My buddy and I decided to take the CMH trip at the last second after doing a bit of research online (highly recommend reading 2the NY Times article from 2007 called 'Five-Star Wilderness'). Stayed 3 nights at the Bobbie Burns lodge and signed up for the 'High-Flying Adventure'. Honestly, one of my favorite vacations ever.
First, this is truly a professional operation with a nearly 1-to-1 staff to guest ratio and impeccable coordination and service. They definitely know what they're doing. Everybody from the managers to the guides to the kitchen staff to the housemaids could not have been nicer and more professional. You got to know them over the course of 3 days and by the time you left, you were sad to leave your friends. That goes for the other vacationers as well. You can't help but bond with people when huffing and puffing through the mountains or crossing a wobbly bridge 1,700 feet in the air with just a cable to hold you safe or navigating a (much more difficult than expected) 'ropes' course 75 feet in the trees. BTW one our trip, the ages ranged from a couple of teenage boys with their family to several people in their late 60s/early 70s I'd say. Most were in their 40s and 50s. No kids were present.
As for the hiking and location itself, it is simply breathtaking, in the literal sense at times. Our first half-day, right after arrival, was spent on the aforementioned ropes course (most others went on hikes where unbeknownst to them they were evaluated as to their fitness and general comfort level). The ropes course was NOT built for those with faint hearts or weak upper body strength. 75 feet in the trees is no joke and when someone tells you to 'walk' across a wobbly rope using tough-to-reach dangling ropes for balance, you cannot help but feel some fear. And seriously, if you do not have decent upper body strength, would recommend instead going on one of the hikes. That said, we had a great time and I think it prepared us well for the Via Ferrata the next day.
The Via Ferrata itself was something I'll never forget. Scaling peaks that I would never have been able to otherwise, I felt a real sense of accomplishment once completed. Physically it's not that demanding; the ropes course was much harder. But mentally it was taxing. As J.F., one of the guides, said, "It makes you uncomfortable at times but not in a bad way." And I cannot stress too much how terrific the guides were at walking us through it. Unless you have a truly severe fear of heights, you can indeed do this - trust me.
Third day was spent hiking all over the place - from a truly strenuous hike up to a ridge overlooking the valley to a snowy crater where we were sleeted on (in July!) to a stunningly beautiful mountain lake formed by the melting glaciers to a ziplining course over raging rapids to finally a long march through the woods back to the lodge, we fit in a ton of sites and experiences.
All along the way, we were ferried by helicopter. I'm telling you, watching it come in and land 5 feet from you never gets old. So sad that I had to go back to cars.
As for the lodge, while not a Ritz Carlton, it is indeed very nice - both rustic and modern. The rooms are clean, beds are comfy, bathroom water pressure is strong. Whether losing yourself in the scenery while relaxing on the porch or soothing your sore muscles in the large jacuzzi or chilling in the sauna or just wandering off for a short walk (they give you bear spray), it all works.
The food is wonderful and very plentiful--damn bowl of Kit Kats and Mars bars kept me fat and happy--with 3 square meals a day (lunch is packed by you and eaten on the trail) as well as a happy hour spread to die for. All meals were shared with the staff, at least two of whom at your table would both sit with and serve you. Dinner was always followed by lounging in the lodge by the bar and fireplace. While we paid for it in the morning, John the bartender will indeed stay quite late to make sure you're well satisfied.
A few other notes: No need to bring your own hiking boots or rain shell or thermos as they provide all (believe me, their boots are better than yours). Sign up for a massage as soon as that sheet gets distributed as the prime post-hike/pre-dinner spots go quick (and btw Chelsea, the masseuse, has very strong hands). Trust in Bruce and Mark and Eric and Lenny and J.F. and Matt and the rest of the guides. They know of what they speak.
This was not the cheapest vacation I ever took but when you cover all of what you did and received, I felt like I underpaid. If you are even thinking of going, do so. You will not regret it. Definitely will return for heli-skiing one day. And thanks again to everyone at the lodge for memories I'll never forget. When next in NYC, hit me up!
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