Detoxing while hiking at high altitudes may not be everyone’s dream holiday, but it’s possible to find the bliss in a boot camp getaway.
Day 1: A brand new day
The gentle wake-up knock comes at 6 a.m.: “Good morning, Amy.” It’s time for my weigh-in at Mountain Trek, a mountainous boot camp near Nelson, B.C., where guests sign up for a week-long induction focused on four health tenets: proper nutrition, fitness, stress management and detoxification. It’s supposed to kick-start the body into raising its metabolism, and I could use some of that on the heels of a rather indulgent summer. I’m told to expect seven hours of intense activity each day, mostly in the great outdoors, fuelled by precisely portioned 1,200 calories spread across six small meals.
Mountain Trek’s spa and fitness studio have floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the 100-kilometre Kootenay Lake. There are gardens and wildflowers, mountains and blue skies. Meals are local, organic, plated – and mostly delicious, enjoyed by guests around family-style tables. So that’s the good news. Back at my weigh-in, the excuses fly: “I’ve been travelling a lot, no time for exercise. It’s summertime … and those gin and tonics aren’t going to drink themselves!” Until, finally, acceptance: I’ve gained a few on the rump. Let’s. Do. This.
Cups of chicory coffee substitute with stevia: 2. Hours of physical activity: 7. Chocolate cravings: 567.
Day 2: Waking up is hard to do
It’s the detox that’s the real buzzkill. No coffee or stimulants (sugar, caffeine, chocolate) and definitely no beer by the campfire. Instead, it’s water, herbal tea and no dessert. Thank goodness for yoga. Not only does it mentally prepare me for the day ahead, but the intense stretching turns me from rusty tin woman back into a real-life lady.
My dad’s a doctor and my mom’s a dietician, so I’ve always been skeptical about detoxes.
Nevertheless, this morning the 16 guests/masochists are told why so-called detoxing is worth the effort. Our Mountain Trek leaders say we should help our bodies get rid of the chemicals we breathe in and ingest every day. We need to drink tons of water (check!), eat fibre-rich foods (check!), sweat through intense exercise (check!), get heavenly massages (check!), spend time at the nearby hot springs (check!) and enjoy the ensuing raging caffeine-withdrawal headache (double-check!). Now properly prepped for this morning’s 12-km hike, we toss our backpacks and Nordic poles into SUVs and head out to the Galena Trail along Carpenter Creek. At one point we even crawl into a self-propelled gondola basket over raging whitewater.
Cups of True Blueberry herbal tea consumed: 7. Chocolate cravings: 215. Amount of sweat expelled: 2,130 litres.
Day 3: Toxic Tuesday
The morning ritual: 6 a.m. wake-up, chia-packed mini-smoothie, yoga, then breakfast – hearty quinoa porridge with apple compote and a side dish of cottage cheese and chopped fresh fruit. (Look how much food you can eat when it’s the right food!) Then we grab our packs and head out for the hike: Each day brings different terrain, a different intensity, but always a gorgeous location. We take in the serene scenery on the ferry ride from Balfour to Kootenay Bay – at 35 minutes, the world’s longest free ferry crossing, it’s the last break we’ll get for hours once we start trekking through Pilot Bay Provincial Park. Forest trails wind us up and down around the beach where we stop for lunch, enjoying our Thermoses of lentil-feta soup while sitting on driftwood logs. We toss pebbles into the bay, which is straddled by one mountain after another like a winning hand of cards. There’s more hiking, and then there’s just enough time to shower before dinner, a circuit-training fitness class and a walk to the Ainsworth Hot Springs where locals and yokels alike are packed into this natural wonder.
Later that night our guide, Jeannie, lights a bonfire on the grassy grounds. She knows it’s “toxic Tuesday” – the hardest day of our week-long caffeine and booze purge – and a few of us commiserate about how much harder this is than any of us thought.
Cups of Rooibos Chai tea consumed: 4. Hours of hiking: 5. Chocolate cravings: 6.
Day 4: Whiny Wednesday
It’s midweek check-in time when Cathy, our leader, asks me if my goals are being met. And I realize they are: The hiking is intense but beautiful, the guides are amazing and the food is just what I need, not to mention tasty. I do remark that the après-dinner cardio classes are a bit much after five hours of hiking, but she explains it’s to teach us new patterns, to take a walk after dinner instead of hitting the couch. On today’s hike, I run into problems: The extreme heat at 335 vertical metres over 8.5 km makes my legs feel like lead. But at dinner, we’re rewarded with a vibrant meal of wild salmon and halibut fish cakes with pineapple mango salsa, and all is almost forgotten – until a CrossFit class after dinner. Feh! Still, I power through and actually enjoy it. This is a class I’ll definitely try back home, if I don’t die in my sleep tonight.
Cups of Country Peach Passion tea consumed: 3. Bouts of nausea: 1. Chocolate cravings: 2.
Day 5: Euphoric Thursday
At Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park we hike on snow in the 27 C summer heat and end up at the glacial lake as a few little aquamarine icebergs drift by. The sky is a dazzling blue next to the vibrant green old-growth forests and I cannot imagine a lovelier spot. It gives me clarity and makes me thankful. It also makes me think.
On the hike back down, I ask Mountain Trek’s program director, Kirkland Shave (who’s hiking these snowy, rocky paths in bare feet), to elaborate on last night’s stress-management class. “Using the brain and body together has to be part of our ongoing health,” he explains. “You have to fire across both hemispheres.” We talk through a problem I’m having at work. He’s insightful and thoughtful, and, most important, he’s right. I have a plan of action for when I get home. Be gone, belly-fat storing cortisol!
Cups of Bengal Spice tea consumed: 1. Post-dinner spin classes: 1. Chocolate cravings: 1.
Day 6: Climb every mountain
It’s the final hike day, and it’s a biggie. We drive an hour to Blue Grouse Basin, where we hike up 427 vertical metres, surrounded by a rainbow-like swath of wildflowers and lakes with mountain ranges from every angle.
As I push myself skyward, I think of last night’s final lecture, about taking the tenets of the Mountain Trek program home. “Leave here with an integration plan,” Cathy says, “because when you hit the tarmac on Saturday, this bubble bursts.” She tells us to go for progression, not perfection. “How did you get up that mountain today? Little steps. Little steps will always get you there.”
I know she’s right. I’ve come so far in such a short time and learned I’m much stronger than I ever imagined. My willpower, for example, borders on the superhuman: I never admitted this to Kirkland or the guides, but I had an emergency bar of dark chocolate hidden in my suitcase and I never once took a bite. At least, not until the second I got in the car for the ride to the airport.
Pounds of fat lost: 5.6. Muscle mass gained: 3 per cent. Chocolate cravings: 3,120!
IF YOU GO
Mountain Trek’s all-inclusive hiking retreats (everything from meals and massages to daily laundry) run until Oct. 25 in Nelson, B.C. One week immersions run $4,500; two-week visits cost $8,550. Air Canada offers daily flights from Vancouver and Calgary into Castlegar Regional Airport, 40 kilometres from Nelson. Mountain Trek will book a shuttle service to the lodge.
In November, Mountain Trek moves the program to Southern California’s chaparral highlands at Rancho La Puerta for $4,500 (U.S.) For more details: 1-800-661-5161 or mountaintrek.com.
The writer was a guest of Destination British Columbia and Mountain Trek. Neither reviewed or approved the story.