From Banff, 4,538ft above sea level at the foot of Cascade Mountain, I embarked upon one of my most memorable, stimulating and challenging expeditions ever: a unique heli-hiking tour from Adamants Lodge at 1,100m (3,608ft) in the Selkirk Mountains. Travelling by helicopter, we followed the course of a serpentine blue river snaking its way between green banks along the valley floor, eventually landing at the lodge, which was perched on a ledge and surrounded by mountain peaks. As soon as we were settled and had finished lunch, we were flown over these same landmarks. Again following the path of the valley, we were soon deposited on dense snowfields; an amazing transformation from the morning because mountains previously forming a backdrop were suddenly all around us! We were totally immersed in mountains, with blue sky and grey-edged, almost purple cloud overhead. A relatively easy introductory walk brought us to an unbelievably blue, perfectly oval patch of water in the snow, the only adverse thing being the biting wind. Here, in this black-and-white world above the tree line, looking down at the surrounding mountains, it was awesome.
Walking on, small clumps of purple flowers brightened the rocky brown terrain between the glaring white of pristine snow, the green valley still visible far below. The helicopter coming to collect us appeared like a black dot against the snowy slopes. The second hike was longer and traversed country that was more rugged. Snow was sparse here, but the reds, browns and greens in plants and stone, which included slate and marble, were stunning. Even though at a lower altitude, I found it difficult and required assistance. I do not often concede defeat, but although I failed to reach the aimed-for summit, I felt pride in what I managed to achieve. The highlight was my first attempt at ‘bum sliding’, which looked easy when our guide careered down a steep gradient, but nobody forewarned me that after the initial descent, the compacted surface becomes more slippery, and consequently faster; I executed the whole episode on my back, luckily cushioned by my pack! Our guide took a film of this whilst admonishing me to dig in my heels to arrest my headlong flight; she nearly dropped the camera as I tobogganed, shrieking with laughter, towards her!
The next transfer deposited us on the crest of a green ridge with pretty white flowers, from where we were to work our way down, which also looked easy from afar but was a different story when attempted. Ringed by snow-capped mountains, our ultimate goal was a very green tarn (small mountain lake) at the foot of fertile slopes with pockets of snow, purple and white alpine flowers, the red of Indian paintbrush, and pine trees, all of which it reflected. The return flight took us over another incredibly blue lake, at times almost flying into mountains, their craters packed with snow. Back at the lodge, I experienced the thrill of seeing (from the window of my room!) my one and only male moose; up to his shoulders in a field of purple flowers, he was a magnificent beast. Weighing up to 1,600lbs, standing about six feet tall at the shoulder, and with a spread of four to five feet, the moose is the largest antlered animal on earth.
The following day saw us flying over dense forests to land at another high-altitude venue, the unblemished snow highlighted by rays of sun in a cloudless blue sky. Waterfalls created from run-off were the only sound to mar the complete silence. We came across a rodent-like animal, its tail resembling that of a beaver, which beat a hasty retreat over the white landscape interspersed with patches of purple and yellow-green that had managed to secure a foothold between rocks. We were treated to a sumptuous BBQ lunch, during which a small black speck on the tallest peak was pointed out to us as our helicopter, and we were told that we were in for a surprise after the meal. This was a stark wind-buffeted location, its towers and pinnacles of red and grey rock relieved by snow supplemented by puffs of fluffy white cloud. In contrast, a stunning green meadow with a meandering brook, red and white flowers and a waterfall lined the valley floor and, with its perimeter of mountains, was a basis for perfect pictures.
Moving further, the water increased in volume and strength, and we reached a glacier hanging above a blue lake where white flowers raised their heads above green grass. Then it was time for our surprise. We were ferried over ridges that one could almost lean out and touch, to land on the very summit where it had been pointed out that the helicopter had stood earlier in the day, which was barely larger than our machine. We disembarked, and turning on the spot I panned 360º to achieve staggering film. It was an exhilarating experience.
On our next hike, I was fortunate to catch sight of a running fox, albeit from afar, and found ‘strawberry’ snow caused by some minute plant life within. Once again on the helicopter, we approached a high forceful fall cascading down to feed a tangle of streams flowing along the valley floor. A second helicopter flew across the face, and then it was our turn. We hovered close to the water and then flew over the top, our shadow below and the torrent jetting into the wind to form a rainbow. Through the spray-spattered shield, I took more fantastic film of valleys with intricate river courses fluctuating from white rapids to blue or milky turquoise, rugged ranges softened with perfectly smooth slopes of fresh snow, and a group of climbers nearing a summit.
And thus concluded my heli-hiking adventure.