Introducing Resettled Refugees to the Rocky Mountains
Editor’s Note - This past summer the ACC Edmonton Section and Catholic Social Services(CSS) paired up together to introduce eight recently resettled refugees to our big backyard - what better way than by heading up to Bow Hut? In this article Jody Reimer writes about the challenges that faced them, the invaluable impressions the experiences left on the participants and future plans between the ACC and CSS - we look forward to it!
ACC Edmonton and Catholic Social Services team up
The ACC Edmonton Section recently paired up with Catholic Social Services (CSS), Edmonton’s largest refugee resettlement hub, to introduce a few young, recently resettled refugees to the Rocky Mountains in our backyard.
None of us were quite sure what to expect. There were a lot of variables in addition to the usual trip planning considerations:
How fit could we expect people to be?
How cold is too cold to have fun?
What kinds of cultural differences hadn’t we considered?
However, as with all mountain trips, you can only get so prepared from the warmth of home; at some point, you need to just get out there and see what happens.
After a couple of practice hikes in Edmonton’s river valley and weeks of scrounging up the necessary gear, our group of 14 set off, with 3 CSS staff, 3 ACC volunteers, and 8 recently resettled refugees from Syria, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Sudan, and the Republic of the Congo.
In the days leading up to the trip, our eyes were glued to the weather forecast, which was calling for flurries. For most, this would be their first time seeing snow, and while the approach to Bow Hut is relatively benign, we all agreed that driving sleet was not ideal. We got lucky, however, and had fall temps low enough to keep the crowds down and just a skiff of overnight snow.
Arriving at Bow Hut and the Glacier
The hike up to Bow Hut took around 5 hrs - surprisingly fast for a group of first-time backpackers. After cresting over the top of the nasty final scree slope, we exploded into the hut with excitement. We were obviously a bit of an unusual group – 8 Africans outfitted in tennis shoes and jeans rather than the usual technical pants and waterproof boots! – which elicited some curiosity from the other people already at the hut. Everyone displayed heartwarming alpine hospitality and the usual willingness to share extra snacks and space around the wood stove.
After unloading our rented packs at the hut and carving out enough bunk space, part of the group was still keen to go further. Defying the katabatic winds, we explored the Bow Glacier’s broken toe and crested the lateral moraine just in time to look out over the Wapta icefield, ablaze in sunset colours. We may not have been a group of highly skilled alpinists but scrambling up onto that moraine to look out over the icefield at sunset felt a bit like our own private Dawn Wall free-solo FA.
Fostering a sense of belonging in the outdoors
On the hike down, conversation turned to the partners, families, and friends that everyone hoped to bring back to this same place in the future. The experience was summed up well by one of our group in the hut registry book:
“Amazing hike up to the top of the mountain experiencing beautiful nature like I’ve never seen before. Spent a night in the beautiful Bow hut and enjoyed every bit of it. What an awesome trip!”
“It was my first time going hiking since I arrived in Canada and it was a really great moment in my life that I never experienced before, although climbing those mountains was a great challenge for me. If given a chance, we would all go for a second time on this great expedition, with no second thoughts.”
For staff at CSS, this opportunity to get out into the backcountry with the ACC is a way to help foster a sense of belonging for newcomers to Canada.
plans for the future between the ACC and CSS
One of the takeaways for me, personally, came during trip planning. Those of us joining from the ACC Edmonton Section typically approach our mountain pursuits with a goal in mind (e.g., summiting a new peak or climbing a new route). Early on, however, we realized we needed to rethink this approach. The goal of this trip didn’t need to be to conquer anything, but rather to make space and time to connect with each other, and to introduce some new friends to part of the Canadian identity: playing in and caring for our wild spaces.
Following the success of this pilot trip, CSS and ACC are implementing an annual trip for young adult refugees. We are already scheming about how to do things better and where to go for our next one!
** Thanks to the ACC Edmonton Section, who covered the fees for our stay at Bow Hut, and the University of Alberta outdoors club who loaned us sleeping bags and backpacks.
*** If you’re interested in starting a similar initiative with your local ACC Section, please feel free to get in touch with the ACC Edmonton Section to share ideas and lessons learned.