Hallam Peak Alpine Club General Mountaineering Camp

The Alpine Club of Canada’s General Mountaineering Camps (GMCs) are a very old tradition, dating back to 1906 and the dawn of mountaineering inCanada. They have always been pretty big affairs, attracting mountaineers from all over. The first one, in Yoho Valley, attracted about 100 participants and was considered a good way to give people the credentials to become ACC members. Back then, you needed to have a resume to join the ACC, and a 10,000 ft peak had to be in there somewhere, so the GMC was a good, safe introduction to “General Mountaineering”, led by certified mountain guides from Austria and Switzerland.

The Alpine Club of Canada’s General Mountaineering Camps (GMCs) are a very old tradition, dating back to 1906 and the dawn of mountaineering inCanada. They have always been pretty big affairs, attracting mountaineers from all over. The first one, in Yoho Valley, attracted about 100 participants and was considered a good way to give people the credentials to become ACC members. Back then, you needed to have a resume to join the ACC, and a 10,000 ft peak had to be in there somewhere, so the GMC was a good, safe introduction to “General Mountaineering”, led by certified mountain guides from Austria and Switzerland.

These days, the GMC continues in its tradition of attracting and introducing new members to mountaineering. While you don’t need a resume to join the ACC, the GMC gives ACC members a baseline of experience and skill so that they can enjoy many of the great events that the ACC offers throughout the year, whether led by the amateur leaders or by professional mountain guides like myself.

I’ve always thought about guiding on a GMC but for some reason the opportunity never really presented itself. My summers are typically busy with my own clients, and any spare time I have is precious and spent with my family. This year was a bit different. I decided to go off alpine guiding for the summer and work at the Churchill River Canoe Outfitters (CRCO) in northern Saskatchewan. But in the middle of winter I got a call from my friend Mike McMinn, who is very active in the Vancouver Section’s ACC club, and he went on and on about how wonderful it would be to work a GMC, and eventually I gave in and said I would see if it would work. Before long, I was signed up in Week 4 along with Mike and his wife Amber, and I booked some time off in the very busiest part of CRCO’s season to go traipsing around in the Monashees.

En route to Bombay Traverse

The first thing I realised about guiding a GMC is how little I really had to do to prepare for the trip. I didn’t have to worry about food, transportation, emailing clients. I found out just before leaving that I could even leave my ropes and tent at home, and learned just a little too late that I would even have my maps provided. Literally, all I needed to do was pack a few clothes, my ice ax, harness, helmet, and that’s about it. I was starting to really warm up to this style of guiding.

The day we flew in started with meeting at the Revelstoke Snowmobile Club, signing waivers (another thing I didn’t have to concern myself with), and piling in a bus — I still didn’t even know where the staging area was. Again, everything was organized and ran incredibly smoothly.

Riddle Glacier

Flying over the camp I couldn’t help but reflect on the last fly-in mountaineering camp I had done, with Art Maki. Art and I did a number of remote exploratory mountaineering trips before his death — at the age of 83 — in 2015. We would jump in a helicopter in Golden or Revelstoke or Valemount and fly out over the mountains looking for a place to land and set up our tents. Then it was just he an I for two weeks wandering around and bagging peaks. Lonely, beautiful, peaceful days those were.

So what a contrast to look down at Hallam camp. Rows of tents were set up, there was a compound that looked like a mining camp with cook tents, dry tents, shower tents, lounge tents, latrines — it was a really major operation. Incredible to view from the sky as we descended.

Iceberg Lake Waterfall

All of this was a portent of what was to come. The week rolled out smoothly and perfectly. Amazing delicious food appeared. My clients were fit and happy and capable. The weather was unbelievable — warm sun and blue skies. The peaks were ideal; not too hard, not too easy. The scenery was totally stunning, and the glaciers intensely crevassed and tumbling but with easy enough passage and little in the way of overhead hazard. Really, a mountain guide’s dream week.

The rest of the day was spent getting to know the other guides — there were four of us in total — and the lay of the land. The guides from the previous week briefed us on what to expect, and were off.

Mike contacted me the other day and asked if I was on again for week 4. Without hesitation I emailed the ACC and signed up. How could I resist?!

Tom Wolfe
Mountain Guide ACMG/IFMGAHere’s my Flickr album from the week: