- The Washington Times - Friday, June 23, 2006

IN THE BUGABOOS, British Columbia — My holiday in the Bugaboos almost ends as it begins. I am crouched, as instructed, for a helicopter to land and take us to the mile-high Bugaboo Lodge, when the air stirred by the whirling blades — call it chopper backwash — sweeps the glasses from my nose.

My only pair, that is, for on this short trip I stupidly have brought no spares. It happens so quickly that I don’t realize the glasses are gone with the wind until I am boarding the chopper. Hand signals, though, are sufficient to alert the ground crew to what has happened, and we soar away in a Bell 212 to Canadian Mountain Holidays’ Bugaboo Lodge.

Meanwhile, my lightweight glasses with a thin wire frame are somewhere among the waist-high weeds or on the edge of the gravel landing pad, the lens cracked, broken and maybe trampled.

We speed above evergreen trees and land near the mountaintop. Walking to the lodge, I overhear a static-garbled voice say something about glasses. Mine have been found and will arrive with the next chopper load of hikers.

What looks pleasant with blurred vision becomes spectacular with spectacles. Behind the lodge, the aptly named Hound’s Tooth peak juts above the Bugaboo Glacier surrounding it. This is another of those fabulous Canadian mountain vistas.

No time is wasted with Canadian Mountain Holidays in its heli-hiking program — in the winter it returns to its original purpose, heli-skiing. We fill out forms, are outfitted with shoes, waterproof garments, etc., what may be needed in case the weather changes and a sudden storm appears. The luggage has been trucked to the lodge on an old logging trail and awaits guests in their rooms. Some of the rooms show much wood and feel like a combination of cabin and motel, while others are more inspired.

It is lunchtime, and the kitchen performs very well. Meats, fresh fruits and vegetables are kept cool by a generator. We get a brief rest, and then it is time for the first departures for the heli-hiking adventure, which someone has dubbed “heli-strolling” for those who move uphill at a slower pace.

EARLY DEPARTURE

The first morning in Canada began with a quick breakfast at the venerable Banff Springs Hotel in Banff, which is popular with many travelers, especially with tour operators. The dimly lighted rooms do not have enough wattage for reading at night, but this may be because of a misplaced reliance on nostalgia.

Most of the heli-hikers arrived at the Calgary airport south of Banff — Calgary and Banff are in the province of Alberta, east of British Columbia — and many spent a night or two at Banff Springs Hotel or other accommodations in Banff. Some visited other destinations in Alberta, national parks and Lake Louise in particular.

After a brief bus ride to the office of Canadian Mountain Holidays to pick up more hikers and boxed breakfasts and juice, we headed into the Canadian Rockies, crossed the Continental Divide and went into the next range, the Columbia Mountains, which includes the Bugaboos, a subrange.

Helicopters brought departing heli-hikers down to board buses on the first leg of their journey home; we new arrivals were divided into groups for a succession of flights to Bugaboo Lodge.

ON THE TRAILS

At the lodge, guests are informed of the difficulty of some of the hikes and can select one that interests them and fits their stamina — or lounge around the lodge, which few choose. Some hikes are more strenuous and last longer, while others involve gentler downhill slopes, where a helicopter will pick them up to return to the lodge in time for tea, showers and rest before dinner.

Bugaboo Lodge offers more than 100 hikes. Among the most outstanding are:

• Vowell Glacier, with great views in western Canada.

• Septet Traverse, from a ridgeline larch forest through cirques and valleys with glacial lakes.

• Rocky Point Basin, through a green area and a daylong hike up to Grizzly Ridge and magnificent views.

• Rooftop Ridge, noted for a 360-degree view of the southern Columbias.

HEARTY FARE

The air at this elevation is very cool — call it brisk — in the morning just before sunrise and encourages moving about quickly.

Breakfast, like other meals, is served family-style; guests sit at long tables. Breakfast is served at a decent hour, and for those guests who are up earlier, it is worth the wait: delicious thick pancakes — sometimes even more delicious French toast — sausage; fried sliced small potatoes; jams and maple syrup; cheeses; home-baked breads, including bagels; yogurt; cereals; fruits; muesli; porridge (must be oatmeal); and juices, good coffee and tea. There is plenty to condition the heartiest appetite for a day of flight and hiking.

Each lodge has a chef and a pastry chef. The foods at all meals are nicely seasoned, and the homemade soups are outstanding.

Sometimes lunches are packed and are eaten on the trail during daylong hikes. Otherwise, hikers fly back to the lodge and, on occasion, have a hot lunch on a wide rock ledge called Tamarack Glen, where the helicopters bring in food, cooks and hikers.

This is a magical setting; the end of the ledge where the helicopter approaches is an abrupt drop. In the opposite direction, hikers can walk about 100 yards and observe a glacier on the mountain behind the peaks near Hound’s Tooth and a small lake below.

