Surely, with a helicopter at your service during a CMH Summer Adventure, you could go hiking in sandals, right? Wrong. It’s a little more committing than that – a lot more committing. The helicopter just makes it really easy to get into some of the wildest, most beautiful, least developed wilderness in North America. When the helicopter leaves, you definitely want boots on your feet.
Snow, mud, dirt, tundra, gravel, talus, sand, ice and solid rock can all be touched in just a few steps. My first time heli-hiking, I was a committed light shoe hiker. I’d hiked all over rugged terrain in the Rockies, the Alps, the Andes, and never needed anything else - at least not in the summertime. So why would I need boots if I had a helicopter to help with the long walk out?
Within a few hours of heli-hiking, my shoes were full of a combination of sand, water, partly melted snow, leaves, rocks and pine needles. It wasn’t that the heli-hiking was more difficult or rugged, it was that helihiking occurs almost entirely off trail. In the environments where I’d hiked before, we walked off trail, and sometimes my feet got wet, but I'd never encountered so many different kinds of terrain so quickly.
After that first trip, I’ve always worn sturdier footwear while helihiking. Even the CMH Guides wear boots. It makes walking in the diverse terrain of the Columbia Mountains so much easier and more comfortable. Lightweight, leather hiking boots are fine, but high top ankle support and protection are essential.
CMH keeps and maintains a high quality selection of boots for guests. I’ve always used my own, but guests who use CMH boots seem to be extremely happy with them. Between trips, the guides clean the boots with a brush wheel, deodorize them, and give them a new coat of waterproofing.
What I learned is that the lightweight hikers are great for long, grueling hours on the trail – but with CMH helihiking there are not long, grueling hours on the trail. If you want long grueling hours, there are plenty of hard hikes, but it will not be on a trail. Instead, you’ll be traversing an alpine wonderland and subjecting your feet to unmaintained wilderness every step of the way.
That’s the beauty of helihiking that people who have never been just don’t realize: helihiking is exploring wilderness in a completely untamed form and, while lightweight hikers are great for the tamed wilderness, they just don’t cut it in the wild.
Photo of hiking on a glacier in CMH Bugaboos.