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The afternoon of our arrival at the lodge there was only time for an introductory two-mile hike. I intended to make up for that shortened workout by exercising before dinner. First, however, I thought I should make a brief inspection of the outdoor whirlpool. But I found the mountain view so nice that I wound up taking a long soak both before dinner and again after. I vowed to make amends by doing 500 sit-ups the next morning. The next day I worked up a good sweat on a long heli-hike and afterward headed straight for the whirlpool again. I’d do those 500 sit-ups tomorrow.
And so it went. I kept running up the tab on my Compensatory Exercise Charge Card as if I had a 50,000 sit-up credit line. Still, I felt only the mildest pangs of guilt. Our daily routine was a good calorie burn. Breakfast was served at 8 o’clock, and our chopper shuttles usually started by nine. Generally, there’d be a morning hike, followed by lunch in the field, a helicopter pickup, and an afternoon hike in a second location. I was continually amazed at how much faith the children on the trip bestowed on their guides. One afternoon I watched boys and girls as young as six clip into harnesses and scale a 50-foot-high canyon wall. Brian Keefer attributes it all to the innocence of youth. “For kids, it’s a pretty natural thing to climb,” he says. “But as adults we spend our whole lives suppressing it.”
I guess I’m a suppressor. Long ago my brain reached that advanced stage of development where it fully comprehends the relationship between gravity, falling objects, and the pain associated with going SPLAT. Thus I am somewhat at a loss to explain how I wind up standing in an icefield one morning, about to attempt a day-long technical climb.
“We’ll be walking as a team,” Keefer notes as the noise from our helicopter fades away. “Four people on a rope: one guide and three climbers.”
There are eight of us in all. Keefer is tethered to Ian and Megan, an Australian couple, and to Nick, a British lawyer whose little son has asked him: “What kind of hotel is this that makes you walk all the time?”
Keefer’s fellow guide, J.C. Trepanier, ties in with me, and with Phil and Betty, who are on a 20th wedding anniversary vacation. Being roped together is like being part of a chain gang. It takes a few minutes and several stumbles to get in sync. We slowly leave the icefield behind, slog through a steep incline of scree, scramble up over a section of loose rock, and take a break in the sheltered saddle of a high ridge.
Trepanier takes the lead, treading ever so softly. I’m second in line, following literally in his footsteps. “Go ahead,” he yells over his shoulder after hopping a foot-wide fissure. “Get down on your knees and take a look at the crevasse.” I obediently sneak a peek. The icy walls are menthol blue. The hole seemingly had no bottom. That is about all I need to see.
The mountain turns out to be a fissured wedge of rock shaped like a tail fin on a ’57 Cadillac. From where I stand the peak soars to no more than 200 feet into the sky. Piece of cake. But the downside is that the wedge-like fin is only five to ten feet wide in parts. Below us and to the left lies the glacier we have just traversed. In these instances, guides become guardian angels. God bless their mountain-goat balance. I’d like to hug Keefer and Trepanier in appreciation, but it would mean giving up a precious handhold. The two pros prance to the top. The rest of us inch up the peak’s serrated spine, clinging to the rock face like apprehensive iguanas. Finally, we run out of rock and are standing on a tiny summit. We are kings of the world. All of British Columbia, Canada stretches out before us.
“This makes going to work next Monday awfully difficult,” says Betty.
Families are fused by blood and bone. But shared fear forms its own peculiar bond. I sit with my “family” during our farewell dinner that night. It’s costume night. Betty is wearing a propeller beanie. Ian is in court jester attire. I have on a black witch’s hat and, for some strange, rather inexplicable reason, a pair of large fake rabbit ears protrude from my pants.
Bill Borgers, the orange juice mogul, takes a seat at our table along with his wife, and he looks splendid in his fetching polka dot dress. “You don’t know how hard it is to hit a home run with a family vacation,” he whispers to me. “Usually the places the kids love we barely survive, and the places we love the kids barely survive.”
All the Borgers love CMH. Heli-hiking has hit a home run with them. I am happy to hear that. I am not so happy to hear that Bill’s 12-year old son climbed a mountain with him this afternoon. Couldn’t the kid have at least waited until he hit puberty?
I am now a humbled adventure traveler – but not a bitter one. I have been to the mountaintop and burned major calories in the process. Cause enough for celebration. I join the Clifford family in another round of red wine. I even order seconds on dessert. No problem. I’ll do those 500 sit-ups first thing tomorrow morning. On second thought, cancel my plane reservation. I feel fit enough to walk all the way home.
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This story originally appeared in National Geographic Traveler and was reprinted by CMH Heli-Skiing & Summer Adventures.