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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20 Ways You Can Leave No Trace

There is a widespread and incredible attitude that people are adopting with whole hearts when it comes to being outdoors, typically camping or hiking or participating in nature activities. The attitude is, “Leave no Trace.”

That moment in Wild when Reece Witherspoon (portraying Cheryl Strayed) tries to light a fire with a match and the match goes out… What does she do? She throws it on the ground! I was reeling! Instead, respectful hiking guidelines would suggest collecting that match or throwing it back in to the fire. Something as small as a match makes a big difference.

If you’re not familiar with these three words, “leave no trace” is the practice of enjoying and experiencing nature and leaving your surroundings just as you found them – like you were never there. This means taking home with you all the packaging, waste, and property you possess or create, and leaving the plants and trees, flowers and rocks, and all you come across where in its place. There are a bunch of resources now about how to be more respectful to your environment. You can explore the seven principles across the web (Scouts Canada has this pdf, and there’s also a leavenotrace.ca non-profit initiative to check out).

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I learned about “leaving no trace” quite early on in my adolescence and became a bit obsessed with adopting it into my daily life, despite living in the city. How can I leave no trace… all the time?

With an onslaught of information and research, I decided to take small steps towards a larger goal: to leave as little trace as I can in my every day life. I decided to consume less and live more. I spend less money on things and instead I save up for experiences. I thought about my use of water, food, and material goods and decided to be more mindful.

Here are some things I do every day that I didn’t do before I committed to leaving no trace:

  • I always bring a reusable bag for my groceries. If I forget, I don’t take a plastic bag. I carry my purchases in my arms. It’s really important to remember this, I tell myself constantly.
  • I always use a reusable coffee cup when I’m out (Keep Cup makes amazing cups that are standard sizes (8, 12, 16oz) light, small, and available at many cafes) and a Nalgene bottle (BPA free for $14 at MEC) or glass for my water. I’ve vowed to never take a disposable bottle of water unless I’m dying from dehydration. It might seem extreme but I’m proud of this commitment (check out Ban the Bottle for some quick facts).
  • I try to shake dry my hands in public washrooms instead of using paper towel or hand dryers. Think of that over flowing garbage can of paper towel in every washroom and multiply it by the number of businesses on that street, in that neighbourhood, in that city, in that province, in that country that have the same bin… I don’t want to contribute to that waste. I try to avoid hand dryers because electricity is valuable and I don’t want to waste it.
  • On that note, I turn off the lights in all the rooms I do not occupy. I even turn off the lights in public bathrooms in offices that are quiet and, thus, don’t get much bathroom attendance. What a waste!
  • I turn off the tap while I’m brushing my teeth. Water running when you’re not using it is big waste. I also have a jug of water that I pour undrinkable water in to and use it to water my plants. Water from boiling hard boiled eggs, cups of water that my cats have sneakily drank out of, and water I used in my hot water bottle, for example, would go into this jug.
  • I pay attention to what goes down the drain. A while back I became shockingly aware of the affect my shampoos, soaps, conditioners, etc. have on the world’s water. A great many chemicals found in shampoos, soaps, and perfumes (like parabens, phthalates, and sodium lauryl sulfate) are not filtered out at treatment plants and can end up in our oceans causing serious distress to aquatic life. Now I buy all-natural, biodegradable products.
  • I wash my clothes on cold. This saves energy and reduces carbon pollution.
  • I always try to bike more than drive or take public transit. I never really wanted a car, but I ended up with one. After happily selling it and hopping on a bike, I not only feel mobile and healthy but this movement is powered by my body. And I’m outside, and that feels amazing. We also used Autoshare, an affordable car sharing service, which offers hybrid vehicles. Autoshare allows us access to a vehicle without the extra cost, and the hybrid vehicles aren’t as awful as those gas guzzlers out there!
  • I eat all the food I buy, unless it’s absolutely rotten. I plan my meals around what is in my fridge with the goal to throw out as little as possible. Even if I don’t feel like eating something, I get creative and make it into a meal. With an open mind, you can usually find something pleasing to create!
  • I try to shop as local as possible. I try my best to buy food with minimal packaging, sticking to market vegetables and such.
  • I ditch saran wrap and use tupperware. This is an easy one!
  • I try to carry a small silver fork with me. Plastic cutlery is yet another form of waste and I’ll try to reuse it if I’m stuck without my mini silver ikea fork (they’re small and perfect for purses and knapsacks!). A MEC spork would also work, and would be a bit lighter!
  • I upcycle, refurbish, and practice sustainable living. Wherever I can I reuse or remake something old into something usable or workable. Brian and I even created a company called Porch Light which sells coffee soap because we were tired to throwing out our coffee grinds! You’d be surprised what you can make with things you ditch on the daily!

