3 Ways inReach Made Our Mountaineering Trip Easier

Brian and I recently returned from a trip of a lifetime: we went to the highest place on earth we’ve ever been. With our hut at 2057 meters (6750 ft) and peaks rising from there, we weren’t quite sure what to expect. Would our bodies respond favourably to the altitude? Would we move efficiently through the terrain? Would we even like being up there? Would our inReach work???

Aside: An inReach is the world’s first two-way satellite communicator with built-in navigation. It has the ability to plan routes and waypoints ahead of time, receive weather forecasts, and can send and receive messages to any cell phone, email address or inReach device. It can also pair with Facebook and Twitter for update. It also has a built-in digital compass, barometric altimeter and accelerometer sensors that provide heading and bearing info, accurate elevation readings, speed, and more. (source)

In those 7 days at the ACC Toronto Section‘s mountaineering camp, Selkirks North, I was full to the brim with knowledge. I learned about managing risk, conquering exposure, how to stare at and study the clouds for a really important purpose – safety – and more. I learned that tools were important; specific ropes, shoes, techniques… And I learned how much I truly value owning an inReach.

Like a lot of the backcountry hiking we’ve done with our inReach, here in the Selkirks there is no cell signal. There is no landline. There isn’t anyone but the group you came in with. While still remaining satisfactorily disconnected from the world we enjoyed escaping for a few days, having a tool like the inReach allowed us a little more intel about the terrain, the atmosphere, and what was to come.

Here are 3 ways inReach made our alpine adventure easier:

Checking the Weather

Weather, I learned, is one of the key factors in deciding your day when you’re at in the mountains. If there are clouds in the sky, you study them at all hours of the day. Was it cloudy overnight? If so, the snow on the mountains will be softer than if it were clear. Are there clouds at 3am? 4am? 5am? It might not be a great idea to push too far ahead. Will it rain tomorrow? What sorts of risks come along with these situations?

Our ACMG guide Mark Klassen said he uses a satellite phone to call someone for weather reports every couple days. On the 3rd day, he tried to contact his source but the calls continually dropped. That’s when I discovered the inReach’s ability to check the weather. For the cost of one message, you can get a 3-day forecast for a waypoint or your location. Because we had variable cloudiness all week, having this information available to us was extremely valuable.

Like a kid in elementary school who’d just finished their drawing before anyone else, I eagerly brought my findings to the group. “I have the weather!” I said proudly. They initially seemed hesitant, perhaps because we talked up this connectivity device in a place where we all worshipped remoteness. But as the week went on individuals planning specific routes began to ask if we could check the weather for a certain area. “Yes!” I said. And this information helped them plan accordingly.

The inReach, in this situation, provided a small bit of assurance allowing executable prep both with gear and mental planning.

Communication

Our camp was graciously and expertly catered by Mo’s Mountain Cuisine. “Remember, this is a vacation,” one of our leaders told me when my jaw dropped to the floor upon seeing our first 3-course meal.

“Right,” I replied, devouring dinner.

Heather (pictured below) had a binder full of recipes, a meal plan she executed with ease. But we were week 1 of a 2 week camp and the dropped calls on the satellite phone began to worry her. How would she communicate with her colleague about restocking food for week 2? We offered up our inReach of course and with 3 messages she was able to contact ground control. This was our first experience at altitude where the inReach completely mitigated our quandary. But this wasn’t our last…

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On the last day of our trip, despite being warned about the inability of keeping to scheduled pick-ups when going in and out of the mountains via helicopter, we had a tight schedule. Here was the low down: I was co-host of my cousin’s baby shower happening on Sunday in London, Ontario. I really wanted to be there and so I took a deep breathe when booking our travel and said that the risk of making such tight travel plans was worth possibly making the shower. The latest flight from Calgary to London that would allow us to make it to the shower on time departed Sunday at 6am. Are scheduled departure from the Hut was Saturday at 2pm. As 2pm approached, when we were supposed to be picked up by helicopter and brought to our shuttle back to Golden, the helicopter was nowhere to be seen.

Missing this 2pm helicopter pick up meant that the odds of us catching the last bus out of Golden at 7pm were low. If we missed the last bus, how would we get to Calgary? Thankfully, with our inReach device, we were able to contact Brian’s mom who was standing by in case we required help shuffling our travel tickets around. We spent the afternoon at ease as she researched different ways for us to get to town and texted them back to the device. This information helped others travelling to Calgary, too.

We ended up making it to the baby shower through a strange fusion of seclusion and connection. The inReach device really helped us out of a bind.

