WORDS BY DAN KOSTRZEWSKI | JANUARY 16, 2020
When people conjure up visions of wild, northern ranges, unknowingly it’s CMH Cariboos they see in their mind.
Turquoise blue tarns, more than five hundred glaciers, remote mountain lakes, wild, canyon waterfalls, vast alpine meadows, 7,000 square kilometres (2,700 square miles) of high mountain terrain to explore. Oceans of freshwater frozen in time. Wild populations of grizzly bear, timber wolf, beaver and moose—but a human population density that is considered officially, well, sparse.
The Cariboos represent a wilderness experience that defines what is so truly distinct and rare about the mountains of Western Canada.
That rarity hits home on the quick lift into Cariboo Lodge. While nearby Wells-Grey Provincial Park is now a worldwide draw for its remoteness, isolation and waterfalls, the lodge and the heli-hiking in the range pre-dates the formation of the park.
Perched high above the braided banks of the Canoe River, it’s hard to imagine the sweat CMH’s founders invested to cut the access road into the area and build such an impressive 28-room lodge with local materials and beams milled in the shop out back. It still awes us, every time.
Aside from the character of the lakeside ‘Cariboos Yacht Club’, the true distinction of Cariboo Lodge is that it is enveloped by vast reserves of wilderness. The view from the deck frames the South Canoe Glacier and the dramatic valley it has carved over millions of years. Dark skies encircle the lodge at night and the weather—where spring stays late and fall arrives early—often reminds us all that we are deep in northern mountains.
The feeling of this true wilderness environment is difficult to truly envision so we asked longtime former Cariboos Area Manager, John Mellis to share his view of summer in the range.
The Location of CMH Cariboos
It’s tough to put into words what arrival in the Cariboos is like, but being dropped into a wilderness location at a comfortable lodge is an experience unlike what most guests expect. The lodge is not a little alpine hut and the arrival always makes an impression.
“People sign up for a trip because somebody told them it was a fantastic place,” Mellis says. “Then all of a sudden they show up here and we land the helicopter between the lodge and the glaciers in the back, it’s just like ‘oh my god, I didn’t read the fine print.’ I thought we were just going to a little yurt in the backcountry or something’.”
The Wilderness of CMH Cariboos
With the marquee roadside destinations in our National Parks becoming more and more crowded, true wilderness is tough to find. But with a northern location far from an urban centre, the Cariboos represent a true gem of what Canada still holds in deep reserve for those willing to dig a little deeper and travel a little further.
“It’s the remoteness in the Cariboos, just the lack of people. Everywhere we end up going, we’re alone. There are no outside influences around us whatsoever. It’s just the people here in the lodge,” Mellis says. “The road ends at the lodge, and so there’s no road access to any of the places that we visit in summer. We’re also in an area without a large city right beside us so there’s not a huge population knocking at the doors to get in.”
The Glaciated Landscape of CMH Cariboos
For guests who long to see giant glaciers—in an era where their future is in doubt—the Cariboos captures a moment in geologic time of dramatic transformation and dramatic beauty. The range is home to more than 500 glaciers that thrive at high elevations and northern latitudes but also exhibits a powerful display of flora, geology and topography all shaped by powerful ribbons of retreating ice. The simple act of gazing upon the world at such a giant scale just makes us all feel humbly small.
“On one of our hikes above the South Canoe Glacier we get on top of what’s a terminal moraine where 15,000 years ago the glacier pushed all the way up and formed along this long ridge. So you’re walking on the ridge, and on your right hand side you’re looking at the glacier, the moraines and hundreds and hundreds of thousands of years of evolution, and on the left side, you’ve got all the organics—the flowers and the meadows,” Mellis describes. “We live to hopefully our mid-80s and that time period is so small compared to when we’re talking hundreds of thousands of years of things changing in there.”
The Sense of Awe of CMH Cariboos
Whether hiking a high route or pausing at the Bella Vista on the Zilmer Canyon Via Ferrata, the scenery within CMH Cariboos is jaw-dropping at every turn. Every step brings another view and trying to capture it all in photographs is almost a lost cause. Slowly the city falls away and you just relax into how lucky we all are that a place like the Cariboos exists. Even for CMH’s longest-tenured guides, visiting the Cariboos is a treat every time.
“I’ve hiked all my life. I find trails all the time, but this is totally special. This is different. You fly into places that are just so remote and so gorgeous and just seeing the look on people’s face is remarkable,” Mellis says. “I want everybody to walk away feeling that their expectations were blown away…whether it’s staff, guests, contractors or people just coming up to have a look, they drive away from the Cariboos just feeling like this place is special and saying ‘wow, that was something’.”
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