I’d never flown into the backcountry in summer. My limited helicopter experience always included flying over a landscape concealed in a thick layer of white.
Further, I’ve never been much of a day hiker. Hiking always seemed like a chore; time you put in to get the reward of a less-populated climbing wall or an untouched ski line. Long-distance backpacking was more my thing; I wanted to be up near glaciers, out of the way of humans, and surrounded by things people rarely saw. But, lately, I had no time for that.
My adventure time was confined to hours leftover from an eighty hour work week; backpacking just didn’t fit into that.
In the midst of trying to make it through the dozens of new emails that morning, there was an unusual one: an invitation to join Revelstoke’s Selkirk Tangiers Heli Ski crew. I expected the date to be a few months from now to help usher in ski season.
But my invitation wasn’t for heli skiing. It was for heli hiking.
The concept was entirely new to me — and if it’s new, I’m up for it. I cleared my schedule hit the road north to Revelstoke.
I was torn with the idea of heli hiking; on the one hand, I wanted to believe I could take on the entire journey myself. On the other hand, putting aside the time required to hike into remote areas meant letting my nonprofit work — and the people it served — suffer. And, because of the hours spent working for the organization, I’d been so long removed from those deep backcountry experiences that I could feel my soul withering in front of my computer.
Heli hiking started looking like it could be my solution.
Even if I hadn’t hiked, the flight would have been enough to remind me why being outdoors was so important. My face was pushed against the window, trying to gather in as much detail before it zoomed by. Peaks dipped down into aqua lakes, fed by fields of snow that wouldn’t have a chance to melt before their levels were restocked in winter. Rocky terrain supported the brightest wildflowers, showier than whatever was planted by the humans below.
And the air was still. After the staccatoed whir of the helicopter faded, there was nothing.
Well, there were horseflies, but I thwarted their attacks with a cloud of repellent.
Though the hike was only a few hours along a ridge and a short scramble to the summit, I felt a lot of the same rewards had it been a weekend trip or longer: I was able to get into terrain that I loved more than any other, snatch up the benefits of sunshine and down time, and reconnect with what was tangible rather than reconnecting my internet access. I moved at a slower pace and studied the features we’d flown over, humbled by the chance to be so close to them and see their details in person.
And while thoughts of work flew out mind as soon as we were airborne, all these benefits were squeezed into a trip that didn’t steal time from work projects. If anything, heli hiking offered a mini refresher that increased my productivity. This might become an annual retreat.