brad Pitt in the movie adaption. He met Heinrich Harrer himself and spent weeks training Pitt in mountaineering at his mom’s bed in breakfast in Austria. Unfortunately, since his genuine Austrian accent didn’t match Pitt’s fake one, Tom’s lines in the film (including the line “Rock!”) had to be dubbed.
Talking with the guides makes me aware of how parched my throat is for more adventure, but it also hints at some of the sacrifices and dangers of pursing that life – just check out Tom’s bio from the staff board:
We can see our destination now and move on, clinging to a cliff edge before heading up and up. The crux is a needle of rock that plunges down to a 200-foot-long rope bridge over a chasm. As I straddle the peak, I can see the first of our party stepping out on the unsteady planks and my heart flutters with excitement.
Once on the bridge myself, it’s impossible not to act like a schoolkid on a playground. I jump up and down on the boards to set the whole thing jouncing, then let go of the guide cables in a wobbly balancing act, giggling all the while.
The sun emerges from behind puffy white clouds as Russ makes his crossing. The scene looks unreal.
There’s one last push up slabby granite to the 8,700-foot peak, where the 360° views wallop your eyes with so much unbridled beauty it hurts. There are perma-grins all around.
From the summit, we spot Jana (aka Froggy) far below, a bundle of energy and humor that’s always on the go. Her groundskeeping work apparently extends to the mountains, since she is literally sweeping the rock and shoveling snow.
After we downclimb for a while (which always seems to be more stressful than climbing up), we discover Froggy’s other role is catching us after we are lowered 200 feet on a rope. Then it’s only a short walk across freshly swept rock faces to our helicopter pick-up site.
Conrad Glacier Adventure Hike
For our final hike, we land along a river that we will follow to its source. We see via ferrata rungs on the other side, but this time there’s no rope bridge – instead, in a routine we’ll quickly grow used to, a CMH guide helps clip our pulleys on a line and we hum across.
I don’t normally find ziplines interesting, but using them to head over raging waters feels practical as well as fun. Far more intense are the slower-paced tight-walk-like crossings over chasms carved out by the river, where our shoes seek traction on cables slick from the mist of waterfalls.
Still getting soaked in spray, we climb alongside another waterfall on the now-familiar rungs. I manage to keep my footing on the wet rocks (my nemesis!), even while frigid water tugs at our legs and rushes over our feet.
Eventually, we reach the glacier. The guides point out how much it’s receded over the last years. There have been many discussions of climate change on this trip, but there’s something about seeing the immensity of all those vanishing tons of ice…
At the glacier’s edge, the melt has formed a cave and I don’t wait for permission before heading in. Inside the glacier, the ice is like a gleaming azure sky arcing overhead.
We continue up more cables to an emerald lake where we find all the other guests. Some jump into the icy water for a swim, others sunbathe on the rocks.
After the break, our hike culminates in an uphill cardio section leading to an overlook of the Conrad Icefield, which looks like waves frozen in time as they break around the nearest peak.
As I stand arms outstretched to let the wind cool me down, a deep peacefulness steals over me and for once I am content to just be instead of chasing the next peak.
I board the helicopter without the resignation that usually comes when leaving the mountains, my inner explorer momentarily appeased.
- High Flying Adventures Brochure
Warning: May induce wanderlust.