By Father George Elsbett
It’s -20 Degrees. And that in mid-October. But this is no ordinary place. The peak of the massive 4163m high glacier covered Breithorn ridge offers a spectacular view of another Swiss giant and its most famous mountain: the Matterhorn.
I am overcome by an incredible sense of wonder and even awe. Often enough these high mountains are covered in clouds. Today there is not even a speck in the sky. Mont Blanc on the horizon, the mountain village Zermatt cozying at our feet. In the distance to the Southeast, and with a little bit of imagination, the Italian city of Milan. Mountain peaks offer a sense of exhilaration and freedom known only by those that have climbed them. But some are in a category of their own. And of these, the Swiss Alps have not just a few to offer.
That was last fall. But it’s not the first time we’ve been out and about. Up until relatively recently, “we” were just a loosely clad group of individuals with common values and interests. If it’s backpacking in the Himalayas or Freeride Skiing in Iceland or simply taking a half day tour on a split board up and down a mountain on the outskirts of the city, we love challenges, we love the outdoors and we love to work on our relationships and friendships in these settings.
“Adventure & Faith” is the working title for the initiative that has grown out of this group of freedom lovers, and is developing into an outreach program involving university students and young professionals. We are based in Vienna, Austria. Rewind. Summer 2016.
Six of us have been brain storming all day and thinking of ways to get this start-up off the ground. Tabea is a member of the national young women`s soccer team and an avid climber, crazy about the outdoors. Edi, climber and former extreme parachutist for Red Bull, is now a social worker helping young people in difficult personal situations, primarily through nature experiences in the Austrian Alps. Dominik, psychologist, is an adventurer and nature freak who has been developing survival seminars with a friend from the COBRA (Elite Task Force of the Austrian Police Force) for years. Klemens is an all-round outdoorsman and snowboarder. And then there´s me.
“Greatness begins beyond your comfort zone” turns into our motto. We define three areas where we see possibilities for adventure experiences to facilitate growth: personally, relationally and spiritually. And, in startup fashion, we decide not to roll out a finished product, but to try out different approaches, gather experience and fine tune as we go.
Fairly quickly the British Columbia Coastal Mountain Crossing idea is borne. Actually, different elements have come together. First, we’ve been dreaming of the Canadian outback for years – long before our project started. Adventure & Faith just ignited a smoldering flame. Chad Sayers and Forrest Coot’s Crossing Home: A Skiers’ Journey expedition (available on YouTube)birthed the idea of the crossing. Just that we knew we didn’t have that kind of time nor finances to attempt the Homathko icefields. The “third crossing” movement delivered inspiration and cast the mold – especially the 1970 Dogwood Trek and 2008 trip by Caleb Allen and Sean Percy.
Not everyone on our team can come this summer, so we might be back. But this is this summer’s “us”: we are 16 Austrians, one Swiss and one Canadian – 10 university students, six young professionals, of whom two are medical doctors, two are business practitioners, one works for a medical research lab, one is a teacher. Our ages range between 18 and 32. We are nine women and eight men.
Oh, and I haven’t spoken about myself. I out-age the rest of the group by about 20 years, I don’t parachute, I do no extreme climbing, I am only a moderately good skier and I love hockey more than soccer and peanut butter more than schnitzel. But I do love the mountains and I love working with people. So to explain – I am a Roman Catholic priest ministering to students and young people in the larger Vienna area. I head the “John Paul II. Center” in this city – by way of comparison, the center runs like Assumption Parish in Powell River, with this difference, that we focus primarily on integral formation of young people. We offer coaching, training, networking and launch different projects in service of this city and beyond – from support for refugees, to art projects, to communication seminars, to marriage counseling, to helping young women in need, to … well a lot of different projects. Our plan. We are basically following 80 km of the proposed road. Starting point is Upper Squamish – via Elaho River, Casement Mountain, Jervis Bay, Mount Alfred. We`re taking our ropes, climbing belts and crampons if we have some extra time or one of the peaks along the trek perks our interest. But judging by mid-July satellite images of snow conditions, we might even need them to get past Mt. Casement.
We are a lively bunch, so we are looking forward to making new acquaintances once we hit Powell River. On a personal note, I am looking forward to visiting home (my parents live in Wildwood) and showing the Austrians I have the privilege of serving what an incredible country Canada is.
You can help: And you don’t even need to get cold. The expedition’s hikers are looking for pick-ups and home stays in Powell River. If you can host one or more, please contact Geraldine Elsbet at firstname.lastname@example.org.