Route Finding

Perhaps the most obvious and practical use of the inReach is route finding. When we embarked on a 6 hour granite climb up Quadrant – an adventure that turned into a 12.5 hour day due to elements and our route, we used the device to see exactly where we were, where we took a wrong turn, and where we descended. The device also gave us accurate timings, elevation, and maps so that other groups could leverage this knowledge and apply it to their climbs up Quadrant in the following day (yes – our adventure paired with our GPS route fuelled others to climb Quadrant!).

We also used the inReach when summitting Mount Damon (2740 m/8990 ft). While this route was very direct and we didn’t really require any route finding, we did enjoy the ability to study our path, elevation, and waypoints. 

 The inReach allowed us insight that we wouldn’t otherwise have without it. It played a key role in planning and execution of alpine adventures and helped set aside some unavoidable stressed that comes with travelling in the backcountry. It’s definitely remains a must-have in my pack, and an investment I’m extremely happy with.


Committing to “Go”

There’s something powerful and empowering about the word “go”… at least for me anyways. To “go” can be terrifying – causing hesitation – but once you’ve decided to actually “go” it can be invigorating – everything becomes real, you move past your hesitations and focus on doing what needs to be done.

One month ago Andrea and I had a big conversation about this project and our upcoming peaks and the challenges before us. We were confronted, once again, with a decision to go. Would be go to Alberta to summit Mt. Columbia this Summer? Were we ready to travel across glaciers and ski (and split-board) up and down a mountain? Did we have the skills to travel with ropes, and perform crevasse rescues if necessary?

Ultimately the response was, “No”, quickly followed with, “How do we get those skills?

We realized the ideal situation would be attending one of the Alpine Club of Canada‘s many mountaineering camps. The camps are all in mountain ranges near or in the Rockies, we would be on glaciers and mountains for a week, our bodies would be fully acclimatized to the 3,000 m (10,000 ft) elevations.

We initially hesitated and then finally went to book into a camp. With about 2 months or so before the first camp, everything was full. We put our names on the waitlist and waited. Then, two spots opened up on the Toronto Section camp opened up. This was happening!

It was a big moment when Andrea and I paid our deposit. Everything became real and official and terrifying. It was also extremely exciting and empowering. The decision had been made. From July 15-23 we would be high in the Selkirk Mountains, travelling on glaciers and summiting peaks around 3,000 m of elevation.

Things started to fall in to perspective. There was planning and preparing to do – we had a gear list to check off, technical skills to study and practice, and lots of physical training.

Since committing to go here are some of the ways I’ve prepared:

  • Attend a crevasse rescue clinic where I learned to ascend ropes and haul people using ropes
  • Read most of “Freedom Of the Hills“, “Alpine Skills Summer”, “Selkirks North. (Climbing Guide)
  • Aquire a mountain of gear including: Helmet, Alpine Pack, Belay/Rappel devices, Various carabinears, ropes and cords
  • Train 3x a week with a personal trainer focusing on single leg strength exercises, balance, and running

I’ve also had many, many moments of fear, hesitation and excitement. I find myself constantly checking in and asking, “Am I really doing this?” I am. And I’m not doing it alone.  I am going with Andrea, which helps a lot. We will also be out there with many more skilled members of the Alpine Club.

It’s one week away and I think we’re ready. We committed to go and we’re going. As Abraham Lincoln said, “I walk slowly, but I never walk backwards.”


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What You Have to Quit to Move Forward

At a meditation retreat on New Year’s Eve I was asked, “What are you willing to give up to move forward in your life?” Since then this question has been on mind almost every day in 2016.

To me the idea of removing actions, items, and people from my life seemed counterintuitive. If I wanted more in my life, don’t I just keep adding? When applied to mountaineering, backpacking, and outdoor exploring, the idea of senselessly adding more makes no sense. So why not in life too?

Just like planning for a trip I began to ask myself what I needed and what I didn’t. I’m still asking myself that question and would like to share with you what I’ve learned so far.

To Quit is To Make Room

If I want to add something to my life, I have to take something away. We all have a finite amount of energy. One thing I’ve done is to quit Olympic Weightlifting in order to work more on endurance activities (running, stair climbing, etc.)

Focus on the Inspiring

What inspires you? Is it learning a new skill, perfecting a yoga pose, going on a long walk with a friend? With all of the options out there, why give your attention to something that isn’t inspiring? For 2016 I’ve been trying to say “yes” to only the inspiring things. For me this means more time at the gym and less time on my phone.

