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« In the Footsteps of Georgia O'Keeffe: A Walking Tour of Northern New Mexico | Main | On Tap in Alaska, Wildness, Microbrews and Midnight Sun »
Wednesday
Sep082010

Becoming Bodacious in the Bugaboos: A Canadian Heli-Hiking Adventure

bodacious: adj. excellent, admirable, or attractive. ORIGIN: Boldacious. Blend of BOLD and AUDACIOUS.”  - Oxford English Dictionary, 11th edition.

“I’m off to the Bugaboos.” Just saying it, feels bodacious; though I am neither bold nor audacious by nature. What I am, unfortunately, is heavier than I’d like (thanks to a love affair with chocolate), and I can rationalize my way out of a morning run faster than you can say Mocha Grande. So why am I traveling solo to the Canadian Rockies for a Bodacious Girlfriend Getaway heli-hiking and yoga vacation. Why not?

The simple purity and intense beauty of the West has long been a place where dream seekers can indulge such brazen fantasies unfettered by the hard facts of reality. Turning intimidating concepts into inspiring life-enhancing adventures, in fact, is what Canadian Mountain Holidays (CMH), has been doing since 1965 when they first started ferrying skiers by helicopter into the remote mountains of British Columbia.

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“Welcome to my office,” says Lyle Grisedale, a professional CMH hiking guide and designated ‘bodacious bro’ on our women-only getaway. A courteous bon vivant with enough Irish devilment in him to fit right in with the girls, Grisedale is equal parts superhero, spiritual guru and mountain goat. Beyond his outstretched arm, tower the wild and jagged peaks of the Bugaboos –a granite mountain range in the Purcell Mountains of eastern British Columbia.  A stunning land-sea of serrated ridges, turquoise lakes, lush meadows, and blue-tinged glaciers surround us.

Only a few hours earlier, I’d scrambled aboard a twin-engine Bell 212, 14-passenger helicopter at the CMH helipad (near Radium Hot Springs) after a scenic two-hour drive from Banff. The ten-minute flight to the Bugaboo Lodge, one of 11 self-sufficient, eco-sensitive lodges run by CMH, provided a thrilling, IMAX view of snow-capped peaks, evergreen forests, glistening snowfields, and wildflower-filled valleys sandwiched between rocky ridges. By comparison, it would have taken two full days of hard walking to cover the same distance.

There are ten of us Bodacious Babes (a title kindly bestowed upon our group by the rest of the 44 Bugaboo Lodge guests). The Babes, I discover at a pre-hike group dinner in Banff, are ALREADY excellent, admirable, or attractive. I find this particularly daunting because, well, I was hoping to BECOME bodacious. And those yoga bodies. Come on. How bout a little slack here. I feel like an imposter, and am ready to call the home office to trade-in my babe status for a non-bodacious dance card. But the Babes will have no part of it.

“It’s amazing. You clear your mind while rejuvenating body and soul. Maybe it’s the fresh mountain air. Or the skinny dipping,” says Glenda, a model-beautiful family physician from Calgary returning for her second Bodacious getaway.

“Angie is the best there is,” says Ellen Slaughter, the passion and inspiration behind the CMH girlfriend getaways, of the lovely yogini and Bodacious co-host, Angie Smith.

“If I can do it, you can,” quips Shira, a world-savvy NYC urbanite. “I mean, my idea of a hike is walking from Midtown to the Lower East Side.”

I knew I wanted a hiking vacation that would kick my butt. And I knew that, come the end of a kick-ass day, I wanted comfort: hot tub; steam room and sauna; healthy gourmet meals; massage; and yes, when my legs won’t take me one step further and my lungs are screaming for oxygen, a helicopter ride home. So sue me.

In fact, it is the tantalizing blend of High Country wilderness, post-adventure pampering, friendly professional guides and the ease of access that helicopter-assisted hiking offers that is the real magic of the CMH experience – keeping dreams and sweat intact.

It can take a fortune to outfit a hiking expedition, not to mention trunk-sized luggage to carry the gear required for backcountry hiking, but thankfully CMH provides most of the specialized equipment necessary. Upon arrival, each guest is outfitted with technical, waterproof, leather hiking boots, day pack, water bottle, walking stick/ski pole, hooded jacket (wind and rain resistant), rain pants, and mountaineering gear (for the truly gutsy) to be returned at the end of the trip.

The concept is simple. Early each morning, the Babes congregate in the lodge’s yoga room, some clutching a steaming mug of tea, others, like me, stumble in still bleary eyed from sleep. Before us, a wall of glass frames the beautiful Bugaboo Range and Spires as morning light paints the peaks purple then pink. Together, Angie leads us through a series of breathing exercises, warm-ups, yoga postures, and meditations, giving concise but detailed instructions. The tension in my body releases and my mind finds stillness in the steady breathing. By the time we break for breakfast, I am more flexible, stronger, calmer, more balanced and centered.

