Have you ever dreamed of setting off into the wilderness; exploring the mountains and feeling the cool untouched breezes of nature on your face? Have you ever felt like it would be healthier to just get out of the city and touch dirt for a few days? Combining wellness approaches like yoga and nutrition with the exciting adrenaline rush of a trek through the wild mountains of Canada sounds like a tall order - but it's one that Mountain Trek delivers.
Opening later this month for the first time since 2019, Mountain Trek is the answer to your city blues - and getting your health on the right path. CELEB sat down with Program Creator and Acting Director Kirkland Shave to talk about how he imagined to life Mountain Trek, a fitness retreat and health spa, to life - and the best way to bring your health to equilibrium.
Mountain Trek: Getting Up Close with Canada's Raw Wilderness
If you aren't familiar with Mountain Trek, you should be. It's a health spa and a fitness retreat, combined into one all-inclusive experience that will help you center yourself in a world that loves chaos.
The program's mission reads; "Imagine an all-inclusive luxury wellness retreat that not only takes care of your every need but also ensures you improve your health at the same time. At Mountain Trek’s award-winning fitness retreat & health spa in the lush nature of Canada it’s easy to slow down, reverse the effects of aging and feel healthy again. You’re going to relax fully and sleep deeply, reduce your stress, reset your metabolism, and dramatically change your body composition, increasing muscle and losing weight.
Spend a week or two at our beautiful British Columbia lodge and receive the individualized attention you deserve. Nestled in the pristine mountains, Mountain Trek allows you to retreat from your busy urban lifestyle and truly reconnect with yourself and with nature. Our all-inclusive program, which runs from Saturday to Saturday, hosts a maximum of 16 guests, and our experienced, caring staff, ensure you’ll be well taken care of your entire stay. While here, you’ll have nothing to worry about except immersing in your health reset."
With a stellar team comprised of those who love their jobs and want to help you reach your potential, Mountain Trek is the retreat for the nature-and-health-lover's soul.
Mountain Trek's warm weather seasons have been on pause due to the pandemic, but in late April 2022 they will reopen for the first time since 2019. It's the perfect time to plan your retreat and shake off the unwellness off the past two years.
The Mountain Trek team shares in a statement, "Mental Health Month in May is just around the corner.... their guests' interest in improving mental health has gone up 137% since the pandemic started and they've added many mental health-based sessions for this upcoming season—most notably, they have hired a new certified nature immersion/forest bathing (shinrin-yoku) practitioner who will lead mind-calming walks through their immediate surroundings to be fully present with and savor the healing sights, smells, sounds, and feels of the lush British Columbian. They also offer barefoot walking mediation classes."
It's the perfect opportunity to surround yourself with experts and fresh air, so to plan your stay - visit the website for more information.
How Shave Came to Premiere Alpine Fitness Trekking
CELEB sat down with the Program Director Shave to talk about how he came to this incredible career calling - and more.
Mountain Trek is based just a short drive from Nelson, British Columbia. Shave explained that Nelson boomed after around 5,000 draft dodgers fled the horrors of the Vietnam War from California and Oregon and settled in this small town in the mountains of BC. They brought with them the alternative hippy scene, creating what has grown into a pocket of yoga, organic food, health centers and a Tibetan Buddhist center among other natural focuses. But more than the people, the land itself brings its residents to an appreciation of nature and the power of nature - situated as it is on a lake between two very wild, rugged mountain ranges that are covered in glaciers and provincial parks.
As a point of meeting between recreation and alternative lifestyle, Nelson was the natural home base for Mountain Trek. Shave explains, "I came to Nelson as a hippie in 1971, and the whole place was so alternative that I fell in love with both the mountains and the culture. I worked my way through university as a park ranger, started yoga when I was 19 - and began exploring vegetarianism, martial arts, meditation, and the whole culture. It was such a part of this place that it influenced my whole perspective on balanced health."
Shave continues, "I had a career as a park ranger for about 25 years and then quit and started a wilderness skills school. Anthropology was my major in university, so I was always interested in primitive wilderness skills."
And in the early years of Mountain Trek, those are the skills he brought to the business. "The owner (at the time) of Mountain Trek asked me to come once a week and teach those skills to her guests. She was running a recreational program with mountain biking, hiking, kayaking and then I would come one day a week and teach people how to do primitive archery, mindful barefoot walking in the forest, making fires with sticks - that kind of thing. Then she needed a yoga instructor which I already was, so I started working for her. Around 2000, she asked myself, a dietician and a kinesiologist to build a weight loss program to round out our season for the Spring and Fall."
This was around the time "obesity" was becoming a worrying buzzword in the media, so people were very concerned with maintaining a healthy weight. Shave explains, "It took off. We dropped the recreational program and converted our hiking to fitness cardio hiking, calorie controlled our food and went all organic, incorporating detoxification. I covered the stress management side because I was a life coach and mediator. So we started this program in 2000 and over the last two decades as more and more science has come out about how integrated all the systems in our bodies are, we evolved. We went from a simple calories-in, calories-out perspective on health to making sure we covered sleep and that we went into managing the work-life blend, and how we look after stress in a more complex way. We also learned that we could balance hormones and raise the metabolism physically and do a health reset in a week."
