Eric Larsen, left, who has hiked the North and South Pole along with climbing Mount Everest, stands with Katherine Reuning during a recent heli-hiking trip to British Columbia.
MIDDLESEX TWP — This was a birthday to remember. For her daughter's 24th birthday, Barbara Reuning of Middlesex Township booked a heli-hiking vacation in British Columbia. Heli-hiking takes hikers by helicopter to remote, high-altitude areas that would otherwise take a very fit person a full day of hiking just to access. “Our family enjoys the outdoors and hiking trips,” Reuning said. “Four years ago, we hiked down into the Grand Canyon with family and friends and spent a couple of nights at the Phantom Ranch there. “We've tried to line up similar trips, but making reservations has been difficult. A friend of mine recommended a heli-hiking trip and reservations were easily available.” So Reuning took her daughter, Katherine — now living in the Washington, D.C., area — for a birthday vacation. The two flew into Calgary, Alberta, then took a four-hour bus ride west of that city. A helicopter flew them up to a lodge in the Columbia Mountains, where they stayed with 22 other guests. The next three days consisted of hiking over mountain ranges, boulders and glaciers — with the assistance of a helicopter. “We had a guide with us each day and the helicopter could seat 14 people,” Reuning said. “There were different tours for different tourists, some more physically taxing than others, and you went on the tours you could handle.” The helicopter dropped off a group at 9 a.m. and a guide led the hike until approximately 4 p.m. each day. The helicopter picked up the group at its destination each day “Everywhere you looked, from up in the helicopter to walking on the ground ... it was breathtaking,” Reuning said. “You might be walking through a meadow or climbing up a rocky mountain side.” Katherine Reuning said her birthday has never been such a unique day. “On my actual birthday, we hiked up a ridge and over a glacier, walking through a foot of snow, climbed down a boulder and wound up at a beach, in sand by a lake,” she said. “Experiencing such different territory all in one day was amazing.” They also hiked with Eric Larsen — a man who has hiked the North Pole, South Pole and climbed Mount Everest in his lifetime. “He told us plenty of stories,” Katherine Reuning said. Because the hikers walked together, stayed in the same lodge and ate meals together, they got to know each other. The trip was all about the outdoors. There was no television on site. “The entire scene was so pristine and remote,” Barbara Reuning said. “We saw no signs of human passage on these hikes. Everything was so isolated. “The guides were well-trained and at this time of year (late August) the bears had not made it that high up the mountains yet. They were still down below, eating berries, getting protein and preparing for hibernation.” While her mother had flown in helicopters before, working medical transports for Children's Hospital, Katherine took flight in one for the first time. “Flying above glaciers, through mountain ranges, it was just incredible,” she said.