One Month in Geologic Time – Part Two: Heli-hiking in the Purcells

Heli-hiking?  Me?  The woman who boasted for decades that she would never use mechanical assistance to reach a mountain top?  I guess old age teaches humility.  Not only did I go heli-hiking for six days, I loved it.

Not surprisingly, heli-hiking tends to the luxury side of wilderness experiences.  It’s certainly not as off-the-charts expensive as heli-skiing, but Canadian Mountain Holidays uses the same lodges and provides the same high standards in selecting the guides, chefs and other staff.

View from the lodge

Bobbie Burns Lodge

In this part of British Columbia the undergrowth in the forest is pretty thick and there are few trails, but if you put your mind to it you can reach the hilltops after a few hours of slogging.  I found that I didn’t object at all to being deposited above the tree line shortly after 0900 each morning by our handy helicopter.

One of many helicopter landing sites.

Using a helicopter doesn’t mean that you don’t do strenuous hiking: you just start higher.

We hiked up for the view

So many wildflowers compete for growing room in the meadows that one must stick to the narrow paths to avoid crushing them.

Alpine meadow in full summer array

Other days we climbed higher beside massive glaciers.

Guide Jody

Lunch by a lake

Lunch with a view

Lunch was always in a scenic spot.  There were too many lakes, too many mountains, too many glaciers to remember the names.  I walked, gazed in awe, overwhelmed by the beauty of this area.

Mountain, lake and reflections

Out of the rocks, a lone flower triumphs and blooms.

Alpine Chinese Lantern

In other places the flowers run rampant.

River Beauty and Pearly Everlasting

Sometimes you just want to sit and enjoy.

Jody surrounded

I didn’t do all of the activities that were offered; a Via Ferrata (metal rungs driven into vertical rock to allow safe climbing) seemed too strenuous to be enjoyable.  But I did finish my three days at Bobbie Burns with a ride on their zip lines.

I ride the zip line

Next morning I would hike toward the second lodge of my week: Bugaboo.

One Month in Geologic Time Part One: Mistaya Lodge

I had to get out of the city.  For the last six months almost everything I had seen, heard, smelled or touched was made by humans or altered or managed by us.   I needed to reconnect with the planet, to regain perspective on my existence.  What better way than to immerse myself in geologic time?  I headed for the nearest mountains, in this case the Canadian Rockies, Purcells and Bugaboos.

In a tiny high valley just west of the Continental Divide lies Mistaya Lodge.

Mistaya Lodge

Accessible mainly by helicopter, this little piece of paradise is one of my favourite places.

Arrival and departure by helicopter

I try to come here at least once a year, and as soon as I arrive I can feel the noise and stench of the city fade from memory.  It takes a little longer to let go of my defences and open my eyes to every sight, my ears to every sound, my nose to the scent of the conifers.  One can spend hours simply enjoying the view from the lodge or walking around the lake.

View from the lodge

Reflections in the lake

Juvenile gull that spent a few weeks on the lake

Of course, in summer I come for the hiking.  Being slow and having bad knees, I usually hike alone.  In solitude I can stop to marvel at the beauty of a single flower, pause to track a bird that keeps disappearing in the branches, sit and watch a ptarmigan fuss over her chicks, or wait for the ground squirrels to get over their alarm at my presence and return to stuffing their cheeks ridiculously full of grass to carry back to their burrows.

Trails lead through forests and meadows, sooner or later turning into more or less well-marked routes or free wandering.  In this circular valley one cannot get lost, but the easiest way to one’s destination is not always clear.  At one point during the week I was frustrated by impenetrable brush and resorted to following a series of grizzly bear diggings (I correctly assumed that bruin was a better route-finder than I was).

There are flowering meadows.

Return from Moon Dark meadows

Magnificent uplands

Rock and flowers

Occasional cairns to show the way

Guide and owner, Dave Birnie, builds a cairn

Karst holes

Karst hole

And alpine lakes.

Long Lake

Leprechaun Lake

After a day of hiking I return to savoury snacks and a cold beer at the lodge.  No, I haven’t given up backpacking, but the older I get, the more I appreciate the luxury of food that I don’t have to carry, cooked to perfection by someone else, and served in a comfortable lodge.  Weather, mosquitoes and horse flies permitting, we sit on the porch in the late afternoon, eating, drinking and watching a flock of rufous hummingbirds fight over who gets to use the feeders.

Snacks on the porch

End of a perfect day

Rufous hummingbird

After eight days in this glorious wilderness I feel refreshed, alive and full of anticipation for the next adventure.  Some of my best memories of this sojourn will be the flowers.

Glacier lilies in August?  Only in the Alpine!  And that little anemone should have gone to seed weeks ago.

Glacier lilies and western anemone

The mountain avens are also early bloomers, but the snows were deep this year and lingered long.  The moss campion, at least, is blooming on schedule.

White mountain avens

Moss campion


I always hate to leave Mistaya, but I will be back in March to enjoy a week of snowshoeing or skiing.