Through their work, helicopter pilots are afforded an incredible opportunity to bear witness to the beautiful landscapes that exist on our planet. In their ‘extended back yards’, they enjoy nature in a way that can’t be experienced through road-accessible parks. Nick Drader and Compass Heli Tours wants to share that experience. They are offering varied glacier adventures to individuals who want to see what lies in the backcountry of British Columbia.
By Kevin Majoros
An appreciation for the environment and a passion for sustainability
Drader grew up as an outdoorsman and served as a crew member with his father’s company, D.K. Heli-Cropper. The company specializes in wildfire suppression and aerial tree seed collection to replenish logged or burned forests. His initial dream was to fly for the Canadian Coast Guard but that evolved into commercial helicopter pilot school at age 18.
Drader has been flying for over ten years with his father’s company in Western Canada’s remote wilderness. The experience led to his passion for sustainability of our natural resources.
Since 2007, he has personally collected over two billion tree seeds through his work in aerial tree seed collection. A hanging device below the helicopter takes off a healthy tree’s upper lateral branches. The use of an aerial rake leaves the treetop intact and the same tree can be harvested the following year.
The pine cones are used in reforestation for planting in the same climate, elevation and geographical area of the harvest. The company is primarily harvesting various pine species to combat the devastation being left behind by the mountain pine beetle.
Wildfire firefighting leads to adventuring in the outdoor wilderness
During the size-up phase of an assessment for wildfire, variables such as fuel load, weather and topography determine possible needs. Wildfire suppression firefighters are often on hold for weeks just waiting to execute their initial attack.
Drader found the waiting periods an opportunity to think about what he wanted for his future. In 2016, he launched Compass Heli Tours which specializes in private helicopter adventures in the wilderness around British Columbia.
“The missions I undertake through pine seed collection and wildfire suppression are incredibly rewarding,” says Drader. “I started thinking that there was more to it than what I was experiencing on my own.”
The company’s adventuring tours include glacier kayaking, paddleboarding, ice caves, fishing, camping, hiking, snowshoeing, volcanos and waterfalls. After departing Abbotsford, B.C., clients are flown 45 nautical miles in an AStar helicopter into the Canadian wilderness. With Drader as pilot and guide, flying through the Coast Mountains is as adventurous as the actual endgame.
Glacier kayaking around glacier lakes in British Columbia
Compass Heli Tours utilizes a variety of unnamed lakes for glacier kayaking which are surrounded by unnamed mountains. Snow and ice begins to melt along the outer shoreline of the alpine lakes every June. The appearance is that of a river, but in fact, the water is perfectly still. Kayakers are treated to four hours of paddling in brilliant blue water.
“Most of the time, kayakers can paddle through the meltwater around the entire lake,” Drader says. “Sometimes the melting pattern results in a Mario Kart looking racetrack with all its loops and twists.”
Once the ice melts in the alpine lakes, Compass transitions to a lake that is one-mile long. Adventurers have a choice of activities that are in sight of a wall of ice that is 150 feet high.
Regardless of the activity, Drader uses his background in reforestation to chat with his clients about local environmental challenges.
The rewards of adventuring in a glacier destination
Whether it is exploring an extinct subglacial volcano or wandering through perfectly formed glacier ice caves, the rewards are plentiful. The backcountry settings of the Compass destinations are prime for an unforgettable experience, even for Drader.
“It’s hard to describe that feeling of being in the middle of nowhere,” says Drader. “Your mind clears of all distractions and you become attuned to your surroundings.”
The personal rewards for Drader have led to him transitioning to Compass full-time this coming spring. There will be no more cone picking or firefighting. He says his favorite time of the year is when the lakes are thawed, and the activities are expanded.
“I have had people tell me that their adventure was the best day of their life. That is super rewarding to me,” Drader says. “I love this job and will never get tired of doing it. Sharing this experience is a great way to make people aware and promote conservation.”
You can visit Compass Heli Tours at www.compasshelitours.com
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Kevin Majoros shares stories on sports, ocean adventuring and conservation. He is based in Baltimore/Washington and travels the world as a competitive swimmer.
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