Heli-Hiking in the Canadian Rockies
The sound is barely audible, just a whisper on the wind, but we know our cue. Packs get tossed on the ground and we sink to our knees, forming a tight, shoulder-to-shoulder half-scrum around the gear. What a curious sight we must make: A dozen men and women huddled heads down on a remote snow-covered mountainside. An Outward Bound prayer session? A communal contact lens search? Brian Keefer, who has been guiding flat-landers around these Canadian Rockies for more than 20 years, pulls out his two-way radio and speaks between bursts of static: "We got kind of a tough spot here... on a hump... but I think you'll be okay with the tail rotor."
Moments later a Bell 212 helicopter swoops into view, rising up majestically from the green valleys below, bringing with it a whirlwind of commotion. A wave of ear-rattling noise hits us first, followed by a hurricane-force blast of air that musses hair and kicks up a shower of snow crystals. Then... calm. The pilot pulls back on his throttle. The helicopter lands with all the fury of an autumn leaf falling from a tree.
Well, okay, not exactly saved. "Serviced" may be a better way of putting it. As much as this resembles a search-and-rescue mission, nobody in our party is in any distress. No broken bones. No hypothermia. Nary so much as a sprained finger from snapping too many pictures. The most serious injury is that fractured granola bar in the bottom of my pack. So why has a helicopter pilot come to fetch us? Because Keefer asked him to. Because that's his job. Because this is heli-hiking, where catching a backwoods copter ride is easier than finding a cab in Manhattan.
The 12 of us scrambling aboard the Bell 212 are part of a capacity crowd of 44 visitors (a few singles such as myself, a few couples, the majority vacationing families) booked into Adamant Lodge, a quasi-Tyrollean oasis plunked down amid the jagged peaks of British Columbia's Selkirk Mountains. It is late August, the cusp of the hiking season. The wildflowers aren't at their peak, but then, neither are the bugs. The people count is low too. The tourist town of Banff is a five-hour drive south. The nearest humansmost likely lonesome loggersare who knows how far away.
Adamant is one of 11 lodges run by Canadian Mountain Holidays (CMH), a private company that leases access to pristine public land from the B.C. government. Each CMH lodge has roughly 386 square miles of wilderness to itself. That's a lot of elbow room for 40-odd guests. By comparison, in the Swiss Alps as many as 30,000 people can be packed into 386 square miles: too high a price to pay for being close to world-class chocolate in my mind. I'll take solitude over sweets any day.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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