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Heli-hiking the Canadian Rockies.

Heli-Hiking The Canadian Rockiers

Heli-hiking is mountain climbing made easy: It doesn't demand anywhere near the amount of time or physical exertion that traditional hiking does. A chopper takes customers quickly from a luxurious lodge to a remote mountain peak to a meadow filled with wild flowers. Best of all, there are no blisters, no sore feet.

This Canadian adventure is unique. You can spend as few as two days or as many as five 'coptering over alpine lakes and giant glacial formations. The helicopter trips are offered in conjunction with tours of the Canadian Rockies that use a traditional motor coach to visit Banff Springs, Lake louise, and Jasper National Park. The helicopters fly from lodges so remote it takes a chopper ride to even reach them.

But beautiful landmakers are only a prelude to the main event. It's quite a change to see the tall mountains, not from the road but from the top, looking down. Suddenly, you're flying with eagles.

The first thing a heli-hiker learns is the heli-huddle (sometimes also referred to as the heli-cuddle). Crouched with eyes downward, your group assembles close together as the helicopter lands a few yards away. You climb onto a bench seat in the chopper, then you're whisked away. Even boarding requires little physical agility. In fact, some of the passengers have "huddled" in wheelchairs, then been lifted aboard.

Perhaps the most scenic lodge is the Bugaboos Lodge, located at the foot of the great Marmolata Spire and the Bugaboo Glacier. It's quite a sight to rise each day and see a glacier shining in the early-morning sun.

All the lodges feature a family-style dining room, a full-service bar, a jacuzzi and sauna, and a small shop for film and other supplies. There is no radio or TV. The only contact with the outside world is by radio-telephone.

Heli-hikers are provided with hiking boots, parkas, and rain pants. Because the weather is changeable, a large, heavy-duty Tauck knapsack is also provided. Cool mornings typically turn into warn days, so it's not uncommon to shed clothing and to stuff it into the knapsack as the day progresses.

Upon arrival at the lodge, avid hikers are placed in one group, slow-moving photographers in another, and nature enthusiasts in a third. How much to move about after landing is totally up to the individual. (People have been known simply to sit on the rocks and soak in the view until the helicopter returns two hours later.) Each group's guide carries a radio for contact with the helicopter.

The terrain is amazingly varied. Flights typically last only five to ten minutes as the copters go from lofty peaks to flower-filled valleys to high mountain ridges. After the chopper departs, all the natural sounds return: the breeze keening through the crags, the cry of an eagle, the rush of glacier-fed streams.

The views from the summits are spectacular, but probably nothing compares to walking on an actual glacier. The glaciers here are remnants of the last ice age, though their individual ice particles are "only" an estimated 600 years old. Like slow-motion streams, the glaciers are continually moving and, during summers, melting. The glaciers are supposedly receding by as much as 25 to 75 feet every years; even so, you'll still be standing on ice packs as much as 150 to 200 feet deep.

Surprisingly, it's no colder standing on a glacier than on normal ground. In fact, depending on the wind, you could even find yourself walking around the ice without a jacket. But both on the ice and elsewhere, dark sunglasses and sun screen are essential because of the tremendous glare.

You'll make up to four different drops each day. The midday meal is served near one of several small lakes. But beware the tendency to eat too much. Otherwise, you'll feel like napping the rest of the afternoon, and the scenery is much too good for that.
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Copyright 1986 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:newest form of hiking
Author:O'Keefe, M. Timothy
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Jul 1, 1986
Previous Article:Little houses on the prairie; pa kept pulling up stakes; ma finally said. "No more." (homes of Laura Ingalls Wilder)
Next Article:Vancouver, B.C.

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