Community Profile: Exploring Fort McMurray, one kilometre at a time

Atash Shiyar of Fort McMurray Hike More Worry Less near a frozen waterfall in Fort McMurray. Supplied Image

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Atash Shiyar’s approach to life can be found in the name of a hiking club he helps lead, “Fort McMurray Hike More Worry Less.” It was the club he helped start shortly after moving to Fort McMurray. Today, the club has hundreds of active members and explores the trail systems in and around Fort McMurray.

This interview has been edited and condensed for space and clarity. Our last community profile can be read here.

Q: How did you get into hiking?

A: I moved here from Calgary after graduating in 2012 from the University of Calgary’s engineering program. When I lived there, I was 20 minutes from mountains and on weekends, I could only be found in the mountains.

Before hiking, I was in school studying all the time so I joined a meetup.com club in Calgary called “Slow and Steady Hikers.” I got into it from there. That first hike was so beautiful and was so much better than going to any movie or mall.

When I moved here, I was like so many people that are thinking “there’s nothing to do here.” I only looked forward to getting time off and getting out. But I figured I couldn’t sit around doing nothing. I have to get out there and start doing things.

Q: What led to the creation of Fort McMurray Hike More Worry Less?

A: A few years ago, the Wood Buffalo Adventure Club was shutting down because of a lack of interest. There was also a membership fee, which intimidated a lot of people.

When you have a membership fee, you need to hold an AGM and have a treasureer. I would rather do everything through meetup.com. I’d rather spend that time taking people on a hike.

Since we started, I’ve done over 1,000 hikes in Fort McMurray, and some members have done more than 200 to 300 hikes. We started back in 2013 with about 20 to 30 members and went every two weeks or so. Soon, interest started to grow after we had a booth with brochures at the Banff Mountain Film Festival.

Now we do four to five events every week. On evening hikes, we’ll usually do five kilometres, or an average of 90 minutes to two hours. On weekends, it will go to 11 to 12 kilometres.

Q: What kind of hikes does the club organize?

A: In the winter, we do snowshoeing and cross-country skiing, we go to the mountains, do some backpaking and canoeing in the summer. We’re trying out winter backpacking coming up in February.

We’ve also started the 52 Week Challenge because we started seeing membership and participation drop in the winter. They have six months to do it, which is two events per week. It’s a good way to get fit and meet people.

A hiking group poses for a photo at a spot overlooking the Athabasca River. Supplied Image

Q: How would you rate Fort McMurray’s hiking scene?

A: We invite lots of newcomers who are arriving in Fort McMurray to come out and sometimes they arrive here with a negative outlook on Fort McMurray. Then they see things like the 360-degree viewpoint of the Athabasca Riverside or the horshoe loop around the Horse River.

Some of those people who have come out on a hike say it’s one of the best places they’ve ever hiked. People say there’s nothing to do here, but there are so many things to do in Fort McMurray.

Q: What are your favourite trails in Wood Buffalo? 

A: For snowshoeing, it’s definitely Whisky Jack Lake and for regular hiking, it’s the Little Fisheries Trail. That’s just off the Thickwood golf course and you walk along the riverbank of the Athabasca River. 

Q: What do you hope people take away from hiking?

A: People come out and they’re really unsure about meeting strangers. But the first thing they see is people are really friendly. They like that we’re free and you can bring dogs. I knew no one when I moved here and now I have so many friends through hiking. They also enjoy the surrounding areas of Fort McMurray. You dont have to go only to Jasper or Banff for hiking.

Hiking also provides a lot of people with a hobby. I’ve become a bit of a nature photographer and have sold my pictures and taught photography. You always come across something really cool that turns into a good picture.

Q: What are some hikes you would like to do in the future?

A: I want to do something at the Richardson Sand Dunes. I don’t know how we’ll do it, but if I can get there, I want to backpack that with the club for four to five days. 

Supplied Image

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