Everything Has a Time and Place

What was your last friendship that ended? I’ve had a lot of friendships end and in some way or other, the ending has always sucked. More and more I’m trying to accept that things (like friendships, expeditions, vacations and more) all come to some sort of end – but it doesn’t have to suck. If I stand back and appreciate and honour the effect that a person, place, or thing has had on me, then that experience lives on. I’m trying to stay in the moment and appreciate things while I have time with them.

~

I’m still learning how to quit some things and accept others – tweaking my criteria and growing along the way. I expect that as The Peakbaggers moves forward and our expeditions get longer, my life will get more simple and focused.

What about you? How are you trying to move forward in your life? What tips to you have for growing and quitting? Share in the comments below.


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Why I’m Thrilled to Run the Bruce Trail

Blog Post- The Bruce Trail 01.JPGThe first time I saw a map of the Bruce Trail I took a photo of it and it didn’t even fit into the frame.

I thought it was neat, albeit surprisingly long, and covered territory that I’d often driven over or through in my many commutes between my birthplace of London, my new hometown Toronto, and my many adventures across the Southern Ontarian landscape.

All that to say, I wondered why I’d never heard of it.

Last fall I was approached by Aly Bird who pitched an idea to me: a relay run of the entire Bruce Trail by an all-female team. I immediately said yes and, although I’m not an avid runner, I thought this adventure would be a good goal-inside-a-goal to my larger mountaineer training schedule. And so I started furiously searching for information about this infamous trail.

There are many countless things in life that you’ve never heard of because there are many… well… countless things in life. I’d always been fascinated by the outdoors but it wasn’t until I found my true adult self here in Toronto that I’ve begun to explore the green space all around me. I find that when you put your best foot forward with the truest intentions, the places and people you’ve always longed to meet have a really inherent way of making themselves known. So here I was holding a map of the Bruce Trail and trying to wrap my head around how we’d all get from one end to the other in a mere matter of days.

Running the Bruce Trail is just one example of a tangible goal. It’s a big one for me, mostly because it involves running, but it’s also a big one in terms of numbers, heavily reliant on a group of motivated people. Running the Bruce Trail stands as an example of capability, belief, and chance: it challenges the ideas I have of myself and how capable I think I am, it fuels me with the belief that I am not a couch potato despite all those late night pizza-eating binge-tv-watching nights I have to myself, and it forces me to take a chance on myself, the group I’m a part of, and the land that we’ll tread.

As much and as often as I travel, it’s taken me this long to begin to explore the land that is all around me. And in doing so, I must must must must emphasize this:

Canada is friggin’ amazing.

I’ve travelled hours on an overseas flight to get to places I’ve only dreamed of being – ones I read about in textbooks during World History 101 – and I’ve done just as much research on those trips as I have for this one. It’s so important to familiarize yourself with where you’re going because it changes our time and place within it. I am thrilled to explore these 900 kilometers of Southern Ontario. All because of this:

BTregions_2011The Bruce Trail has been around since 1960, the brainchild of 4 dudes who convinced Niagara escarpment landowners and a few surrounding towns to build a connected footpath for public use. Over the next 7 years regional clubs between Niagara and Tobermory were formed and by 1967 the Bruce Trail was officially born. It’s 895 km long, stretching over public and private land as roadside trail and emboldened, hidden pathways… and only 51.4% of it is safe from development.

But here we are, and as a result of people – ordinary people – dedicated to keeping this pathway connected and available for public use, the Bruce Trail has existed in its entirety for 49 years. These people (The Bruce Trail Conservatory) work towards annual acquirement of land so that this trail can maintain in tact for people like us to run it, and for others to walk, stroll, dance, climb, and experience it.

The first part of the trail – Tobermory to Wiarton – is the roughest and most remote but apparently has some of the best cliffside views of Georgian Bay of 10 storey cliffs. From there the trail is marked with white blazes, side trails marked in blue blazes, so we hopefully won’t get lost! It is considered a footpath so no motorized vehicles – even horses – are allowed on the trail, save for the road sides parts. This is to respect not only the landowners but the land itself!

Think about it: in some places, only feet will have tread the land.

There are caves and crevices along the way.

Rattlesnakes and bears. Rattlesnakes. Rattle. Snakes. But don’t worry – apparently their fangs are tiny and they have a very short strike distance. “Stop, listen for the rattle and go back the other way,” a tip from the BT Magazine.

Plants that can blind you. “Putting Poison Ivy to shame, the harmful effects of Giant Hogweed can be severe, including burns, blisters, scarring and even permanent blindness,” explains this pamphlet. Imagine a piece of green so fierce! This plant sounds like a monster!

