It’s Mental Health Week and thought it was the perfect opportunity to open up about the effects hiking has had on my mental well-being.

I can confidently say since adding hiking to my regular routine several years ago, I’m an overall happier and relaxed person. I’ve been lucky enough to have never struggled with a serious mental illness. However we all go through moments of anxiety and/or depression and each have our own methods of coping.

From the darker moments to the best moments of my life, hiking has been incredibly therapeutic for my mental and spiritual state.

It’s several things – it’s the disconnecting for those few hours a week. It’s breathing in fresh air and the smell of crisp leaves. It’s the sheer concentration of just putting one foot in front of the other. It’s the strong human connection felt among my fellow hikers without distraction of life or devices. It’s those raw euphoric moments that consume every part of you, and all you can think is “I cannot believe I’m here. I cannot believe this is real. I cannot believe I did this.”

We SEE examples of those moments all the time – on memes, Facebook, Instagram. It’s those pictures of gorgeous scenery with words like “There’s no wifi in the forest but you’ll find a better connection” typed across in a fancy font. But those are real places, ready to be seen, ready to be discovered, ready to experienced by you.

I’ve been lucky enough to have had my fair share of those “euphoric moments” – in the Rockies, Adirondacks, Gatineau Park, and most recently on Mount Kilimanjaro.

However those moments can be outweighed by the painful and tough “I think I’m actually dying” moments. In fact, the euphoric/“I think I’m actually dying” ratio was a solid 30/70 on that stupid mountain (this blog explains those moments).

But thanks to those tough lung-crushing moments, over the last few weeks since being home I’ve noticed my perspective has shifted on several aspects of life…

1) My threshold for being uncomfortable or in pain is much higher during physical exercise. The inner dialogue has changed from “you can’t do this” to “get over yourself you literally hiked a mountain 3 weeks ago”.

2) I feel more confident about my body and it’s abilities than ever before.

3) I have less time for bullshit.

4) I don’t like being around negative people, and I notice a lot sooner when I’m the one being negative.

5) I have a fire in my belly to build a community of like-minded people who want to spend time outdoors.

So I’ll see you on the trail soon, right?

Lots of hiking love,
Mary Anne

Mary Anne Ivison

Mary Anne loves hiking, mossy rocks and her gig as a radio personality. She is in pursuit of becoming an ADK 46er and touching every mountain on planet Earth.

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Oh, the joys of living 230 ft above sea level. Breathing is quite easy for most of us in Ottawa. I never realized I took advantage of oxygen until a simple task like rolling over in my sleeping bag took my breath away.

To give you perspective, the elevation of Mount Kilimanjaro is over 19,000 ft. At summit you’re breathing half as much oxygen as you are at sea level. So, what does that mean? Doing everything at high altitude is laboured, strenuous and difficult.

Altitude was the biggest unknown and also the scariest thing for a lot of us on the Dream Mountains team. You cannot train for altitude – unless you visit a place at high altitude for a long period of time, or you’re one of the African porters/guides who has summited Kilimanjaro over 400 times (no exaggeration).

Our lead guide and Dream Mountains Founder, Shawn Dawson, advised us that the following would help prevent/battle altitude sickness:
1. Drink 6+ litres of water per day
2. Don’t stress
3. Go slow
4. Sleep

Sunday, April 2nd we started our ascent up Mount Kilimanjaro. We were 30 clean hikers excited and a tad nervous to see what the next 8 days on that giant rock would bring.

After a fun and somewhat slow first trek through the rain forest, the first night at Machame Camp (just shy of 10,000 ft) was my first taste of the affects of altitude.

Machame Camp

I’m also going to factor the new food and water into account here – but I was up 6 times running to the little tented portable bathroom that night. When I curled up in my sleeping bag, it felt as though my stomach was rotting from the inside. I vividly remember trying not to cry too loudly so I wouldn’t wake up Vicky next to me. I remember thinking there was no way I could do the next 7 days on this stupid mountain. I wanted to go home.

The next morning I felt a bit better, told our guides in on my issue, and one of our African guides, Bruce, kept a close eye on me the rest of the day and advised me to only eat only toast and rice. Our hike was much slower that day and moving/lots of water/good company healed me.

I ended up feeling MUCH better but throughout the climb I also suffered normal side effects like headaches, fogginess, nausea, loss of appetite, and a lung-crushing feeling near the summit. The higher we went the harder it was to breathe, walk, drink and change. Bottom line: the less oxygen we had the more labouring it was to do everything.

To be fair I’d also like to point out I got off lucky – there were others who were in MUCH worse shape than I.

Yes, there’s a lot of negative crap that altitude does to your body, but it also affects your ability to be a rational normal thinking human. Being in high altitude is sort of like being drunk; everything is hilarious, having a conversation is tough, you don’t remember much and peeing a few feet from your friends doesn’t phase you.

