Mountain Medicine

There is a pleasure in the pathless woods,
There is a rapture on the lonely shore,
There is society, where none intrudes,
By the deep Sea, and music in its roar:
I love not Man the less, but Nature more.
-Lord Byron

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Trees, Trials, and Tribulations

I’ve always had a love for the outdoors – as a kid I was the girl outside found digging in the mud instead of inside playing house with my massive box of hand me down Barbies; I preferred to run around the playground than watch TV; and field sports took precedent over a lot of other activities typical of our current generation.

While I was fortunate enough to grow up in a loving family who provided me with many opportunities to travel the world; hiking and roughing it in the woods weren’t exactly at the top of their priority list. With that being said, in grade 11 (almost a decade ago!) I joined the outdoor club at my high school (super cool I know) and had the opportunity to go on a number of supervised adventures in the Ontario wilderness.

My interest in nature was initially slow to develop and not without its frustrations. I vividly recall a portage trip in Quebec where not only was I eaten alive by a copious number of mosquitoes, but the teacher had to physically separate my best friend and me who were sharing a canoe because we wouldn’t stop fighting about each other’s poor steering abilities. As the years progressed and my enthusiasm for nature grew, I also came to learn that not everyone shared the same fervor for sleeping on the ground as I did. At 18, I remember taking my then boyfriend on a trip to Algonquin park and spent most of the weekend being repetitively questioned about whether I was absolutely positive that it was safe to drink the boiled lake water I was supplying him with – I didn’t appreciate it – but we both managed to survive. Needless to say, the next 3 years of our relationship did not involve camping.

Following high school, and over the next 4 years of living in Ontario, the extent of my wilderness exposure did not go much beyond the occasional car camping trip with friends. In 2013 I moved to British Columbia and that changed pretty quickly…I was in nature’s biggest playground and there was no shortage of adventure within arm’s reach. Although much of my time was consumed by the demands of grad school and I didn’t have a car to get me anywhere remotely “wildernessy,” I made every effort to take advantage of the beauty that was (and still is) around me.

Almost four years after moving here, my friends view me as a relatively ‘hardcore’ outdoor enthusiast, but it wasn’t always that way – there was a very “mountainous” (insert cheeky emoji here) learning curve, to say the least.

In case you didn’t know, hiking 2,000 metres up a mountain is hella different than walking through flat Ontario forests. I say that sarcastically, but in all seriousness, my first mountain overnight trip threw me for a major loop. I had loaded up my pack (with at least 20 more pounds of food than necessary, my $13 piece of foam to sleep on, and my + 25 C sleeping bag), ready to set out on my first big BC summer alpine adventure to Garibaldi Lake. It was the end of June and the weather was gorgeous. In our shorts and t-shirts (after cabbing to the trail-head), we began the grueling switchback trek up the mountain, saying hello to the passing hikers on their way down…with skis and snowshoes on their back.

Turns out that in all my planning, I had failed to consider the fact that even in the summer the temperature tends to drop and there might still be snow when you go a few thousand metres up (oops). It goes without saying that we froze our asses off – but at least we had enough granola bars to feed a small village.

That trip was a major wake up call – Shit gets real in the mountains.

Nature Nurtures

Now that I’ve submitted you to ample anecdotal evidence of my outdoor trials and tribulations over the years (KAT FACT: weather by the ocean is not the same as weather on top of a mountain), I’ll get to the point of this post.

Since moving to this incredible province, I have found a true passion for the outdoors (the kind of passion where you walk up a mountain with 60 pounds on your back to sleep on the ground, drink lake water, and pee in the forest) – but for me it’s about more than getting outside for some exercise and sunshine. As someone who battles anxiety and depression on a daily basis, for me the mountains have become my medicine (…albeit in addition to the antidepressants I take every morning).

The way I see it, nature is strikingly simple, yet beautifully complex. Nature is unexpected, nature challenges us, and nature perseveres. Nature has no expectations, nature is always there when you need it, and in the wise words of William Wordsworth “nature never did betray the heart that loved her.”

I mean realistically, if it was plausible (and not weird), nature sounds like pretty good boyfriend material…

On a more serious note, for me there is something indescribable about being in the wild. Using my own two feet to walk from the bottom of a mountain to the top carrying everything I need to survive on my back is a refreshing indication that regardless of what life throws at me or how weak I feel, that I am strong. No matter how close I am to falling apart, and no matter how much pain exists in this world, there is beauty all around us.

The trees, the mountains, the air, the sunshine, and even the rain, are a reminder that maybe the little things and the little moments aren’t so little – and that maybe the big things that are bringing us down, aren’t so big after all.

Next time you’re feeling down?

Think outside. No box required.

_________________________________________________________________

This post was inspired by the Vancouver International Mountain Film Festival (VIMFF) feature “Mind vs. Mountain” – a series of short films and a presentation focused on mental/physical challenges and highlighting the therapeutic benefits that the outdoors can have for mental health issues. Turns out I’m not the only one who enjoys my dose of mountain medicine.

In particular, credit is due to Brent Seal – co-founder of Mavrixx (http://mavrixx.com/) and guest speaker at VIMFF – who courageously shared his struggle with schizophrenia and his journey to the summit of Mount Denali – the highest peak in North America. On his to do list? Mount Everest.

tspvtnp

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