Tony Capecchi

“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” Since age 18, Tony Capecchi has been chronicling his worldwide travel and outdoor adventures for national magazines, including In-Fisherman and North American Hunter. He has co-hosted “Live Outdoors” on CBS Radio, produced television for NBC and worked on The History Channel’s hit series “MonsterQuest.”

To Fly is Human ... To Hover, Divine

Posted by: Tony Capecchi under Environment, Recreation, Fishing Updated: June 22, 2014 - 11:40 AM

Editor’s Note: The author visited Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort, a second-generation family-run lodge in northern British Columbia. This article is the second of a four-part series on Nimmo Bay. Click here to read Part 1. 

Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort: Day 2

Wednesday, May 21, 2:38pm

Our helicopter mirrors the waterfall, descending down 300 feet parallel to the raging waters. At the base of the falls, we hover above the turbulent pool of blue and white. We are above the clouds, in a separate world of 10,000-year-old glaciers and pristine streams that salmon fill and grizzly bears hunt. In this other-world we have hiked and climbed and fished, but at the moment we simply hover. I feel weightless. 

...

Days before boarding the aircraft, we had seemingly already explored as far into the Great Bear Rainforest as one can push––taking a small plane from Vancouver to the northern tip of Vancouver Island, then crawling into a float plane for a 20-minute flight over fjords and bays until landing on a floating dock at Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort, which clings to the base of Mount Stephens.

After a sun-filled Day 1 of ocean kayaking, paddle boarding, bear-watching and hiking through old-growth forests, Day 2 finds us embarking on Nimmo Bay’s signature experience: a dreamlike day of heli-fishing and heli-hiking in the high mountains. 

We start the day, of course, with food. Breakfast begins with sinful chocolate croissants, offset by fresh fruit, yogurt, granola and fruit smoothies. Upon devouring Round 1, we are rewarded with Round 2 of breakfast: thick pieces of french toast loaded with fruit. After our surrender to the food gods, lodge owners Fraser and Becky Murray come to greet us with their 5-month-old daughter Fauna in tow. 

“We have all dedicated so much of our lives to Nimmo Bay that it is hard to separate life from work,” Fraser said. “I would say the only thing that was ever bigger then Nimmo Bay in our lives was our family, and this is true to this day.”

Fraser has grown up at Nimmo Bay since he was just a bit older than Fauna is now. I am both envious and puzzled by Fraser’s upbringing; I can’t imagine what it was like to grow up in a float house attached to a mountain in this rugged and beautiful setting. Where would you go to school? And how would you get there? How would you make friends? What about the winters, and the wildlife? In fact, when Fraser was 4 a grizzly bear turned his family’s floating dock into her den.

And then there’s the overwhelming beauty of it all. And the incredible, intimate encounters with Mother Nature you must be graced with when you spend your entire life in this setting. For Fraser’s part, he seems no worse for the wear. In fact, the 35-year-old, second-generation owner of the luxury lodge possesses a unique combination of kindness, charm, appreciation of his surroundings and a surprising connection not only to the natural wonders of his backyard but also to the people who travel from all over the world to be a part of it for a week. Fraser was even given an honorary name by the local First Nations tribe, which is exceptionally rare and speaks volumes about the charismatic, modest young man.   

“We’ve met so many amazing people,” he said. “We have some people who have been coming for so long, we just kind of quit charging them. We’ve just become friends. We travel and go and stay with them at their houses, and they come and see us here.”

For my stay at Nimmo Bay, I was surrounded by fellow first-timers: Jeneen Sutherland, from the Vancouver area, and husband-and-wife Jo Connah and Peter Scorfield from London. Believe it or not, I am not forgetting anyone or leaving a guest off the list because he annoyed me with poor jokes and bad body odor. Incredibly, there were only four of us guests at the resort our entire time there. And get this: there were TWO chefs! A pastry chef and an executive chef, both of whom justify the strong praise Nimmo Bay received in “1,000 Places to See Before You Die,” when best-selling author Patricia Shultz said the food––which she called the best in British Columbia––is arguably the highlight of any day at Nimmo Bay. 

The resort, of course, can accommodate a few more than four guests––it features nine cabins built on stilts above the water––but it is intentionally small. “I don’t want to get any bigger,” said Fraser, who has expanded the resort’s focus from purely fishing to offer a wider variety of eco-tourism activities such as whale-watching, beachcombing and glacier trekking. “We like being small. We like spending time with the people who come here and being able to share these experiences with them.” 

I feel the resort’s intimate size is a tremendous advantage and allows each guest to receive individualized attention (i.e. when I sat by the campfire at night a staff member rushed over with a blanket and tucked me in; when I finished my glass of wine under the stars another employee immediately topped me off), and my fellow guests certainly agreed.