GIant Hogweed: “The average height of a typical plant ranges between 8-15 feet. It has distinctive umbrella shaped clusters of small white flowers that grow on massive seed heads that can be up to 2 feet across. Its leaves are dark green and coarsely toothed and can be huge, growing upwards of 5 feet wide. Perhaps the most identifying features, apart from the size of this monstrous plant (no other similar plant compares to its size), are the purple blotches or spots that exist on the hollow green bristly stem.”

Warblers and wild flowers!

In spring, the frogs come alive, too. Wood frogs, Spring Peepers and Chrous frogs… Yippee!

I get real excited to hear nature, not just to be in it. But I always think of running as being a quiet sport. It can be independent, charged, emotional, heavy, hard, and hearty but I wouldn’t say it’s quiet – and this always surprises me (especially in winter!!). When I run, I’m a loud breather and deep thinker. I sometimes talk aloud because I was told that if you’re training properly, you should be able to have a conversation while running. I never could and now I can so I just want to talk talk talk! It’s a wonder I think running is quiet because it’s actually so loud.

When I run in nature I expect to hear all the things when, in most cases, I can primarily hear the thump thump of my heart. I guess the difference is that I hear my heart, and then I hear something amazing: I hear wind, and the trees, and my feet against the terrain, and I feel my hands on my face and my hips and, if I’m lucky, I feel so surrounded by wildlife because I see. Beats the honking cars, people on cell phones, the podcast in my ears, and the inherent urge to run the city without getting hit by a car! I’ll take a sleepy rattlesnake over that.


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An Update on What We’ve Been Doing For 3 Months

At the end of 2015 we told you we were taking a break from writing these blog updates, but not a break from our greater journey. We talked about how taking time off can be a difficult yet necessary decision. We love writing these posts and that decision back in December was difficult. Looking back, it was also a really great choice.

We’ve been up to a lot and I would love to update you on the highlights right now.

The beginning of 2016 has been dedicated to planning and preparation. There are six expeditions ahead of us that we hope to accomplish in two years. Five of those require being dropped in remote areas via chartered flights. Four will be involve traversing glaciers and dealing with avalanches. Two will require rock climbing skills. All of them will be difficult.

Knowing this means we know what we have to work on. On the glacier expeditions we hope to skin our way up the mountains and ski/snowboard down. So we need to practice or skiing/snowboarding. We also need to train in crevasse rescue and avalanche safety. For the expeditions that involve climbing, we need to learn how to lead climb and practice trad (outdoor) climbing as well. Then there are all the logistics of contacting parks, charter flight operators, preparing meal plans, etc.

Here is what we’ve been doing so far

Skiing/Snowboarding

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We spent the winter practicing our skiing and snowboarding. I’ve been snowboarding my whole life, but haven’t been in the past two seasons, so this was a good refresher. Andrea and I both really worked on our control and carving. It was Andrea’s second season skiing, so I’m sure she’ll share many more updates on how she progressed.

Climbing

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A new climbing gym, Basecamp, opened very close to where Andrea and I live and we took this as a chance to climb and climb often. The walls are 40ft tall (the highest in Toronto) and spending three sessions a week there is definitely challenging our bodies. I’ve also been working with the staff on getting some coaching tips for training and will be sharing those on the blog soon.

Reading

It’s one thing to get our bodies right for these excursions. Getting our minds ready is an important factor too. As we’ve already learned on our past six expeditions, there is a lot of stress that comes with being isolated in the wilderness. These upcoming expeditions will only be more difficult, more isolated, and more stressful.

Over the past three months I took to reading a lot more about mountaineering and plan to continue this habit. So far I’ve read the following books:

  • Not Won In A Day – an account of Jack Bennet on being the first person to summit the highest point in every Canadian Province and Territory. (we hope to be the first all-Canadian team). This book is a great resource to plan for our excursions and includes lots of maps and trip details.
  • Wild – the account of Cheryl Strayed hiking a large portion of The PCT. This book really showcased what it means to have perseverance. It gave me the confidence that if I put my mind to something and stick with it, I can do anything.
  • Into Thin Air – the harrowing account of the 1996 tragedy on Mt. Everest. This book is an incredibly well-written, detailed, and dramatic account of how a bunch of small mistakes can lead to big errors. Despite the terror and tragedy, it only inspired me more to be in the mountains.

