Above the Clouds: Heli-Hiking in the Bugaboos

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Guest Post by Josie Heisig

Hiking up, up, up into the alpine usually takes many hours and much grunt-work. That’s when having a chopper comes in handy. Decadent? Absolutely. Worth it? Oh yeah. We’re talking about an unforgettable trip.

Heli-hiking has been around for 40 years, but it’s still largely under the radar. Canadian Mountain Holidays invented it in the Bugaboos — an area so remote you likely won’t see another soul. Lift-off is from a heli-pad near Radium Hot Springs in the southeast corner of the province. Fifteen minutes later, the massive granite Bugaboo spires come into view, and so does the renovated, 33-room CMH Bugaboo Lodge.

Hiking past wildflower meadows and across snow.

Hiking past wildflower meadows and across snow. Photo: Lyle Grisedale

Hiking on a glacier in the Bugaboo Mountains.

Hiking on a glacier in the Bugaboos. Photo: Lyle Grisedale

“Go to the highest places whenever you can,” says Dave Cochrane, manager of the lodge, which is 1,500 metres (almost a mile) above sea level. It’s not a bad motto when you have a helicopter at your beck and call. Shale ridges, deep blue glaciers, alpine meadows in full bloom — a short flight from the lodge takes you to any number of glorious vantage points.

Flying out of the alpine for lunch.

Flying out of the alpine for lunch. Photo: Ryan Bavin

Getting in and out of the chopper is part of the adventure. For take-offs and landings you huddle as a group and hold on tight; the rotor can create hurricane-force winds and blow your sunglasses off. Hopping a helicopter means more time in picturesque places. Hard-core hikers will feel at home in the rugged terrain, but so will those who prefer a more leisurely pace. CMH guides split the guests into groups depending on interests and abilities.

Panoramic views while heli-hiking.

Panoramic views while heli-hiking. Photo: John Entwistle

Thrill-seekers challenge the Skyladder Via Ferrata (Italian for “Iron Way”). It’s a half-day vertical journey up the side of Mount Trundle — no climbing experience necessary. Strategically placed metal rungs help you navigate. So do CMH’s guides and guests, who shout encouragement when the going gets super-steep.

Above the Clouds: Heli-Hiking in the Bugaboos 1

The register at the summit of Mount Trundle.

The register at the summit of Mount Trundle.

At the end of each day the lodge is a welcome sight. Yes, it’s beautiful and luxurious, but it’s also the kind of place where people kick back in slippers with a book, a glass of wine, and a snack in the lounge. The food is so plentiful and delicious the staff jokingly warn guests about getting “heli-belly.”

Above the Clouds: Heli-Hiking in the Bugaboos 1

A three-night, all-inclusive trip will set you back a little over $3,000 per person — a splurge, but an unforgettable holiday. Watching the sun rise over the iconic Bugaboo spires, and then sink behind them at the end of a spectacular day, is a memory of a lifetime.