Our 'INTO THE WILD' series are a collection of stories, photos and interviews from inspiring folks who love our shared wild spaces, take time to truly celebrate them and do their part to preserve and protect them.
First up, Andrea Ference from @vagabondhearts!
This beauty has been inspiring the hell out of us on Insta and we're so excited to have her here!!
She's awake in the world, she's fierce and beautiful and empowered. She's pretty damn badass and she uses her platform to help educate others and create change and inspire advocacy in the world. Swooooon!
Tell us a lil about yourself. Whats your deal?
I was raised on the side of a hill in southern Alberta with my parents and four brothers, we had a big bay window in our front room overlooking the Rocky Mountains that I would gaze out of and daydream about first ascent routes (long before I would learn what an ascent route was) and the animals I would encounter on my adventures. As the only girl I became fiercely independent at a young age, often found in the woods, long after my mom called us in for dinner, covered in dirt from collecting branches and rocks. I always joke that wandering mountains is in my blood - my grandparents were born and raised in the Austrian Alps! From the North America Rockies to the European Alps there is something comforting about being a part of something so immense.
After graduating from university on the east coast of Canada, I moved home... the only issue is that I didn't know what home was anymore, I don't think I had any idea who I was at that point. I have spent the past several years picking up pieces of myself from all of the places that they seem to have been scattered. On the tops of mountains I didn't think I would ever climb, the bottom of alpine lakes that are more glacier than water, small high altitude villages on the other side of the planet whose names I cannot pronounce... somehow bits and pieces of myself ended up in places that I didn't know I needed to go.
What led you to become an outdoor enthusiast?
I like to think that my love for the outdoors was more nature than nurture (pun intended). I was born in the mountains as was every generation of my family that came before - but I think I took it for granted for a very long time. It was not until I moved to the east coast of Canada for University that I realized just how much I needed the outdoors! I remember in high school when I had a bad day I would turn off my cell phone and spend the afternoon in Banff. I would sit along the lakeside and just be at peace (this was before everyone and their dog knew what Banff was). And that just kind of grew exponentially, the more time I spend in the mountains the more time I want to.
Why is staying connected to our shared wild spaces important for you and how do you live that to be true in your life?
I view our outdoor spaces as a “if you don’t use it, you lose it” type of scenario. The more people love, care about and defend these places, the harder it will be for anyone to take them away from us. I have been putting a really big focus on the protection and preservation of these areas and the wildlife that call them home as opposed to just showcasing the beauty of it. I think we are at a point that everyone knows the mountains and alpine lakes are beautiful - now we just need to teach people how to use them responsibly.
Tell us about one of your favourite outdoor experiences. Why was it so special to you?
Ah there are so many! I would normally talk about how I got into hiking - which involved trying to impress a boy and instead falling down a scree path… six years later I still have scars on the back of my legs from that. But more recently was taking my mom for her first 10,000ft summit. It was a bit of a special mountain - the year previous I had been caught in a nasty electrical storm on it’s summit block and it was one of very few times I thought I might not make it home. My mom had been asking me to take her hiking for a while at this point in time (we run marathons together and more recently she got me into road cycling, so I know she can hold her own) and somehow she found her way into joining me on my redemption of this mountain. I remember just being nervous the whole time. I would check each of her hand and food holds and was constantly making sure she was okay. We made it to the summit and she pulled out a full newspaper and a thermos of tea. I was so proud of her and also baffled by how she decided to pack her bag that day! I think it was the first time that I realized how anxious she must feel every time a photo of me standing on the edge of a cliff or meandering along a knife edge of a mountain - it didn’t change those behaviours in me, but at least I have some more empathy!
Getting out, waayyyy out, takes a lot more grit than in does grace. Can you tell us about the toughest slog, the hardest moments you’ve faced in the wild.
And isn’t that a good thing - grace is something I am in very short supply of. The one that comes to mind is the first time that I backpacked Berg Lake. My partner and I received last minute permits on a long weekend as a cancellation. That person cancelled because it was pouring sheets of rain the entire time… 24 hours a day, all 4 days we were there. The campsite we were able to get into was at the bottom of this really steep set of switchbacks 10km from the actual lake (so we had to tack on 20km to every day hike we did this trip…in the rain). I was working a corporate job at the time and a coworker had told me this story about how there was a summit and in the register there were special pins and for some reason I was determined to have one. Well, in the end, the day was well over 50km with nearly 1,500 meters of gain and when we got to the summit it turns out that a group of kids had helicoptered in the week before and apparently cleared out the pins. I laid on the summit and cried. It was pouring rain and I felt so cold and tired and defeated…and we still had 25km to go before we were back at our campsite. I think that there are a lot of moments like that - the ones that aren’t quite as bright and shiny as social media portrays our lives. If you want to read more, check out my blog on Berg Lake! - https://www.andreaference.com/blog/berg-lake
What is something that you’ve unexpectedly discovered about yourself from being in wild spaces?
Just how much I cherish my alone time. I am an extremely social person and I think I am very often mistaken for an extrovert. However, after a few years of self reflection I realized how much of myself I used to give to everyone at the expense of my own physical and mental health. It has really given me perspective on just how I need to practise self-care.
The concept of Anupaya, the 'Pathless Path', is about choosing your own path, fully showing up for your life and letting it be your own. How does that concept resonate with you? How does it show up in your life?
This is something that I think is really hard in such an interconnected digital world. This window into what everyone else is doing without a full view into the behind the scenes hustle. The acceptance that your path is your own and thousands of people can get to the same point in life and not one of them followed the same path. I get asked very often how I got to where I am and I honestly don’t think my answer would be helpful. I have a few university degrees and spent a really long time working in a very corporate world before being given the opportunity to leave that position and travel pretty much full time. Its really hard for me when someone fresh out of high school asks me for advise because I don’t have it. I don’t think that spending a decade working and studying and saving is the answer they are looking for - everyone wants that shortcut and I didn’t have one.
So what’s next? All things being possible, where to next? Your biggest goals and dreams. What are you climbing towards?
My goal this year is to be fully present in my life, and the downside of that is that focusing on the future does not serve that particular goal. It has been really hard for me as a “planner” but it has really provided me the space to say yes to a lot of opportunity I would not have been able to had I been tunnel focused on goals as I have been in previous years.
Thank you, Andrea!!!! You continue to motivate and inspire us to step outside of our comfort zones and to fully participate in making this world a more harmonious and holistic place. So grateful.
You can find more of Andrea and all of her incredible adventures at www.andreaference.com