Dunkeld man and his husky tackle 5,000-mile hike across Canada to help rewild the Highlands

The 32-year-old and his furry companion are on course to complete a 5,000-mile coast-to-coast hike across Canada in the name of rewilding charity Trees for Life.

Michael Yellowlees, from Birnam, in Dunkeld, Perthshire, is currently walking across Canada from the shores of the Pacific Ocean to the East Coast of Newfoundland on the edge of the North Atlantic, with his Alaskan husky, Luna, in a bid to raise funds to support the restoration of Scotland’s Caledonian Forest.

Michael’s wild idea, originally birthed from a walk that he had taken in the Scottish Highlands, has since transpired into a rollercoaster of a journey that has seen the pair become national heroes.

The musician described a “strong sense of sadness” whilst on a walk in the highlands which had an “absence of woodland, wildlife and people”, so he decided he would do something about it.

“I decided to walk across the great wildernesses of Canada to raise funds for Trees for Life and its work to restore Scotland’s Caledonian Forest, at a time when the world is on high alert over climate chaos and biodiversity loss,” he said.

After a spell of working in Vancouver, looking after sled dogs to help fund his venture, Michael set off in March for the trek wearing his kilt, taking his guitar and a few other belongings with his trusted Luna by his side. 

A journey that has seen him encounter bears and howling wolves, the hike became more of a challenge when the Scotsman found himself separated from Luna.

When following a waterway section of the Great Canada Trail by canoe, the husky jumped out and became lost in the dense wilderness in an area of Northern Ontario.

“I was totally distraught. For months, we had been best friends and had looked after one another,” Michael said. 

Supported by local volunteers, Michael spent a week searching for his lost companion.

“After seven days and seven nights, just as I was giving up all hope, Luna appeared like an apparition, strolling casually back as though nothing had happened,” he added.

Michael found himself separated from Luna for over a week and described nearly “giving up all hope” before she returned.

One person who is particularly proud of his determination, especially after Michael’s “absolute week of hell when Luna went missing”, is Michael’s mum, Karen Yellowlees.

Karen, 64, has credited Michael’s “huge respect” for wildlife growing up and his insistence on “giving back” for his passion behind the hike.

“I’m really proud of him, I think he’s quite incredible actually and he is genuinely somebody who cares a lot about the environment and the future,” she told Oh My Goodness.

If being separated from Luna was the lowest point of the journey, it has been countered by the highs – not least the reception from the Canadian public.

“The warmth of the people has been amazing. In every town and village people have offered me food, shelter and donations. So much kindness. I’ve been accompanied into towns and cities by marching pipe bands and interviewed by newspapers, radio and TV,” Michael added. 

Michael has described the support of others along his journey as “amazing”.

The walk also coincides with the COP26 UN Climate Change Conference 2021, which is due to start at the end of this month.

Steve Micklewright, Chief Executive of Trees for Life has described Michael’s trek as “extraordinary”.

“We have been following Michael’s journey across Canada with awe and admiration. Restoring native habitats and wildlife to the Scottish Highlands is a big task that no one can do alone. But Michael’s extraordinary trek is proof of the power of the individual to make a difference,” he said. 

A family friend back in Perthshire, Bob Davidson, described Michael’s trek as “epic” and called him an “amazing guy”.

“It’s epic what he’s doing. I’ve known Michael since he was 10 years old. This is not a stroll in the park, but an 8,000-kilometre yomp at an incredible pace with Luna. He’s just an amazing guy, always has been and always will be. Hats off to him,” Bob said.

Michael’s fundraising efforts have seen his page surpass a staggering £26,000 and there is still some of the journey to go.

The pair are currently in New Brunswick, after trekking across British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec. Michael expects them to arrive at the final destination – the headland of Cape Spear in Newfoundland – in early December.

The pair are currently in New Brunswick and hope to finish the trek by early December.

“He’s very much a free spirit. He’s very passionate about Scotland and he cares really deeply about what’s in front of future generations.

“In many ways the walk mirrors the efforts that we all really have to make to keep on going with our attempt to address the issues that we face around climate change. It’s really about the fact that just because something is hard, it isn’t a reason to stop,” Karen added.

Trees for Life have established nearly two million native trees at dozens of sites across Scotland, encouraging wildlife to flourish and helping communities to thrive.

The charity recently announced the launch of Affric Highlands – a 30-year landscape-scale rewilding initiative to restore nature across an area of over 500,000 acres stretching from Loch Ness across the central Highlands to Kintail in the west, and encompassing Glens Cannich, Affric, Moriston and Shiel.

You can follow Michael and Luna’s journey on their Facebook page and support their amazing fundraising efforts on their JustGiving page.

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