‘Living the dream’

A phrase coined for those of us who feel like we are living the life we had always imagined.

But how many of us can really say that without any glimmer of doubt? Perhaps it depends on what stokes your fire, or what makes you tick – everybody has a different interpretation of what living right looks like.

However, there are some folks navigating a life where it is doubtful you would find any breathing soul who would not want to spend a day in their hip waders. A life free from the traditional sense of what would be mundane.

Meet bush pilot and Alaska Highway entrepreneur, Urs Schildknecht. Urs is the proud owner and operator of one of the highways longest thriving wilderness retreats – the Northern Rockies Lodge. With his wife Marianne, the Schildknecht’s purchased the property along the shores of beautiful Muncho Lake in 1988, and have since built it up to the popular highway fixture it is today.

Chasing an aspiring vision, Urs was drawn to the area by its prime location within the northern Rocky Mountains, and ultimately, how that would benefit an operation as it relates to remote and adventure driven aviation. Prior to the purchase and establishment of Northern Rockies Lodge, he had been honing his skills in the Northwest Territories and had become accustom to the lure of the north. The young pilot could see the potential in owning his own full-service lodge, with the possibility of chartering guests out to experience the wilderness from its doorstep – or in this case, its beachfront.

Fast forward thirty-something years later, and Urs has built himself up quite a legacy in the north. Businessman and lodge owner aside, take a flight with Urs, and you quickly realize that he is a bush pilot at heart who simply loves what he does.

I had the pleasure of joining Urs on a ‘Bush Pilot Adventure’ tour in his immaculately clean Cessna 208 Caravan.

Today’s mission; Transport two clients to one of his outpost cabins on the South Gataga Lake, get them settled, then bomb up to Netson Lake further north, retrieve two more guests, and haul them back to the lodge at Muncho Lake.

The weather was perfect – not a cloud in the sky.

As we gained elevation, and left the teal green waters of Muncho behind us, we rose above the snow dusted peaks of the northern Rocky Mountains, and the greater Muskwa-Kechika Management Area.

The Muskwa-Kechika is a special management zone roughly the size of Ireland, and few know it better than the man behind the controls. Urs has been shuttling adventure fuelled guests around the M-K for years, and knows it like the back of his own hand.

During the flight, he gives a lesson in historical facts regarding the route of the Alaska Highway at Peterson Canyon, the names of some of the more prominent peaks as we pass them by, and he points out differences in geology not at all noticeable to the naked eye. Through a set of headphones, I can feel the excitement as Urs shares some of the finer details of what makes this land so special to him.

I however, am mostly speechless.

The views from above are quite simply remarkable. Upon leaving Muncho Lake, and the Alaska Highway, there is nothing but vast and untamed wilderness for as far at the eye can see. What is noticeable is what is not. There are no intrusions of any sort. Disturbances like forestry cut-blocks, mine sites, or resource roads have no place here. It becomes apparent to see why a guy like Urs can supply the service he does. There is surely a growing demand from humans who want to experience some place truly wild, and connect with an environment that has little distraction or influence from todays modern world.

And where we are going is just that. After crossing over the Gataga valley, we land ever so gently at the outpost cabin on South Gataga Lake. The water is glassy calm with a soft layer of fog rising off its surface as the sun begins to climb over the tree-line.

While Urs gets his two clients situated, I wander around imagining what it would be like to spend a week here. The cabin is rustic, but in amazing shape and obviously well maintained. It sits just off the shore, with a view looking east towards the commanding presence of Gataga Peak in the distance. There is a fire pit and a picnic table that has likely seen some beautiful sunrises in its day. A small boat, and a couple canoes for good measure. Truly a wilderness haven for the adventurous spirit in mind – I can hear nothing but a Common Loon cackling in the distance.

Pure solitude and completely off of the grid.

A short time later, we hop back in the cloud-white Cessna(short two less people), and taxi out onto the lake.

Throttle down, we slice off the water and are on our way to the next task at Netson Lake. Heading east, then rounding Gataga Peak to the north, Urs pulls out his phone and snaps a picture of an alpine tarn that has most likely never seen a humans touch.

‘What a beautiful day for a flight’ he proclaims.

Indeed it was. Although Urs has flown this route countless times before, it was easy to tell the novelty has yet to wear off the minute he pulled out his phone out to take a picture of a striking landscape he has seen many times over.

They say, “Find something you love to do for a living, and you will never have to work a day in your life”. More or less, that should define what living the dream would be. After our time together flying over the wondrous spectacle that is the northern Rocky Mountains, I could not help but think that this is what living right looks like. Urs is simply a man who has a lot of things in life figured out, and I am positive that he has made a lot people very happy and inspired through the service he has provided for over 30 years.

Making our return to base and still reeling from the flight, we have a sit down in the Bush Pilot’s lounge back at his immaculate timber framed lodge in the evening. We mull over the current state of affairs in the north, and more in particular, the northern Rockies and the Muskwa-Kechika as a whole.

Urs believes deeply in the importance of this wilderness, and how crucial it is that we savour and protect it for the long term. Showcasing it to others brings him great satisfaction, and in his opinion, more people need to know of its existence. The moment they see the places that he can get them to, the moment they see it from above for themselves, the hook is in and those people will surely feel the same way. He has no doubt about that.

I now know from experience. This was a day that will stick with me for a long time, and I could do it over countless times again within a hearts beat.

Making a go of it in the north is never easy, but with the right determination and vision, living and working in a place such as this would be a dream come true for many.

Spend a day with Urs Schildknecht, and there is your proof that living that dream is not only possible, but extremely gratifying.

For more information, you can find Urs and the Northern Rockies Lodge at: http://www.northernrockieslodge.com

Photos and words by Ryan Dickie @winterhawkstudios

View from inside one of the Lakeshore Chalets at Northern Rockies Lodge.
South Gataga Lake
Urs knows the Muskwa-Kechika like that back of his hand. Here, he shares some local knowledge with a pair of clients staying at his outpost cabin on the South Gataga Lake.
Aerial view of the northern Rockies and Muskwa-Kechika near Dieppe Mountain.