Possibly the most beautiful place on earth
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!