Reaching New Heights

Where: Banff, Canada

The first time you're waiting for your ride -- a 14-seat, Bell 212 helicopter -- you're crouched down, heart racing, in a quiet parking lot south of Golden, British Columbia. When you finally see the chopper, making its way through the vast blue sky, you can't help but be stunned by its power and grace. After it lands, with its propellers loudly whirling, you creep forward and climb aboard -- on your way to hike along the new, helicopter-accessible-only via ferrata (which means "iron road" in Italian) opened by Canadian Mountain Holidays in 2008. As your pilot glides over grassy meadows and weaves between snow-capped mountain peaks, you're quickly rendered speechless. But this breathtaking journey is just the first of many to come over the next few days as you embark on your "heli-hiking" adventure.

Heli-hiking is basically the summer version of heli-skiing. Instead of skiing down immaculate powder-covered slopes, you hike on pristine glaciers, across boulder fields, through flower-dotted fields, and up mountains -- all so remote they're reachable only by helicopter.

On day one, your first stop is at the helicopter-accessible-only Bobbie Burns Lodge. After settling into your rustic but luxurious digs and enjoying a hearty lunch, you'll take off again for an introductory heli-hike in the afternoon. But day two is when the fun really begins. In the morning, your chopper takes you high up into the surrounding mountain range, maybe even landing on a glacier. Following a short walk, it's time to conquer Mount Nimbus, deep in the Purcell Mountains.

Thanks to the via ferrata recently built here, special skills or prior experience aren't required to climb this mountain. You'll use vertical pathways that feature permanently fixed cables for safety and metal rung ladders to aid your movements. But the ascent is still mentally and physically challenging. One of the biggest obstacles is a long, swinging bridge made of wooden planks and cables that stretches between two cliffs. Although it's perfectly safe, it can be awfully scary to walk across. If your heart wasn't pounding yet, it will be now. For the super adventurous, a very high ropes course was added to the route in 2009.

As difficult as this heli-hike can get, there's good news at the end. Your helicopter will always be waiting to pick you up and whisk you back to your lodge for a hot shower, a massage if you want one, and a well-deserved dinner.

Information: Canadian Mountain Holidays, 217 Bear St. (tel. 800/661-0252;

When to Go: July to September.

Getting There: Banff or Calgary Airport.