A Wintry Heli Tour

Bill and I have been married for 25 years now, and we decided to mark that momentous occasion with a special treat: a helicopter tour over the places that we’ve been hiking, snowshoeing, photographing, adventuring, skating, cycling, and picnicking our way through the years.

IMG_0188A helitour would give us a birds’ eye view of some adventurous milestone locations for us as a couple. It is the sense of exploration and adventure… in landscapes close to home and in our travels abroad… that have helped us bond over the years. Those adventures have given us a shared purpose and history, and so they’ve connected us deeply. They’ve helped us parent our children, make strong friendships, develop a few unique passions… and given us a wealth of experiences that have helped us feel ever-so-alive.

Celebrating 25 years while also exploring our old haunts from a new perspective seemed the perfect adventure on a sunny winter day. It was touch and go whether or not we could go on the actual anniversary date, given the very cold (-30C) temperatures we’ve been having here lately, so we ended up going a few days late, on New Year’s Day, instead. And so, we’ve rung in the New Year with a terrific, adventurous start.IMG_0215.jpg

Our journey began, flying over our home in Three Sisters, and then on up and over the Three Sisters Pass and into what the locals call “the Spray” (that area of the accessible Kananaskis backcountry that surrounds the Spray Lakes reservoir), and then on into Banff National Park, touching down on the shores above Lake Aurora near Mount Assiniboine Lodge.

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We were doing the longest route on this map.

One of our hopes was that we’d see the point that connects the two sections of the Three Sisters Pass route that we’ve been able to accomplish so far… we’re so close to completing the route (if you’ve been following along on this blog for a while, you’ll have read of some of our attempts to gain Three Sisters Pass from the town side and connect it to the drainage on the Spray Side). It looked so simple from the air! Ha! We gained no good beta though, as the recent spectacular snow fall obscured the terrain detail

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Three Sisters Pass lies in that V-shape.
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Heading over the forests, covered in snow and frost, was such a beautiful thing.

We flew over Spray Lakes, the huge body of water that we skated along two weeks ago when the surface was swept clear of snow and had frozen as smooth as glass.IMG_0254.jpgOur helicopter pilot, Isaac, did us a bit of a favour and went off his route slightly, flying closer to Old Goat Glacier, so that we could see the top of the glacier that had been hidden to us on the hikes we’ve done up there. It was such a treat to see its size and shapes and its blue depths from above.

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Old Goat Glacier lies on a rather steep slope of the Goat Range. Where we’d hiked in the summer has been up that steep slope from below.

IMG_0138.jpgOur route took us over the continental divide, that great jagged line the separates Alberta from British Columbia. Alberta lies on the side where everything drains to Hudson Bay & the Atlantic Ocean; BC lies on the side that drains to the Pacific Ocean. And its boundary is demarcated by a jagged line, connecting the tallest of the peaks along the spine of the Rocky Mountain range. It’s quite a sight to see, passing over top of that narrow spine!

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Approaching Mount Assiniboine, one of the Continental Divide peaks, known as the Matterhorn of the Rockies, we could make out the blue ice of its spectacular glaciers in its shadow.
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As we got closer, we could make out that blue colour that is unique to hard, highly compressed ice. Known as the hanging glaciers, they are spectacular!
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Seeing the glaciers up close was incredible! Each one of these icy blue towers dwarfed our helicopter!
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Seen from above, you can really see the way the glaciers flow, like rivers.
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Some glacial ice played hide ‘n seek through the new snow.
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It was really something to see some of the precipitous drops… and to fly over them, watching them disappear through the glass below you, far, far below your feet.

It was really a very gentle ride, even though we were going  160 miles/hour (almost 300km/hour with a tail wind, at one point!). Watch the video below and you’ll see (though you might want to do it with no sound).

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Approaching our landing spot, we got closer and closer to those frosted trees.

We touched down on the shoulder above Lake Aurora in a spectacular area of buried larch trees and old pines. IMG_0204.jpgThe snow was incredibly deep and powdery and covered the landscape in a brilliant cloak of white. The air was crisp, and we had a bit of an inversion, making it not quite as cold up there, and the sky was a brilliant blue.IMG_0184 2.jpgWe put on snowshoes and explored around the slopes and gullies for a bit, amazed by the beauty (and by the tops of trees that snagged our snowshoe cleats beneath our feet! Yup! That’s how deep the snow was up there!).

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Some of the trees towered over us, caked in snow and frost and set against the brilliant blue sky.

 

IMG_0194Bill had brought along a small bottle of champagne for us to celebrate our milestone… and we drank it out of our metal hiking glasses, while taking in the beauty of the landscape, the absolute silence of the sound-deadening snow blanket, and the comfort of our companionship.

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The champagne was certainly icy cold!

Then we romped about and played a bit in the deep snows…. IMG_9497.jpgIMG_0213.jpg

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At one point I got a bit stuck. The snow was incredibly deep!
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Looking down to the shores of Lake Aurora.
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Looking down one of the gullies… it was SUCH a beautiful place to explore!
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You could see the buds of the larch trees, poking through the snow on their knobbly branches.

