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Author: Tom Barrett

A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall

A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall

The violent thunderstorm erupted without warning. It seemed like one minute our family was walking happily in the sunshine, admiring the lush green meadows and brilliant wildflowers on Malawi’s Mulanje Massif, the highest mountain in central Africa, when suddenly angry black clouds came pouring in, transforming the massif’s bright rolling hills into dark, featureless mounds. “Quick, get out our rain gear,” my wife Philippa shouted, as we pulled off our day backs, slipped rain ponchos over our three children and…

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Backpacking in Africa With Kids

Backpacking in Africa With Kids

Many of our friends thought we were being wildly ambitious, if not outright irresponsible. Why would you want to take your young children on a 12-week backpacking trip to east and southern Africa, they asked. How can you justify them missing three months of school? Aren’t you going to dangerous places? What about the health risks? Are you guys nuts? Edmonton Journal librarian and friend Deb Dittrick was the frankest. “If someone told me I had to go on a…

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A Stranger in a Strange Land

A Stranger in a Strange Land

I was having a great time hitchhiking around Europe in 1971, interacting with locals and other backpackers in Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Oslo and various places in Scotland. Virtually everyone I met was friendly and every place I visited was interesting. One fellow traveller I got to know in Inverness advised me, “If you like Scotland, you’re going to love Ireland.” I hadn’t thought much about Ireland but since almost all my ancestors came from there I thought it would be fun…

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The Killer Bear of Whiskey Creek

The Killer Bear of Whiskey Creek

It was the year of the bear. It seemed like there was a serious bear attack on a person in Alberta virtually every other week in the summer of 1980. It was so bad that it became a joke around the Edmonton Journal newsroom that the paper should establish a Bear Bureau, just to keep up. One enormous and ferocious grizzly bear deservedly drew most of the attention in the end with three savage attacks that severely injured four people,…

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Mountains of Mystery

Mountains of Mystery

There is no place on earth like the Mountains of the Moon. The gigantic vegetation that lines the alpine meadows, great bogs and valley bottoms of the fabled Rwenzori Mountains, and the majestic beauty of its great snow peaks shining through the constant mist have inspired many an intrepid traveller to poetic imagery. There is nothing to break the spell, nothing to dim the sense that one has journeyed back in time to a forgotten, almost primitive world, where the…

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An (Un) Reasonable Amount of Risk

An (Un) Reasonable Amount of Risk

I was shocked and deeply shaken when my pal Mick handed me a London newspaper with a terrifying front page story about wanton bloodshed in Uganda. The timing and the news could not have been much worse for me. It was January 23, 1984, the day before I was scheduled to fly from London to Nairobi, Kenya, on my way to Uganda to hike the spectacular but notoriously difficult circuit trek of the legendary Rwenzori Mountains, better known as the…

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Fear of Flying

Fear of Flying

I have racked up quite a few air miles in my many years of globetrotting, especially in the developing world. I hate flying the local airlines, especially the many ones with terrible safety records, but for a regular traveller to poor countries there is no other alternative, even when the local airline is conducting animal sacrifices to the gods to help repair its planes, or repeatedly shooing huge, wild animals off their busy runways, if not crashing into the poor…

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Only in America

Only in America

There are many absolutely crazy events that only seem to happen in the United States of America. Where else could you find a grizzled father-and-son, self-styled mountain men living wild in the Montana back country, yearning for years for an attractive young ‘mountain bride’ to kidnap and share? What are the chances they would go hunting for her one day in 1984 and spot gorgeous, young, world-class biathlete Kari Swenson jogging in the woods, grab her by force and chain…

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Muammar and Me

Muammar and Me

I will never forget the day I set sail along the “line of death” with Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi to challenge the US Sixth Fleet. It was January 25, 1986, and it started out like any other day in Tripoli, Libya’s capital, where I was one of about 20 foreign journalists covering a worsening dispute between Colonel Gaddafi and U.S. President Ronald Reagan. The Americans were making threatening noises about Gaddafi’s alleged role in a plane hijacking and two deadly…

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Trekking Up In Old Zanskar

Trekking Up In Old Zanskar

It was September 2, 2014 – the challenging day many of us on our trek through the starkly beautiful Zanskar Mountains of Northern India had been looking forward to for weeks with a mixture of excitement and trepidation. All nine of us would be crossing the highest mountain pass of our lives, the Phortse La, at 5,570 metres, or 18,274 feet. We were all well acclimatized but the day’s planned walk had become longer. Our plans to camp at 4,915…

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