Nine years ago, a few friends decided to start a hiking group. And not just any hiking group, but one where they fly to remote locations in a helicopter.
The four Qualicum Beach men, all in their 70s, have been doing so for almost a decade – camping, exploring and hiking together during an annual trip in July.
Roger Griffiths, the guide for the group, has been doing outdoor expeditions for 40 years. He started in England and then in Canada – teaching climbing, backpacking and more along the way. He also has an expedition to the Himalayas under his belt, which he says was a “long, long time ago,” with a laugh.
He took a break from the lifestyle for a few years while working for a municipality, but had his passion reignited when he retired to Qualicum Beach 14 years ago.
“A couple of the guys in our walking group were talking about doing something and they knew I’d done some stuff, so I just said, ‘well I’ve got a few places we could go,’” he said. “And that’s how it started.”
Fast forward to last month, the group was able to make it up to Tweedsmuir South Provincial Park in central B.C. Griffiths said he chose this location, like he often has, by scouting around for places on Google Earth. Things he looks out for include: alpine terrain; spots that are above 6,000 feet and, of course, good hiking. Griffiths and the group flies in on a helicopter to their base camp and then does day hikes from there.
“This year, it was quite windy and stormy, but we did a hike every day and had two really nice, sunny days,” he said. “We’re all good friends and know each other quite well, so it’s pretty relaxed. Now, after nine years, we’re into a routine. I do the cooking, they do washing up, I decide where we’re going hiking, they toodle along with me.”
Geoff Relph has also been there from the beginning and said it’s been a true pleasure being lead through hidden areas of the province by Griffiths.
“We are truly privileged to have the wherewithal to whistle up a helicopter and go flying off into the backcountry, I absolutely recognize that,” he said. “Having said that, it’s been fantastic over the last nine years and naturally, we’ve seen grizzly bear and caribou and moose and sheep and fox and wolves.”
Looking forward, Griffiths said the group is probably going to call next year their last. For their 10th year, they plan to return to the same spot where they first started nine years ago at Iron Pass in Pemberton.
“We thought that would be a good thing to do,” he said. “[We’re] a bit slower, but that’s OK. We adjust. We’re all getting a little bit slower, but we all still do pretty good hikes.”
“I think we’re not an average group, we’re very lucky to be very healthy. Two of the guys are still playing soccer on a regular basis, I work out, I snowboard,” said Relph.
“So, we’re an active group and a healthy group… that’s the story, a bunch of old guys have been hiking now for nine years, hoping for 10.”