Blog / Mental Health

How I Felt Before Winter Camping Changed My Life

This post is a part of The Peakbaggers Blog Series – a web adventure series where we’ll be climbing the tallest peaks in each Canadian province and territory. Follow along here.


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 they were easily spotted there. I didn’t see one anywhere.

“It’s very much still winter up here,” a Lady-Evelyn Smoothwater superintendent 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 then about 70km of logging road 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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