Words by Morgan Dinsdale | April 27, 2017
Spencer Hunt, 14, is training at Mount Royal’s climbing gym in Calgary where she’s an ascending member of their youth climbing team.
A year ago, she wasn’t a “climber” at all.
For Spencer climbing life began last summer, standing next to her father atop Mt Nimbus, the apex of CMH Bobbie Burns’ Via Ferrata.
Today, speaking with Spencer and her father, Bill Hunt, the excitement of the experience remains palpable. “The coolest thing was watching her be bit by the mountain bug,” says Bill, recalling standing witness to such a majestic moment in his young daughter’s life. “Getting to share that with her is something I’ll never forget!”
Italian for “iron road”, the via ferrata is a mountainous route equipped with steel cables, ladders and other fixed anchors, such as suspension bridges and wooden walkways, that allows inexperienced mountaineers of just about any age the opportunity to climb a technical mountain peak. The Bobbie Burns route, which culminates at the top of Mt Nimbus, 8,698 feet high, showcases the wild and idyllic landscape of the Purcell Mountain Range. The summit unfolds to views of snow-capped peaks, flowering meadows and seemingly endless summits.
Her moment at the summit was one of many magical experiences for Spencer and her family at the Bobbie Burns this past summer. Alongside her mother, Eryn, and brother, Ethan, the four would climb mountains, experience the Conrad Glacier, hike across high alpine meadows and even partake in a mountaintop snowball fight. They would enjoy three days of exploration at the remote lodge, taking full advantage of all the amenities offered. “Together we escaped into the wilderness, experienced many incredible adventures, and became closer as a family,” says Bill.
Bill and Eryn would find themselves staying up much later than usual, spending their nights getting to know the guides and other guests at the lodge. “The Bobbie Burns CMH family – the guides and other guests – made it even more special. By the end of our short trip we felt like we were part of each other’s family. We will always cherish that.” Bill even discovered that one of his hiking guides, Lenny, happened to be a fellow competitor on the same road biking race circuit in the early 1990s. What are the odds?
But above all, it would be their via ferrata experience that would inspire Spencer and her father the most. For Spencer, it would be the thrill of the experience summiting a mountain. For Bill, it would be the thrill of being there to watch her do it.
Spencer, it turns out, would be an inspiration for more than just her father. “Other members of our group were calling her their hero, she faced the route with such fearlessness,” recounts Bill. “In some ways, for me, it’s a bit tougher than I expected. But she took to it right away. The Mt Nimbus Via Ferrata lets you experience the challenge and good that is climbing and mountaineering, but with total safety.”
Spencer’s attitude on the climb was derived, at least in part, from Tom Raudaschl, one of the group’s guides, a guide with a particularly impressive career in the mountains. Tom’s mountain skills inspired Spencer and motivated her to succeed in his footsteps, literally. As his shadow was to Peter Pan, so was Spencer to Tom. Wherever Tom went, Spencer would follow. All the way to the top. You can hear some of Tom in her giddiness as she and her dad speak of the mountains and their adventure together.
Her brother, Ethan, chose a different ending to his via ferrata experience. After simultaneously facing his fear of heights and discovering he was 2 inches too short to complete the route, he opted for a helicopter flight and a snowy peak for a summertime snowball fight on a sunny afternoon.
Back home in Calgary, Alberta, Spencer has continued to push herself as a climber, learning how to lead climb at Mount Royal. “My first fall in my lead climbing course was one of the scariest things I’ve ever done,” she says, “but I just remember how I felt up on Mt Nimbus and that focuses me. I can’t wait to start climbing outside again, and return to CMH for more adventures. Maybe one day I’ll climb the Bugaboo spires.”
With summer fast approaching the Hunt family is already looking to return to the Bobbie Burns for adventures and places yet explored, pushing their comfort zones, and spending more time together in the great Canadian outdoors.
Photos courtesy of the Hunt family. More on CMH Bobbie Burns trips here.