The Key to Health
What guests will find at Mountain Trek is no fad. The food is mostly plant-based, but they allow for some meat protein for about half the meals because that's what the majority of their guests maintain at home. What the program aims to do with their nutrition program is show guests how they can eat healthy in a more conscious way, using smaller portions and still having more plant that meat on their plates. Gut health is a huge focus for the Mountain Trek team; upping water and fiber intake to get the gut moving regularly is key.
At Mountain Trek, walking is the first and most important approach to movement as exercise. Shave explains, "Because of my anthropological background, we take a very scientific approach; how did humans live over the past 200,000 years? We look at - what are some of the positive things people did when they hunted and gathered or farmed, or what in the industrial era did we go that plagued our health? We look at how we are living now in this post-technological period and what isn't healthy for us, then consider what we need to shift."
Shave continues, "We bring neuroscience in to help people with habit formation, so they take one or two things from the experience that they lived with us over the week and they start to implement them into their lifestyle."
And the week retreat isn't a random length of time, it's intentional. "The body can dip into fat stores for 10 to 14 days to augment energy on a calorie-restricted diet, but after that it thinks it's going into famine and will actually lower the metabolism if we restrict for too long. Our guests get six meals a day with protein at every meal, with hikes in between that use trekking poles and posture economics. Guests are put into four separate guided groups, working at the upper end of their fitness capabilities."
So while the body resets at the retreat, guests will take home a sustainable healthy diet that focuses on maximizing nutrition rather than restricting just for quick weight loss results. The most they let anyone stay is two weeks, because beyond that the program is too restrictive to be realistic. While at the retreat, people also have to go without many staples of modern life such as caffeine, sugar, inflammatory foods, Netflix - things that may be too much to ask the modern human to leave behind for good. Shave says, "It's not sustainable to pull all that away. So we'd rather have them experience a visceral shift in their metabolism in the six days of balancing their hormones; appetite hormones, sleep hormones, stress hormones. And then they go home with just one or two things that they stick with. They may have a list of 10 things they want to change, but we are really explicit that we don't want guests to work on more than one or two at a time as we know how full their lives are and the more unsuccessful a person is at making a change, the more likely they are to feel like giving up."
People come to Mountain Trek from all over the world; "About 70% of our guests are American, 20% are Canadian, and 10% international. The average age for women is around 40 and the average age for men is around 50. We have our guests come in on Saturday evening for dinner and orientation. Sunday morning they go into yoga at 6:30AM after their smoothie breakfast, they come to the kinesiology stand. They stand on a biopic scale and have their water, muscle and fat measured and then we check their blood pressure and girth measurements."
The first day check in gives them a starting point, and they repeat the measurements on the last day to give guests an idea of how much progress they've made. "In the late morning we head out on the trail with their lunch packed; we have lunch as soup every day. They get a snack in the morning which is a piece of fruit and some nuts or seeds, a soup for lunch plus an afternoon snack of sliced vegetables and protein dip. After the hike they return to the lodge and go for a hot tub and shower, and relax for half an hour. There might follow another health lecture on nutrition, stress management, sleep hygiene - something like that. We have an early dinner and then go immediately into the gym and burn those calories rather than store them." Throughout the day guests experience three fat flushes where the body dives into its reserves to pull energy.
Guests can expect to spend time detoxifying in an infrared sauna or steam room, time at the mineral hot springs, a massage, one-on-one consults with their naturopathic doctor, counseling with a therapist or physiologist, or some time with the nutritionist. Guests then go to bed by 10PM.
For some of their guests, part of the power of the retreat is in handing over control to someone else. Letting themselves be sheparded through the experience is a shift from a life where they make constant decisions. People come to the retreat for a variety of reasons; whether it's for their raw health, to deal with loss, to take control, or to just get a break - everyone has a different story, and Shave respects them all.
Mountain Trek works on a seasonal basis, from April to October in Nelson. In November, they go to the Carolinas, and in February they offer treks in Baja, across the Mexican border from San Diego. Recently, they bought property just over the mountains from Santa Barbara, and they're planning to build a lodge there for year-round Mountain Trek retreats. For guests who have completed the program, as alumni they can join the program in April when they go around the world to different locations for a hiking vacation. Shave shares, "It's not the diet-restricted, controlled weight loss kind of program - it's a 'sipping a glass of wine on the Amalfi coast of Italy with their raviolis and a beautiful salad' kind of program. But we're hiking 4 to 6 hours every day, from village to village. It could be in Spain, it could be in Japan; we've been down to Bhutan, New Zealand and down to Patagonia. We've done the Incan trail in Peru. We just pick different locations around the world for weeklong hiking adventures, and stay in 4 to 5 star luxury accommodations. It gives us a chance to immerse in the culture and be a part of the local atmosphere when we hike."
When they get ready to leave a retreat, the team sends guests off with all the tools they need to create habits. And with their top one or two goals in mind, they get to go home and work on what they've learned. Shave explains, "It's got to be measurable, attainable, realistic and anchored in time."
Around 35% of their guests in any given week are returns; which says a lot about how much people fall in love with the program. If you're ready to reset your body's wellness, get on a fitness track and experience the raw beauty of the wilderness in British Columbia's rugged mountains; Mountain Trek may be just up your alley. Visit the website to plan your retreat.