CONRAD GLACIER, B.C. - Clinging like a gecko to the sheer face of a giant rock slab, I figure there’s no better time to practice mind over matter … as in, it won’t matter if I take a tiny misstep and plunge off this cliff because I’m wearing a safety harness attached to a fixed steel cable.
But my racing heart isn’t entirely buying the logic, plastered as I am to a big mountain wall with an icy waterfall to my right and the gnarly claws of a massive glacier to my left.
To reach this spot in the rugged peaks of British Columbia’s remote Purcell Mountains, I flew in a jet-powered helicopter, navigated a wild canyon using bridges with rungs, climbed multi-coloured rock slabs alongside roaring waterfalls, zip-lined over foaming white-water rapids, and scaled dizzying, near-vertical rock walls.
And it’s not even lunchtime yet.
We’re only midway through what has been dubbed the wildest new adventure in North America. So far, Canadian Mountain Holidays’ Conrad Glacier Experience has more than lived up to its promise of thrilling, adrenaline-filled alpine hiking and climbing.
Left: Copters deliver hikers to the top. Middle: The natural high one experiences is life changing. Right: Fin time.
Five years ago, guides at Canadian Mountain Holidays’ Bobbie Burns Lodge upped the ante of wilderness adventure by installing the Mt. Nimbus Via Ferrata (Italian for “iron road — a system of iron rungs, swinging bridges and safety cables designed to make mountainous terrain accessible to non-climbers).
Last year, they embarked on an even more spectacular project. Their new concept — the Conrad Glacier Experience — promises to rock the adventure travel world.
“I don’t know of any place on Earth where you could find a trip like this combined with North America’s fullest via ferrata, a two-level rope course, a zip-line canyon and wild and beautiful hiking all from one lodge,” says longtime Bobbie Burns Lodge manager Bruce Howatt, who took a lead role in designing the new adventure.
“I think it’s in our DNA as humans to explore. It shows how popular slot canyons, waterfalls and wild settings are becoming. So it seemed natural, since we have access to such a crazy wild place, to go right into the heart of it.”
It’s a full day of alpine thrills without spills, confident that we’re safely secured to cables strung along the route. The worst that can happen if I slip is banging myself up on the rocks — a price I’m more than willing to pay for the chance to play in this scenically spectacular jungle gym.
Most of my companions have little or no mountaineering experience, just a lust for outdoor adventure and the determination to push physical and psychological boundaries.
Left: Traversing the mountains leading to the glacier is not easy. Middle: Climbers depend on each other. Right: It takes teamwork to conquer this climb.
“This course certainly challenges you and takes you to places you never thought you could go,” says Bill Nevill, a dentist from Southern Ontario who came here with his teenage son, Andrew. “There were plenty of times where I thought, ‘I didn’t think I could do that.’ But you just focus on the next rung and where you’re going.”
It can be hard to keep your attention on the next rung when you’re distracted by some of the most stunningly wild mountain scenery imaginable: blue glaciers, burnt-orange rock and cerulean glacier lakes, like the one I take a bracing dip in when we break for lunch.
The route continues along a narrow path to a steep ridge where we get our first view of the dazzling Conrad Glacier reaching far down the canyon walls.
By mid-afternoon we’re within a few metres of this crevasse-pocked ice field as we traverse a long steep section of adjacent rock.
But it’s far too dangerous to walk on the jagged surface without proper equipment and training (Howatt says the next stage of the Experience will include actual crevasse navigation).
The final stage is a 100-metre-high vertical rock wall. By now, we’re all adept at hauling ourselves up from rung to rung, careful never to entirely unclip from the safety cables.
Eventually, I can even look down into the void below without butterflies swarming in my stomach as we make our last push to the top.
There, our helicopter awaits, ready to whisk us to the lodge; no blistered feet or pounded knees from an hours-long descent for this group of mountaineering newbies.
Above: The Conrad Glacier is one of the great natural wonders of Canada.
Back at luxurious Bobbie Burns Lodge, there are well-earned spa treatments and relaxing hot-tub soaks after our vigorous exercise.
Tonight, we’ll enjoy the lodge’s hearty gourmet cuisine with added gusto, swapping impressions of our memorable day in the mountains.
“This experience was far beyond what I imagined it would be,” says Simon Gan Teow Hooi, an interior designer from Malaysia.
“It’s one of those experiences that you just have to try at least once in your lifetime. It wasn’t easy, but I always felt safe. As long as there is a clip and a cable, you can take me as high as you want and it just feels damn good.”
Guests of Canadian Mountain Holidays Summer Adventures at the Bobbie Burns Lodge can now choose to tackle the Conrad Glacier Experience as part of any two, three or four-day High-Flying Adventure trip from July through September. / No mountaineering or high alpine hiking experience is required, although participants should be reasonably fit. / For more about CMH Summer Adventures, please call 1-800-661-0252.