Our days are spent fleet-footing it in the wide-open spaces of the alpine backcountry, transported each morning by helicopter to terrain chosen mindfully by CMH staff to best suit the group’s fitness level, the day’s weather, and successful cohabitation with the moose, bear, goats and wolves who are the only residents here.

Following our fearless leader, Lyle, we traipse across hairline ridges, race wildly down scree-covered slopes, and hoof it through an untrammeled topography of granite and sandstone, glacial streams and shattered shale that chimes like breaking glass under our footsteps. No iPhone app, no wii fitness, no modern technology – just a primeval landscape of mountains, rivers, lakes, waterfalls and glaciers a mere 75 million years in the making.

By late afternoon, seemingly at the very moment when we have had enough, a helicopter arrives to take us home. A half-hour later we are simmering in the lodge’s hot tub or sidling up to the bar to recap the day’s adventures over a chilled microbrew or glass of wine before dinner.

At night, we party. Kinda. At least until 9PM when we’re too pooped to party. By then, we’re grateful for a soak in the hot tub beneath a star studded sky, a comfortable bed or radiant heated flooring in the bathroom.

But it isn’t just helicopters and hot tubs that make a CMH heli-hiking vacation the epitome of adventure travel. After all, the Internet swarms with amazing adventure travel trips, each as exotic as the next. The difference is this: If your hiking boot is digging into your ankle in a way that no moleskin or rearrangement of your socks can fix, your guide will notice and radio the helicopter to bring you three other brands of boots in two other sizes that might work better.  If you’re allergic to gluten, or diabetic, or lactose intolerant, you will receive specially prepared meals customized to your tastes and tolerances.  No ceremony. No fuss. Just delicious. If you have a need, anything, before you even realize you have it, someone will notice and remedy that need. That’s the difference. 

I think of this as I climb into the helicopter for our final flight back to the helipad. There is something wonderfully cozy about the scene before me. The Babes giggle and chat with the other lodge guests we have gotten to know over meals, in the steam room, over drinks at the bar or raucous ping-pong games. CEOs sit side by side with yoga bodied suburban mothers, Internet entrepreneurs, doctors and lawyers, gangly teens and Teva-clad grandmothers. I catch snippets of conversation. “Let’s keep in touch.” “You look younger than you did a week ago.” “This is our 18th CMH vacation [wow!].” “I wish I didn’t have to go.”

I’m home a week, settling back into my quiet life in the rural mountains of southern New Mexico, when a ping on my BlackBerry alerts me to a new E-mail. It’s from Head Babe, Ellen Slaughter. In true CMH style, she has taken the time to write a personal note. “Ellen - You are in every way the definition of Bodacious….remarkable, gutsy, voluptuous, impressive and beautiful. I’m so happy you were able to join us this year. Finally, I have a Bodacious namesake.” In this moment, I smile, set down the phone, and go out for a morning run. The Mocha Grande can wait.  

About Canadian Mountain Holidays (CMH Summer Adventures):

Offering heli-skiing since 1965, Canadian Mountain Holidays is the oldest and largest heli-skiing and heli-hiking operator in the world. From their head office in Banff, Alberta, CMH operates helicopter adventures from 11 different areas located in the Bugaboo, Purcell, Selkirk, Kootenay, Monashee, and Cariboo ranges of British Columbia, Canada. Helicopter skiing takes place from December through April. Summer adventures including hiking, walking, mountaineering, and via ferrata adventures take place from July into early September.

 

About Ellen Barone: Consumer travel expert Ellen Barone is the founder and publisher of TravelUpdatesbyEllenBarone.com and YourLifeIsATrip.com. She’s currently at work on her first book - I COULD LIVE HERE. Stay connected on Twitter at,FacebookGoogle+, Pinterest and LinkedIn or click here to learn more.

Reader Comments (6)

Thanks, Ellen, you summed it up perfectly!
September 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMelanie Hnatiuk
By the way, I think you are as bodacious as they come!
September 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMelanie Hnatiuk
Reading your amazing article made me cry happy tears remembering our 3 1/2 days together in mountain splendour. I so loved the time we all shared. I miss you. You are forever a Bodacious Babe extraodinaire! Ellen
September 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterEllen Slaughter
Way to go, El!
September 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKathy
What a fabulous experience! Thanks for highlighting this adventure, and sharing great photos to boot.
September 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKim Walker

Thanks for the kind words, Kathy and Kim.

It truly is a magical way to enjoy nature.

Ellen

April 30, 2013 | Registered CommenterEllen Barone

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