Avid outdoor enthusiast Harry Schwartz has always been active and it is his key to ensuring a naturally healthy lifestyle.
Born and raised on a farm in northern Saskatchewan, Harry was physically active out of necessity through his childhood. He was assigned chores at a young age, which not only gave him an appreciation for nature, but a strong work ethic.
“There was always plenty of work to do,” says Harry, 81. “I milked cows, cut wood, put up the hay, the whole nine yards.”
In his late teens, Harry headed west like many young Prairie men of his generation. Jobs were plentiful, wages were attractive, and working conditions were better. He moved to Prince George, where he initially worked at a sawmill with his brother. Soon his entrepreneurial spirit took hold and he established his own cattle ranch and logging operation. He purchased a large plot of unsettled land, which he cleared by hand and with the help of rustic machinery. By the time he retired in 1994, Harry decided to make his home on Vancouver Island.
“I came for better fishing and better weather,” he says. “Summer is my favourite season. I wouldn’t care if it lasted all year.”
That, and the mountains were calling. Shortly after he arrived and purchased a house in Port Alberni, Harry met a member of the Alberni Valley Outdoor Club. It was a small group of dedicated hikers who planned regularly scheduled outings. He quickly signed up, and without hesitation, started climbing some of the area’s most challenging mountains.
“I started with Mt. Moriarty and gradually got into it,” says Harry. “There wasn’t any problem getting into the bigger stuff. Triple Peak has probably been the most severe. I remember a couple of places that were a bit iffy.”
Harry still hikes most weekends with the Club throughout the year, sometimes in the searing heat and, at other times, wearing snowshoes. He has peaked Mt. 5040, Mt. Klitsa, Grandfather Mountain, Mt. Arrowsmith, Mt. Apps, Mt. Adder and Nahmint, to name a few. Over the years, he has witnessed an explosive increase in activity on the trails.
“Interest has increased a lot,” he says. “When we first started as a little group, we hardly saw anyone else. Now, people come from all over the Island.”
Sticking with a group helps keep the group safe, especially in remote areas, and Harry has only experienced minor trouble.
“I wouldn’t say I got lost, exactly, but I made a detour one time on Mt. Adder,” he says. “I cut away from the group and got off the trail. I made it to the vehicles and realized the others were still on the mountain because they thought I was lost. So, I hiked back up to them; it was a long day.”
Summiting a peak with an elevation gain of more than 1,200 metres is one of the things that provides Harry with his most rewarding sense of accomplishment.
“It is a very satisfying feeling,” he says. “I can’t think of anything else that compares to it. I just enjoy the satisfaction and appreciation of the beauty of the whole thing.”
At the end of the day, Harry enjoys going home to a warm shower and a big steak dinner.
Harry also volunteers with trail building and maintenance to help keep them in good shape for all users. When he is not on the mountains, though, he is on the water. Harry often takes part in week-long canoe excursions that involve campouts along the way. A memorable one took place in Red Deer River during the Alberta floods in 2013.
“The river came up about 12 feet while we were on it,” Harry said. “We were doing alright, but the police and Park Ranger thought it was dangerous and we had to cut it short. They said, ‘Oh, you’re from BC. That explains it!’”
As the eldest member of the Alberni Valley Outdoor Club, Harry says he will continue for as long as he can.
“I’ll keep doing it until I can’t any longer.”
His advice? “The main thing is to keep in condition,” he says. “If you get out of shape, it takes longer to get back into it as you get older.”