It’s all about transformations at Mountain Trek

  • Written by Deborah Stone
Mountain Trek one
The majestic and rugged Purcell and Selkirk Mountains make awe-inspiring backdrops for hikers. Courtesy photo.
Those who participate in a Mountain Trek fitness and health retreat will tell you the experience is life-changing. Some will even go as far as saying it’s life-saving.

“We like to think we crack that door open for people and help them create the all-important mind-body relationship that is so crucial to optimal health,” says Kirkland Shave, Mountain Trek’s program director and life coach. “We want them to fall in love with their body because they paid attention to it and now they want to care for it.”

Though the program guarantees weight loss, Shave emphasizes that this is not the overriding goal at Mountain Trek. He explains that it’s really about changing perceptions, instilling empowerment and giving people the necessary tools to make the transformation they seek.

“It’s a jump start to improved vitality and fitness, but it can be much more than that if you apply what you learn and integrate it into your daily life,” adds Shave. The program encompasses four components: healthy nutrition (meal composition, meal timing, nutritional support and awareness), healthy lifestyle (fitness and physical activity – hiking and evening strength and cardio classes), detoxification (sweat, massage, water and breathing clean air) and healthy self-care (sleep, stress management and goal setting through journaling).

Participants, typically 75 percent women and 25% men with an average age range of 42-52, come from all over the world, though the majority hails from the U.S. and Canada. The catalyst for their participation varies from doctor’s advice to a recent life-altering experience such as divorce or illness that prompts them to make a change.

“People come here who have been under a lot of stress,” comments Shave. “They arrive with the knowledge that something’s wrong and they’re not happy with the direction they’re heading in. They view the program not as a vacation, but rather as an investment to balance their lives physically, spiritually, emotionally and mentally.”

During my weeklong stay at Mountain Trek this past summer, I was one of eight guests. We all had different motivations and objectives ranging from losing weight and body fat to improving fitness and detoxing. Although these aims were primarily physical, there was also an overriding intention to spend time communing with nature in order to reap its mental, emotional and spiritual benefits. Everyone was eager to learn and absorb what they could from the experts in residence, while challenging themselves in new and different ways. Though we came from varying backgrounds, we bonded quickly as a group. There’s something about putting people in a restricted situation that creates an almost instant camaraderie.

“People connect easily here because it’s a shared experience,” explains Shave. “It comes out of the sacrifice that participants are making – what they’re giving up and doing without – and the struggles that they go through in the process. The group becomes its own strong support system.”

A typical day at Mountain Trek in beautiful British Columbia begins with a knock on your door at 6 a.m. After downing a small protein smoothie and making the necessary written notes about one’s physical and mental state, it’s time to head to an hour-long gentle yoga class.

Held in a lovely studio with panoramic views of Canada’s famed glacier-fed Kootenay Lake and Purcell Mountain Range, these sessions are welcomed by all, as they provide an opportunity to stretch and work out the kinks in your body, as well as do some guided meditation. Breakfast follows in the cozy dining room with equally impressive vistas.

Mealtime is very social and highly anticipated, as food is served only at specific times of day. There’s no raiding the pantry here! You eat what and when you’re told, which makes it easy because there are no choices to contemplate. Women get 1,200 calories a day and men receive 1,400.

The organic spa cuisine exceeds expectation. It’s delicious and surprisingly satisfying. Initially, I thought I would be hungry, especially since this is a physically intense program, however my stomach never really growled because it was being fed healthy, nutrient and protein-rich food every few hours. Breakfast might consist of lemon ricotta pancakes with blueberry sauce or a roasted red pepper frittata, for example. The morning snack could be fruit and a small piece of cheese or my favorite, a heavenly concoction called “Coconut Apricot Bliss Balls.”

Lunch is typically a thermos of hearty soup, such as mushroom barley lentil or Moroccan chicken stew, followed later by an afternoon snack of veggies with hummus or another tasty type of dip.

And dinner, always a big hit, features delectable delights like cedar planked salmon, crab cakes with curry sauce, lime coconut scallops, mushroom sherry stuffed chicken breasts and prawn vermicelli.

Following breakfast, the group readies itself for a day in the great outdoors. Mountain Trek’s fitness program is primarily focused on hiking and participants are placed in appropriate groups based on their level of fitness. There’s a guide for each group, no matter how small, and two, if necessary, for larger numbers.

The hikes are located within spectacularly scenic areas in and around the rugged Purcell and Selkirk Mountains, which are known for their picturesque lakes, rushing rivers, weathered canyons and verdant old growth forests.

The treks vary in distance and elevation, depending on group level, but everyone hikes for about five hours a day. You are equipped with a heavy-duty backpack and removable camel pouch for water, a heart rate monitor and pair of walking sticks.

Add lunch and two snacks, raingear, extra dry clothing and other miscellaneous items and you’re set to go. The poles will become your friends, as they are true aids in navigating the trails once you learn how to use them effectively.

I especially relied on them on the downhill, as they helped cushion the impact on my knees.

During the hikes, guides not only encourage participants to keep up their heart rates and persevere onward when the going gets tough, but they also provide interesting commentary about the environment.

Among hikers, the conversation topics were all over the place. It was interesting how willing most people were to share their deeply personal thoughts and experiences with each other after such a short amount of time.

I believe the setting and situation removes barriers, allowing individuals to open up more readily. The hikes, though sometimes arduous, were always rewarding because of the scenery, the companionship and the sense of accomplishment that participants felt upon completion.

As the days went by, fitness levels increased and some people were able to change group levels to challenge themselves further.

Each afternoon, after hiking, the group gathered for an informative session on a specific topic such as nutrition, stress, sleep or goal-setting. Mountain Trek’s staff is well-trained and educated in these areas and they have much knowledge and information to impart.

They are also highly motivational and compassionate individuals with a sincere desire to help others achieve their goals.

Though you might be familiar with some of the material dispensed at these lifestyle and wellness lectures, it never hurts to hear it again, especially from a new source and within an environment highly conducive to receptiveness.

The sessions are followed by dinner and then it’s time to hit the gym for more physical activity.

The evening program might be a strength and conditioning workout, circuit training, kickboxing or another type of activity.

It can be hard to summon the energy for these classes after hiking all day, but evening exercise is an integral component of the program and instructors are adept at knowing how to rally the troops.

Just know that you’ll soon be prone on a massage table getting your body kneaded by a skilled therapist who will work his/her magic on all your aches and pains. Or, you can look forward to time in the steam room, infrared sauna or hot tub. Those who want the natural healing hot springs experience are welcome to visit nearby Ainsworth Hot Springs. It’s no surprise to learn that sleep is not an issue for most folks at Mountain Trek. The amount of activity and time spent outdoors in the mountain air worked wonders on my typical erratic sleep habits and insomnia problems. I slept like a baby and woke up refreshed and clear-headed each morning. Mountain Trek has been offering its fitness and weigh loss program for ten years and it has a proven track record of success. Of those guests that keep in touch, Shave notes that about one-third make permanent changes to their lives. The other two-thirds eventually fall back to old habits after some time has passed. He adds, “We feel that our rate of success is very good. In comparison, the Mayo Clinic has only 2 percent of their clients that change permanently. That’s how difficult it is.” I left Mountain Trek with a renewed sense of vitality and commitment to maintaining my well-being, as well as an enhanced awareness of the power and impact that my choices have on my present and future health.

If you go:

Mountain Trek offers its hiking fitness retreat programs at its B.C. base lodge from May through October and its winter snowshoeing retreats from late December to early January.

The program is also offered at Rancho La Puerta Fitness Resort in Baja at various times during the year.

For more information: 800-661-5161 or

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