As the chopper brings in hikers from the trail, I think of the film “Apocalypse Now” and then decide the vast ledge is the perfect setting for a new staging of Wagner’s “The Valkyries.” There is plenty of room for Brunhilde to sleep surrounded by the magic fire — and propane is on hand (for cooking our burgers and sausages for lunch). The Valkyries can chuck their spears and use the helicopter rotors as weapons while they swing and sing overhead .

Soon, I have to leave this Wagnerian setting and am in the chopper — my glasses safely in a pocket — headed with the cooking crew back to the lodge. We are headed toward the top of a ridge and pull up to clear it — easing another passenger’s brief white-knuckles attack fearing we will crash into the ridge.

So it is mealtime again. A beautifully presented shrimp-and-crab cocktail; chicken with date stuffing; crisp green beans; thinly sliced yellow squash; a flat pasta; salad; and guava cheesecake with mango sauce. That is quite a feast high up in the Bugaboos. On another night, the roast lamb is delicious.

Also, there are plenty of juices and tea, hot and iced. At night, a bar serves wines, mixed drinks and beers at reasonable prices.

FIVE LODGES

Canadian Mountain Holidays operates five lodges. All are named after the Columbia Mountain subranges in which they are located — except Valemount, which is in the Cariboos.

• Cariboo, the northernmost, a name derived from “halibu,” as 18th-century explorer Sir Alexander McKenzie named the high-altitude deer he found; 29 rooms, 44 guests.

• Valemount, like Cariboo, west of Jasper, Alberta; the smallest lodge, sometimes reserved by families; 10 rooms, 20 guests.

• Adamant, where climbing Serendipity is the peak of a visit to the lodge and where the king of the range is 11,553-foot Mount Sir Stanford, named for an official of Canada’s transcontinental railroad; 28 rooms, 44 guests.

• Bobbie Burns, in such a remote area that hikers from Canadian Mountain Holidays are virtually the only people to visit the area; 24 rooms, 44 guests.

• Bugaboo, which may surpass — if it is possible — the other lodges with the most spectacular view; 35 rooms, 45 guests.

Each lodge has a large stone fireplace in a comfortable denlike setting that is a popular gathering place, particularly before and after dinner.

Canadian Mountain Holidays also can arrange hikes between some of the lodges, offers family programs and can accommodate the solo traveler as well. Private groups may arrange for private guides.

SUSTAINABLE TOURISM

I am impressed with the staff of Bugaboo Lodge, whether they are at their home base or out on trails. They really care about the environment, as do the guests. I see no trash, tin cans or plastic bottles out on the trails.

The lodges were built with systems to minimize energy consumption, and everything that is recyclable gets that treatment. Flights are scheduled not to disrupt the animals such as mountain goats and caribou in the hiking areas.

Canadian Mountain Holidays was founded in 1965 by Hans Gmoser, then a young immigrant from Austria. Mr. Gmoser is regarded as the inventor of the concept of heli-skiing in the mountains of eastern British Columbia. Later, the program expanded to heli-hiking, which would keep some of the lodges open in the summer.

Mr. Gmoser puts it this way:

“We gently intrude, with respect and awe, into the sanctity of these marvelous places, partaking with deep appreciation of what they offer those who come to enjoy them in humble moderation and understanding.”

Canadian Mountain Holidays is the world’s largest heli-skiing and heli-hiking company and has established itself as an international leader of sustainable tourism. Mr. Gmoser has been named to the Canadian Tourism Hall of Fame.

“The first time I stepped out of a helicopter 7,000 feet high in the Columbia Mountains, I realized probably no one had ever walked here before,” Mr. Gmoser. says. “Forty years later, the thrill of exploring these wild places remains, and I look forward to sharing my secrets — from the early years until today — of this spectacular and unspoiled part of our planet.”

Mr. Gmoser will share those secrets with a limited number of participants who can explore and discover the beloved terrain and breathtaking scenery on a hike with him and his wife Margaret in areas only accessible by helicopter. The 11-day trip begins Aug. 20 and visits four of Canadian Mountain Holidays’ best-known areas and lodges in British Columbia: the Monashees, Adamants, Bobbie Burns and Bugaboos, as well as Battle Abbey, a backcountry mountaineering hut in the heart of the Selkirk Mountains

A three-night stay at Bugaboo Lodge costs about $1,850 per person, double occupancy; for a child sharing the room with two adults, it would be about $1,390 more. Most of the heli-hiking stays are between early July and early September.

The dates for the heli-skiing program, which draws skiers from all over the world, are Dec. 23 to May 4 at Bugaboo Lodge.

The price for the trip with the Gmosers is $6,898 per person. For more information, go to www.canadian mountainholidays.com/hike/experience/ specialty_trips.

For more information, go to www.canadianmountainholidays.com; e-mail, [email protected]; or phone 800/661-0252 or 403/762-7100.


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