Over the past few years, the mountains have become a huge part of my life. What started off as a couple of trips a year quickly turned into a weekly occurrence. The physical and mental benefits were adding so much value to my life that I needed to purse it more. In YEG we are only four hours away from the Rockies and I don’t think that we take advantage of this nearly enough. If you spend a day in Banff, you’ll quickly see that people travel from all over the world to visit this incredible place that we are so lucky to call home.
I am fascinated by pushing my physical and mental abilities and through my visits to the mountains, I fulfill both.
When was the last time you let your thoughts run free with no interruptions? No notifications, no vibrations, no noise. At home we are busy with so many external stimulations, we never allow our minds to run free. When I am in the mountains I am able to completely disconnect with the outside world and reconnect with my mind and body. While I am surrounded by fairy-tale like scenery and the silencing sounds of nature I am able to completely let go.
The physical demands that I have experienced while back country camping is some of the most challenging moments of my life. While battling through steep elevation gain, your legs ache, lungs burn and you fight the overwhelming fatigue. That’s the easy part however. The most physically demanding part is the duration of a multiday trip. Trekking through the bush for hours and hours with a heavy bag on your back is only the start. When you finally reach your checkpoint for the night, it’s time to set up camp. You must seek out to gather and chop wood to start a fire, find a source of water and make or catch food for the night. Every part of your day can be exhausting, and it makes you realize how easy we have it back home.
At some point during a multi-day hike you might find yourself battling the voice of the devil on your shoulder telling you that you are too tired, too sore, too hungry or too cold but I believe that the most personal growth comes from those areas of discomfort. There have even been times when I ask myself “why am I doing this”? Then I look up into the night sky as I am huddled in next to the fire that I’ve worked hard to build and maintain, I see the most magnificent display of stars. With my puppy in my lap I sit back in awe as I watch the northern lights dancing over the peaks I had conquered earlier that day. It’s that feeling of accomplishment after reaching your desired destination that makes every part of the struggle worth it. Once I get home and back into my daily routine, I find myself dreaming of my next adventure and reflecting back on all the feelings and obstacles that I had experienced. There is always something to change or something more to prepare but you never know until you put yourself out there and try.
This level of extreme certainly isn’t for everyone. There is a fine line between choosing something challenging for yourself and something that is too much. I recommend starting off with something a litter easier that is within your comfort zone and ability. Hike with a friend or with a group and choose a hike that is more popular. As you become more experienced you can begin to push those boundaries and challenge yourself a bit more. My first overnight backcountry hike was with a friend on a familiar trail that I had day hiked into before. It was only 2 hours, about 8km long. Fast forward a couple years and I have done 100+ km alone with multiple summits and lakes along the way all during both the summer and winter months!
If any of this interests you but you don’t know where to start here are a few personal recommendations:
All Stones Lake: Just past Nordegg, Alberta. This is one of the closer hikes to YEG and it is incredible. You get a summit and a mountain lake all in a half day hike. It is much less populated than areas around Canmore and Banff. It is a steep and progressive climb so make sure you have a good fitness base, but it can easily be done in an afternoon.
HaLing Peak: Ha Ling is a gorgeous summit that overlooks the town of Canmore. It is very popular during the spring and summer but is a great way to build and gauge your fitness in a safer environment with a great reward at the top!
Smutwood Pass: This hike was so breathtaking I could not believe what my eyes were taking in. Hold off on this one until your base fitness is up a little bit and you feel a little more comfortable in the back country. Maybe make this a goal for the end of the hiking season during Autumn when the larch’s turn yellow for a real treat. (carry bear spray, this area is notorious for Grizzly Bear encounters)
The mountains are real, they are powerful and make you feel a way that is hard to put into words. Always prepare for the worst, respect the environment and live in the moment. It’s easy for me to talk about my own experiences but the best advice I can give is to take action and create your own memories and stories for yourself; you won’t regret it!