 


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Looking Back, Charging Forward: Our Top 10 Moments of 2015

We can’t even begin to describe in words how epic 2015 was for us. For starters, this ENTIRE project began in the first few days of 2015. Mere days after new years Matt Manhire brought the idea to summit the tallest points in each province and territory to Brian after a crossfit class, who brought the idea to me (Andrea) knowing I just started a production company. We slowly formed a true force of energy and inspiration, the 3 of us, giving birth to all the wonderful goals, dreams, and adventures you’ve seen us embark on throughout the entire year.

We spent cold winter days in cafe, we learned how to rock climb, we laughed a lot, we sat in silence a lot, we wrote and spoke and researched a lot, we all bought freeze-dried food, bear spray, and gators for the first time… I learned what gators were for the first time… All this to say that looking back at our top ten moments of 2015 is a much needed task because, without these moments (and so, so, so many more), we wouldn’t be where we are today.

Our Top 10 Moments of 2015

#1 // Camping under a meteor shower in Cypress Hills Inter-Provincial Park

While there aren’t any meteors in this photo, there is a vast and wondrous sky. We stood outside our tent with our heads cocked north for so long that we didn’t notice the cramps in our necks. It was the first time we’d ever seen a sky like this, and we’ll never forget the moment we looked up. Jaws dropped, we didn’t want to fall asleep for fear of missing out.

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#2 // #DiscoverYourWild

On July 1st we organized our first meetup with the help of the amazing people we met at MEC Outdoor Nation (see next item!). Discover Your Wild has not only taught us that it’s EASY to get outside, but it’s made it accessible and fun for so many other people other than ourselves. Last year we explored an urban jungle steps away from a subway stop, we saw graffiti via bike all over the city, and we ran hills and through beautiful parks that are just behind our houses. We meet up every Wednesday, and would love for you to join us! Oh yeah – and Discover Your Wild is always free! Thank you to MEC Nation for providing the platform to create such a thing as this.

#3 // MEC Outdoor Nation (& MEC Staff in general)

MEC Outdoor Nation was where we really came together with our community. We’d been chatting up the Vancouver-based MEC Nation team for months and we finally got to connect in person to share goals, ideas, and passions with them and 135 other people in Toronto and surrounding area. It was a short but incredibly fun weekend where we met similar minds who have helped us improve ourselves and build programs like Discover Your Wild. (Photos below courtesy of MEC Nation)

#4 // Ishpatina Ridge round 1

Going out to Ishpatina Ridge in the dead of winter not only kick-started our systems and our belief in our abilities but it challenged us in innumerable ways. We can’t wait to share the story with you March 25th, 2016 when we share Episode 1: Ishaptina Ridge with you. Stay tuned!

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#5 // Finding a geocache box on the summit ridge of White Hill

We don’t want to give too much away but once we hit the summit ridge of White Hill, Nova Scotia’s highest peak which is buried in the Cape Breton isle, it was one of the best feelings in the world. Complete isolation turned into a grounding sense of success and connectivity, knowing that we were two of a small group of 3 individuals who had touched that tip the entire year.

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#6 // Turkish Coffee (mention Phil & Seb and Capital)

We learned quickly that the luxuries of aeropress coffee in the wild was something we didn’t want to carry on our backs for days. Every ounce in your pack counts. So we picked up some deliciously roasted beans (THANK YOU PHIL & SEB) and found a method that worked for us. Turkish-style camping coffee. Check out the video we made on how to brew this us for yourself!

#7 // The thunderstorm on Baldy Mountain

At the top of Baldy Mountain’s lookout tower in Manitoba a storm brewed above us and it got louder and louder the longer we were up there. We planned to hike Beaver Trail, a 3km loop off the edge of the tower and we decided to stick with it since it wasn’t raining yet. We got our packs ready for rain and embarked down the mountain-side. The weather in Duck Mountain Provincial Park was hot and sticky – we were sweating, having overdressed for what we were sure would be a downpour. I looked up at the sky at one point and said, “We are ready for you! Just let it all go!!!” and 100 steps later it began to rain. It was a glorious feeling, knowing that we were (a) prepared, (b) in serious need of a cool down, and (c) on the edge of a mountain as thunder roared and we walked this beautiful trail all by ourselves in the summer.

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#8 // Discovering inReach

We did an interview with Nik at MEC Toronto last year who recommend this GPS device that sounded too good to be true. Well, it is true. It is a real thing that you can hold and rely on. The DeLorme inReach added such an incredible element to your travels. Among its features is a GPS app you can pair with your iPhone (many times Brian would hold onto the inReach and I would hold onto my phone, meaning that we both had map access), capabilities to send emails if we were in need (i.e. “I’m not going to make it to work on Monday because I’m lost in Ontario wilderness!!”), and the ability to log our coordinates on a map that was on our main webpage so family, friends, and followers could see where we were at any given moment. We wouldn’t have felt as safely secluded and on track as we did without this little machine. It was a key piece in our packs and we’re really grateful that technology like this exists as we embark on such a wild journey. Oh – and we tweeted from the peaks of all the places we’ve been to! Who can say they’ve done that!? Thank you inReach Canada!

