As we ascend a towering mountain range our pilot prepares us, “It’s going to be another IMAX moment.” Finger on shutter button, I’m ready. We’re touring the largest ice field in North America by helicopter. I have hiked, paddled, climbed and skied these mountains but nothing compares to seeing it all from a bird’s-eye view – the hoodoos, ancient glaciers, rivers and lakes and rugged snow-capped peaks are truly awe inspiring. With a perfectly clear blue sky, our perspective of the Columbia Icefield is unparalleled.
Take Outdoor Pursuits to New Heights
We land in a remote alpine meadow where our small group is led on a short hike. I snap photos of marmot, delicate alpine flowers, scree slopes and a sparkling turquoise lake. Apart from the six of us, there is not another person to be seen. An adventure by helicopter allows you to access places that might take eight or more hours to get to on foot – it’s ideal for those with children, mobility issues, limited time and travellers in search of a dramatic, grand entrance into the wilderness.
I’ve gone on a number of heli-adventures and plan to do more. Like the Columbia Icefield tour, there are a number of guided hikes to choose from in Banff and Jasper national parks, varied in both length and difficulty. I’ve also flown in to backcountry sites to set off on multi-day hiking and camping trips.
Mount Assiniboine, for example, is a stunning UNESCO World Heritage Site accessible only by a 28 km (17.4 mi) ski, hike or helicopter ride. With just four days where we could all get together, my girlfriends and I booked a helicopter to take us and our loaded backpacks into Naiset Huts, the rustic overnight shelters at the fully off-the-grid yet absolutely decadent Assiniboine Lodge. The timesaving allowed us to enjoy three gorgeous autumn day hikes in the area. On our final day, we hiked out.
This trip stands out as one of my most memorable with multiple wildlife sightings including two moose and a grizzly bear mother and cubs, as well as witnessing the alpine larch trees as they changed colour from forest green to brilliant yellow.
What to Bring
Packing for your heli-adventure will differ depending on the season, the destination, the type of adventure and whether you choose a guided or self-guided experience. Hikers should prepare their backpacks with an extra layer of clothing, GPS and/or trail map, first-aid kit, sunscreen, insect repellent, water, snacks, sunglasses and hat. Keep your camera on hand for the flight and give your bear spray to the pilot, who will store it safely. Overnight adventurers are generally limited to 16 kg (35 lb).