Words by Morgan Dinsdale | Posted August 17, 2016
Between a rock and a hard place is how Hannah Sawyer spent her summers growing up climbing at CMH Cariboo Lodge. Today, not much has changed since she was a child. Keeping a watchful eye she lets the rope out meter-by-meter as her father and 35-year CMH Mountain Guide, Bob Sawyer, moves swiftly upwards towards a bluebird sky. He’s leading a challenging route up a rock face on the bluffs surrounding Castlegar, a picturesque British Columbia town just an hour north of the U.S border.
It wasn’t too many moons ago that Bob was teaching Hannah how to climb for the first time. Today, she is belaying him up a rather tricky 5.10 route. With another CMH ski season wrapped up, this father-daughter duo are doing what they do best together – climb mountains.
Bob began working at Canadian Mountain Holidays in 1981 and Hannah, born nine years later, grew up the only child of a full-time mountain guide. With her dad gone for long periods of time in the winter she can remember looking forward to a month each summer with him at the Cariboo Lodge.
“Growing up in the CMH world was all I knew,” Hannah explains as we sit down to talk about her childhood. “Our relationship in the mountains and guiding me around was what I thought most kids did with their dad,” she adds. “The Cariboo Lodge was my summer camp.”
While most kids spent their summertime learning acrobatics, swimming in public pools or building forts with their friends, Hannah found herself up at the Cariboos rock climbing, hiking and helping out around the lodge.
Running around in the remote wilderness, surrounded by mountains, with people kitted out in the latest hiking gear was the norm for this young kid from the British Columbia Kootenays. It was no surprise when Hannah officially began working for CMH over her summer holidays at age 16 up at the Bugaboos Lodge. Ten years later, she has wrapped up her final season at CMH Bobbie Burns lodge, her home of the past four years, as she looks forward to the next chapter of her life with nursing school in the fall.
“CMH has really intertwined itself in my life and there are people I’ve worked with over the years who I keep close to my heart,” she says of her CMH family. “The sense of belonging and kinship between many of the staff is what’s always brought me back.”
People often wonder what makes working for CMH so special. It would be expected to say that it’s the skiing, the five-star food or commuting to work via helicopter. But Hannah’s comment speaks volumes to the truth that up at the lodges you‘re a member of a family. It’s a broad definition of family but the basics are trust, love and kinship. And whether up at CMH Cariboos with her Dad or with her Bobbie Burns family, Hannah knows she’s home.
“Having a family at CMH is a balancing act,” her father explains. “I’m very fortunate Hannah has always wanted to participate in the things I love.”
There’s no doubt that the peaks of CMH’s tenure hold a special place in both their hearts. Whatever the season, Hannah and Bob always make time to explore the mountains together. On any given day you can find them rock climbing, cycling or planning next winter’s ski touring adventures.
“Out in the mountains we like to participate in sports that have high risks, so I try to remind myself that no matter how uncomfortable, how hot or cold or how tired we get it won’t last forever,” adds Hannah. “It’s important for me to savor those moments together.”
“Working for so many years has allowed me to study the way of Mother Nature, the safe line,” Bob says when asked about his lengthy career with CMH. “It’s what holds my attention.”
The trust between them is ever present as Bob nears the summit of his climb, Hannah his main safety from a long fall down should he slip. Somehow entirely focused and laughing at the same time both their comfort and expertise in the mountains is vividly apparent. Smiling as she lets out some slack on the rope, allowing him to build an anchor at the top of the pitch, you can tell theirs’ is a life well lived. Hannah still finds herself often wedged between a rock and a hard place but only because there’s no shortage of mountains these two plan to climb together.