#9 //Getting real with our bodies and our minds

This project not only challenges our minds but our bodies and it has shown us that our bodies are capable of amazing feats. Body and mind go hand and hand – don’t be fooled! Without one you wouldn’t have the other! Strength of mind and body is something we actively work on every day and we’ve noticed a positive change in ourselves since starting this project. Our relationship with each other, the urban world around us, and the beautiful and wild Canadian terrain we have been exploring has blossomed in an energetic way. We feel better, we communicate better, and we understand the world a little bit better just by actively being a part of it.

Matt and Brian at the start of the 13km bushwhack.

Matt and Brian at the start of the 13km bushwhack.

#10 // Meeting people like you

We met so many incredible people this year, it’s hard to really wrap our heads around it! We’ve managed to somehow organically surround ourselves with people who do the same things we are doing or who do the activities we want to do and it’s been the best way to prove that anything is possible. Living with an open heart and open mind has brought us to places that have touched and truly changed our lives. Mountaineering is a skill we never thought we’d so actively be acquiring and, yes, we have our doubts, fears, and hesitations, but we embrace it. The stories from the people we have met – every ability, age, and attitude – excite and inspire us in an indescribable way. You are what you believe you can do, and this year has shown us that we can do anything we put our minds to. And that’s in great part thanks to you.

Thank you for reading, and for being a part of this journey.

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Why We’re Taking a Break (Don’t worry, we’ll be back!)

On January 28, 2015 we published our first blog post. Since then we have written about our journey on our blog almost every single week, while posting videos to YouTube, photos to Instagram, updates to Twitter, and more. And we are so happy so many of you have been following along.

Going on a journey like this and accomplishing goals requires consistent and perpetual effort. It also demands that you don’t over-exert yourself and burnout. We are firm believers in managing your energy so you can show up regularly and do your best work. Over the past month, after summiting our first 6 peaks and reaching a huge milestone, we realized that our energy was dwindling.

So, we here at The Peakbaggers had some serious discussions and have decided we will be taking a 3 month break from the blog. There’s a lot to do on this web series and we are a small team. And we want to do it all – but that’s impossible.

We realized that we need to take a break from writing and sending our newsletter to focus on some other, really exciting parts of this web series. Over the next 3 months we will continue to run our weekly meet ups in Toronto (#DiscoverYourWild), we will be making some updates to the web site, and we will be working on producing the first full-length episodes of the series!!

We will continue to update you and the rest of our followers on Social Media and respond to any and all emails. So, please stay in touch and we’ll talk to you more in March!

Love,

The Peakbaggers


There’s No Room for Ego in the Wild

I’m lying face-down in a thicket of thorny, dense, Nova Scotian brush. Cut, tired, almost in tears and and ready to give up on our summit of White Hill, Nova Scotia’s highest point, Andrea calls behind me, “Are you OK?” I take a deep breath, collect myself, and respond. “Yeah, I’m OK…”

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In the 4 days leading up to this expedition I had  been worried about this exact moment – bushwhacking through maritime forests, brittle and painful from a life exposed to harsh winds and salt-air. I read reports, looked at maps, and both Andrea and I had detailed conversations with Parks Canada staff. Still, I was worried and that worry resulted in tension.

My tension and stress caused me to be a total pain and often miserable hiking partner. It often was hard for me to relax and everything was taken a bit too seriously. Instead of voicing my concerns and discussing them and taking the time to relax, I tried to push through stubbornly.

~

Lying there in the alders, when I heard Andrea’s voice, I realized that despite all of this my hiking partner never abandoned me. She was looking past my stressed-out attitude and the harsh conditions of our journey and focused on the goal. When I heard her voice I realized how much of my ego was getting in the way. I decided to put that aside, accept the conditions, focus on the journey and be present in the moment.

This resulted in me being more aware and observing natural breaks in the brush that animals had navigated and those paths allowed us to move through more “easily” (I use that term loosely). It allowed me to listen to my intuition and eventually find the trail we’d been searching for in our bushwhack.

After successfully reaching the summit I felt a wave of relief wash over me. As we embarked on the long journey back to the car I reflected on my attitude and the conditions we hiked through. I thought to myself, “nature has taught you an important lesson.”

