Reclaiming Life After Loss

Nature a powerful healer in quest to survive after deadly avalanche

Adam Campbell
Photo: John Price

Spellbound by Mother Nature’s splendor, Adam Campbell also knows the humbling power intertwined with such beauty. In 2017, IMPACT profiled his long recovery and odds-defying survival after falling from the side of a rockface.

His wife, Laura, sadly wouldn’t get a second chance after being swept up in an unforgiving avalanche.

Lost in the aftermath of incredible loss, Campbell leaned into what has always offered him solace.

In returning to nature, the Canmore-based mountain athlete sees transformation and hope for healing amidst alpine meadows of creeks and wild flowers and snowy slopes.

Nature provides a coping mechanism but, he says, he is grateful to a supportive community which rallied to him in his despair.

“I’ve had some really dark moments where suicide was an option. A support network gives you a reason to keep going. If I didn’t feel that support I might have made different choices and Laura would have been so pissed with me.”

Campbell hopes sharing his story might help someone facing their own.

“That would make it a real tragedy if it all happened in vain and all it did was cause trauma and hurt. If any kind of healing can come from it — it helps me.”

Our second date was a backcountry ski, I proposed while bodysurfing and bouldering in Hawaii and we were married on the shores of the Yukon River in Whitehorse. My relationship with my wife, Laura, was defined by a mutual connection to nature where we found profound experiences running, climbing, skiing and swimming. Tragically, nature brought an end to our physical relationship. On January 10, 2020, Laura died in an avalanche on the south shoulder of Mount Hector in Banff National Park. I have had to live with the fact that I triggered the slide while we were backcountry skiing and was unable to save her. It is a horrible truth to live with — full of guilt, trauma, sadness and grief. It is also incredibly conflicting given that a space which brought us so much joy, up to and including Laura’s last run, is also the source of so much pain.

You don’t initially realize it, but the person you were before a tragic event dies that day, too. Nothing can prepare you and you are forever changed. There is no roadmap for moving forward; you find yourself in a deep emotional and cognitive fog of fear, confusion and tears, left to feel your way through the darkness to survive.

Listening to my gut about how to heal and rebuild, I felt drawn back to the cleansing power of nature. Not everyone feels this pull and not everyone will understand, especially my decision to return to the backcountry in winter. And that is okay. We all cope in our own way.

Adam and Laura
Soulmates. Adam and Laura shared a deep love for one another and the beauty of nature

Less than two weeks after triggering the avalanche, a friend invited me back out and I went. The day was cold and crisp. We walked up the slope slowly and solemnly with our skis on our feet, stopping a few times along the side of the trail when I was crippled by sobbing fits. My body felt incredibly heavy from sleepless nights and constant sorrow, but I trudged forward, sliding my skis along the snow through the treed ridge, feeling a strange, almost comforting familiarity with the effort. We reached our high point, a mellow slope covered in larches with spectacular views towards the jagged peaks of Kootenay National Park. There was a cold sparkle to the sky and for the first time since Laura’s death, I saw beauty in the place. It can only be described as love. I am not a traditionally religious person, but in that time and place I felt a strong connection with Laura and the environment. For a brief moment, the pain of loss melted away as I slid down the hill and took my first deep, powdery turn.

I often head out into the backcountry for escape and solace from the anguish of losing Laura. As I try to make sense of my new life, it has been complemented by professional counselling and my support network. I revisited many of the sites we went to together, including the avalanche location once in summer to retrieve her skis lost in the rush of snow and on the one-year anniversary of her death where I spread some of her ashes and had an intimate ceremony with friends. It has been powerful to reclaim that space from death and tragedy to one of connection and beauty. Although the mountains ended my physical relationship with my wife, our emotional and spiritual one lives on with every awe-inspiring moment I feel out in nature.

Lead image by John Price

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