“Got the Nordic poles? Check. First-Aid kit? Check. Bear spray? Yup….And we’re ready to go!” our hiking guide proclaims. “Do you mean ‘bug spray’?” I ask, with slight trepidation in my voice. “No, I meant ‘bear spray’….But don’t worry – it’s usually just a precaution”.
Hiking at Monica Meadows
And so, another group of urban professionals vacationing at Mountain Trek – a high-octane fitness resort nestled in southeastern B.C. – realize that we’re not in proverbial Kansas anymore. As we depart for a four-hour hike up an altitude heretofore seen only from the tops of office skyscrapers, we feel secure under the supervision of our fearless leader.
The sometimes-grueling-but-always-glorious alpine hikes make up the majority of the fitness activity during the weekly retreat, and with good reason. For one, the treks through the bucolic bliss – old forests in the mountain ranges and glacier-fed Kootenay lakes – are absolutely stunning. Seasoned hikers who have trekked the Himalayas, Mount Kilimanjaro and Mount Everest maintain that these mountains still rank among the most beautiful they have seen. Second, as we learn during one of several information sessions held during our week, working out outdoors (as opposed to, say, inside your local gym) is much more efficient in terms of burning calories.
Hiking at Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park
Mountain Trek’s mission is to kick-start improvements to your lifestyle, which can mean weight loss and better fitness for some, or a more positive attitude and less stress for others. Under the leadership of Program Director Kirkland Shave, Mountain Trek adopts a holistic approach toward achieving these goals. Emphasizing equal parts fitness and balanced diet, as well as providing detoxification and de-stressing techniques to a maximum of sixteen guests each week, the program seeks to transform you inside and out.
Some delicious breakfast
Beyond the daily hikes, there are sunrise Hatha yoga classes as well as post-dinner evening classes which alternate between high-intensity cardio blasts to burn unnecessary stored fat, and strength training to increase ADHD hormone production for healthy weight loss. A few dance classes and obstacle courses are also thrown in to keep things interesting. Additionally, there are daily lectures and approximately 1200 calories worth of food, divided up into three small meals and two mid-day snacks a day plus a smoothie to start the morning. Conspicuously absent are common vices such as caffeine, sugar, artificial sweeteners, starches, not to mention alcohol. Luckily, the delicious spa cuisine staves off most cravings. Dishes such as the Broccoli Cheese Frittata, Artichoke and Chickpea Salad and Vegetarian “Neat Balls” are particularly memorable. Dietary accommodations are made across the spectrum to cater to carnivores as well as vegans, to those with allergies, and even to those who have particular food dislikes. All of this results in a wider range of culinary choices than found at most other fitness retreats.
The lodge at sunset
Rooms at the lodge are small and spare; but this is not really an issue considering that the only time spent there is for sleeping, showering or changing into yet another set of workout clothes. To be sure, there is virtually no time for dawdling, with guests given only a few moments here or there in between each activity/meal/lecture. Though classified as a destination spa, Mountain Trek is not a place for pampering or pedicures. But, despite the relentless, boot-camp style regimen, the atmosphere among the guests and staff remains cooperative and upbeat.
Mountain Trek’s lectures led by the Program Director are also engaging and interactive. Using scenarios from the typical lives of busy professionals, Kirkland has a talent for distilling lots of complex information on “weighty” subjects relating to health and nutrition into easily digestible tidbits (no pun intended). He teaches us to exercise in a manner that will increase our anabolic metabolism; create a balanced diet in the most efficient way; detoxify; and follow better sleep and stress reduction habits to lower Cortisol (the primary stress hormone that increases sugars in the bloodstream).
The week also includes a minimum of three evening massages with resident RMTs. Guests are also encouraged to intensify their detox by spending 20-30 minutes each evening in the lodge’s infrared sauna or steam room, or by visiting the Ainsworth Hot Springs, whose mineral properties provide similar effects. (The latter is a tourist attraction located about ten minutes from the property; guests are shuttled back and forth each evening in their bathrobes). Aside from taking refreshing dips in the hot, warm and chilly spring waters and having an opportunity to bond with one another in the built-in cave, the trip to Ainsworth Hot Springs allows us to momentarily return to the real world and mingle with tourists (whom we stare at incredulously as they ingest ice cream cones and rainbow-hued M&Ms, blatant reminders of a not-so-distant but decadent past).
But, despite his steadfast dedication to the program, Kirkland is also grounded in reality. He is savvy enough to know that Mountain Trek provides a heightened experience, one that would be difficult to replicate in its entirety at home. We each have obligations with respect to our careers, families and friends and it would be nearly a full-time job to try to adopt this program to the letter. And so our final lecture, “Taking Mountain Trek Home”, provides us with tips on how best to incorporate the lessons we have learned over the week in the most realistic way. Kirkland adheres to the S.M.A.R.T. goal-setting philosophy, i.e., setting goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely. Rather than expect perfection, he suggests we aim to make moderate, incremental changes to our diet and schedule our fitness activities at optimal times of the day.
Finally, Kirkland cautions us against being too preach-y to our friends and family regarding our new found wisdom. “They’ll wonder what type of cult you joined and what kind of Kool-Aid we gave you to drink”, he says, with self-deprecating humour. To this I would reply: “Kool-Aid? Not a chance! That stuff is full of sugar.”
Lynn was a guest of Mountain Trek in August 2012. Photos are courtesy of David Glunns.