Heli-Hiking in the Canadian Rockies
My mother always had a desire to travel. From the time we were small children she began saving for two wonderful family vacations that will be etched in my heart for the rest of my life. The first was a Hawaiian vacation that we took in my pre-teens, and the second an incredible Heli-Hiking tour in the Canadian Rockies.
The trip was breathtaking, with the mind-blowing majesty of mountains, the hidden power of the slowly inching avalanches, and the serene mist over green alpine meadows ripe with wild flowers. We stayed in a lodge high in the mountains that was accessible only by helicopter and every day we were flown to different wilderness areas and dropped off with our guides.
We began with what seemed like an extremely long flight from Washington, D.C. to Calgary, Canada. By the time we arrived, I was so tired, that I only vaguely remember the luxurious hotel lobby with its grand crystal chandeliers and elegant carpet. As soon as we reached our room, my head hit the pillow and I was fast asleep until morning when we were roused for a good breakfast and a long bus ride. I was gratified to see one other family with kids but most of our traveling companions looked like well seasoned souls. I wasn't terribly concerned with socializing. I was more interested in the adventures that lay ahead!
The bus traveled through the city of Banff and into the countryside, finally stopping near a large meadow where we were dropped off with our guide. Here we received instructions on how to safely board a helicopter. This was serious business as much of our trip was going to be spent flying and in some of the landing spots we were told, we would have to get on and off very quickly! This was exciting!
We were told to duck, hold onto our hats and run sideways. No standing up straight just in case you were tall enough to get too close to a propeller. I was pretty sure that would not be a problem for me. I was more concerned about being blown over! Excitement was much stronger than fear however, and I was beside myself with anticipation. I had never been on a helicopter before and I couldn't wait. Flight in any form equaled freedom to me. I loved airplanes and could remember flying in my dreams even before I was old enough to put such things into words.
The helicopter arrived pushing the tall grasses outward in waves and greeting us with a whir and a wind so strong we had to squint to avoid having things blown in our eyes. In small groups we ducked, held onto our hats and hurried aboard the chopper. It lifted effortlessly, making the ground look as if it was falling away rather than feeling as if we were rising into the air. The view above the pines and mountain ridges was exhilarating and in no time we had reached our destination - the Bobbie Burns lodge, perched in a grassy clearing amidst an otherwise pristine forest.
After a quick orientation we were free to gather the supplied gear and wander the grounds. The hiking boots provided were more comfortable than slippers and oooh, a "free" backpack! But how odd to have rooms without locks. This was clearly not the city. Apparently, if someone stole something, there simply was nowhere to go.
I can't quite recall the exact order of our days but each one brought new and wonderful experiences. Every morning we joined a small group with a guide and hopped aboard one of the huge choppers heading for adventure. Every now and then you got lucky and got to sit up front with the pilot, with all of heaven unfolding before you, snowy peaks rising, and stomach-dropping ridge falling beneath you. There was nothing but blue sky above. I wanted to spread my wings and soar!
The first day we were dropped off by a mountain lake and hiked up hills reminiscent of the final scenes in "A Sound of Music." Carpeted by knee high grasses and wildflowers, the hills made me want to roll in their bounty as if I were a happy bear cub. I was a teenager, however, and that definitely would not have been cool, so instead I kept climbing until we reached a plateau with vistas beyond description. Further along we hiked along side a mountain stream, picnic'd in an area untouched by the modern world, and walked in a silence broken only by the whispers of the wind, the humming of bees, and the babbling brook. An occasional birdsong echoed between the mountains. Most of us maintained a fairly reverent silence.
Another day we were dropped off on a mountain peak so rocky we had no idea how the helicopter was going to land. Nonetheless, the expert pilot found his tiny flat square of earth and left us behind to picnic high above the Rockies. On our hike downward, we were treated to the opportunity to "glissade" or slide, down snowy mountain slopes using either our rain ponchos, or for the more adventurous, our feet. We hiked through a boulder field reminiscent of a moonscape, and then were helicoptered to a remote cabin in the mountains directly across from an active glacier. Some other kids were staying with the older man that owned the cabin and I was relieved to have more friends my own age with whom I could explore the rocky hills behind the cabin. Talk about remote... we were in a cabin so far in the mountains that the only way to reach it was by foot or by air. There was something wonderful about being so isolated and away from everything else. So cozy...
Another day brought us to land right on a glacier where we were instructed to hold hands and peer into deep ice-blue crevices that looked as if they dropped off into the center of the earth itself. The hand holding, we were told, was to keep people from accidentally slipping in! The sun was warm on our backs, the ice cool under our feet, and the soft blue glow deep beneath us was beautiful and eerie all at once. The glacier was alive, melting slowly far beneath the surface. It was safe to walk on in the areas where we were guided, but the idea of traipsing along on a moving mass of ice gave one pause for thought. Sometimes it is good to feel small amidst the vastness and power of nature.
This trip instilled in me an lifetime desire to find ways to alone amidst the vastness and beauty of nature. It reminded me that there are still areas on this earth unspoiled by man and cycles of life still unfolding as the Creator originally intended them to be. If you ever get to take a similar trip, it will enliven you, inspire you, and help reconnect you to your own wild spirit.