As our helicopter rises into the sky, our guide, Ben, scans the clouds and studies the scene below. He points to a nearby ridge and asks the pilot to land on a granite outcropping. Once we’re on the ground again, we duck our heads and climb out of the helicopter onto Four Mile Ridge. Then the helicopter lifts off and our small group is alone, silent, and surrounded by cloud-wrapped peaks.
We are in a remote and rugged part of British Columbia’s Coast Range, above the Bella Coola Valley. The steep valley walls and rugged terrain make this ridge nearly inaccessible—except via helicopter. Today, Ben will lead us on an approximately five-kilometre hike through trail-less wilderness, from the 5,200-foot knoll where we landed up to the ridge’s 5,781-foot high point.
We are only a 75-minute flight from Vancouver, but it feels like another world. A day earlier, my husband and I boarded a Pacific Coastal Airlines Beechcraft 1900 turboprop plane in Vancouver, joining seven other passengers to fly over glaciers, peaks, and high-alpine lakes en route to Bella Coola and Tweedsmuir Park Lodge. Best known for its winter heli-skiing operation, the lodge also has an array of summer and fall activities, such as heli-hiking—which non-guests can also book—in addition to its renowned bear viewing.
The morning of our heli-hike, we eat a hearty breakfast and depart bright and early. Once at the heliport, we take a peek at a wall-sized map of the area to see where we will be heading for the day. After a safety briefing, we load up and are soon airborne.
Landing on the ridge, our group has the mountain to ourselves—apart from a few critters. As we hike, we see signs of Bella Coola’s famous ursine residents—both black and grizzly bears—including scat and tracks. There are also mountain goat prints.
Making our way across smooth granite, we hike among red heather, subalpine fir, and mountain hemlock, our feet sinking deep into patches of soft moss. Blueberry bushes dot our route, enticing us to snag handfuls of ripe berries. It is late August, and the vegetation is tinged with the first subtle signs of autumn—tiny splashes of reds, pops of yellow, and bursts of orange.
For lunch, we devour sandwiches and snacks while soaking up views of the wild land around us. We have worked up an appetite, but not everyone who goes heli-hiking takes an arduous route—some opt for short, scenic strolls or heli-sightseeing, while others embark on more adventurous journeys than ours.
We continue uphill, wandering among small tarns before making our way to the spot where the helicopter will collect us. A shallow, ripple-less pool nearby is a photographer’s dream, and we snap shot after shot as we wait for our ride. Back inside the helicopter, we are asked if we would like to check out a glacier.
Who could say no to that?
We set down on a small snow patch next to the crevasse-covered North Saugstad Glacier, beside a stunning turquoise lake of glacier meltwater dotted with hunks of ice. A smattering of large rocks called glacial erratics sit atop the glacier, waiting to eventually become landscape features as the glacier retreats. A melody of creaks, cracks, and splashes provides a natural soundtrack to our exploration.
Ben makes his way to the lakeshore, returning with a chunk of glacier ice. As he plunks it down in the metal basket holding our gear, he explains that this ice makes the best cocktails. With a refreshing glacier-ice-infused beverage back at the lodge now on our schedule, we take off, scanning for bears, moose, and other wildlife as we follow the line of the Bella Coola River.
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