There were countless moments of brain lapses, but one moment in particular stands out. To be honest, I’ll even blame to altitude for forgetting what day we were on.

There were a few of us sitting in the mess tent after a long day of hiking. Our teammate Paul McGuire was sitting across from me and I was wearing a Sens toque similar to this one:

There was a piece of lint on the “O” and Paul thought it looked like a “Q”, which I corrected him and said it was an “O”. He then asked me what the “O” stood for. Blank stare.

I had forgotten what the “O” in Ottawa Senators stood for.

This is just one small example of the ridiculous and delusional moments the 30 of us felt in that week.

You may be thinking “This sounds terrible, why would someone choose to put themselves through that?”.

Shawn told us there’s something called “altitude memory loss”, where after you get home you forget a lot of the tough moments. I can’t help but agree with him and think that all of the blissful and euphoric moments override the unbearable ones.

So I’m going to choose to forget that taking my pants off was the hardest thing I’ve ever done at 15,000 ft and start thinking about hiking Everest Base Camp next spring.

Lots of hiking love,

Mary Anne

Mary Anne Ivison

Mary Anne loves hiking, mossy rocks and her gig as a radio personality. She is in pursuit of becoming an ADK 46er and touching every mountain on planet Earth.

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Coming home from a trip is always hard. Getting back into your normal routine, having the same conversations about the same topics that didn’t seem to change while you were away with the same people. Before your trip you didn’t notice it at all but something happened while you were away. Maybe a shift? Maybe a new perspective? It’s hard to pinpoint but you can feel it.


Your attention span is smaller and you find yourself drifting back to that place you just were days or weeks ago. My way of coping is with distractions; Whether it’s running, baking, reading, meeting up with a new or old friend for coffee or lunch, binge watching my favorite shows I’m behind on, driving around the city playing my music way too loud… But not really feeling the feelings because it’s too soon.


Is it dramatic of me to say that coming home from a trip is a little like mourning?


Hear me out.


I’m mourning the adventure of a lifetime. I’m mourning the wake up calls, the feeling of adrenaline that comes with the great unknown and always, ALWAYS having someone right beside me when I need to talk (or, sometimes even more importantly, not talk).


When I get caught up in these sometimes overwhelming feelings of loss and sadness though I remember how lucky I am that I can just pick up my phone and text or call one of my Dream Team members and reminisce or meet up because I know they’re going exactly what I’m going through. What we experienced together was not only incredible, it was really f*cking hard (sorry, Mom). There’s no way we didn’t all change on that mountain. We all left a piece of ourselves at the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro and I’m more than okay with that.


Alright, enough of that.


Coming home is also really wonderful. The feeling I had after travelling for what felt like FOREVER and seeing my family with their homemade signs standing at the train station was indescribable. I’m super lucky to have a family unit that’s incredibly close and we’re used to seeing each other at LEAST once a week so it’s not shocking that the reunion was an emotional one and a moment I’ll never forget.


The next night we had a little celebration for my sister’s 30th birthday, which was the day before, and I THINK I was there. 😉 Lots of stories and squeezes from some of my favorite people later, I passed out on the couch on my mom’s lap like I did when I was a kid and had the best nap of my life.


Damn, it’s good to be home.


– Vicky

Vicky Castledine

Vicky is a Content Marketing Manager from Monday to Friday and a trail runner/ book lover/ dog hugger/ wilderness explorer after 5 PM and on weekends.

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It has been exactly one week since the Dream Mountains team took our last steps off the beast that is Mount Kilimanjaro.  It’s only been 2 days since the majority of us got back to Canada.  To be honest it hasn’t been the easiest weekend adjusting back to Ottawa life (I’ve woken up twice not knowing where I am).  But I figured opening up my Mac and blogging would be great therapy before heading back to work tomorrow to see my amazing work family.

It’s hard to put everything we learned on that mountain into 10 simple phrases. But after brainstorming with some Dream Team members, I present to you…

“The 10 Commandments of Hiking Kilimanjaro”

  1. Thou shall drink no less than 6L of water per day.
  2. Thou shall avert eyes when teammate is peeing one foot off the trail.
  3. Thou shall blame all ailments and idiotic moments on altitude.
  4. Speaking of which, altitude shall suck it. (yes, this is a commandment. It’s my list. Get your own.)
  5. Thou shall resent and curse Shawn Dawson until first step off mountain.
  6. Thou shall never eat millet (pronounced “mill-ay”) ever again.
  7. Thou shall have a sick playlist for the tough moments.
  8. Thou shall have toilet paper and Purell handy at all times.
  9. Thou shall forget all the pain, agony, puking, and extreme cold of summit night.
  10. Thou shall fondly remember the breathtaking, alien, once-in-a-lifetime views of Kilimanjaro.

Mary Anne Ivison

Mary Anne loves hiking, mossy rocks and her gig as a radio personality. She is in pursuit of becoming an ADK 46er and touching every mountain on planet Earth.

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