Awareness and respect vital for safe backcountry camping

·3 min read

Calgarian Janelle Simoneau is publishing a book, Wild Roots Hikers Collective, looking to spread safety and awareness for education on backcountry camping and hiking. Spurred by the increase in Rocky Mountain exploring post-COVID, Simoneau saw many misconceptions and improper practices circulating and wanted to publish a book to tackle the awareness and help those looking to explore our beautiful backcountry in the Rockies.

“What happened was, during the pandemic I saw a huge increase in people going out, which is good, but then I saw a lot of behaviours that are totally not ok,” said Simoneau, noting the increasing trash and improper practices in regards to safety and environment. “I’m not upset, I just want people to know we need to do things properly because before you know it, the backcountry is not going to be available to us.”

With increasing wildlife attacks, routes get shut down and fees increase.

“I spoke to conservation officers and what was explained to me was that they’re seeing an increase in wildlife conflicts, especially with bears and wolves, because we are interacting with their environment and people are leaving garbage in the backcountry.” In her book, Simoneau offers safety planning and checklists to teach awareness for those going out.

She also offers a perspective for females and those bringing their dogs, providing insights that are often not talked about.

“I don’t think enough people are aware of the risk of bringing your dog in the backcountry. The problem is that wildlife can encounter your dog and then all of a sudden your dog has the risk of either encountering the animal or chasing after them.”

Using her own practises as reference, Simoneau has a Labrador, Wilson, that they have been hiking with since he was a puppy.

“I was subjected to poor practices when he was a puppy, because I wasn’t fully aware. Over time, I learned what’s not acceptable. A lot of the knowledge that I have comes from experience.”

Simoneau is also bringing awareness to female wilderness explorers who may not have guidance on how to handle issues like menstruation and safety.

“If you’re new to the backcountry you don’t know how to deal with cramps and things like that. Usually, you’re at home and your able to deal with it. But in the backcountry it’s not easy with leaving-no-trace and you have to find a way to be comfortable with taking that back home with you.”

An avid camper since only four months old, Simoneau grew up in Calgary having a special place in her heart for the Rockies and wanting to pass that love and knowledge on to new generations looking to get out and enjoy the mountains. She uses social media as a form for that communication, publishing her e-book at wildrootshikerscollective.company.site

“A lot of people use social media, and GPS, now to navigate these trails and know where to go to campsites. The ePub format is so that it’s more free flowing for smaller devices like iPads and e-readers,” said Simoneau, who will also be looking to publish a physical copy down the road. “I just want to spread awareness, that’s my bigger goal. To just make sure that people are doing things properly so that we can still continue to go to these beautiful places.”

Ryan Clarke, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Lethbridge Herald