Growing up CMH

In People, Summer

Photo by David Lussier

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Words by Morgan Dinsdale | Posted August 17, 2016

Between a rock and a hard place is how Hannah Sawyer spent her summers growing up climbing at CMH Cariboo Lodge. Today, not much has changed since she was a child. Keeping a watchful eye she lets the rope out meter-by-meter as her father and 35-year CMH Mountain Guide, Bob Sawyer, moves swiftly upwards towards a bluebird sky. He’s leading a challenging route up a rock face on the bluffs surrounding Castlegar, a picturesque British Columbia town just an hour north of the U.S border.

It wasn’t too many moons ago that Bob was teaching Hannah how to climb for the first time. Today, she is belaying him up a rather tricky 5.10 route. With another CMH ski season wrapped up, this father-daughter duo are doing what they do best together – climb mountains.

Sawyers Pic 5Building Great Heights “There’s got to be a better way?” Sitting at the bar after a long day of mountaineering in the Purcell Mountains, ACMG Mountain Guide Carl Trescher can remember this question being tossed around back in 2005. Carl and the guiding team at CMH Bobbie Burns had a problem to solve. Logistically it was becoming impossible to keep up with the demand for traditional mountaineering. “A traditional day of climbing is actually quite physical and strenuous, we almost couldn’t find enough guides to go do it,” Carl explains. “We needed a superior way to take a group of people out to experience climbing a peak in a safe environment.” And with this thought the idea for the Mount Nimbus via ferrata was born. Italian for iron road, via ferrata’s fixed climbing routes were pioneered by Italian troops during the First World War as a safe means to cross the Dolomite Mountain Range. Using a series of steel cables, ladders and metal steps to ascend rock faces they create vertical pathways through mountainous terrain otherwise inaccessible to non-climbers. As Carl notes, “via ferratas allow people who’ve never climbed before a chance to experience summiting a mountain in total remote wilderness.” Unlike traditional rock climbing and mountaineering, which requires some serious technique and heavy equipment, just about anyone can climb a mountain on a via ferrata. It took the guiding team at CMH Bobbie Burns a few summers to discover the perfect place to build. “We had an old climbing route on the north side of Nimbus Tower, but we’d never looked down the south side,” he says. “When we looked down, we all knew it was absolutely perfect.” Reaching ragged into the sky, Nimbus Tower is a wild and extraordinary peak whose vista showcases 360° of extraordinary mountains. The team spent months studying its rocky routes, searching for the perfect pathway. “We found the mountain and we let the rock speak to the route,” Carl explains. In fact, certain features of the Mount Nimbus via ferrata came about purely as a result of this, including the breathtaking suspension bridge that was built as a means to stay high above a band of rock found between the two towers. The team enlisted the expertise of local rope and rigging experts and Carl travelled to Germany to study via ferrata construction and rope course design from European masters. What resulted was Canada’s largest and most impressive via ferrata. “There’s nothing in North America like the Mount Nimbus via ferrata,” said Carl. “When it comes to a full-day adventure of climbing in the alpine, there’s nothing like experiencing the true summit of Nimbus Tower.” The exhilaration of a day spent traversing knife-edge ridgelines, climbing rock faces via metal rungs and crossing a free-hanging suspension bridge 1000m above the ground equates to one of Canada’s most exhilarating mountain adventures. There’s no doubt that Carl and his team are proud of their accomplishment. “It was really hard work but super fun to build”, he says speaking of the team of mountain guides involved in its construction. “It sparked that love for exploration in the mountains we all have.” Stoke high as ever, Carl and the guiding team look forward to another season summiting Mount Nimbus and exploring deeper into the wilderness of the Purcell Mountains of British Columbia. It seems as long as there are mountains to climb there will never cease to be adventures at the Bobbie Burns. hoto
Photo: Brodie Smith

Bob began working at Canadian Mountain Holidays in 1981 and Hannah, born nine years later, grew up the only child of a full-time mountain guide. With her dad gone for long periods of time in the winter she can remember looking forward to a month each summer with him at the Cariboo Lodge.

“Growing up in the CMH world was all I knew,” Hannah explains as we sit down to talk about her childhood. “Our relationship in the mountains and guiding me around was what I thought most kids did with their dad,” she adds. “The Cariboo Lodge was my summer camp.”

While most kids spent their summertime learning acrobatics, swimming in public pools or building forts with their friends, Hannah found herself up at the Cariboos rock climbing, hiking and helping out around the lodge.

Sawyers pic 4

Running around in the remote wilderness, surrounded by mountains, with people kitted out in the latest hiking gear was the norm for this young kid from the British Columbia Kootenays. It was no surprise when Hannah officially began working for CMH over her summer holidays at age 16 up at the Bugaboos Lodge. Ten years later, she has wrapped up her final season at CMH Bobbie Burns lodge, her home of the past four years, as she looks forward to the next chapter of her life with nursing school in the fall.

“CMH has really intertwined itself in my life and there are people I’ve worked with over the years who I keep close to my heart,” she says of her CMH family. “The sense of belonging and kinship between many of the staff is what’s always brought me back.”

People often wonder what makes working for CMH so special. It would be expected to say that it’s the skiing, the five-star food or commuting to work via helicopter. But Hannah’s comment speaks volumes to the truth that up at the lodges you‘re a member of a family. It’s a broad definition of family but the basics are trust, love and kinship. And whether up at CMH Cariboos with her Dad or with her Bobbie Burns family, Hannah knows she’s home.

“Having a family at CMH is a balancing act,” her father explains. “I’m very fortunate Hannah has always wanted to participate in the things I love.”

Sawyers Pic 3
Photo by Hannah Sawyer

There’s no doubt that the peaks of CMH’s tenure hold a special place in both their hearts. Whatever the season, Hannah and Bob always make time to explore the mountains together. On any given day you can find them rock climbing, cycling or planning next winter’s ski touring adventures.

“Out in the mountains we like to participate in sports that have high risks, so I try to remind myself that no matter how uncomfortable, how hot or cold or how tired we get it won’t last forever,” adds Hannah. “It’s important for me to savor those moments together.”

“Working for so many years has allowed me to study the way of Mother Nature, the safe line,” Bob says when asked about his lengthy career with CMH. “It’s what holds my attention.”

The trust between them is ever present as Bob nears the summit of his climb, Hannah his main safety from a long fall down should he slip. Somehow entirely focused and laughing at the same time both their comfort and expertise in the mountains is vividly apparent. Smiling as she lets out some slack on the rope, allowing him to build an anchor at the top of the pitch, you can tell theirs’ is a life well lived. Hannah still finds herself often wedged between a rock and a hard place but only because there’s no shortage of mountains these two plan to climb together.

Photo by David Lussier