Penticton pair hiking 1,200 km through the Rockies fundraising for suicide prevention in Canada

'I had to do something'

When a young Penticton man lost someone close to him to suicide, he was compelled to action.

Austin Hager and his partner Tanya Gupta are heading off on the 1,200 kilometre Great Divide Trail along the Rocky Mountains from the United States border to north of Jasper, hoping for sponsors and donors to support their goal of raising $10,000 this year for the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention (CASP).

"[Losing that person] made me really feel like I had to do something, something drastic in my life. This felt like it," Hager said.

Hager and Gupta, who have long been avid hikers, have been training all year mostly in the areas around Penticton, in preparation to head into the mountains on June 27, starting from the southern base of the Canadian Rockies.

"And then for the next 50 days after that we will be walking north exactly on the crest of the Rockies, the border between B.C. and Alberta," Hager explained. The pair will stop at pre-planned places, where supplies will at times have been mailed ahead, like more food, or maybe a new pair of shoes and socks — it's tough terrain.

"Eventually we end at Kakwa Provincial Park, about 280 kilometres northwest of Jasper."

Hager has always been a lover of hiking, but now he has a cause.

He has dubbed it the "Hike4Hope," and wants to raise $10,000 for CASP in 2021.

He has been logging all of his kilometres hiked since the new year, most of which have come from training in the Penticton area. His end goal is 2,000 kilometres overall in 2021, and 1,200 kilometres of that will come from the Great Divide Trail.

"I went and saw a physiotherapist proactively, just to make sure I was in tip-top shape before starting. And then besides that, really just trying to get in as many kilometres down before starting the hike," Hager said, adding they hope to reach about 300 kilometres total before heading out on the journey.

But no matter how much physical preparation they do, the pair know there are challenges ahead.

"I think the hardest part isn't going to be physical, it's going to be the mental part. Most of the stretches are seven to ten days between resupplying food, and a lot of those sections we probably won't see anybody for over a week maybe," Hager said.

"Hiking through what could be rain or snow, fording a river waist-deep, then getting out and walking through a snowbank for the next three days. Going to sleep with frozen shoes, waking up with wet shoes, I think that will be the mentally draining part. But the physical thing, it's just walking."

The pair have lived in Penticton for a year and a half, previously having lived in Vernon.

They are over 40 per cent funded for their goal at this point, and are hoping the big hike will boost them even further. Hager says 100 per cent of donations will be going directly to CASP, and that he has been grateful for the support so far.

"I think COVID kind of helped," Hager said. "I think people were more in-tune with helping others. The community came together a lot more with COVID, I found."

Some have made one-time, flat donations and some have pledged per-kilometre.

In preparation for the big journey, Hager has set up a website, complete with a link to a blog documenting their preparation process, and a link to donate, which can be found here.

"I want to do what I can to help in the fight to stop suicide in Canada. It is preventable yet it happens thousands of times per year."

Find out more about CASP here.

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