Wells Women create adventure alchemy
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This quiet northern BC town brimming with post-goldrush character has new adventures to mine, from snowshoeing and skiing to local fare.
Wells, BC - Snow falls heavily as four women make their patient way on snowshoes and skis up the forested Yellowhawk trail in the Cariboo Mountains near Wells, BC. Young spruce boughs dip low, laden with fresh white pillows. At the lead is Ember Harper-Fedirko, and taking up the rear is her local mentor and friend Cheryl Macarthy.
This trek marks the second time these two explorers have broken trail here together. The first time Macarthy led a route-finding and trail scouting mission. This time, Harper-Fedirko takes the lead. For her, connecting with Macarthy has opened the door to more adventures in her favourite place, the mountains surrounding Wells. And by following Macarthy’s footsteps (literally), she is now forging a path for more women to follow into Wells’ hallowed outdoor spaces.
“Just in the last couple years we’ve conversed more and become friends,” says Harper-Fedirko, of her relationship with Jorgenson. “She’s just such a staple of the community.”
Coming from nearby Quesnel, Harper-Fedirko makes frequent trips to snowshoe or hike in Wells, and welcomes others to do the same through her fledgling company, Cariboo Mountain Adventures.
As she does so, she’s drawing on a tradition of women adventurers who have been exploring the mountains and building community in Wells for over 50 years. Macarthy, who runs local shop The Frog On the Bog and (with her husband Dave Jorgenson) several boutique accommodations in town, is one of those women.
There’s a rich history here, waiting to be mined. At two hours’ drive from Prince George, or one hour from Quesnel, Wells is at the far end of the road where fewer explorers dare go. But those that do discover rewards. Sometimes gold, sometimes arts festivals, sometimes a deep connection to nature. All are possible, but the wealth in Wells today is in nature, community and creativity.
Once a booming gold mining town, then a post-boom community, Wells has seen ups and downs. But always the sense of adventure was there. Historic boom time structures, centenarians, with weathered wood siding, some with fresh coats of blue, yellow, purple and green, dot the gentle hills of Wells.
Over the years, locals have preserved, restored or converted many of the original buildings. Like Sunset Theatre, a live music and theatre venue that doubles as a cafe, where the two women met earlier in the day to review maps, routes and objectives. They were joined there by Meghan Keir, another regional hiking guide.
Breaking trail and making connections in the oft-competitive outdoors scene isn’t always easy, but that’s not an issue for these three.
“You’re trying so hard to prove yourself that having someone else come in can seem like competition so people don’t collaborate quite as easily as they might otherwise but honestly, I think [other women] being out here can only help what I’m trying to do too,” says Harper-Fedirko.
“It’s nice meeting people who are about collaboration and community, and that is something I love about Ember, she has the same mindset about bringing people together and getting them outside,” Keir adds.
Without egos to get in the way, the women each have their own way of creating a welcoming vibe that helps those new to the outdoors to quickly acclimatize.
“This is my first time and it was amazing, I’ll definitely do it again,” says Candace Helgerson, over drinks and dinner after the day’s snowshoe, in the heated geodome at Jack O’ Clubs Pub. Plates of mushroom risotto and pints of Barkerville IPA are quickly dwindling under the candlelit comfort of the dome.
“I’ve lived in Wells for three years and I don’t go off the beaten path because I’m scared,” Helgerson explains. “I’m worried about getting lost or getting eaten by a bear or a cougar or something. So it’s doing something you wouldn’t normally do if you’re inexperienced. New friends, new experiences, new adventures… it’s amazing.”
It’s that kind of alchemy - a magical concoction of people, nature and creative connections - that makes a snowshoeing experience in Wells a day like few others. There may be gold in these hills, but the richest substance here is adventure.
WHEN YOU GO
Stay in the town of Wells, in one of several colourful boutique accommodations.
Get into a Wells adventure with Harper-Fedirko through Cariboo Mountain Adventures.
Get out and explore #SkiNorthBC
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