To some, these steps may seem like no brainers, but before I decided to live this way, I wasn’t living this way. These practices are all conscious decisions I make on a daily basis, and despite practicing these for over 10 years, I still have to tell myself to make them. I still have to encourage myself to gather my produce in my arms when I forget my bags, to stay at the cafe for my coffee when I forget my cup, and to make a salad at home when I have all the fixings but want to order pizza instead. Indeed, I do more and there’s a lot more that I can do, and I’m moving toward it on a daily basis.

It’s important to take small, mindful steps towards the direction you want to head. It’s important to be an example for those around you. It’s important to speak up about things you believe in, and to share your thoughts with people who may not understand where you’re coming from. It’s important to lead the life you want to live, and I want don’t want to leave a material trace, but rather an experience.


What are some things you’re doing to “leave no trace”? Let us know in the comments below.

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Socks, Mitts, Liners, Batteries… Bears…

The more pieces of clothing – socks, mitts, liners, batteries – that I gather, the closer we get to Mount Logan. Am I getting ahead of myself?

Tomorrow we embark on a winter camping trip; our first summit of 13. Ishpatina Ridge it’s called, in a beautifully named Ontario provincial park called Lady Evelyn-Smoothwater (a person I tried to learn about but only came across the names of two water bodies: Lady Evelyn River and Lake Smoothwater). A trail of thoughts run through my mind every time I think about how little experience I have, followed by an immediate thrill at the same notions.

“Oh, this is the perfect time,” Nik told us when we visited him at MEC Toronto last week. “The bears are coming out of hibernation…” I didn’t hear the rest of his sentence. I need to pick up a bear bell, I thought.

I spent a year in Vancouver trying to see a bear. I hung out at a salmon hatchery for an entire day – twice – because places like that are normally rich with wildlife. I drove to Tofino, along the Sunshine Coast, to Squamish, and around Whistler with my eyes peeled… multiple times. I camped beside the ocean and walked around quietly searching. I drove up and down logging roads slowly and surely, missing a family by two minutes (the other car in our clan saw that wonder). I skirted around North Vancouver because I was told bears were easily spotted there. I didn’t see one anywhere.

In Wilderness_Andrea Wrobel

“It’s very much still winter up here,” Lady-Evelyn Smoothwater Park superintendent, Kevin Pinkerton told Brian yesterday. The bears are still sleeping.

My first experience with a bear is going to be amazing. When that will be, no one can say. This sort of fear – the best kind – drives my ambition forward. Like my fears of trying something new, the mere thought of existing the same place as a bear thrills me. Growing up in the city and with parents who took me to a number of zoos, to African Lion Safari, to Sea World and Marine Land… I was profoundly affected as a child by the feeling that something wasn’t right with all these places. Businesses. That these animals were brought in so that we could see them; so that we knew they were real. In wilderness – in a park like Lady Evelyn-Smoothwater, or on a mountain like Logan – I am the animal and the bears, birds, foxes are the spectator; a sort of role reversal that I yearn to bask in… and leave untouched.

It’s likely that all we’ll encounter this weekend is ourselves and our ideas; our new boots that we’ll be breaking in and the flurries that are to potentially pass us by. Still a visitor by nature, we embark on this adventure: a 5 hour drive from Toronto ending with 70km of logging road leading to the beginning of the trailhead, a 15 km hike up the ridge, to a beautiful view of Ontario – snowstorm pending – from the tallest point in the province.


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