~

Nature is bigger than any of us. It is bigger than small worries, concerns, and disputes. Nature is a powerful force that will inspire awe and evoke an internal silence if you are willing to stop and appreciate it’s beauty. Nature demands a balance between adequately planning and preparing and being present- looking ahead and then setting that aside and being in the moment.

I am still learning that balance and trying to accept the many, many, lessons nature can teach me…even when that means falling-face first into some painful brush.


PEI, Missing Flights, and Channeling Happiness: how my attitude affects what happens in my life

I scribbled this post on the plane back from Vancouver, British Columbia to our home in Toronto, Ontario last week, Thursday, October 22nd, 2015:

This morning we woke up in a king size bed overlooking the Vancouver harbour. Speckled red and orange trees amongst coastal evergreens filled the backdrop of our wide window behind boats and in front of mountains where clouds moved them in and out of sight. How gloriously lucky I felt to be there in that moment among fluffy pillows and beside someone I truly loved. It’s almost inexplicable for I know its feeling is far greater than any sentence I could ever write.

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We got dressed to the sounds of a Canadian classic: Dumb and Dumber. I snickered at jokes about hooters — referring to owls — and Brian stared up at me with a smirk. We took hands and embarked on a quick walk to the park before heading back to Toronto. “A quick walk, breakfast, a coffee shop stop… We’ll pick up your gift at Mark’s and then drop Shannon’s gift off before heading straight to the airport. I think we’ll make it,” I said. “It’ll be tight,” was Brian’s response with slight hesitation. Looking at our plan now, it seems drastically complicated with what time we had.

Our walk was beautiful. We stepped fifty feet into the park before turning back but it was a splendid handful of moments. The bike and walking paths were packed with people whose purpose was to strictly enjoy Stanley Park at 10am on a Thursday. We knew this because there wasn’t anywhere else to go along the path but into the park. What a harmonizing thought, that this many people were set off to enjoy the trees and the waterfront. I felt envious that this could be a daily deal for residents, and that I never did this regularly when I lived here.

We spent most of our moments with one tall tree, bare in bark until two thirds up where it blossomed in green. A stump stood ten feet in front of it as the perfect pedestal for its photographical worship. We obliged.

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We jumped in a smart car and flew to Forty Ninth Parallel, one of the best coffee shops in the world according to Roast. We’ve had their stuff before but going there was supreme. Our coffees were starkly different in taste but equally delicious. A perfect cap to our full breakfast bellies and foliage-reflected eyes. Besides their coffee, there were donuts and beautiful teal coloured cups that made me weak in the knees, especially when set against the mahogany coloured hardwood that made up the cafe. A thrilling pinterest-worthy view. When we rushed out, the sun shone and, though I fretted about being late, I was happy we were here.

Two quick trips back in the smart car to pick up a thank you gift and to drop another off and we were off to the airport. I reconciled in my mind that we would make it in time and would likely not get our checked bag onto the plane. We were heading home so I wasn’t worried. In my much travelled life, showing up 45 minutes before your flight meant our luggage would get the shaft and make it onto another flight and we’d get it later. That’s fine. Zipping through town we parked the car promptly, made it to the airport shuttle pickup, and into the terminal, running like Catherine O’Hara did when she realized Kevin wasn’t on their flight to Paris. My hair is even long enough now to feel legitimately similar to her as I ran.

We didn’t make it in time. “The bag must stay with the passenger,” we were told and, thus, we’re not allowed on the flight. We were about two minutes past the 45 minute cut off for bag check, despite being told we were supposed to arrive an hour prior. My mood dropped. I don’t like when my perfectly planned timelines are thwarted by conflicting information and a policy that didn’t lend any grace to help two out of breath youngin’s onto their flight home. I felt defeated by the system and my eyes welled at the complexity of my emotions.

We opted to go on standby in hopes that we’d get onto one of the next 4 flights leaving Vancouver. I spent the next hour chronically all my airport marathon runs (yes — I’ve had handfuls) and how they’d always seemed to work out and I wondered why this one wasn’t the same. I dwelled in our mistake, to be honest, and my mood turned into a thick sludge as we waited to hear if we’d get on the next flight.

We did, we got onto the flight. “Middle seats are all we have,” said the clerk as she handed us our boarding passes. Upon entering the plane and seeing my seat, I had to chuckle and feel utterly sorry for myself, still in a thick emotional sludge at the sight of where I was to sit for the next 5 hours:

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“This is karma,” I thought to myself. “This seat is karma for my rotten mood the past hour.”

