Take flight to hike: what surprised me about helicopter-assisted hiking

Every time I have been in a helicopter, the whirly bird has transported me somewhere beautiful.

A Bell 212 helicopter comes to fly us to another spectacular hiking site in the Bugaboos.

A Bell 212 helicopter operated by Canadian Mountain Holidays flies in to transport us to another spectacular hiking site.

First, it was to Assiniboine Lodge near Mount Assiniboine, a.k.a. Canada’s Matterhorn. The second time it was a tour around the real Matterhorn mountain in Switzerland; after we circumnavigated the pointy Alp, the chopper deposited us atop Zermatt ski area for a day of on-piste schussing. More recently, a Bell 212 whisked me into the snow-covered backcountry near Revelstoke, B.C. for an epic day heli-skiing. And then last weekend a helicopter flew me up into the Bugaboos for some heli-hiking with Canadian Mountain Holidays.

Like heli-skiing, heli-hiking uses a helicopter to deliver guests high into the mountains where they can walk along alpine ridges, stride across wildflower-studded meadows and even ascend to the toe of (or onto) immense glaciers streaked blue, white and brown. I’ll be writing a couple different stories about the experience in magazines next spring, but wanted to share a few things that surprised me about this awesome pastime.

Mother nature beats the whirly bird, hands down

Yes, zipping around in a helicopter is a fun and exhilarating way to travel. You take off, and moments later you land in a place that would take you days to access on foot. But step outside the chopper and you’ll see that the real show stopper is the scenery.

Hiking across a meadow toward the Bugaboos while heli-hiking with Canadian Mountain Holidays.

Just me and the mountains — walking toward the Bugaboos while heli-hiking with Canadian Mountain Holidays.

We hiked right up to the glacier-fed lagoon beneath Vowell Glacier.

We hiked right up to the glacier-fed lagoon beneath Vowell Glacier.

We hiked out of CMH Bugaboos Lodge, set smack in the middle of the Bugaboos, a series of granite spires that dominate the skyline of the Pucell Mountains in southeastern British Columbia. The Bugaboos would be impressive on their own, but their rugged beauty is enhanced by the glaciers — part of the Conrad Icefield — that spill down between their flanks, and the verdant meadows below. I’ve explored Banff, Kootenay, Yoho, Jasper and Waterton Lakes national parks, and Glacier National Park in Montana, and have never seen such alpine awesomeness. The Bugaboos had me at hello.

The views are even great from the lodge

You could go “heli-hiking” and not even hike to see beautiful scenery. Right out the back door of the lodge is a spectacular view of several Bugaboos spires. You can also admire the mountains from the comfort of the roof-top hot tub, or from a seat at the bar while sipping on The 5:30 cocktail.

A quick stroll from CMH Bugaboos Lodge takes you to this small pond where the mountains are reflected in the still water.

A quick stroll from CMH Bugaboos Lodge takes you to this small pond where the mountains are reflected in the still water.

“Heli Belly” is a real affliction

Travellers to India get Delhi belly. Guests at CMH Bugaboos are at risk of developing Heli Belly. Basically, this first world problem involves eating more delicious food than you are able to burn off while hiking (or, in the winter, skiing).

You will get fat and happy eating pancakes for brekky at CMH Bugaboos. Photo by Tammy Hanratty.

You will get fat and happy eating pancakes for brekky at CMH Bugaboos. Photo by Tammy Hanratty.

You start the day with a hot breakfast of eggs and bacon or pancakes, plus fresh fruit and yogurt or muesli; grab a couple of sandwiches and some cookies to sustain your energy levels while hiking; indulge in apres-hiking fare dubbed “tea goody” (heavy on the goodies, light on the tea); and end the evening with a hearty dinner and dessert — followed by a nightcap at the bar — before rolling your now-heavier body into bed.

The hiking guides make a big difference

I’ve often wondered whether a guide is necessary while hiking. The majority of the hiking I’ve done has been guide-free, armed with a good map and bear spray. But there’s something liberating about leaving the details of where you’re going, and how you’ll defend yourself against grizzlies, to an ACMG (Association of Canadian Mountain Guides)-certified guide.

Not only did they keep in radio contact with the chopper, our CMH guides kept us safe and educated us about everything we saw along the trail.

Not only did they keep in radio contact with the chopper, our CMH guides kept us safe and educated us about everything we saw along the trail.

What’s more, our guides were troves of mountain knowledge, able to point out and identify every plant and flower, and educate us on the region’s geology and history at the same time. I learned a lot as I explored one of Canada’s most beautiful places.

Canadian Mountain Holidays runs summer trips out of their Bugaboos and Bobbie Burns lodges through Sept. 4.

 

 

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