Hike 365 and A.V Wakefield

Written by Kourtney Meldrum and Andi Endruhn

The Rocky mountains home to many different adventure groups, but none are quite as unique as the Canmore-based Hike365, and the leader at the centre of it, A.V. Wakefield.

Wakefield, a photographer by trade, and adventurer at heart, founded the first all-female adventuring group in the area after discovering a lack of support for women looking to get into outdoor mountain activities. With Hike365 she’s created a close knit community of women who have been able to share skills, and experiences, within the unique environment Hike365 provides.

Growing up in rural northwestern Ontario, on Lake Superior, Wakefield was given ample exposure to an outdoors lifestyle, and soon fell in love with nature as a creative inspiration. When she was just a little girl, her father gave her her very first camera, and the rest is history. She started taking photos and shooting around, getting a job in a camera store at 13.

Before she knew it, Wakefield was applying to universities and art colleges outside of rural northwestern Ontario, and all over Canada. She got accepted to Alberta College of Art and Design in Calgary and never looked back.

Now, a professional photographer and the designer behind her own company called North Birth Cove. She creates fine art and home goods that showcase her own pictures and is based out of Canmore.

North Birch Grove, comes from the translation of her mother’s Scandinavian maiden name which translates from Swedish into north grove. Having grown up in a Scandinavian influenced community on Lake Superior where there were many birch trees, the name was born.

Her products are pieces that incorporate her photographs and Wakefield says that her love for Scandinavian design played a role in the work she’s come to create. “[My mother] would buy something and it would stay in the home for 30 years, and you could pick it up today, and go wow that's really pretty, and good quality, and still useful, and it's relevant to today,” and that’s a lot of the inspiration behind Wakefield’s collections - making items that won’t go out of style.

For Wakefield, photography allows her to capture the world the way she sees it and fulfills her creatively. She enjoys shooting portraits of those close to her but says that, “what fulfills me the most is capturing landscapes and travelling images.”  Another great part of the job is being able to see the fulfillment that it brings those who buy her products, whether it makes them think of a special memory or because they like the way it looks.

A collection of AV Wakefield's art. 

A collection of AV Wakefield's art. 

As Wakefield credits her mother for her enthusiasm for design, her father is responsible for fostering her creativity and love of the outdoors. One of Wakefield’s fondest memories of being in the outdoors is fishing with her father when she was quite young. The experience of having to sit quietly on the boat helped her to come to appreciate the outdoors, and catching a fish was unlike anything else she’d ever been part of.  The two often fished together, and Wakefield remembers it as one of the most important things in drawing her to the outdoors.

Regularly found with a camera in hand at any time, if she's not taking pictures, or summiting great mountains, you’ll probably find her cooking in the kitchen or with her nose in a book. Often cooking for her friends, before she goes out hiking she’ll cook and plan a healthy meal for everyone coming. “I just like to feel that when I've eaten a plate or bowl of food, that it's done something good to my body not just fulfilled,” Wakefield says.

A predilection for guide and map books, often makes Wakefield an interpretive guide during group hikes. Explaining, “It’s because I love to read about where we’re going and what we’re doing.”

These group hikes frequently take place with an outdoors adventure group founded by Wakefield herself, Hike365. Wakefield started Hike365 in 2014, hoping to foster a unique space for women with outdoor interests, to meet and adventure together all year round. The group hosts hikes throughout the summer, and various other events, like snowshoeing, and cross country skiing expeditions throughout the winter.

Unlike many other hiking groups found in Calgary and the surrounding area, Hike365’s only rule is it’s all-girls policy.

“It’s not exclusive in any way, even though it’s all girls,” says Lisa Murphy a Hike 365 member.

The members of Hike365 come from all across Canada, and all different industries. Like Wakefield, a good portion of the women moved from the East to be closer to the mountains, and those who had originally moved away missed having them so near. Most members are anywhere from their mid 20’s to mid 30’s, with the exception of their youngest member who’s 9 months old who’s already been on the trail with them.

Wakefield, and the members of the group say that being an all female group gives everyone a commonality that they may not have in co-ed groups.

“I find that it’s just a different dynamic being all females,” attests Courtney Crowe. “Physically for the most part we’re all on the same level experiencing having a harder time.”

Hike365 has grown aclose knit group of women, who not only go on trips with the group, but will try new things with each other, which Wakefield says is what she intended from the beginning.

Maybe you’ve never done a backpacking trip, or maybe you want to start back country skiing or snowboarding and you meet like minded females, then that sets you up to connect on that next level.

“I wanted to set girls up that this was sort of a starting point,” she says, explaining that she hoped that through the group women who were looking to branch out their skills, would be able to find other women in the community who already had experience. “Maybe you’ve never done a backpacking trip, or maybe you want to start back country skiing or snowboarding and you meet like minded females, then that sets you up to connect on that next level.”

In fact, the community building seems to be one of the favourite parts of the group. Alongside the member’s enthusiasm for the scenery, physical activity, socialization is one of the best parts.

“[It’s] based on a foundation of openness. When you go out you might not know anybody but you have that common ground, so I think that’s what’s nice about it,” says Lee Ferrier, another member of the group.

Many of the girls have built strong connections that continue outside of the group, and this allows them to create a network of strong and like-minded females that they can not only bond with but also do activities with that aren’t organized by Hike 365. “These are the type of women I want my baby girl around, just learning from each other and seeing the camaraderie that develops when we go outside to play together,” says Carrie Keats, mom of the youngest Hike365 member.

Nature is also cited as one of the best stress-relievers by the group, something they find themselves often in need of. Despite weather conditions, and various mishaps along the trail, being out in nature can help provide perspective and balance.

“I think that always knowing, that we’re going out and it’s gonna be a good day not matter what, because it always ends up being a good day, even if stuff goes wrong,” says Ferrier.

The group has grown tremendously since its inception, and Wakefield credits that to the way they’ve marketed themselves. They’ve never promoted themselves as a feminist group - though that aspect is there - but their grassroots feel and motivating community embraces girls to enjoy the wilderness in a safe and welcoming environment. Which has been the reason that is has attracted so many members. “We’re just normal girls walking up a hill,” and this is what Wakefield hopes other people see too.

North Birch Grove photography. 

North Birch Grove photography. 

For Wakefield, North Birch Grove’s success has allowed her to further pursue her interests. She can frequently be found at Market Collective, hosting a DIY (Do-it-yourself) workshop, and recently she has been able to combine her love of photography, hiking, and cooking, through her upcoming photography and backcountry cooking workshop in Norway in June. Hike365 has no plans to stop anytime soon, and will continue to go on group hikes and trips while connecting and building a community of strong women.