Monday 16 March 2015

Helicopter Hauling

    Whenever we are walking our dog Skye at the McBride airfield, we always keep an ear tuned for incoming aircraft.  It happens very rarely, but yesterday afternoon we heard the chop of helicopter rotors and after scanning the skies, finally saw the speck off in the distance.  As it got closer we were able to discern that there were two specks.  Down beneath the helicopter was a snowmobile dangling from a long-line.
    The mountains surrounding McBride have become a destination for snowmobilers.  “Sledders” come from Alberta and Saskatchewan to tear around in the deep snow of the alpine.  Of course this means occasionally a snowmobile wrecks or malfunctions and if you are way out in the back country often the only way to get your expensive machine out is to charter a helicopter and pay the big bucks to have your snowmobile hauled out.
    Whenever is see a helicopter slinging cargo I think of an experience that I had while I was working for the BC Forest Service.  There had been a forest fire way back one of the tributaries of the then untouched Morkill River.  Because there had never been any logging in the area, there were no roads anywhere close to where the fire was.  A firefighting crew and camp had been ferried in by helicopter and after a few days the fire had been extinguished and the crew dismantled the camp and they were flown out.  Firefighting equipment and tents were left there.
    I was asked to fly out in a helicopter and collect all the remaining supplies.  I was always up for a helicopter ride, so was flown out and after a 30 minute flight, the chopper landed at the campsite.   The pilot got two big nets out of the helicopter and we proceeded to load the chainsaws, fuel cans, “piss tanks” (hand-tank pumps), polaskis, tents, and cookware into the two nets.  Then the pilot took off and hovered just an arm-reach over my head and I hooked the line from one of the nets onto the rocking underbelly of the helicopter.  This being done, I ducked down and got out of the way of the helicopter and watched as it lifted and then disappeared over the mountains on the horizon.
    When the helicopter was gone I had time to kill until it returned for the second net, and in this void of activity, the thought struck me that I was totally alone in the wilderness, and that there was probably not another person or even a road within 40 kilometers (30 miles) in any direction.  It was a bit of a sobering thought, considering how populated most of the world is.
    Nothing happened during my isolation, and after about an hour the helicopter returned and hovered while I attached the second netful of supplies.  Helicopters weren’t allowed to carry passengers while slinging load, so I had to wait another hour after it’s second load for it to return and pick me up.
    Being all alone in the wilderness, so far away from anyone was one of those unique feelings that I will always remember.

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