Canada

Heli-Hiking: An Out of This World Experience

The word ‘bugaboo’ actually means a hoax in Old English. Legend has it that when folks came up these mountains looking for gold, they found only fool’s gold so they called the area the Bugaboos and the name stuck. Running closely parallel with the Canadian Rockies, this little-known, vast wilderness is home to sprawling glaciers, hidden meadows carpeted with wildflowers, sparkling cobalt lakes, dense forests and jagged crags. Older than the Rockies by a couple of hundred million years but equal to them in height and majestic quality, the Columbia ranges attract few visitors compared to their better known cousins. Their relative inaccessibility makes them difficult to get to, especially up into the most resplendent altitudes. Only the hearty and determined are able to make the arduous trek. With the help of a helicopter, however, anyone can experience them.

Heli-hiking is not a new phenomenon, but there aren’t many companies in North America that are true veterans of the experience, like Canadian Mountain Holidays (CMH). They’ve spent the last thirty years perfecting and sharing it with guests of all ages and hiking abilities. Having a helicopter whisk you away each morning into the deep blue yonder and deposit you in some remote corner to explore is the ultimate luxury in adventure travel. I felt like a V.I.P. as I hopped into the red and white ‘taxi’, donned a pair of earplugs and then proceeded to be wowed by the jaw-dropping vistas unfolding outside my window.

CMH groups its hikers by ambition, interest and capability, and then each morning sends them out to a new destination in the company of expert mountain guides. After a short ride, the helicopter deposits guests amid indescribable splendor where they proceed to spend the day traipsing along airy ridges, on top of glaciers, through meadows and woods and up and down rocky tors. Each group travels at its own pace to soak up the mountain beauty and experience a dazzling feast for the senses. There are no set paths, trail markers, campgrounds or signs of human inhabitance as you hike in this pristine wilderness. It’s just you and a handful of other like-minded adventurers seeking to explore this magical place.

You’ll find folks of all ages from all over the world who come on a heli-hiking trip because they relish the opportunity to truly get away from it all. They want to breathe the invigorating mountain air, connect with Mother Nature and disconnect from the rat race of their daily lives. And often they come with the desire for a personal challenge. For some, that may mean sustaining the endurance it takes to hike for several hours at a time or combating a fear of heights while walking on a narrow precipice. For others, it may involve making a steep ascent up to a summit or learning to rappel down a rock wall. Challenges big and small abound, ripe for the picking.

There’s nothing quite like hiking and learning about the natural history of the area, the various geological formations and wildflowers that make up the scene around you. We made our way through endless valleys colourfully dotted with Yellow Monkey, Silky Scorpion Weed, Paintbrush and Fireweed, dipped our feet into numbing cold Wonder Lake and hiked up to a massive glacier. All in a single morning! After a picnic lunch, the helicopter once again landed, this time to take us to another spectacular trekking spot. Our guide gave the group a few options: hike around a lake, meander in the nearby hills or make what he said would be a “relatively easy climb” up to Aluette Ridge, where he claimed the views of the Ballroom – an area of meadows surrounded by peaks – were grand and expansive. We fell for the guide-speak about the views and voted for choice number three.

The ‘easy’ climb we expected had us scrambling up a steep rocky slope, clawing onto clumps of moss and entertaining ourselves by coming up with names for our ascent, like Needle Point Peak, On Shredded Knee and, one of our favourites, Paulgatory – a play on our trusted guide’s name. “We’re almost there” tortured us along the way as doubts grew as to whether our labor would be aptly rewarded. We needn’t have worried. Upon reaching the top, each of us was at once rendered speechless by the eye-caressing, lump-in-the-throat inducing view that stretched for miles in all directions. And we were able to see just how far we had climbed, which pumped us up with pride for having met this amazing challenge.

Canadian Mountain Holiday operates six wilderness lodges, which serve as bases for the company’s heli-hiking operation. Each has its own individual character, but all of them emulate the European alpine tradition, combining old-fashioned comfort with modern efficiency. And they’re built with state-of-the-art systems to minimize energy consumption and waste. The Bugaboos Lodge offers guests a drop-dead view of the Bugaboo Glacier and the unique Hound’s Tooth rock formation. When the sun rises and sets on this scene, it explodes in a fiery red hue and observers become instantly tongue-tied, unable to find the words to describe this sublime picture.

 

 

About the Author

 

Deborah Stone is a features and travel writer, whose column has covered everything from Washington’s San Juan Islands to exotic Egypt. She enjoys writing about soft adventure experiences, cultural forays, wildlife encounters, romantic getaways and spa retreats. A long-time resident of the Seattle area, she is a member of the North American Travel Journalists Association and the International Food, Wine and Travel Writers Association.

 

 

 

 

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 Full name: Canada

 Population: 34.3 million (CIA, 2012)

 Capital: Ottawa

 Largest city: Toronto

 Area: 9.984 million sq.km. (3.86 million sq. mi.)

 Major languages: English, French, Other

 Major religions: Roman Catholic, Protestant,  Other Christian, Muslim, Other

 Monetary unit: Canadian Dollar

 GDP per capita: US $40,300

 Internet domain: .ca

 International dialling code: +1

 Source: CIA World Factbook