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British Columbia
Hiking my way to fitness at Mountain Trek

by Jennifer Merrick

T he schedule is not for the faint of heart at Mountain Trek, a weight-loss resort located east of British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley in the Kootenay region.

A typical day looks something like this:
6:30 – Yoga
7:30 – Breakfast
8:30 – Hiking (lunch on the trails)
3:30 – Return to lodge
4:00 – Stress Management seminar
5:15 – Dinner
6:00 – Spin/cardio class
8:00 – Massage
All of this on 1200 calories and no caffeine.

So why would anyone choose to spend their hard-earned vacation time here instead of perhaps a beach in the Caribbean?

“People say they come because their clothes are too tight,” says Kirkland Shave, program director (weight loss is guaranteed at the resort). But he adds that there is often a ‘tipping point’ in people’s lives that motivates them to come, whether it’s a bad habit they want to break or even a major life event like a divorce.

For our group of 12 from the US and Canada, the reasons vary. Half had been here in previous years, and for the majority the reasons were health related.

“My diet was unhealthy, and with a history of diabetes in my family I knew I needed to do things differently,” says New Yorker Michael Hussy. There was also a litre-a-day diet coke addiction he was looking to kick.

For myself, I wanted to lose a little of the weight that had been creeping on year by year and kick- start a healthy diet and fitness regime to continue at home. The hiking was also a big draw as the Kootenay region is renowned for its pristine mountain wilderness.

So here I am.

The morning starts like every day does at Mountain Trek –with yoga. It’s not a hardcore-twist-yourself-into-a-pretzel kind, but a gentle stretching that uses bands and rollers to prepare our muscles for the work that lies ahead. As it’s the first day, the staff pull us out one by one for a weigh in, measurements and body composition analysis. Even though I know my weight is not ideal, it’s hard to see the numbers in black and white, especially the body fat percentage, which puts me in the red zone.

Next on the agenda after yoga and a substantial breakfast, is our first hike. Before we head off we’re taught foot care, which involves applying a tincture of benzoin and dressings to prevent blisters on vulnerable spots like heels. Then we take care of our bladders–not emptying them, but filling them up and placing them upside down in our backpacks with tubes coming out so we can drink from them on the trail. Mountain Trek supplies these portable drinking apparatuses to all their guests along with heart monitors. We need both.

Once on the trails, I quickly find out there’s a huge difference between the leisurely hiking I’m used to doing and the fitness hiking that’s done at Mountain Trek. The latter involves climbing, lots of climbing, and getting your heart rate up. They’ve even been known to throw a boulder or two in backpacks if they feel it’s too easy of a workout for you. Dividing us into 3 or 4 groups, depending on fitness level also ensures no one is slacking. It doesn’t take much climbing for my heart to start beating much faster. I look at my heart monitor and start to worry. “Is 160 too high?” I ask our guide when we finally have a chance to catch our breath. She’s not concerned and a few minutes later we’re off again.

As much of a workout as it is, the hikes are undoubtedly the highlight of my trip. Most days we spend about four hours on the trails, stopping en route for lunch (which always consists of hearty soup) at lookout points that make the climb up worth every labored step.

The Selkirk and Purcell mountain ranges, where we’re climbing, are the Rockies older sibling, formed tens of millions of years before the famous Rockies made their appearance. Their glacier lakes, tree-lined peaks, wildflowers and the glacier themselves make for stunning eye-candy even if we are huffing and puffing up the mountains.

We return from our excursions usually around 4pm, which gives us just enough time to have a shower or a quick soak in the hot tub before a seminar. There’s at least one lecture a day on topics that range from fitness and nutrition to stress management and integrating the program at home. The information is practical, and although their program while we’re at the lodge is intense, they advocate a much more relaxed and doable plan for at home with a higher calorie count and realistic goals.

Dinner is at 5:15, and is always very much anticipated. The food is fresh, delicious and well-presented, and I’m continually amazed by how well we eat. Chef Coral McLean says everything is made from scratch with fresh, local ingredients. “Simple is always best,” she says. “And love has to go into it.” However, there’s not much time to enjoy it as there another exercise class from 6-7. Frankly, this seems a bit too much for my already battered body, but there’s infrared sauna, steam rooms and massages to look forward to.

Our last yoga class of the week is restorative, a type that involves a lot of blanket folding and relaxation. Once again we’re pulled out of class, this time for our weigh-out. My fat percentage is still high, but I leave 5lbs lighter, with four inches gone and lowered blood pressure.

In fact, all of us feel stronger and more relaxed than when we came to Mountain Trek. At least for the moment, we’re determined to continue to pursue our health goals at home. Michael no longer craves his diet coke and plans to drink club soda instead, and I vow to skip the wine and Netflix on weeknights.

Whether we’ll be able to do this once the stresses of our busy lives hit us, I’m not sure, but it’s a novel feeling to come home from a trip thinner and healthier than when I left, and no matter what happens, the alpine memories of my hikes at Mountain Trek will stay with me for a long time.

Just the Numbers:

Vertical feet climbed –5400
Kilometers hiked – 47k
Pounds lost – 4.8
Inches – 4

If you Go:

Mountain Trek offers 1 or 2 week all-inclusive programs for small groups (max. 16 participants) during spring, summer and fall. Shuttlebus service is offered from Castlegar, BC and Spokane, Washington. www.Mountaintrek.com 

For more information on hiking in British Columbia visit www.hellobc.com

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