"Nimmo Bay is a resort with a soul," said Jeneen Sutherland, who made herself at home during her first trip to the resort by taking advantage of morning yoga classes, hikes with the staff and stand-up paddle boarding (including a paddle when she saw a bear). "When you meet Fraser and (his father) Craig, you kind of want to pat them on the back and say a big 'thank-you' for creating this incredible place. It is an experience that leaves you feeling totally rejuvenated."

“We feel very fortunate to be one of just a few people here,” added Peter Scorfield, who has experienced wilderness safaris in the far reaches of Africa yet was nonetheless amazed by the beauty and serenity of Nimmo Bay. “It’s like we have the place to ourselves."

To Fly is Human ... To Hover Divine

Fraser and Becky chatted with us after breakfast, then told us the plan for our big adventure in the helicopter. This was the day I had been anticipating for months––the signature Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort adventure unlike any other. You could say that heli-fishing put Nimmo Bay on the map, and that Nimmo Bay put heli-fishing in the dictionary. The concept is this: You board a helicopter and fly high above the clouds, into the mountains to fish untouched streams that otherwise can’t be reached. The Murray family has access to over 50,000 acres of breathtaking beauty, including 10,000-year-old glaciers, 5,000-foot waterfalls and 50 rivers and streams. 

Numerous celebrities ranging from George Bush to David Kelley to William Shatner have visited Nimmo Bay and fallen in love with the resort’s famous heli-fishing and heli-hiking, and now I was about to do the same.

First, Fraser brought us to the dry room, where we were equipped with complementary boots, rain gear and waders.

From there we headed to the helipad, met our pilot, Tim, and boarded the helicopter. Peter and Jo were my companions for the day, for which I was most grateful. The couple was kind, enthusiastic and witty. Besides, who doesn’t love that British wit?

 

The heli-hiking was spectacular, as was the flight itself. I'm complimenting my photos with stock photos from the resort, since intermittent rain made it difficult to photograph some of the spots. Trust me, though, when I say that neither my photos nor the stock photos do the mountains justice. 

My new friend and travel partner for the day, Peter, summed it up well. "It's an amazing feeling flying in this helicopter, knowing that we can go anywhere." Indeed, the maneuverability of a helicopter gives you unrivaled freedom in the mountains. Tim dropped us down on several spots to hike throughout the day. One of my favorite stops was at an estuary where hiked along a river and the ocean. 

 
Tim, who was one of the youngest pilots in British Columbia to receive a flying license, brought his rifle with us at all times. After all, we were in grizzly country. It felt more like a tree graveyard, however, with the remains of giant trees surrounded by the marshland. The dense fog and low clouds added to the ambience. 
 
 
The footing was tricky, but the views were worth it. 
 
 
 
After hiking for a few hours, we decided to do some fishing. What a life! Up in the helicopter we go, and Tim flies us to one of 50 different unnamed and untouched streams.
 
 
 
Here, we discuss our exit strategy should we encounter a grizzly. Last year during peak season, Tim saw a grizzly every other day while stream fishing and had several close encounters. Call me crazy, but I did hope a grizzly would emerge from the bush and begin fishing the same water as me. Granted, in my mind I pictured the bear emerging on the other side of the stream, not that the narrow water would have provided  any meaningful barrier. In the end, it's probably for the better we never had to give up our fishing spot to a bear (after all, I want my wife to let me go on trips like this again in the future).
 
The Murray family has been practicing catch-and-release in these streams since they first opened Nimmo Bay in 1980. Suffice it to say, fishing in rivers that only a handful of people fish each year has its advantages. We primarily caught rainbow trout, but the streams are also a salmon haven. When we tired of one spot (a relative term, since I could fish all day on that stream and never grow tired of it), we boarded the helicopter and flew to another stream where the fishing was equally good.
 
 
After an unforgettable day of fishing, we took the scenic route home––flying over the mountains alongside dozens and dozens of waterfalls. We returned to a warm welcome and a soak in the outdoor cedar hot tub, idyllically situated at the base of a 5,000-foot waterfall. Dinner never tasted so good, which I attribute both to the adrenaline of the day and the delicious, local Dungeness crab.
 
 
The fact that I am only 30 years old and was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to experience a day of heli-hiking and heli-fishing in the Great Bear Rainforest is not lost on me. In truth, I could have lived an entire lifetime and not once had an adventure this remarkable.

That Fraser and his family at Nimmo Bay makes this experience available to people is simply amazing. Or, as the wooden sign at the lodge says, divine.
 
 
The website for Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort is www.nimmobay.com. For more information on Nimmo Bay, call 1.800.837.4354 or email heli@nimmobay.com.  

Come back next week for Part Three of the Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort series, when the author visits a local legend and has his closest encounter with a bear.
 
Click here to read Part One of the series. 
 
For more information on beautiful British Columbia, visit the website for Destination BC.
 
 
 
 

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