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Young Adult Fiction Survival Stories

Tracker's Canyon Teachers' Guide

Dundurn Teachers' Guide

by (author) Jonathan Wardle

Initial publish date
Jul 2018
Survival Stories, Mental Illness, Extreme Sports
  • Unknown

    Publish Date
    Jul 2018

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Recommended Age, Grade, and Reading Levels

  • Age: 12 to 15
  • Grade: 7 to 10
  • Reading age: 12 to 15


When Tristan’s dad disappears, he puts his tracking skills to the test to find him — but will Tristan’s talents save him if it turns out to be a trap?

Thanks to his dad’s coaching, sixteen-year-old Tristan is one of the best climbers and trackers in his small town. He can read footprints and bushes like they’re security-camera footage, and fearlessly descend rock faces and waterfalls. But when his father disappears, leaving his mother too grief-stricken to function, the young canyoneer’s life goes into freefall.

Left in the hands of a well-meaning but incompetent uncle and a space-cadet housekeeper, Tristan finds life a struggle no matter how hard he works. When he nears the end of his rope at home, the teen decides to set off into Swallow Canyon in search of his father — only to realize that someone may be out to get him. Now the question is who’s stalking whom, and are Tristan’s skills up to the dangerous game playing out in the deep, shadowy canyon?

About the author

Contributor Notes

Pam Withers is an award-winning author of seventeen teen adventure novels, including First Descent and Andreo’s Race, and two nonfiction books. She is a former outdoor guide, journalist, and editor. Pam lives in Vancouver.

Excerpt: Tracker's Canyon Teachers' Guide: Dundurn Teachers' Guide (by (author) Jonathan Wardle)

