What do 74-year-olds do for fun when the opportunity arises?
For long-time friends Tony Lewis and Jeanette Fish their idea of fun might veer off the path of many their age.
A month ago, the pair of Alpine Club of Canada members ascended over 2,300 metres to do maintenance on the Bow Hut, situated below the Wapta Icefield in Banff National Park.
“We took along our skis, ropes etc., just in case we had some time and good weather to do some ski-mountaineering. The opportunity came on the first of June,” said Lewis.
The hut is operated and maintained by the Alpine Club of Canada, and is easily reached in three to six hours from Bow Lake.
The trail follows the north end of the lake, before ascending to the right of a canyon, then crossing a creek, passing over a boulder lodged in the top of the canyon.
Once above the treeline, the terraine opens into a wide expanse of moraines.
Bow Hut serves as a base for a variety of ski tours and mountaineering ascents to half a dozen peaks on the Wapta Icefield.
“It is a vitally important tourist attraction for hundreds of people from all over the world who want to explore the back country,” says Lewis.
He adds the weather was near-perfect and allowed them two days of ski mountaineering, first traversing the Bow Glacier before climbing Mt. Gordon, situated 3,161m above sea level.
“We were awarded with spectacular expansive views of the Rockies.”
The following day the pair completed a similar trip to Vulture Col and again descended by ski.
“We had a great ski descent in spring snow conditions. It was a great day.”
While still in grade school, in Shropshire, England, Lewis recalls studying Sir Edmund Hillary’s historic ascent of Mt. Everest in 1953.
Lewis’ hometown is situated near the Welsh border and, as a young boy, he frequented the wild and untamed Welsh highlands, after being inspired by the first man to summit the world’s tallest mountain peak.
“I cut my teeth, so to speak, on those mountains in Northern Wales.”
At the age of 20 and after climbing a majority of the United Kingdom’s tallest peaks, Lewis moved to the Austrian/Swiss Alps to live and work as a mountain guide.
He spent most of his spare time climbing the classic routes in the Alps such as Eiger, Matterhorn, Jungfrau and ski-mountaineering in his lace-up ski boots and wooden skis.
“It was a great time to be in the Alps, there weren’t as many people off the beaten track as there are now.”
After summiting most of the Alps in only seven years, Lewis set off on an overland journey to Pakistan where he trekked the Hindu Kush, summiting peaks as tall as 5,000m, before travelling to Australia and New Zealand.
“I was always drawn to Australia, it’s such an attractive country and the climbing I did there was fantastic.”
In New Zealand he worked as a mountain guide at Mt. Cook and Westland National Parks. There, in 1970, Lewis teamed up with an old Swiss climbing friend to do the first traverse of the Mt. Cook range – a ten-day classic ridge climb.
Of the countless treks Lewis has done throughout his more than 60 years of mountaineering, the Mt. Cook traverse remains Lewis’ most memorable trek.
“It was a ridge walk, like waking on a knifes edge. I’ll never forget seeing the sun rise in one ocean and then watching it set in another.”
While in New Zealand, Lewis met his future wife Judy, who was climbing in the Southern Alps and eventually came to live in Canada.
Lewis followed Judy to Canada, and since settling in Salmon Arm, Lewis and his wife became active members of the Alpine Club of Canada trekking in the Selkirk and Rocky mountains.
Lewis says he has slowed down in recent years but still manages to get out when he can because of his love for the outdoors.
“I never use the term conquer – I don’t climb to ‘defeat’ a mountain but to enjoy the simple experience of being out in the natural and beautiful environment that these wild places offer.”