Yukon Women's Expeditions: Enjoying the Beauty of the Wilderness
By Emily Morse
In recent years, gyms exclusively for women have flourished across the country. Women-only book clubs, dance lessons and support groups are just a few of the other ways women can bond with one another. One of the newest and most important women-only developments is travel groups exclusively for women.
Women can now find other adventurous women to travel anywhere from Costa Rica to China and from the Yukon to the Bahamas. Tour groups have sprung up around the globe to provide a venue for women to come together to travel. Yukon Women's Expeditions is one such company that takes women deep into the heart of the Yukon.
Yukon Women's Expeditions is based in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory. The women-only travel business provides wilderness adventure tours and outdoor education to women interested in exploring the natural beauty of the Yukon.
Novices can learn to paddle a canoe, and experts can kayak down raging rapids on a number of tour options that include hiking, snowshoeing, skiing and biking, all solely in the company of women.
All these adventurous activities can be undertaken in a relaxed atmosphere, in complete safety, with the guidance of staff members who are fully trained in all aspects of wilderness travel.
Tami Hamilton, a guide for Yukon Women's Expeditions, has discovered a few reasons why women have embraced this optional segregation in vacationing and in outdoor activities.
In her two years as a guide exclusively for groups of women she has found, “Women-only travel lets a woman be more herself. It breaks down gender barriers, and makes it so that there are the same expectations for the whole group, instead of women and men having separate expectations. It really builds self esteem, even in confident women.”
Denise Schneider has been apprenticing with Hamilton for the past four years. She has hiked the challenging Chilkoot Trail three times, and skied hundreds of kilometers. "Denise is highly organized and efficient," Hamilton says. "She keeps us all on track! Her fun-loving nature keeps everyone in high spirits."
Those who have taken trips with YWE agree. "I recently attended a four-day ski trip into Kluane with Tami and Denise," says Linda Dubrick, "and I cannot tell you how impressed I was by their knowledge, professionalism and organization. Every day just flowed. The food was great. The area was beautiful. The things I learned... unbelievable! I always felt safe and there was never a time (even when the weather was horrible!) that I wasn't having fun! Thanks girls, I'll be back for sure!"
Although times are changing, many women grew up in a time where girl scouts learned to sew while their male counterparts learned all the necessities of camping out and the skills needed in the great outdoors. This explains why women reach out to tour groups like Yukon Women’s Expeditions. Without the pressure of having to break gender stereotypes, women can simply be themselves and enjoy the beauty of the wilderness. Whether they are experienced paddlers or newcomers to the great outdoors, women may be able to find greater comfort and freedom together than in mixed-gender groups.
Donna Luick, who joined an eight-day sea kayking trip on Atlin Lake last spring with Yukon Women’s Expeditions, said, “I cannot tell you how much I enjoyed my time with YWE. The new friends I've made, skills I've learned and discoveries about myself... I never could have imagined. YWE changed my life, for the better!”
The impact of the trip on Luick has even been noticed by her friends and family. “My husband just bought me a global positioning system for my birthday (still learning to use it) and I got a sea kayak for Christmas!” Luick said.
Yvonee James, who took the Teslin River trip, says, "I have found no better way on the planet to reconnect, calm the inner soul and become centered again than to be out on the land having fun with a bunch of women just like me! No pressure, no commitments just my paddle, the canoe, the water, some of the most beautiful scenery I've ever seen, and fresh Yukon air... it's fantastic!"
Women-only travel also allows women to create strong bonds with other women. After three, seven or even ten days alone in the wilderness with a group of women, friendships will quickly solidify.
Hamilton believes the arctic is a place everyone should visit. “It’s a real cliché but there is magic and mystery in the Yukon. It’s diverse in what we can offer. It’s a playground. A gem of a natural beauty. People just have to come.
There are clear skies with wonderful stars, a night sky with a full moon, stars and the northern lights.”
Experiencing nights such as these after days of learning new canoeing or hiking skills is the perfect way to build lifelong friendships. There is no television or internet to distract. Entertainment is derived from the landscape and one other’s company.
