6 Things I Forgot about Heli-Hiking, Continued
Well, as I said in my blog a week or so ago, I didn’t really forget these six things; they just re-announced themselves cheerily as soon as we got back into the Heli-Hiking curriculum.
Seriously memorious readers of The Adventure may recall that the first two-and-a-half things I sort of forgot were: 1) Just how on the ball and charming CMH’s staff is. (And not just in the air and in the lodges. Quick story: I have a trusty old Tyrolean-style hat, festooned with pins from places I’ve visited around the world. We were up in the Bobbie Burns on our Lodge to Lodge hike to the Bugaboos when a spunky little squall forced us to shelter behind some rocks. Somewhere between re-layering and zipping and fiddling around in my pack, that well-traveled hat zipped off into the ether. I was sure it was lost, destined to become an archeological oddity. A couple of weeks later we got a call from CMH. The hat was (amazingly) found, it was lovingly transferred from the glorious Alpine down, down to Banff, where it was carefully packaged and FedExed down, down to the Northern California Wine Country where it is normally stationed. My thanks to the sparky and efficient CMH office staff!)
And, 2) I’d kind of forgotten how much fun (and how unobtrusive) the helicopters are. (I have an English friend who always accuses me of being a Boy’s-Own-Adventure junkie. But those super-cool helicopters: wow!)
And then I got into 3) The world-classness of CMH’s guides. Their excellence at natural historying, their alert leadership, and their ability to engage with their clients. Here’s what I’d like to add: If CMH devoted one of their lodges exclusively to climbing and mountaineering guests, and staffed it with a cross-section of its guides-who-are-climbers, that lodge would immediately become North America’s--heck, the Western Hemisphere's--number one guided-climbing destination. I’m pretty familiar with guided climbing in this half of the world, but if you think I’m wrong, tell me (and if you think it’s an interesting idea, tell CMH). So, take a bunch of talented, rigorously trained guides, add a stunning collection of climber-infatuating mountains, throw in the range and ease-of-approach of helicopters, and you’d have an absolute sensation.
On to 4), the lodges.
Whenever I grab people by the lapels and begin raving about Heli-Hiking, one of the (largely American) prejudices I seek to smash is that a “wilderness lodge” is either a Coleman-lanterny shack, or it’s an overblown mega-resort with naturish pretensions.
To me, CMH’s lodges--I’ve Heli-Hiked out of six of them over the years--qualify as wilderness-based; there’s not much, if anything, but very naturish nature for miles all around. (One of CMH’s marketing challenges has always been that Heli-Hiking, as invented and practiced by CMH, is impossible to imagine in the United States; I hope to blog about this in detail soon. But when I’m on a proselytizing roll, I sometimes make the not-entirely-crazy claim that “Heading north from Bugaboos, CMH’s southernmost lodge, it’s just wilderness, pure forest, tundra, and ice wilderness, all the way to the North Pole!”).
(And, of course, within seconds of walking into one of the lodges, you know with concrete certainty that this is no shack.)
I admire CMH’s lodges for the intelligence and crafty unpretentiousness of their design, on a macro and a micro level. The big picture: The common rooms are airy, commodious, and warm, good places to settle into an armchair for a chat, or to scarf up hors d’oeuvres after a day’s hiking. And then there’s the inspired CMH tradition of bringing guests together in family-style dining (with staff; this is a brilliant, bonding touch). And on a micro level: The rooms are specifically, and subtly designed for Heli-Hikers and Heli-Skiers (as opposed to passers-through). They’re simple but inviting, easy to navigate, luxurious in that all you need is right at hand.
The lodges exude what CMHers call "huettenzauber", a German word that means "Hut Magic" or as I like to say "you’ve got to be in a real funk not to feel heartily welcomed."
5) I was pleased to be reminded that my fellow Heli-Hikers are invariably a pretty interesting bunch. And how fun it is to trade travel stories and hiking stories and just plain stories with people from all over the place. And to share the world-unique Heli-Hiking experience in such an informal, small d democratic environment.
On our last Heli-Hike we hung out with a fascinating couple from innermost Manhattan and a couple of hiking fans from Hong Kong. (I made a rash statement one day--one of the few I’ve ever made, you’ll be glad to know. I called some sylvan spot, “The place on earth least like Hong Kong” (a place that entrances me, by the way). They reminded me that Hong Kong is not utterly urban (and just now, thanks to the miracle of the internet, I learn that “70 percent of Hong Kong is undeveloped open land, 40 percent of it officially preserved in 23 Country Parks, four marine sanctuaries and four major hiking trails.”) You can learn a lot from CMH’s cosmopolitan clientele but, more importantly, you’re likely to meet new friends.
6) I’m running out of steam here, and you probably are, too, so I think I’ll save the sixth Thing I Forgot About Heli-Hiking for another time. In case you’re curious, it’s incontestably the A Number One best thing about Heli-Hiking….
Editor's Note: What do you think are the best things about Heli-Hiking? Share them here!
Photo: Guests getting ready for their first helicopter flight of the day at the Bobbie Burns Lodge by Topher Donahue.