By Eric Elliott
Running atop the crest of a mountain in Glacier National Park, feeling the mountain erode from under him, Adam Campbell feared the worst.
I thought I was dead, Campbell said, thinking back to the eerie moment when he was suddenly running on thin air. The second I felt it pull, we werent roped up, and I started to tumble and I was convinced I was going to die.
Campbell fell over 200 feet before coming to a stop. His helmet was shattered, his clothes torn with the only thing marking his path down the mountain being a stream of blood painted over the blank snow and mountainous canvas.
With Campbell at the time were friends Dakota Jones and Nick Elson, two other accomplished mountain and trail runners, who quickly made their way to Adams nearly motionless body before being able to call for help from Parks Canada Search and Rescue.
Being medically evacuated from his near deathbed, Campbell was fortunate to be able to breathe again. Lucky to be able to wiggle his toes once more. Privileged to be able hug his family again.
For Adam Campbell though, he wanted to do much more.
Indeed he will be one of the athletes at the start line of the Steep Dream race at Panoram Mountain Resort in coming up in early February.
Growing up in Nigeria, mountains werent the first natural beauty to capture Campbells attention. Instead, living on the beach Campbell immersed his boyhood days in surfing and sailing before learning to ski in the mountains of southern Spain before moving to Canada at the age of 17 to attend boarding school.
I loved it instantly, he said upon landing in Canada. It was great to be somewhere where there was so much wide open space and I just was super curious about it.
With an already nourished background in the outdoors, Campbell began falling in love more with his environmenthiking and climbingwhile continuing to work on his love for endurance running and training for triathlons. By the time he had finished university, he had already joined the national triathlon team for Canada with aspirations of competing in the Beijing Olympics in 2008.
When he came to the realization that the Olympics were no longer in his purview, he took up ultra running (any race longer than a marathon distance of 42 kilometres) and began dipping his feet into the sport of mountain running. He signed up and competed in his first mountain running race in Vancouver that year and immediately made the Canadian team qualifying for the World Long Distance Mountain Running Championships in Switzerland where he finished in tenth place.
Despite having a background in cross-country running and marathons, there was something about racing in the mountains that was unique.
When you get a little bit of success at something, you get drawn to it, he said, thinking of his sprouting love for the mountains. Every time I get out its a mystery, its ever changing, its really dynamic and you have to be really responsive. No matter who you are, no matter how capable you are, theres always going to be a challenge for everyone out there.
Gradually, Campbell began to become known within the racing community as one of the top 100 mile or mountain runners in the world. Looking for a new challenge, he began focusing more on mountaineering objectivestrying to see how many peaks he could summit in a day or quickly traversing highly technical climbs at top speed.
Its this goal that landed him at the bottom of Horseshoe Traverse near Revelstoke on August 31st, 2016, covered in blood with a broken ankle, hip along with thoracic vertebrate from his T8 to his T11, requiring over eight and a half hours of surgery before Campbell was stable. Saving his life was the fact that the Search and Rescue team happened to be doing a training mission in the area, along with the help of two fellow mountain racers who raced back within cell service to call for help. Without them, his future might have been for naught.
There was so much blood loss, there was a very good chance I would have bled out, he said, thinking of the initially terrifying moments of waking up in his hospital bed with the possibility of his racing days being over. It was sort of ironic, two days before this I was one of the best mountain runners or hundred mile runners in the world and then I had this physician come into the room to tell me I had to work on my endurance so I could go to the bathroom and the bathroom was literally two feet away from me.
After moving his toes, while being told that he wasnt going to be paralyzed, he began thinking about his road to recovery.
From running hundred milers, no one really knew what I would be capable of or not so I just decided theres no point in putting arbitrary goals on myself saying I must be able to walk by x date, he said. No one actually knew where Id be able to be so I just knew I would work as hard as I could and hopefully I was going to be able to see what I could do from there.
By the end of two weeks, he was able to walk 150 metres with assistance and had advanced to a mile walk by the time he was released from hospital. Despite suffering a setback and being put back in a wheelchair for a month, Campbell persevered using alternative methods such as water running to increase his mobility and regain his strength.
Just two months after his accident, Campbell was already in the backcountry again, traversing down Bow Summit on some fresh powder.
I did two runs and I fell over once which was actually quite scary because I had a hard time getting myself back up because my hips werent strong enough yet, he said.
From there, he built up his stamina with several other runs through the Christmas season before hearing about the Steep Dreams Festival making its way to Panorama Mountain on February 4th and 5th.
There I saw the ski mountaineering circuit was on and the course looked incredible so I figured why not sign up, he said. Im not really looking at it so much as a race as Im looking to complete it and be a huge accomplishment at this point. Just getting through the course would be wonderful.
Steep Dreams will mark the first race Campbell has competed in since the accident just over five months ago. Despite having a career as a lawyer, and nearly dying doing the thing he loved, his passion for fitness and the outdoors is drawing him back into the mountains once more.
Im happiest when Im outside and I recognize that about myself so I dont see why I have to give it up and I dont see why I would give it up the things that give me pleasure, he said. Ive raced around the world and have been on some peaks on basically every continent and I believe we have one of the most beautiful backyards in the world. It would be unfortunate to not be able to explore that anymore.