Heli-hiking isn’t just for fitness fanatics and thrill seekers. Anyone can traverse this beautiful land of ours. All you need is a decent pair of boots and a sense of adventure. Just ask our Director of Experiences, Judi Cohen.
I haven’t hiked since my kids were young. We used to walk the trails of Algonquin Park together. But that was a long time ago, and I was in a pair of sneakers, not hardcore hiking boots. So, when I was invited to heli-hike with Canadian Mountain Holidays, I was a little apprehensive, to say the least. Would I have the stamina to keep up? Would I suffer from altitude sickness? But the allure of helicoptering high above the mountains and exploring Canada’s rich and varied wilderness trumped my concerns.
I flew into Calgary and took a bus to Banff where we were welcomed with a dinner at the Maple Leaf Restaurant on the main street. We all stayed at the Moose Lodge overnight and were transferred the following morning to the CMH Helicopter pick up point about an hour from Banff. We were flown by helicopter in groups of about ten up to the Bugaboos Lodge (just one of several lodges owned by CMH). The views from the helicopter were majestic. I was still nervous, but in awe.
The lodge building is beautiful and my room was cozy with a spectacular view of the Bugaboo Spires. Once we settled in, we were taken to the well-stocked equipment room downstairs to get fitted with hiking boots, jackets, rain pants and packs. Walking poles were also provided. You could literally arrive at the Lodge with nothing but a t-shirt and a fleece and borrow everything you need for your stay.
After a breakfast of eggs and all the trimmings, (there are plenty of light and healthy options, too) we loaded our backpacks with food, snacks and water, received a safety briefing, and prepared to set off on our first heli-adventure!
After about a 15-minute ride into the mountains we were dropped off and began a slow steady hike uphill. Most of the guests were young and fit, but the guides were tuned into our levels, and formed hiking groups accordingly. Daredevils and seasoned hikers are challenged, while novices like myself feel comfortable and safe.
Our Guide talked about the history, geology, plant life and animals of the region, while offering valuable hiking tips. Never walk a straight line up, always traverse from side to side; rest on your forefoot and lock your back leg every time; breathe out more than you breathe in; drink lots of water to avoid dehydration at the various elevations! The weather shifts dramatically from one hour to the next. Layer up! After four hours of hiking, our helicopter couldn’t land due to poor visibility, so we were forced to hike an additional hour to the next pick-up point. Prepare for the unexpected!
Aprés hiking in the lodge reminded me a lot of my stays at African safari lodges. Everyone gathers around the bar or on the deck to exchange stories of their adventures in the helicopters and on various hikes. All meals are served family style at long tables. The lodge staff sit among us chatting and assisting with the food service. The food is healthy, light and varied.
In addition to the upper dining and lounge areas, there is a library that is rich in the history of the CMH heli-hiking and skiing story, as well as an exercise room, spa facilities, roof top hot tub and a large presentation space. Outside there is a magical little pond with a canoe and an inviting fire pit.
I am not an avid hiker, and I likely never will be. But the most amazing thing about this trip was that I got to experience heights I would never otherwise reach and sights I would otherwise never see.
Heli-hiking took me out of my comfort zone and challenged me in new ways. Words cannot do justice to the thrill I felt as the helicopter landed just feet away from where we were huddled. And words cannot do justice to the natural beauty and wonder around us. There was nothing manicured about our trek. In most cases there was no path. But the guides prepared us, and coached us through. But yes, a sense of adventure is a must.