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By Diane Spicer
Heli-hiking: a brief taste of heaven!
Definitely a walk (and ride) on the wild side of hiking.
Here's how I know:
One summer, my husband and I were looking forward to leaving for a week of hiking at a hike-in back country lodge near Golden, B.C.
A few days before our trip (as in two), we received word that a portion of the access road to the trail head had been washed out by a rainstorm.
Every hiker can sympathize with the sinking feeling you get when your well-planned hiking trip is washed away before your eyes.
What to do this late in the summer?
A frantic search of Canadian hiking lodge websites revealed an option we had never before considered: heli-hiking.
Lots of questions!
And the only way to find the answers: go for it!
We quickly agreed that if we could find room at the inn (so to speak) on such short notice, we would indeed go for it.
Long story short: we did find a lodge that had room for 2 people the following week.
And most of our questions were answered, one way or the other.
Something we weren't quite prepared for: the heli-hiking trip was seven days of an addictive taste of high country heaven.
More!! Give me more!!
All told, I've been on 6 different types of heli-hiking trips, and each one was glorious in its own way.
I highly recommend it.
However, this type of trip requires careful planning and consideration.
Sift through a few pros and cons as you begin to daydream about the possibilities...
Why you should heli-hike:
1. Quick access to areas you wouldn't be able to hike into, or at least not hike into easily or quickly. The helicopter ride alone will blow your mind with hiking possibilities.
2. Spectacular scenery from the helicopter, from the lodge, on the trails... it's non-stop WOW, so practice not blinking. I've seen grizzly bears, wolves, big horn sheep and lots of other big animals from a helicopter.
3. Amenities that make many days of back-to-back hiking easier.
like I promised, a slice of hiking heaven.
4. If you're a social sort of person, you'll enjoy meeting like-minded people from all over the world.
One lodge we stayed at had German, Japanese, Canadian, American, and Swiss hikers all under the same roof during one week in July.
5. Here's a chance to do some hiking which might be considered somewhat risky (remote, high country with opportunities for scrambling, glacier travel, terrain exploring, wildlife encounters which could get dicey in a heartbeat) while having a safety net:
6. Some lodges have marked trails & mapped routes, others have rudimentary routes which can be easily followed, while others require a guide.
Be sure that your expectations about hiking are realistic: read the website information carefully, call the owners, and do some background research on the terrain, using free software from Google Earth or World Wind.
If you need a wide, easy to follow trail, some lodges may not be for you.
On the other hand, if you like to go off exploring (safely) on your own and can promise to avoid taking unnecessary risks, you want to find a lodge which allows you to skip the guided hikes.
Be sure you can borrow a radio and some bear spray.
7. And if you want to do away with the idea of a lodge altogether, I know a secret: in Canada, you can find companies that will helicopter you into the back country and LEAVE YOU THERE!!
With food and shelter, no less. Just you and the bears...
How cool is that??
What should give you pause:
Helicopter fuel ain't cheap.
Neither is food at high and/or remote elevations.
It costs what it costs to haul you, and your provisions, up onto the mountain.
And safe, trained pilots flying regularly maintained helicopters need to be paid for their expertise.
Don't forget trip insurance! Be sure a helicopter evacuation is part of the policy.
If price seems to be your deciding factor, look around for shorter trips: 2 or 3 days are moderately priced, and perhaps will motivate you to save your pennies for a bigger trip.
It certainly did for me!
I graduated from 7 days to two weeks in remote locations at a time. [If I had my way, I'd stay out in the back country all summer.]
2. Environmental impact.
You'll need to offset your carbon footprint throughout the year before and after your trip by walking to work, telecommuting, ride sharing...
Another factor: Noise pollution.
Disturbing the wildlife and hikers below you may bother your conscience.
3. Lodge goers.
Larger heli-in lodges may draw some "interesting" folks who are not into hiking as deeply as you are.
If you're a hard core hiker, be sure to choose a small lodge (12 guests or less) which allows you to go out on your own every day, rather than being confined to group hiking.
Or provides two guided options for hiking each day, of differing ability levels.
And before you book, be sure you understand what "heli-hiking" means - a quick 10 minute trip after spending an hour in an old van on winding logging roads to reach the staging area?
Or half an hour flying over spectacular scenery to reach the lodge?
Or daily excursions from the lodge?
Read the fine print, or call up the lodge operators for details.
If you have special dietary needs (food sensitivities or allergies, for example), have a detailed conversation with the person in charge of meals.
Don't rely upon a quick phone call to whoever books the lodging (a bitter lesson learned).
You want to know that you will have access to the proper food in adequate amounts during your stay so you don't impair your ability to hike day after day.
And that you won't be shamed or blamed for your "weird" eating habits.
5. Weight and space limits:
Every passenger on a helicopter is limited to a certain number of pounds for hiking equipment and personal items.
Don't cheat: you, and your gear, will be weighed at the heli-port. If your gear is over the limit, you'll have to leave some of it behind.
This weight limit is probably a great idea, because it forces you to consider carefully whether or not each piece of gear, clothing and comfort items is necessary.
And when you pack, think about the contours of a helicopter to avoid rigid, suitcase type luggage. There is only so much space in these flying wonders!
If you have any doubts about your ability to safely board and unboard a helicopter, have no fear.
The helicopter pilots who fly the heli-hiking routes will give you a safety briefing, and will be very, very clear about which areas of the copter are off limits.
If you load or unload "hot" (helicopter is running), move with calm deliberate actions, keep your head down, and hang onto (or better yet, don't wear) your hat.
Well, there you have it.
The good, the bad, and the tempting.
I certainly hope that I've tempted you into thinking about planning a heli-hiking adventure, it's an experience you will never forget.
Let me know if you have questions - use this CONTACT link.
And if you go heli-hiking, please send some photos!!