When goldminers in the late 1800s spotted three towering spires jutting up from the glacial plateaus on the border of British Columbia and Alberta, they were certain the creeks below were rich in minerals, and they expected to be equally rich with gold. But after months of work and finding nothing, they eventually threw up their hands and named this place “bugaboo,” an old prospector’s expression for things that don’t turn out the way you expect: a disappointment.
I, however, was taken aback by my first glimpse of the Bugaboo mountains. Their grandeur is so startling that many of us stopped suddenly in our tracks and stood still, taking in the wintery glacier cradled by layers of dark cliffs and ridges, framed by a skirt of lush summer forest and fields of clover flowing beneath. The Bugaboo spires—giant granite fangs disappearing into cloudy skies above it all—stood tall like watchmen. They felt noble and foreboding all at once.
Inside the mid-mountain lodge of heli-hiking and heli-skiing company CMH, I made light conversation with a longtime guide and mentioned only half-seriously that I hoped to have at least five minutes of sunshine at the top after seeing clouds roll over the peaks. He smiled and responded with practical wisdom: “They are the mountains.”
We packed ourselves snugly into one of 20 helicopters in CMH’s fleet and hovered towards the wispy clouds, suspended over mountainsides textured with trees and glassy lakes. As we ascended, patches of ice appeared on rocky facets and we landed on a peak layered with thin shards of slate in earthy colours of rust, sand, and charcoal. Our guide crouched by rare alpine rhododendrons and mosses, pointing out marmots on tall boulders where the glaciers sat just 50 years before. He gave us Latin lessons while describing the botanicals growing low on the ground, and shared his deep knowledge of everything from the natural history of the mountains, which stretch back millions of years, to the relatively short history of the mountaineers who scaled them.
The Bugaboo spires—giant granite fangs disappearing into cloudy skies above it all—stood tall like watchmen. They felt noble and foreboding all at once.
As we climbed up the Black Forest peak to meet the helicopter on the opposite slope, where the clouds were cleared enough to land, we walked, quite literally, among the haze. I was pleasantly surprised at how beautiful the foggy hike was with the mist moving like smoke, revealing new perspectives of the terrain every so often. We descended inspired and in anticipation of a hot shower and a glass of British Columbia wine in front of the fire at the cozy lodge.
The following morning, we awoke to the sun shining on hot white glaciers, a glowing promise of a bright day of hiking. As we flew from summit to summit, the clouds rolled out to reveal mountains reflected in crystal glacial pools and otherworldly meadows with creeks winding deep through bouncy mounds of moss growing speckled with tiny flowers. We climbed up lichen-spotted rocks, and crossed bridges made of snow to magnificent vistas seen by only handfuls of hikers fortunate enough to reach these altitudes—places untouched by anything but nature—and we sat eating our lunch, looking out and feeling quite lucky.
To rest our feet after a longer portion of the hike, we dipped them in a glacial lake before a helicopter adroitly landed on a rock cropping to bring us back in time for dinner and a hot soak at sunset.
After a few days of exploring the Bugaboos, I gained perspective on what many generations of mountaineers came to love within these mountains. I heard of the men and women, stubbornly climbing unnamed peaks and deterred occasionally only by the weather, motivated by the adventure of bearing witness to a beauty so grand and yet private. And just like them, I too left with a higher reverence for the nature that surrounded me, and the definition of the word “bugaboo” changed completely: my expectations not failed to be met, but rather exceeded.
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