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Former Ponoka residents prepare for mountain marathon challenge fundraiser

Organized by Ravi Jaipaul and Ryan Bell, the Aslan Mountain Marathon Challenge is set for July 20 on the Skoki Loop near Lake Louise
Participants for the upcoming Aslan Mountain Marathon Challenge pose for a photo during a practice hike recently. The event runs July 20 on the Skoki Loop near Lake Louise, and scholarship funds raised benefit a Ponoka high school graduate each year. (Photo submitted)

Two former Ponoka residents are gearing up for a lengthy mountain hike this summer to support an amazing cause.

Organized by Ravi Jaipaul and Ryan Bell, who are now based in Calgary, the Aslan Mountain Marathon Challenge is set for July 20 on the Skoki Loop near Lake Louise.

The annual scholarship goes to a Ponoka high school student who has overcome obstacles in his or her journey to graduation, and the inspiration for it came from Jaipaul's young son Aslan, who passed away in 2022.

At that time, Bell and Ravi had already been doing a yearly hike, so they decided to honour Aslan's memory and legacy by establishing a scholarship in his name.

Last year, the team, which numbered about a dozen, scaled three peaks in a single day - Ha Ling near Canmore, Tunnel Mountain in Banff, and Cirque Peak north of Lake Louise.

"This year, we will be doing one continuous marathon-length hike," said Bell.

"Last year, there was quite a bit more elevation gain, but this year it's less elevation gain and quite a bit more distance. We're doing 42 kilometres through the heart of the back country. The hike itself is called the Skoki Loop, and it's right next to Lake Louise. It's usually a three- to five-day backpacking trip, but we will do it in a day which should take about 13 to 14 hours at least."

The key to their speed?

"When people are doing this over three to five days, they are taking it a bit at a time to really enjoy it," he said with a laugh.

"They also have big backpacks with all their stuff - including tents and sleeping bags - so their packs can weigh up to 45 pounds. Our packs will weigh about 10 pounds at the most, so that helps. Also, we will be keeping our pace quite high."

Last year, there were a few 'breaks' between each new climb. But this year, it's more of a steady pace.

"Once we are in there, we are in there for the entire day until sundown. So we have to keep our pace high and consistent, and we have to time our breaks consistently, too. We will also be filtering our water because if we brought our own for the day, it would be a huge weight. So we have large filtering systems that will filter quite a bit of water quickly.

"There will be about 12 of us, so at each stop, we will have to filter upwards of 30 litres of water."

For Bell, the idea of trekking through long stretches of wilderness is compelling.

"When you are doing shorter mountain hikes, you often aren't too far away from roads and so on. I personally like back country camping and things like that. At one point, we will be 25 km from any sort of road, and I love the feeling of being deep in there and far from anything! It's exciting to me."

The event has garnered significant support, bringing in more than $15,000 last year.

"This year, we are doubling it to $30,000."

Ravi Jaipaul said that he and Bell were in Ponoka during the graduation ceremony earlier this month to present the scholarship, and it was a powerful experience - particularly with his baby daughter being there as well.

As to the coming challenge, he said the vision is to raise enough funds to establish a sizable scholarship that would last for years to come.

"I got an email last weekend from last year's scholarship winner, who explained how much it had meant to her," he said. 

"It was one of those beautiful messages where you think, okay, all of these things are coming together. We want this to be a life-long scholarship, and I feel like we have a really good chance to do that next month," he said.

Ravi, who graduated from Ponoka High School 20 years ago, also pointed out how grateful the team is for the incredible support they've been shown.

"Small communities do care about each other, and about supporting each other," he said.

"To see that kind of support for Aslan through this scholarship, it's one of those things where you say, this is one of the most important things I will get to do with my whole life. It's an honour."

For Ravi, planning the event of course brings many thoughts of his late son and the legacy Aslan left behind.

"I think about his life's journey, and what he was here to teach us. One of the things (I have learned) is to look outside of your world, and see how you can be part of a wider picture; and what you can do to support someone who you may never see again.

"At the end of the day, Aslan was one of those kids who went through so much in his short time on earth. He reminds us of the power of people to persevere through challenges, and how that is one of our greatest strengths."

To support the Aslan Marathon Mountain Challenge, go to


Mark Weber

About the Author: Mark Weber

I've been a part of the Black Press Media family for about a dozen years now, with stints at the Red Deer Express, the Stettler Independent, and now the Lacombe Express.
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