I'm not used to crouching down in a huddle with a group of fellow hikers to wait for a several thousand pound helicopter to roar over my head and land a few feet away. But then, Canadian Mountain Holiday's heli-hiking tours are not your usual vacations.
Originally founded to make the remote
peaks of the Columbia Mountain Range accessible to skiers looking for
new challenges, CMH has grown from a single shelter serving only the most determined
skiers during winter to five lodges operating year-round and offering both
skiing and hiking trips of varying lengths.
|Climbing to the Crest of a Peak, Columbia Mountain Range,
CMH describes its vacations as European
experiences without a passport since the mountain ranges approximate the Alps
in size. The key to the entire enterprise is the helicopters, which provide
easy transport to large areas of isolated and hard to reach terrain. The initial
flight is the one which guests take to the lodge following a two- to three-hour
drive from Banff. Vacationers are picked up at a small landing area and flown
to the lodge while a truck traveling back roads delivers their bags.
Climbing into and out of a helicopter for the first time is slightly daunting, but it quickly becomes routine. The helicopters are maintained by well-trained engineers and flown by highly skilled pilots. As a result CMH has an excellent safety record. The view of the mountains and valleys on each ride is quite breathtaking.
CMH accommodates guests of all ages from young children to great grandparents. Multi-generation families often walk and hike together on these guided tours. On my trip there were two such groups.
In consultation with the guides, participants choose an appropriate pace for their level of skill and fitness. There are four categories from which to select, depending on ability and interests. Some groups take only short walks with frequent rest stops while others hike continuously throughout the day at a leisurely pace. Some choose the most challenging terrain while others focus primarily on the environment.
Guests are flown out to hike at least
once each day. When a hike lasts only a few hours or conditions make a particular
area harder to navigate than usual, a guide calls for a helicopter to move the
group to a more promising location. The apex of the day is climbing to the crest
of a peak, perhaps with snow underfoot, and surveying British Columbia
Accommodations are in Swiss-type
lodges. Food, including picnic lunches on the peaks, is delicious. Every lodge
has a well-trained chef. I stayed at Bobbie Burns, which like the other
lodges, is blissfully free of technological distractions, such as telephones
(there is one for emergencies) and televisions. All lodges offer the amenities
of a full bar, trained masseuse, whirlpool, hot tubs and comfortable lounges
in which guests may read, chat and relax after the day’s activities. Each lodge
allows only 44 guests in over 400 square miles of terrain. Rooms are both single
and double occupancy, each with private bath. Since the quarters are very remote,
all contain main and backup generators to provide continuous electricity.
Bruce Howatt, manager of Bobbie Burns, has been with CMH for 15 years. Originally from Edmonton, Alberta, friendly and approachable Bruce has been an avid climber since childhood and was certified as a mountain guide at the unusually young age of 18. Like the rest of the CMH staff he is experienced and knowledgeable about his field and dedicated to his job. Most evenings he can be found in the lounge talking with the guests and staff. Having the manager at close proximity to answer questions and address concerns is one of the reasons why CMH has attracted a devoted following over the years.
For anyone looking to challenge themselves physically, or just get away from the relentless pace of modern life and unwind in a distant area full of beauty and quiet, I unequivocally recommend CMH. After taking a trip of only a few days, I returned home refreshed and re-energized. Trips run from three to seven days and are organized around the following themes: multi-adventure, lodge to lodge, family adventure, photography workshop, hiking or mountaineering, a woman’s adventure and post-business get away. Consult the CMH website for prices and dates.
Canadian Mountain Holidays, 217
Bear St, Box 1660, Banff, Alberta, Canada T1L 1J6, Phone: 800-661-0252 or 403-762-7100,
Fax: 403-762-5879, www.cmhhike.com