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There is nothing like it when a bucket list item turns out to be more amazing than you had ever imagined. But a helicopter ride over the Canadian Rocky Mountains left me speechless. Although I grew up in Calgary, Alberta, at the foot of the Rocky Mountains, I had never seen them like this.
I was making travel plans to Calgary last summer for the latest in a string of sad family occasions, when I mentioned to my cousin that I had always wanted to take a helicopter ride over the Rockies. We have recently reconnected as a result of our family losses. And, dealing with a serious health issue himself, he was quick to seize the moment. We needed something ‘uplifting’. Fortunately, we were able to book a tour with Alpine Helicopters on relatively short notice. Alpine Helicopters operates out of Canmore, about an hour-long drive west of Calgary, and offers tour options lasting from 12 to 60 minutes. We chose the 30-minute Mount Assiniboine Glacier Tour.
Of course, helicoptor tours are weather-dependent, and on the morning we set off from Calgary, the forecast and the skies were threatening. We were due for some luck. It didn’t rain a drop, and the clouds put on quite a show, shifting and changing throughout the day.
After our arrival, and a short safety video, we had lift off!
The Three Sisters
After flying over the Bow River Valley, the helicopter tour paused for a grand view of the Three Sisters mountain peaks – – the iconic backdrop for the town of Canmore. It was a sight often seen on TV during the 1988 Winter Olympics, when Canmore hosted the cross-country skiing events. The town is less touristy than Banff, while the scenery is no less stunning. You can actually hike to the two larger mountain peaks, known as the Big and Middle Sisters. I found the view from the helicopter to be breathtaking enough, thank you!
The Spray Lakes
Next up on the tour, the Spray Lakes Valley. The lakes go on for miles and are now connected by a reservoir to provide the drinking water for Canmore and area. As we flew through that valley, it felt as though the awe-inspiring beauty of the place was ramping up with each passing vista, like a crescendo in a musical masterpiece.
The Goat Range Pass
To this point, our ride had been surprisingly smooth. As we climbed to just over 3000 metres (10,000 feet) to pass over the Goat Range of mountains, there were a few mild bumps along the way (as you can see in the video), but nothing at all startling. The startling thing was what was on the other side.
Marvel and Gloria Lakes
This is when our jaws dropped. My cousin and I shared a brief glance, our eyes bugged out as though we could hardly believe what we were seeing. We were gob-smacked at the iridescent colour of these two lakes at the base of Aye Mountain and Mount Assinboine. The stunning colours of the lakes are not the result of Photoshop, but rather, “rock flour”, sediment that is pushed into the water by the glaciers as they move. The rock flour becomes suspended in the water and reflects the light to produce the fabulous blue and green colours. In any case, it’s simply spectacular.
Hovering over a Glacier
How often do you get to say, “And then we hovered over the glacier for awhile”? It was brilliant.
The Matterhorn of the Rockies
Mount Assiniboine has been called the ‘Matterhorn of the Rockies’ because of its pyramid-shaped peak, which rises to just over 3600 metres (11,800 feet). The partial cloud cover for our visit added a certain air of mystery. Certainly, the mountain plays an intriguing role as it sits along the Great Divide. One one side, all rivers flow to the west and drain into the Pacific Ocean. On the other, they flow to the Atlantic and Arctic oceans. It stands as a massive symbol of nature’s power.
During those 30 minutes of the flight, we forgot about our troubles and could only admire and marvel at the inspiring beauty of our home province. At the start of the flight, Alpine Helicopters had provided to each of us a headset with a microphone, so that we could talk during the flight.
The truth was, we had no words.