The Cleanest Line


Five-thirty a.m. looking good from my tent the second morning of GoWild 2018. Photo: Kirsten Van Horne
Five-thirty a.m. looking good from my tent the second morning of GoWild 2018. Photo: Kirsten Van Horne

Growing Pains

By Kirsten Van Horne   |   Jul 17, 2019 July 17, 2019

 In our 1990 summer catalog we said, “It’s up to us to make sure that children don’t go tree hungry, that they have wild places and opportunities to be in them. Once they do, they will amaze us with their caring. They need not wait to grow up to be involved; part of becoming a responsible adult is having a sense of responsibility for the environment as a child. Their own well-being depends on it.”

 Today, it’s not just up to us. Young people are rising up on their own behalf, to make sure their futures aren’t bereft of a livable earth. Here’s how one teenager is answering with action.

Dragging friends into wild places is something that I do. It’s hard going on solo backpacking trips or ski tours and feeling safe, you know, when it’s just me and my dog. Where are the people to do this stuff with?

How many human eyes have ever seen these glacier lilies? We camped near this small lake—a site no human had probably been for years. Photo: Kirsten Van Horne
How many human eyes have ever seen these glacier lilies? We camped near this small lake—a site no human had probably been for years. Photo: Kirsten Van Horne

In recent years, I’ve had multiple turning points in this dynamic; like last winter, I found a group of friends who are just as crazy about finding adventures and that has made my life a lot different. They’ll get up with me to hike or go ski touring before school—and they’re my age. I’ve always gone into the wilderness with older people, like my family’s neighbors, people who have grown up in the mountains, too.

Outside is where I find purpose. It’s freeing for me. I don’t know how to explain it but being in the wild really helps me figure out a lot, like my social life and other things that are going on at school—it’s like having a superpower. Everything that I think is important is out there.

The first Wildsight’s Go Wild trip I did was in August 2017—it was a 6-day backpacking trip into the Kootenay wilderness with a bunch of teenagers. I learned about it through a pop-up on Facebook. Leah Evans was one of the guides. She’s a professional skier who taught the avalanche safety course that I took last winter. Everything she’s done in her life inspires me. I really look up to her. We started in Invermere, in eastern British Columbia, Canada, near the border of Alberta, and ended in Argenta, on the west side of the Purcell Mountains. It was 37 miles. We camped in a huge old-growth cedar forest, and I saw a wolverine for the first time. We picked huckleberries to snack on, and Leah said, “Always thank the huckleberry gods!” So, for the entire trip we had fun with our odes to the berry gods, conscious of not taking more than we needed. This was something Leah learned from First Nations women and from reading Braiding Sweetgrass.

Indian paint brush during the golden hour on our first night of the 2017 trip near the summit of Sugar Loaf mountain. Photo: Kirsten Van Horne
Indian paint brush during the golden hour on our first night of the 2017 trip near the summit of Sugar Loaf mountain. Photo: Kirsten Van Horne

Leah told me that hearing my story reminded her of growing up in Rossland, BC, that there are many similarities between us. That she had a lot of friends, but she didn’t necessarily have friends who had the same motivations. Leah said, “I was always questing for who and where my people were,” and that’s something I can relate to. Somewhere between Invermere and Argenta, I started to understand that I’m not alone.

A group of us hiked up to the toe of the Toby Glacier—it’s a totally spectacular place—but it made me sad. I thought, This might disappear in my lifetime. I realized that wilderness isn’t an infinite resource. We were standing on land that used to be covered by ice. That night, the sky was clear, and I remember thinking that when I signed up for the trip, it was a question of whether we’d be able to go because of the forest fires and all the smoke. That reality is always with us now. When will summer forest fires stop us from going into our own backyards? Those days hiking in the backcountry help me realize so many little things. I always come home satisfied with living with less. 

I went on a second backpacking trip with Go Wild and Leah the following summer. We discovered local wildlife and found our route without relying on trails but by following game tracks instead. We saw places that only animals know.

Leah Evans taking in the view somewhere between Invermere and Argenta. Photo: Kirsten Van Horne
Leah Evans taking in the view somewhere between Invermere and Argenta. Photo: Kirsten Van Horne

Six years ago, when I was 11, I started feeling that everything was changing—both in my understanding of the world and what is happening with the climate, deforestation, devastation of animal habitats. There was a moment, when I was headed home with my mom, that I looked at her and said, “We’re so lucky to live here. It’s an insanely beautiful place that needs to be protected.” Since then, I’ve always been thinking about how to make a positive impact. We live in a bubble enveloped by mountains, and it’s easy for people here to take their surroundings for granted. But, I think we have an extra responsibility to protect these spaces, and to talk about them, because we’re so close to the realities of change.

Today, we picked up garbage on the beach; it’s nothing out of the ordinary, but it’s not hard to do and people appreciate it. People on the beach thanked us. I’ve done a mentorship program at Kokanee Creek Provincial Park, helping school groups learn about the area and threats to the habitat. Afterward, I tried to start a local environmental group in Nelson for young people. We’re trying to get rid of plastic bags here and to make the town use 100 percent renewable energy. I’m vegetarian, because I believe that’s better for the environment.

It causes me a lot of anxiety to know things are happening to the natural world and not to do anything about it. I’m just trying to find my voice as a leader.

We bushwhacked for about an hour and a half to get to Lost Cabin Lake. The cabin is gone, pushed into the lake during an avalanche or covered by a rock slide. I went looking for evidence, but found this view instead. Photo: Kirsten Van Horne
We bushwhacked for about an hour and a half to get to Lost Cabin Lake. The cabin is gone, pushed into the lake during an avalanche or covered by a rock slide. I went looking for evidence, but found this view instead. Photo: Kirsten Van Horne

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