He seemed like such a nice guy.
That was the group’s initial impression of our hiking guide, Paul—a mellow, wry humored Canuck. He appeared calm and assuring as he gathered us around to talk about our first hike of the day.
Moments before, the helicopter had gently set us down in front of Howser Towers. The mountain boasts an impressive set of peaks in the Bugaboos, a range within the Columbia Mountains of British Columbia.
The name “Bugaboo” actually means hoax in Old English. Story has it…folks would visit the area in search of gold, but only pyrite (or fool’s gold) was found. The term was also used by prospectors for a “dead end.”
This little-known, vast wilderness is home to sprawling glaciers, hidden meadows, sparkling cobalt lakes, dense forests and jagged crags.
The range runs closely parallel with the Canadian Rockies, which is equal in height and majestic quality. However, the Bugaboos are older by a couple hundred million years. The Columbia ranges attract few visitors compared to their well-known kin.
Their relative inaccessibility makes them difficult to reach, especially up into the most resplendent altitudes. Only the hearty and determined are able to make the arduous trek. But with the help of a helicopter, anyone can experience them.
Heli-hiking is not a new phenomenon. But there aren’t many companies in North America that are true veterans of the experience, like CMH Heli-Skiing & Summer Adventures.
The company has spent more than 40 years perfecting and sharing these mountain adventures with guests of all ages and hiking abilities.
Having a helicopter whisk you away each morning into the deep blue yonder and deposit you in some remote corner to explore is the ultimate luxury in adventure travel. I felt like a VIP as we hopped into the red and white “taxi” and donned a pair of earplugs. It was surreal to see the jaw-dropping vistas unfold outside my window.
CMH separates its hikers by ambition, interest and capability. Each morning, groups are sent out to a new destination in the company of expert mountain guides.
After a short ride, the helicopter deposits guests directly into the high country. The rest of the day is spent traipsing along airy ridges, up and down rocky tors, atop glaciers, and through meadows and woods.
Each group travels at its own pace to soak up the mountain beauty and experience a dazzling feast for the senses. There are no set paths, trail markers, campgrounds or signs of human inhabitance as you hike in this pristine wilderness.
People of all ages travel from around the world to partake in a CMH heli-hiking adventure. They want to breathe the invigorating mountain air, bond with Mother Nature and escape civilization. And often they come with the desire for a personal challenge.
For some, it may be sustaining the endurance to hike for several hours at a time or combating acrophobia while walking on a narrow precipice. For others, it may involve making a steep ascent up to a summit or learning to rappel down a rock wall. Such challenges, big or small, are ripe for the picking.
Along each hike, the guide will share information about natural history of the area as well as its terrain such as geological formations, types of wildflowers and varieties of rocks.
He or she will also dispense advice about hiking techniques such as the safest manner to walk on a glacier or the most effective way to use walking sticks. The company’s guides are dedicated professionals with a wealth of knowledge and experience. But they’re also fun individuals, each with entertaining tales to tell and different personality quirks that endear them to the guests.
Be wary of “guide speak” though. My group learned this terminology the hard way. We dutifully followed Paul, our fearless leader, through endless valleys colorfully dotted with Yellow Monkey, Silky Scorpion Weed, Paintbrush and Fireweed. We dipped our feet into numbing cold Wonder Lake and hiked up to a massive glacier. All this in the course of a morning.
After a picnic lunch, the helicopter came and took us to another spectacular spot to continue our rambles. At this point, Paul offered our group several choices: hike around a lake, meander in the nearby hills or make “a relatively easy climb” up to Aluette Ridge.
He claimed the views of the Ballroom (an area of meadows surrounded by peaks) were grand and expansive. We fell for the ploy about the views and voted for option three.
The “easy” climb we expected had us scrambling up a steep, rocky slope and clawing onto clumps of moss in search of a place to catch our breath.
It gave us time to think about what we were going to do to our beloved guide once on level ground. Thoughts of impaling this nice young man with our hiking poles and seizing his radio in mutinous fashion were mumbled—first quietly, then louder—as the climb intensified.
We began to entertain ourselves by coming up with names for our ascent like “Needle Point Peak,” “On Shredded Knee” and “Paulgatory” – our version of purgatory.
Paul steadily kept pushing us onward with words of advice and encouragement, while torturing us with his “we’re almost there” mantra.
There were doubts among the group as to whether our labors would be aptly rewarded. Yet when we reached the top, each one of us was rendered speechless by the eye-caressing, lump-in-the-throat inducing view that stretched for miles in all directions. And we were able to see just how far we had climbed, which pumped us up with pride. It was then that we understood “guide speak.”
Paul had initially presented the situation without going into extensive detail, knowing full well that most of us would have opted out if we knew the extent of the climb. He had confidence in our abilities, and once we committed to making the ascent, he was there to motivate us forward.
CMH currently operates three backcountry lodges (Bobbie Burns, Bugaboos, and Cariboos), which serve as bases for the company’s heli-hiking operation in the summer. Each has its own individual character, but all of them emulate the European alpine tradition. And they’re built with state-of-the-art systems to minimize energy consumption and waste.
The Bugaboo Lodge’s is situated on a prime piece of land offering guests a drop-dead view of the Bugaboo Glacier and the unique Hound’s Tooth rock formation.
Food is an important aspect of any hiking endeavor. Rest assured, you’ll never go hungry when you stay at one of these lodges. Healthy, delicious cuisine that uses plenty of fresh Western Canadian ingredients is innovatively prepared and served family-style in the dining room, where both guests and staff eat together.
Folks tend to gather around the fireplace in the cozy living room or at the small bar adjoining the dining area before and after dinner to regale one another with stories of their hikes and conquests.
There is also a game room, a fully stocked retail shop, an exercise room with daily stretching classes, and an expansive deck to take in the glorious surroundings. And if you’re looking to soothe those sore muscles after a long hike, head upstairs to the rooftop hot tub or book the massage therapist for a session of bliss.
You’ll find the staff to be personable, hospitable and genuinely caring folks. They share a passion for their work and the environment, and never tire of sharing their “office” with others. Many have been with the company for years and are proud of the CMH reputation for excellence.
They treasure the opportunity to introduce people to this special piece of paradise. And they never tire of watching the emotional reactions and powerful transformations that occur when guests interact with nature on a personal level.