In October of 2013 Logistics Coordinators Hannah Lafleur and Nate Eberly scouted our Yukon Leadership trip. Recently, Tom Costley sat down with Hannah to talk about the trip.
Tom Costley: Who should sign up for Yukon Leadership?
Hannah Lafleur: Yukon Leadership is a great trip for adventurous students who are excited about learning backcountry skills and exploring one of the last expanses of wilderness in the world. Whether you are new to backpacking and want to try it out for the first time or you’ve done some backpacking before and want to take your outdoor skills to the next level, this trip provides an opportunity to hike and live in a dramatic and stunning landscape. If you’re interested in developing your own leadership style and getting real practice leading a group, this is also a perfect fit as you will dig into Overland’s leadership curriculum with your dynamic, experienced Overland leaders. It is also the only Overland trip that goes canoeingâ€”you’ll embark on a canoe expedition in one of the premier wilderness canoeing destinations in the world.
Tom Costley: What are the highlights of Yukon Leadership?
Hannah Lafleur:Â From the town of Whitehorse, we’ll start out with an introductory three-day backcountry hike in Kluane National Park. Keep an eye out for elk, caribou, grizzly bears, eagles and porcupines who call this landscape home. After restocking and refreshing for a day, we’ll head out on a wilderness waterway for five full days of canoeing with local guides. Beginning with basic canoe strokes, we’ll be instructed in maneuvers from flat water up to class II moving water. At night, we’ll cook delicious meals over a campfire and enjoy the music of the river as it lulls us to sleep. A visit to a sled dog kennel will give us a new perspective on leading a teamâ€”and a glimpse of this unique northern culture. Our trip will culminate in a five-day backcountry hike, where students will apply their newfound skills and confidence by working closely with another student to co-lead the group. At trip’s end, we’ll say goodbye to the glacier-strewn peaks of Kluane and the unbridled rivers of the Yukon, but we’ll take home the incredible new friendships we’ve built and the leadership skills we’ve learned.
Tom Costley: Describe the Yukon’s landscape.
Hannah Lafleur: Â Tom Clynes describes it beautifully inÂ his article “Yukon: Canada’s Wild West” in National Geographic. Â He writes: “Larger than California but with only 37,000 inhabitants, the Yukon drives an immense wedge between Alaska and the bulk of Canada. From its north coast on the Beaufort Sea, it stretches to the south and southeast, taking in tremendous expanses of lake-dotted tundra, forests, mountains, wetlands, and river systems. Walled off by some of Canadaâ€™s highest peaks and largest glaciers, the territory is almost completely unsettled, its sparse population scattered over a few small communities and the capital, Whitehorse. It is also rich in wildlife, an Arctic Serengeti whose extreme seasonal shifts beckon vast herds of caribou and other animals into motion.”
Tom Costley: What was a highlight from your October scouting trip?
Hannah Lafleur:Â Nate and I hiked pretty much every day of our scouting tripâ€”we covered a lot of ground on foot. About a week into our trip, we departed for a hike along the east shore of the A’ay Chu River, and I can honestly say I was awestruck all day. We were hiking down a valley framed by snow-covered peaks, the sky was so blue I felt like I could reach up and touch it, and the sun was reflecting golden light off of every surface. We hiked south towards the Kaskawalsh Glacier, and we encountered such varied terrain: alluvial fans, glacial tarns, expansive riverbed and glacial moraines that looked like the surface of the moon. We stopped by a crystal-clear lake and enjoyed chili and hot chocolate for lunchâ€”in that moment there was nowhere else in the world I wanted to be. All I could think wasâ€”what a perfect place for an Overland group.
Tom Costley: What leadership training will students receive on this trip?
Hannah Lafleur:Â Â On every Overland trip, students inherently develop critical soft skills through the group experienceâ€”learning skills such as awareness, selflessness, teamwork and motivation. In addition, Overland’s leadership courses will cover backcountry skills, facilitation and leadership skills, and apply them all in real-life situations. For example, on Yukon Leadership our group will focus on backcountry skills like river crossings and topographic map navigation. We may spend an afternoon learning about the different leadership styles. Each student will have a chance to co-lead with another student under the careful supervision of Overland leaders. The trip is designed to provide students with the skills to be a successful outdoor leader, as well as give them the opportunity to put these skills to work in a comfortable environment.
You will learn from your experienced leaders, your professional canoe guides and even from your peers. You’ll also get to hear about what leadership means on a different kind of teamâ€”a team of sled dogs training for the Yukon Quest. This range of informal lessons, activities and reflection will provide you with a solid background for becoming a leader, both in the great Canadian wilderness and in your life at home.
Tom Costley: What is the canoe expedition like?
Hannah Lafleur: The day before our canoe trip starts, we’ll meet our experienced guides, purchase provisions and learn how to pack river duffels and food barrels. During a campfire at our guide’s base area, we’ll go over the route for the next few days. In the morning, we’ll drive to North Wind Lake where we’ll put in and spend our first night on the lake shore. We’ll begin to learn the craft of canoe tripping, including basic strokes for flat water and techniques for cooking over a camp fire. From North Wind Lake, we’ll enter the Upper Rancheria River, which is small at first and travels slowlyâ€”a perfect opportunity to hone our paddle strokes. This section of river meanders through open willowy meadows and passes over beaver dams through a series of small lakes with excellent Arctic grayling fishing. After camping on a bluff overlooking the river, the next day will see us through several lakes to the most exciting portion of our trip. Here we will get a chance to use our skills to navigate the class II rapids. If conditions are right, we may run the rapids a few times portaging back to the top with empty canoes so students can practice their skills. From here, we’ll continue down river, passing through Daughney Lake. By the end of the fourth day, we’ll have reached the far end of Daughney Lake, only a short distance upriver from our take-out. On our last morning, we will awake to an early breakfast and finish paddling down river to the Alaska Highway, where we’ll load up our gear and drive back to the outfitter’s base by early evening.Â In addition to a whole new perspective on the Yukon landscape, we’ll have gained an entirely new set of skills.