The Sunday Magazine

A mother-daughter bond strengthens during a gruelling trek along the Coastal Mountains

Tania and Martina Halik hiked for about 2,300 kilometres across some of Canada’s most rugged terrain. The Haliks faced many challenges, including bitter cold, avalanche threats and arduous river crossings. They tell guest host Laura Lynch why they’d do it all again.
(Peg Leg Films)

Many mark a 60th birthday by celebrating with friends or treating themselves to a spa day. And many young people seek out ways to get away from their parents. Tania and Martina Halik of Invermere, British Columbia are different.

For more than a year, the mother and daughter plotted and planned a trip, then set out together to trek across some of the most rugged terrain in Canada.

They hiked and skied the Coastal Mountains, from Squamish, B.C. to Skagway, Alaska, and lived not only to tell the tale but to see their trip highlighted in a new documentary film, This Mountain Life It premiered this week in Toronto at the international documentary film festival, HotDocs.

Martina says it was an easy decision to ask her mother to join her on this adventure: "I couldn't think of a better partner…I knew I could trust her."

Tania Halik says her escape from communist Czechoslovakia across the mountains of Switzerland helped to gird her for this trip. 

"I think my life prepared me for this, much better than Martina because her life was so much easier," says Tania. "It was, in my opinion, much more about mental strength than physical strength."

Both women had skills to help them face the challenges ahead. Tania is a paramedic who used to work as an avalanche forecaster. She still trains avalanche rescue dogs. Martina is an avalanche technician and, during the summer months, a professional photographer.

(Peg Leg Films)

In this conversation with guest host Laura Lynch, they share details of both the physical and mental challenges they faced during their journey, which lasted almost six months and covered 2,300 kilometres.

I feel like I understand my mom's background a little bit more. There's a lot of time to talk out there. And I think she understands me better as well.- Martina Halik

Tania prepared a mountain of dehydrated food for their journey, while Martina plotted the logistics for weekly food drops. Small boxes of provisions were tossed from the window of a friend's Cessna to predetermined locations, each one containing a Bluetooth beacon. The women found some within minutes, while others took several hours to locate.

They trekked during one of the harshest winters in recent memory, with -20C temperatures and high winds for weeks in a row. At the same time, they described the snow as their friend. They needed it to slide their equipment, and were shocked on occasion to find it wasn't there for them.

Martina and Tania Halik enjoy the view after a hard day's hike. (Peg Leg Films)

"Some glaciers, like the Sawyer Glacier, had retreated over three-quarters of a mile in the preceding year, so I was pretty incredulous when we got to the top of a pass and looked down and there was ocean where I thought there'd still be kilometres of glacier. Google Earth imagery was about five years old in that location," says Martina. "It was difficult because we couldn't trust our maps or our satellite imagery. We'd be bushwhacking through alders, and the maps would be showing five more kilometres of glacier."

Mother and daughter agree that despite their occasional differences, the trip strengthened their bond.

"We became such a flawless team out there," says Martina. "I feel like I understand my mom's background a little bit more. There's a lot of time to talk out there. And I think she understands me better as well."

"I would do another trip like that with her in a heartbeat."

Tania readily agreed.

Take a look at the photo gallery below for pictures of their adventure. Listen to the full interview at the top of the page.