We had such a blast, before it was time to re-enter the helicopter and get belted in for our route home. IMG_0219.jpgIMG_0234.jpg

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Taking off was really something as the wash of the helicopter blades blew a wintry squall of snow around us.
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Our timing was perfect as the skies were darkening behind us as we left the area.
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Looking far down below, we could see the Spray River as it meandered through the valley at our feet.
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Despite the cold, as the river approached the reservoir, it was flowing, open water, due in part to its movement, and to the action of warmer springs that feed it.
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The snowy peaks extend off into the distance like a series of cresting ocean waves. We have explored SO LITTLE of this vast, vast area! You can see the Mount Shark ski trails if you look closely in the forested shadow of that mountain.
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We flew over the wavy pattern of the sandbars in the lake ice far below.

On the way back, we passed by familiar Kananaskis hikes like Sparrowhawk Tarns, Tent Ridge and Wind Ridge. We flew close by Windtower, with its towering cliff and long ramp approach… 

 

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We had lain on our stomachs, overlooking that cliff and seen far, far down to the animal tracks through the scree at its base.
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The smaller peak on the left is Windtower, and the one on the right is the larger Lougheed peak.

We passed alongside Buller mountain, where we’d hiked the Buller/North Buller circuit, Guinn’s Pass, and Ribbon Creek before.

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Buller Mountain… that one was quite a climb!

And then we re-entered the Three Sisters Pass, hugging close to Big Sister, and then passing over the forests with their matchstick trees…IMG_0268.jpgIMG_0265.jpg…and the Bow river with its inky curves below before finishing our date back on the helipad.

Being a tourist in our own backyard was a fun way to begin 2018, and this year’s adventures! We loved it!


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If you go…

We used Alpine Helicopters out of Canmore and booked a private tour so that we could touch down, get out of the helicopter, and explore. They run tours winter & summer, and have even done a wedding up at our landing spot!

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Isaac, our helicopter guide/pilot… an awesome guy!

Alpine Helitours were running about an hour behind our booking time when we arrived, which was unfortunate (given that we were dressed in LOTS of warm gear! and they never called to give us a heads’ up), but we had a great time once we were up & away. Our pilot was very friendly and knowledgeable and we felt very safe in his care. He clearly loved his job and said it just never gets old… and he gets to live in Canmore!

If you do it in winter, you can bring your own snowshoes, which would making getting in and out of your gear in that deep snow a far easier thing to do, but the ones they have for you to use are good quality.

There’s no doubt, it is expensive… but it’s one of those bucket-list, once-in-a-lifetime things and well worth the exhilarating splurge. Their 15 minute fly over tours are far more reasonably priced.


Click here for more terrific hiking adventures in Kananaskis Country (Canmore Area). And check out more hikes from Canada and our adventures around the world here.

21 Comments on “A Wintry Heli Tour

  1. Congratulations on the anniversary, Sheri and Bill. The scenery is stunning. Thanks for taking me for a ride. Happy New Year to you and your family!

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  2. What a fabulous way to celebrate an anniversary! I’ve always wanted to try a helicopter ride, but since I’m a little afraid of heights and get motion sick quite easily, I’ve never actually done it. Which means I appreciated your photos all the more, since I got to “see” what you saw through them. And wow, is it beautiful! Happy Anniversary!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank-you! I wondered what the motion would be like, and whether I’d feel a bit of vertigo, especially with the glass beneath my feet and the winds of the passes buffeting us about… but it was quite smooth and the views so distractingly beautiful. I actually really enjoyed it when we came close to the fin of a skinny peak, and then watched the incredible drop off on the other side as we went over it, and saw the ground plummeting away.

      Thanks for stopping by and giving this a read. And happy new year to you, Ann.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Happy New Year and a Very Happy 25th Anniversary, Sheri and Bill. What a great way to celebrate. That champagne in metal goblets looks to be pretty chilling… glad to see you were well dressed for the weather, and had a designated driver/flyer. Cheers to Isaac your guide and pilot. It must have been a special treat, given your familiarity with the area -being able to do the flyover like an eagle! The scenery is beautiful, with treetops peaking through the snow. Desolate and wild, bone-chilling. Thanks for sharing.

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    • It was really special! There’s something really unique about being on that pristine snow, with tree tops poking up through the pillowy drifts! The landscape is truly transformed with that winter coat. We intend to hike in to that place in the summer to see what it is like then, but it’ll be a doozy of a hike (25km or so)… we’ll have to research it a bit and pick one of those long summer solstice time of year days in which to do it.

      We never really thought about the chilling effect of drinking from metal glasses in those temps! (And yes, as a kid I did stick my tongue on a metal door handle, so I know, so me where deep down inside, what happens!!) Oops! I guess we’ve got more to learn/relearn in the next 25!

      Happy New Year, Mike! Thanks for the well wishes and comments. And thanks for stopping by.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. What a spectacular start to 2018! And celebration of all that you’ve done together and the years that lie ahead. 🙂 🙂 Many congratulations to you, and happy Happy New Year!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Wow! Those views are gorgeous and a little scary! You’ll thought of the perfect way to celebrate 25 years of being together. 🙂 Here’s to the next 25 and an adventure filled 2018!

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  6. First of all, congratulations on your 25th anniversary! What a wonderful thing to do to celebrate. I love the champagne in the hiking glasses. Stunning scenery! You’ve given me some ideas (ours is coming up next year).

    Liked by 1 person

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