When I sat down and said bye to Brian who moved to the back of the plane, I told myself that my time to be needlessly upset was over. I wholly believe that you choose your attitude and my poor one led me to this chair. I’d had long enough to feel silly for missing something that seemed so grandure in my mind. Would I take away anything we did this morning to make that flight, now knowing that everything worked itself out? No way! I wouldn’t take away our mountain view, our park romp, our quiet breakfast, our coffee and donut date, our quick goodbye and thank you pit stops… I wouldn’t want to leave this beautiful city without one of those things, and here I was on a plane going home at no extra cost, an hour after our initial takeoff. I have a choice, I told myself. I must feel gratitude, I said. And so I did.

Two weeks ago we were on Prince Edward Island marvelling at the red roads and hilled valleys. We’d seen New Brunswick’s peak and had no idea what we were in for in Cape Breton’s Nova Scotia. We visited friends, cafes, the Hopewell Rocks, and harbours and here I was now, on the other side of the country, feeling sorry for myself for enjoying Stanley Park a little too long. As I pulled out book one of Anne of Green Gables, which I’d picked up when visiting the gable, I thought about how incredibly lucky I was to have the morning I did. To see the water, mountains, to breath the air and to stare up the trunk of a thousand year old tree. And then to think the book in my lap came from a place 6000 km away and to say that I’d just been there, well, I’m anything in the world but unlucky.

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The greatest feeling this whole day is sitting in this seat and letting the thick emotional sludge slide down and out of me. Letting it slide into the floor of the plane, through it, past the luggage and random boxes and letting it go into the windy outside world. I’m sitting here channelling my inner Anne and trying to end this post with a just verbalization of what it is like to travel across this country in all its glory. To choose to do so. To ditch my dreams of Thailand, Columbia, Romania, and Mexico for the mean time so I can see the sights I’ve dreamed about since youth. We learn about this landscape our whole lives, it’s like we’ve already seen it, but breathing in the air outside Green Gables, watching the ocean rise around the Hopewell Rocks, standing amidst an 800 year old hollow tree, or skipping along lookout in the hilled valleys of Saskatchewan (yes — hills!) is nothing compared to words on paper.

If The Peakbaggers does anything, I hope it encourages just one person to journey to these spots and to feel as grateful as I am for doing so. We can read all we want in book but setting a goal and achieving it is nothing compared to turning the next page and reading on about someone else’s adventure. I hope you can make it your own because, after all, this country is ripe for exploring.


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Insights Gained from Everest Documentary “Sherpa”

I wait with eager anticipation, staring at a blank movie screen at the Toronto International Film Festival, waiting to see the documentary Sherpa.  I think I know the story. I think I know about the 2014 avalanche on Chomolungma (aka Mt. Everest) that killed 16 Sherpa. I think “Sherpa” is just another word for a mountain guide.

How wrong I was!

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(all photos courtesy Felix Media)

Over the next 96 minutes Director Jen Peedom will take me on a heartbreaking and incredible journey that will teach me that the Sherpa are a Nepalise people with a delicate and spiritually inspiring lifestyle. I will be reminded of Tenzing Norgay’s amazing first summit of Chomolungma with Edmund Hillary and the subsequent injustices. I will mediate on topics like exploitation, cultural appropriation, the majesty of nature, death, and my own life.

As I watch, Sherpa after Sherpa string heavy loads of materials up to various camps along Everest. They haul oxygen, food, and even materials to build huts, all for the climbers who will summit thanks to their efforts. As I think about their strength, spirituality, and incredible attitudes, my heart swells. As the family of the main character of the film (Phurba Tashi Sherpa) describe their fears and plead with Phurba not to climb, tears stream down my face. Now, as I write this article, I hold back the tears just so I can get words onto the screen.

What Jen Peedom managed to capture was a deep understanding the Sherpa already know about the mountain. Daily, the Sherpa talk about not upsetting the mountain. Their village is filed with shrines and prayer wheels. They pray before climbs and during, burring plants and smudging themselves as ritual. I believe they do all of this because they understand the majesty of Chomolungma and other mountains. They recognize they are but only one part of this symbiotic relationship.

This attitude and understanding is one I am firmly believe in and one I am constantly trying to engrain in my journey. I believe, like the Sherpa (and many others) that nature demands our respect and that a lack of this respect can result in imbalances. Watching Sherpa I felt small and powerless. I also felt a great pull and a call, one that said, “challenge yourself in ways that will demand humility.”

My thoughts and prayers are with the Sherpa, the Nepalise, everyone who was affected by the tragedies in Nepal and Chomolungma and everyone who respectfully dares to go on adventure and in the hope of finding themselves.


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