GLACIER KAYAK­ING

Pos­si­bly the most beau­ti­ful place on earth

Outdoor Lifestyle Magazine - - Contents - PETER VOGLER - WHISTLER, BC

We are fly­ing up and up and out of the Fraser Val­ley in south­ern Bri­tish Columbia, the green patch­work of farms and fields dwin­dling away be­low us while we carry on up over the first peaks of the Coast Moun­tain range and into a deep blue sky. It is mag­nif­i­cent.

Be­lieve it or not we’re go­ing glacier kayak­ing, the new­est recre­ational ad­ven­ture dreamed up by our youth­ful pi­lot Nick Drader, the sole pro­pri­etor of Com­pass Heli Tours. Drader points out and com­ments on var­i­ous land­marks be­low, for­est al­ter­nat­ing with mighty peaks and thun­der­ing rivers and man this is some­thing. The chop­per thun­ders around us yet we can all hear him de­scrib­ing the view clearly through noise can­celling head­phones. Makes me feel very cool.

We spend a half hour or so fly­ing over the moun­tain ranges spot­ting bear and moose and could those be moun­tain goats? The goats are hard to make out be­cause we have to keep a man­dated dis­tance due to their pro­tected sta­tus. We must fly a min­i­mum of 500 me­ters above them and 2000 me­tres around them. Drader ex­plains that these tough re­stric­tions ex­ist be­cause once star­tled the goats tend to per­ma­nently leave the area. Still, you can oc­ca­sion­ally see them in this once in a life­time set­ting, travers­ing our pris­tine Cana­dian wilder­ness.

Drader comes by his fly­ing skills hon­estly, be­ing the son of a long­time pro­fes­sional pi­lot. His dad’s com­pany D.K. He­li­copters be­gan in heli-log­ging 35 years ago but that in­dus­trial fo­cus quickly mor­phed into some­thing more en­vi­ron­men­tally sat­is­fy­ing. The chop­pers were mod­i­fied into heli-crop­pers, which can har­vest pine cones from the tops of trees with a unique ap­pa­ra­tus that hangs be­neath the belly of the he­li­copter. These har­vested cones are then sorted and de-seeded and used to re­for­est the pre­vi­ously logged B.C. wilder­ness.

Af­ter ten years as D.K. Heli-Crop­per’s chief pi­lot, Drader found him­self sit­ting alone and lonely in a crappy mo­tel in north­ern Al­berta wait­ing to use the chop­per for wild­fire sup­pres­sion when a ques­tion popped into his head. “Is this all there is?” For­tu­nately he re­al­ized that there was in­deed more for him: he pos­sessed the skills of a flyer, an en­gag­ing per­son­al­ity and the deep knowl­edge of a lo­cal out­doors­man. The per­fect com­bi­na­tion for a he­li­copter ad­ven­ture guide.

We’re fly­ing in his favourite chop­per, an A-Star, be­cause it has enough power and com­fort to carry the five of us plus all the sup­plies needed to go glacier kayak­ing (in­clud­ing the kayaks). A few us were a lit­tle con­cerned about get­ting sick on what might have been a ver­tig­i­nous flight but Drader’s skill holds us steady and smooth. And then out of nowhere there it is – a hulk­ing raw glacier spilling into an aqua­ma­rine glacial lake.

When I say aqua­ma­rine I mean a blue/green like you’ve never seen be­fore, the wa­ter straight from a glacier tens of thou­sands of years old. AND COLD! The wa­ter and the glacial ice all em­anate a brac­ing fresh­ness that is hard to de­scribe; some­thing no one can bot­tle. Some of the lake is still frozen but the edges have be­gun to melt cre­at­ing two sap­phire rivers that we are go­ing to pad­dle up to­day.

This is not wa­ter that you want to roll your kayak in! For­tu­nately, these are float­able kayaks (or pad­dle­boards, if you pre­fer them) that are next to im­pos­si­ble to roll. We take it easy and pad­dle up to the tongue of the glacier in un­der two hours. On the way back we stop and ad­mire some lichen and newly awak­en­ing grasses, even a cou­ple of anemone flow­ers. By the time we get back we are starv­ing!

The lunches are sub­stan­tial and de­li­cious, cre­ated by Lett Mar­ket, a lo­cal pur­veyor of home­grown or­ganic foods. Even the meats on the gi­gan­tic sand­wiches are or­gan­i­cally sourced from ei­ther the Lett farm or their own spe­cial ranch­lands to the north, where the cat­tle roam free and graze on the nat­u­ral grasses and grains of B.C.’s Cari­boo re­gion.

With such hefty lunches I can see why Nick needs a high-pow­ered he­li­copter! And it sits there at the wa­ter’s edge while we re­fuel our­selves; hav­ing done so we re-en­ter the chop­per and wind our way back up over the glacier and then down and back to where we started in the Fraser Val­ley.

What a trip, what an ad­ven­ture! I ask Drader what is the best thing about do­ing Com­pass Heli Tours. By far, he says, “it’s that just about ev­ery sin­gle per­son I’ve taken up tells me ‘It was the best day of my life!’”

it was the best day of my life!

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