A higher state of consciousness

Anyone for a spot of yogic flying? Chris Leadbeater heads to the Canadian Rockies, where mountain meditation comes courtesy of a rather noisy helicopter

When the silence recovers its composure, it does so with authority. It seems to wash over everything – the surrounding mountains, the patches of scrub on the ridges, the boulders that cling to unlikely gradients. I close my eyes, try to pick out a sound. There is nothing.

Of course, there is a chance that my ears are still adjusting to the sudden shift in volume.

Six minutes earlier, I was in the process of being deafened, the blades of the helicopter howling even as I stood on the scales by the terminal, having my weight checked ahead of the flight. Then we were clambering aboard, four of us in the belly of this metal vulture, headphones and lip-microphones affixed, allowing us to speak amid the roar.

The noise increased as we leapt from the ground, Cline River Heliport diminishing, the shape of Abraham Lake – a crooked, beckoning finger – becoming more identifiable as we rose. Within seconds, the only witnesses to our progress were several bighorn sheep, looking on aghast from a lushly grassed slope.

They too fell away as we soared onward – fir trees a blur of green – before dropping on to a clearing flat enough to enable the helicopter to land.

This contrast between calm and clamour is all part of the plan. The disappearance of the latter – which fades as the chopper picks up its feet and returns to the valley – is a hint that I am now, along with my fellow adventurers, "lost" in the wilderness.

But we are here to escape – and we will do so by hiking along sparse trails, breathing the clear air of lofty altitude, and indulging in a spot of yoga in a section of the Canadian Rockies that guards its privacy. Were it not for the helicopter, the only way to reach this high outcrop would be a day of sweat and toil, climbing ropes slung across shoulders, blisters on weary soles.

The remoteness of our location is instantly obvious. We are perched 2,195m (7,200ft) up on a crag that sits in the V-shaped intersection of two waterways. On one side, Cline River Canyon ploughs a north-westerly furrow. On the other, Coral Creek Canyon claws a route west, slicing through rock towards the spine of North America's most iconic mountain range.

Here, especially, the cloud-scraping drama of the Rockies deserves applause. Yet there is no one here to clap but us. It is 30 miles west to the fabled Icefields Parkway, where the motorhomes of myriad holidaymakers chase road-trip nirvana, lolloping past the slow-flickering tongues of ancient glaciers.

It is 100 miles east to Red Deer, where "civilisation" re-emerges in this dormitory town between Calgary and Edmonton (the two key cities of Alberta). Give or take the occasional soaring eagle or wandering bear, we are on our own.

And we need to start moving. Though this is summer, a chill hangs on the breeze, and the ghost of winter waits by some of the paths, haunting the scene in stubborn dabs of white.

So we begin walking, heading loosely back towards Abraham Lake. In parts, the going is easy. In others, the terrain kicks up, causing calf muscles to complain. Elsewhere, the land plunges and I find myself staring into the abyss, frozen above a descent of giddy depth.

After an hour at a fair pace, we push through a cluster of bushes and onto the Wedding Knoll. Its name is a clue to its personality. Blessed with a 360-degree panorama, it is used by Cline River Heliport as a setting for marital occasions.

The same characteristics – a direct line of sight across to a phalanx of mountain shards opposite, peaks clustered like a colossal coxcomb; the sky wide and epic – make it an ideal site for a little group exercise.

I am a long way from being an expert at yoga. But against such a backdrop, there is a quiet thrill to slipping off my boots, unrolling a mat and drifting again into hilltop silence.

At one corner of the square into which we form ourselves, Martha McCallum, the leader of our band, has rather more knowledge of this peaceful discipline.

A yoga practitioner for more than 20 years, she has been staging these helicopter-powered forays into the upper realms of the Rockies since 2008. In an earlier existence, she ran a café in Canmore, a ski town just outside Banff National Park. It is not difficult to grasp why she fled from the kitchen.

"Breathe in. Let yourself sink into your surroundings. Look around. Take in the beauty,' she says, running us through a series of poses that stretch sense and sinew: the arched back of Downward-Facing Dog; the bowed head of Dolphin; the upthrust arms of Warrior I. Despite my relative unfamiliarity with these movements, I find myself subscribing to the situation.

Through the mat, I can feel the mossy softness – seasoned with the odd pebble – of the ground below my toes. Dashes of sound that were hidden in the aftermath of the flight are now perceptible: the murmur of water on the edge of the clearing; the rustle of an unseen animal, rooting in undergrowth; the faint cry of wind, flowing around the peak.

It is an eventual wrench to break out of this reverie. But there is food to be eaten. Packed lunches – prepared by our hostess, a nod to her catering days – are handed out. There are meaty sandwiches and sticky flapjacks, boxes of salad and piles of fruit. A healthy feast.

As we are chewing, a jet's vapour trail gouges the firmament. The aircraft is invisible, but given the context, this seems a gross interruption – a burglar alarm at 4am; a mobile phone in a library; a coughing fit during a ballet performance. Yet it is also a reminder that the cord has not been cut. One call on Martha's radio will summon the helicopter. Sure enough, it bursts forth at her order, audible long before it is present. And despite the fact that the alternative – a complex trek downwards – is unpalatable, I am sorry to see the taxi arrive.

Travel Essentials

Getting there

British Airways (0844 493 0787; ba.com) and Air Canada (0871 220 1111; aircanada.com) fly to Calgary from Heathrow.

Visiting there

Martha's Heli-Hikes, Cline River Heliport, Highway 11 (001 403 609 0824; marthashelihikes.com). The "Soaring Spirit Heli-Yoga" package costs from C$429 (£268) per person, and is available from May to September.

Touring there

Timeless Travel (0844 809 4299; timelesstravel.co.uk) offers an eight-night "Timeless Alberta" road-trip package that involves a drive from Banff to Jasper along the Icefields Parkway. From £1,460 per person, including flights, accommodation and car hire.

Staying there

Baker Creek Mountain Lodge, Bow Valley Parkway (001 403 522 3761; bakercreek.com). Doubles from C$165 (£103), room only.

More information


general electionThis quiz matches undecided voters with the best party for them
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen starred in the big screen adaptation of Austen's novel in 2005
tvStar says studios are forcing actors to get buff for period roles
Prince William and his wife Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge show their newly-born daughter, their second child, to the media outside the Lindo Wing at St Mary's Hospital in central London, on 2 May 2015.
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Ashdown Group: Technical IT Manager - North London - Growing business

    £40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A growing business that has been ope...

    Recruitment Genius: Technical Supervisor

    £24800 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As one of London's leading Muse...

    Recruitment Genius: Centre Manager

    £14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Guru Careers: Accountant

    £28 - 45k (DOE): Guru Careers: An Accountant is needed to take control of the ...

    Day In a Page

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before