British Columbia: heli-hiking takes visitors to dizzying heights

By Ann Britton Campbell

Meridian Writers' Group

IN THE COLUMBIA MOUNTAINS, B.C.-Jordy Hein is feeling anxious about crossing the 50-metre cable suspension bridge that stretches between two granite spires in the remote mountains of eastern British Columbia. He's not alone.


Gaps between the 90 planks that make up the bridge surface allow plenty of space through which to see the valley floor that is a vertical kilometre below. Truth be told, all 10 members of our climbing group, including me, my two teenage sons and my husband, are nervous about the crossing. Perhaps even a bit terrified.


Fellow climber Shawna Fisher recommends a little musical motivation. "Just hum the Indiana Jones theme," she says sweetly, obviously remembering the suspension bridge featured in the Temple of Doom movie. Hein looks incredulous. "Didn't that bridge break and people get shot at?" he asks.


In the end we all attach the safety ropes of our climbing harnesses to the bridge's thick steel cable and summon the courage to walk over the abyss. Once across, it's a steep climb up a cliff-edge route to the top of the second spire. At the summit, we-all mountaineering newbies, if you couldn't tell-whoop and high-five each other for reaching 2,650 metres on such a challenging route.


The climb is one of the extraordinary helicopter-assisted adventures available with Canadian Mountain Holidays. Each summer this Banff-based company repurposes its luxurious ski lodges to bring warm-weather hikers to the thrillingly remote Columbia mountain range, west of the Canadian Rockies.


My family trip is based out of the rustically elegant Bobbie Burns Lodge. For three days we rise early from duvet-covered beds, eat a hearty breakfast, pack a gourmet lunch and load in to a Bell 212 helicopter for a quick ride in to the high alpine. It feels so decadent: "like eating the tops off all the muffins" is how one avid heli-hiker describes the experience of catching a lift to the drop-dead-gorgeous landscapes seen rarely by even the most hard-core hikers.


Under the watchful eyes of our guides, we trek through alpine meadows, beside glaciers and along mountain ridges. At the end of each day the helicopter whisks us back to the lodge for rest, relaxation and delicious meals served family-style at long wooden tables.


The hands-down highlight of our trip is the six-hour climb up, over and down the two granite towers that guides have named Mount Nimbus. (These mountains are so remote that many remain, officially, unnamed.) Mere mortals like my family are able to safely complete the climb thanks to the via ferrata (Italian for "iron road"), a high-alpine route equipped with fixed cables on to which we clip our safety ropes, and iron rungs that we use when hand and foot holds are scarce.


The ultimate leap of faith comes near the end of the climb when, after descending part way down the spire, we rappel 60 metres back to terra firma. Pushing off into thin air, trusting in the skill of our guides, who've secured our thick ropes, is terrifying and exhilarating and life affirming. Indiana Jones would surely approve.





For more information visit the Canadian Mountain Holidays website at .




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