Every summer since 1906 the Alpine Club of Canada has held a general mountaineering camp (the GMC), usually in the mountains of British Columbia. Last summer Andrew Sunter participated in the camp that was held in the Scotch Peaks range in the Purcell Mountains near Radium (close to the Bugaboos, one of the world’s great alpine rock climbing areas).
We turned off the highway at Radium and drove our cars for an hour up a dirt logging road. At a clearing in the middle of nowhere, we parked and wrapped chicken wire around the base of our vehicles to protect them from porcupines and other critters. A helicopter lowered into the valley and began to shuttle the 30 participants in the camp that week up the slopes until we were above tree line on the edge of the North Star Glacier in the Scotch Peaks. Our base camp for the next week would be a group of tents surrounding a glacier melt water lake in one of the most remote, rugged and beautiful places in Canada.
Our objectives for the week were the mountains of the Scotch Peaks – most notably Mt. Alpha Centauri, North Star Peak, Mt. Carmarthen, Gwendoline Mountain, the Black Fang and an unnamed peak which we coined “Tallisker Tusk” in keeping with the Scottish theme.
I had been scrambling, mountaineering and climbing for several years and taken a lot of courses; however, no climbing experience is needed to participate in or enjoy the camp. The camp has professional mountain guides and very experienced amateur leaders who lead the daily trips into the mountains and makes sure that everyone stays safe and learns how to travel in the mountains. Several camp participants had never climbed before and didn’t even know how to tie into their rope. To make the experience safe and fun for everyone, on the first two days skill courses are offered: rock climbing, crevasse rescue, ice climbing, glacier travel, and so on.
For many participants, the camp is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get out and climb in real mountains. One of the participants in my week was in his 60s and had never climbed before, not even a scramble, and when he summited his first peak he was in tears because he had achieved something that seemed impossible to him and he never thought he would do. It was humbling to share this important moment with him.
Each evening the guides planned the trips for the next day and then posted sign-up sheets. A wide range of trips were offered for all experience levels. You signed up for the trip that you wanted to do. If you were tired you could just hang out around camp and read a book and enjoy the beautiful setting. Most days we left camp around 7:00 am, summited our objective by 11:00 am and were back at camp by mid afternoon. Over the week I managed to climb seven mountains, which I was pleased with as I hadn’t had time to do much training prior to the camp.
The camp was fully catered and offered what felt like luxury amenities given the remote location. The food was great and all of the camp staff was very friendly. There was even a shower tent where you could have a hot shower and wash off the sweat after a long day.
The atmosphere was very sociable and I got to meet many interesting people from around Canada (and several from other countries). There was a big celebration on the last night where we enjoyed some beer and wine and told stories about our adventures during the week. Overall, this was one of the most enjoyable and fulfilling trips that I have ever done.
The camp location changes each year so you can make it a yearly event. For the price and for what you get, this has to be one of the world’s best eco vacations and one that so few know about.
This interview with Andrew Sunter has been condensed and edited.
Photo credits Andrew Sunter
© Riding the buses 2014