Chapter 1

Bare feet are soundless. Combined with stealth, they can buy a sliver of freedom. A daily sliver of freedom is all I need, but I need it like oxygen. Seriously.
So, being the Sultan of Stealth, I sneak out of my bedroom before dawn and pad ninja-like down the hallway.
First I peer into my mother’s room, where the weak glow of her bedside clock identifies her shape, shrouded by twisted sheets. A hand dangles beside the nightstand, crowded with pill bottles. 
I sigh, then catch myself. I’ve sworn off sad and don’t do “down” anymore. Instead, I remind myself to take comfort in the gentle rise and fall of her chest. 
Hang in, Mom. And forgive me, but I’ve got to get a breath of fresh air. I move away from her like a shadow down the worn stair treads. My nose scrunches up as it passes the unwashed dishes in the sink; my bare feet expertly negotiate the greasy kitchen floor.  
I know just how to open the back door without its rusty hinges squealing. Oiling them is somewhere on my to-do list. But the dishes and scrubbing the kitchen floor are higher priority — as in, I’ve got to check off these new Head of the Household duties in between this jailbreak and the high school’s morning bell. 
Like a fake sumo wrestler who bounces trouble off his cool rubber suit, I’m finding the chunk of chores and attempt at a new attitude easier every week. If Mom were more with it, she’d be proud of me. If Dad hadn’t disappeared — well, then I wouldn’t need the rubber suit or have to face these new obligations. But yeah, he’d be proud of me, too. 
If only a raise came with the promotion.
I jog barefoot down the forest trail, pine cones cushioning my calluses, early birdsong filling my ears, first sunrays lighting up the corrugated trunks of cedar trees. I like to go barefoot ’cause it puts my feet in closer touch with the ground. 
Soon it’s time to pause and let my old self come out and play. I become the skilled tracker my father helped me become. Guilt, get lost for now!
Some guys pursue fame. Some chase girls. I stalk animals. Not to hurt them, of course. Trackers just track. So I stop and crouch in the dewy grass, breathe in the forest, and funnel all my senses into finding a creature to follow. Small hoofprints — bingo! Soon I’m trailing a mother deer and two fawns. 
The size, distance between the tracks, and how clear the imprint is help me calculate how far ahead the deer are and how fast they’re moving. Perfect: I’ll sight them and be home before Mom wakes up. 
Within twenty minutes, salal bushes are scratching my thighs and flies are haloing my head, but patience being my specialty, I don’t move an inch. Yes! There they are. For five sweet minutes, happiness flows through me just watching two spotted fawns prance about the meadow, under the watchful almond eyes of their mother. 
As they munch the spring grass, I mentally brush my fingers against the warmth of the smaller fawn’s smooth, brown neck. 
Embrace calm, my father always urged. Slow down, clear your mind, make yourself invisible. 
Waiting for the right second to move, I ignore the tickle of ants crawling up my leg, the sting of mosquitoes feeding on my neck, the sweat trickling down my back. A breeze whispers through the trees, a faraway frog croaks, a fleeing chickadee scolds. Nature is like a drug to me. Being outdoors, smelling and hearing everything close-up, and challenging my senses: it’s the best high ever.
I scan past the meadow to the wash of orange- yellow brightening the horizon and glance left, right, and down, just like Dad taught me. Damn. The prick of pain that comes with any memory of him distracts me just long enough that I fail to notice the forest going quiet. Very quiet. 
Too late, the mother deer’s head lifts and stiffens; her tail quivers. Then, with only the slightest of creaks from a branch a few trees behind me, a blur of gold arcs through the air, takes two bounds, and lands on the smallest fawn. 
Holy crap. Mother and surviving fawn bolt. The cougar’s teeth sink into the fawn’s neck — the neck I’d been imagining stroking. I choke off a cry. 
“Hey!” The shout from behind makes me jump.
As the cougar drags his prey to the edge of the meadow, boots pound toward me. Before I can spin around, two firm hands lock on my shoulders and haul me back. 
“Kid, what do you think you are playing at? That cougar could have just as easily jumped you!” A European accent.
I shake myself free, turn, square my shoulders, and eye this tall stranger in camouflage clothes. Who does he think he is, attempting to lecture a near guru of this terrain? He’s no more than twenty-five years old, I decide. He has short curly brown hair and a thin moustache on his not-unfriendly face. 
“I’m not a kid,” I declare with my hands on my hips.
“No?” He half smiles. “What are you — like, fifteen?”
The interloper is tall and as solid as a middle-weight champ. My gut says the guy’s okay. Still, I judge it best to be polite but firm.
“Sixteen.” I level my eyes at him. “And you just ruined everything. I’ve been tracking those deer for half an hour.” I look toward the meadow; the cougar has disappeared with its catch. I turn back.
The man leans against a tree with a smirk. “Oh, so you think you are a tracker, do you? Not such a great one, if you did not notice the cougar or me, kid. Classic case of the hunter becoming the hunted.”
“Well, I guess I must be pretty special to have two hunters following me.” 
His smile widens. “I was tracking the cat when I saw you trying to follow the deer. Figured I had better speed up, in case the cougar updated his breakfast plans.”
I relax a little. “Whatever. Thanks, I guess.”
“You are welcome. Your parents know where you are?”
I shift my bare feet in the dirt and study the last hoofprints of the unlucky fawn. “I don’t have parents.” 
“No parents, huh?” He smothers a laugh. “So, let me guess. You live on your own in a cave near here, and you skin and eat any deer the cougar does not get? A real wannabe Indian tracker!”
“Better than someone who tracks trackers,” I say evenly. “Tristan Gordon,” I add, extending my hand.
“Dominik Goralski,” he responds, crushing my palm in his. “I did not mean to offend you. You actually did pretty well tracking that deer for a guy your age.”
“You think?” I pause, then ask, “Do you live around here?” 
“I do Search and Rescue work in Poland; I’m here on vacation. Let me give you a tip or two. First, never focus on just one thing. You should be working on sensing an animal, even if it is downwind. Second, when I saw you scanning the horizon back there, you looked left, right, and down. Exactly like you should have. You just forgot to look up, too.”
I bristle at some stranger telling me how to track, but damn, the guy’s sharp. How many times did I hear that from my dad? “Yeah. Good advice. My weak point, I’ve been told,” I admit.
“Look up now, and tell me what you see.”
I lift my face and watch a flock of slender birds with long, pointed wings, hunting insects in the air. “Swallows.”
“Good. And where are they headed?”
“West, duh.”
“No, I mean where, exactly? I am not from around here.”
My chest tightens. Where are they headed? Worst question he could ask. “Swallow Canyon.”
“Ah, the famous Swallow Canyon. You have been there?”
I purse my lips to seal all emo inside. “Yes.” 
Something gives me away. His eyes are clamped on me like he’s going to unlock my secret.
“Sorry. I’ve got to go,” I say hurriedly. “I’ve got a mountain of chores to do before school. But enjoy your time in British Columbia, and I appreciate the tracking tips.” 
“Okay, Tristan, see you around. Stay safe.”
As my feet turn homeward and speed up, I wonder if I’ll see the guy again. I forgot to ask how long he’d be around. Oh well. When I lift my head for a second, I see that the swallows, like my dad, have disappeared.

Editorial Reviews

A great choice for filling the dearth of realistic adventure novels for the middle-school crowd, and a solid mystery.

School Library Journal

Tracker's Canyon is a story about truth, friendship, family and resilience. A good read.

Canadian Materials

Clues and revelations are well-plotted and the setting, cinematic. Descriptions of the extreme sport of canyoneering, a combination of rock climbing, cliff diving, and caving, are thrilling.

Kirkus Reviews

Middle and high school students will appreciate this fast-paced adventure tale for the action alone.


An important message is conveyed to a young reader who is given a good sense of the profound relationship between a son and his father.

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