Going Backcountry When You’re Busy

Heli hiking: it appealed to me more than I was ready to admit. Getting deep into the backcountry during hiking season had always been done under the power of my own two feet, but lately, I wasn’t able to make that happen. Long hikes into remote areas didn’t match up with the limited amounts of free time I had — and remote areas were the only places I enjoyed hiking in.

These were areas that were mysteries to me, places I wanted to talk about and document. I loved areas where fewer of my co-species had seen, remote areas where fewer cameras had snapped frames. But between work and volunteering, summer’s backcountry adventures had been kept at bay.

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Then I got an email from Revelstoke Mountain Resort.

It addressed me apologetically; the on-site heli operation, Selkirk Tangiers Heli Ski, had just opened for their first summer season and they were hoping I could make the trip in a little over a week’s time to join them on a heli hike into the Selkirk Mountain backcountry. And since I was able to work from the hotel before and after the hike, I was in.

I had no idea that work would leave my mind so completely.

The area we were headed was beyond what most enthusiasts trek into, being that it took roughly nine hours by foot to reach. By helicopter it was under 20 minutes, from loading the aircraft to unloading at the landing zone.

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Even though we were in the midst of summer, flying behind Revelstoke revealed a massive amount of skiable terrain. Located along the Powder Highway, Revelstoke’s mountains are known for getting dumped on with light, dry Kootenay powder, and being a skier before anything else, my mind teleported to winter as we passed stacks of ridges and peaks.

But as much as I love the colder season, this was summer — and it was rightfully claiming attention to its own beauty. Glaciers and snowfields drained into crazy intense, aqua-coloured lakes. The scenery was the kind that folks would never see unless they took the required hours to hike to.

Or, you know, fly over.

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We hit the ground and started up. On hikes of this length, I usually I keep my head down. My logic behind the tactic is that you can generally see the top from the bottom and so, with my head down, I’m hoping to be surprised by the progress I’ve made in the interim between glances. And if you were to strip our route down to its basics and describe it, it was simply a long upward ridge to a summit — a hike where you could see the top from the bottom.

But this time, there was no way I was keeping my eyes on the ground.

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Mid-summer ice on turquoise pools, threads of water lacing cliffsides, remains of snow with wave-like patterns baked into their surfaces, rocks with striations seeming to point the way up to our destination: these things kept my eyes darting and my feet moving. The beauty refreshed itself continuously and diverted my attention from the altitude we were pushing up.

There were also horseflies — unrelenting, massive opportunists that did their best to grab a bite. Lacking any animal sightings, I wondered what the heck these things ate when humans weren’t there. All I knew is they weren’t getting their fill on me that day; my skin was doused in spray before take off and the flies now hovered around my body in an even layer, my repellent creating a force field against attacks.

Besides their occasional flight into one of my photo frames, they weren’t able to detract from my day. I felt pretty smug about this. They seemed agitated.

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The air was warm, the company was good, and the rhythm of our movement was interspersed with stops so Jeff, our guide, could point out things to deepen our understanding of the environment. That was when he wasn’t making up stories for the questions he didn’t have answers to. It wasn’t hard to tell when the latter was the case; he usually ended those tales in a chuckle lest someone think, for example, that nearby Ghost Peak was named after a bunch of kids who haunted it with capes (or whatever story he told us).

Reaching the summit destination, the group separated into twos and threes, wandering off to explore the perimeter of the mountain top’s small field. We were overwhelmed by the unobstructed views: to the southwest was the Columbia River draining into Arrow Lake; to the west, the green ruggedness of the Monashee Range; to the north and east, peaks so numerous, humanity had given up trying to name them all.

The day ended with us unloading from the helicopter and loading into seats at the Rockford Grill; everyone with their beer, me with my lemonade, and appetizers shared amongst us all. Looking around, the faces were fresh, color deepened by the sun and exertion of the hike. There was no talk, or thought, of work until that evening when I returned to my hotel room with the intention of catching up on email, only to instead turn to a neglected fictional classic.

Yes, a book. The digital world — and work — could wait.HeliColumbiaSm

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Although she’s a Florida girl, exploration called her away after the final bell of her high school career. Leaving home to journey westward alone, she chased the sun to Utah. Over the years, she was consumed with skiing, climbing, kayaking, mountain biking and getting lost on back roads. But exploration continued to call. After closing her bakery — which funded college courses and adventure — she stored her possessions and hit the road again, on a quest to reach the distant places of North America. For three years she lived in her little Mazda 3 and skied the backcountry of Alaska, slept under the northern lights in the Yukon Territory, ice climbed Colorado's frozen canyons and rock climbed across the continent, photographed Nova Scotia’s coves, backpacked in southern US wildernesses and munched on sugared tamarindo in the jungles of Mexico. But living in a car started to feel limiting, so after seeing the many glories this continent had to offer, she chose the only place fitting for an explorer to spend a lifetime of wild wonder: British Columbia. Dual citizenship in hand, she settled along the Powder Highway in the Selkirks and is now making her home between four walls and deeply wooded mountains. When she's not playing the part of a photojournalist, Gina can be found collaborating with women worldwide through her nonprofit, Outdoor Women's Alliance, and working to improve her outdoor skills and wilderness safety certifications.