Mothers and Daughters Traveling Together
Another facet of women’s only travel is the emergence of mother-daughter trips. Yukon Women’s Expeditions has offered many such trips, and find them to be incredibly successful.
Hamilton says, “They grow in popularity. We’ve had some really positive feedback from both mothers and daughters. They grow a stronger bond and learn more about each other. It’s something that not every mother and daughter gets to do, so it sticks in the memory and is very special.”
A trip like this could be the best way to reconnect with your mother or spend some time with a daughter. These tours also accommodate multiple daughters, as well as children over the age of six for younger mother-daughter groups. All of the women in a family can climb through the Yukon together.
Anne and Hillary Westbroke took the Westbroke-Atlin Lake sea kayaking/hiking combination. "My daughter and I never had so much fun!" Anne says. "We know each other so much better now, our relationship is not at all like it used to be. There is respect, trust and a deep love. She's my best friend. The Yukon trip changed our lives and we are forever grateful."
In addition to the mother-daughter trips, Yukon Women's Expeditions offers numerous specialized trips. There is a "Young Women in the Woods" trip that is offered during spring break so as to be available to youth still in school.
The Chilkoot Trail trip follows the path of the Gold Rush entrepreneurs more than 100 years ago. The Atlin Lake trip provides opportunities for sea kayaking by ancient glaciers, past warm springs and through icy grottos. Some trips, like the Kluane skiing/snowshoeing trip include workshops such as winter camping basics, staying healthy, and cooking.
Mastering the Yukon
Beginners need not fear being overwhelmed by the Yukon. Nor do experts need to be nervous about being held back. Trips can also be geared toward the skill level of the participants.
For instance, Hamilton suggests, “If there were a group of five women who were very experienced, we might go to the Tombstones, the far reaches of the Kluane area, Class 3 and 4 rivers for experienced paddlers. Experience is important for water travel. There are certain parts of the Yukon we don’t recommend novices going. If there is a novice paddler, only used to flat water, you want to introduce things gradually.”
One has some priceless experiences on these expeditions. Hamilton laughs when asked whether there have been any disastrous trips. “No," she says, "not disastrous trips. I’ve had learning experiences, though. It’s part of the journey.”
Sleeping Through the Midnight Sun
Famous as the setting for many of the novels of Jack London and the infamous Klondike Gold Rush of the 1890s, the Yukon has been a hot spot for travelers for a long time. The pristine beauty of the Yukon draws so many visitors into the wilderness that tourism is one of the biggest industries in the area.
Although there is a risk of injuries when hiking or kayaking, there is also the glorious calm that comes after hours of physical activity. It is relaxation at its best.
Even during the summer solstice when the sun does not set, this sublime exhaustion can be achieved. Furthermore, such days become excellent times to get to know your traveling companions.
“You can go hiking for eight to nine hours," Hamilton says, "and the sun never goes down.” Hamilton says that adjusting to this phenomenon can be difficult “for the nine-to-fivers."
"When you go paddling or hiking all day," she says, "you’ll be able to sleep no matter what.”
Beyond the recreational attractions of the Yukon, the region can also offer profound moments where it is possible to truly connect with nature. Hamilton has thousands of memories of such experiences.
“One thing that sticks out in my mind," she says, "was when I was on a trip with just one other woman and I saw a grizzly bear and he was just sunbathing like a big gold teddy bear, just basking. "It was the most peaceful, beautiful thing I’d ever seen in Kluane. You could see his footprints right up to where he was sunbathing, to the spot he had chosen to relax."
To wind up the time in the Yukon, a wellness day is offered at the conclusion of each trip. These days may include up to two activities.
Possible options include:
- herbal and organic spa treatments with aromatherapy to soothe sore muscles,
- dog sledding for those who do not want to miss a classic arctic opportunity,
- map and compass training and survival training,
- yoga and meditation for relaxation before returning to the busy world of work,
- journal-writing and photography for recording your adventures,
- belly dancing and Can-Can dancing for those who want to learn a new skill
- and crafts like painting, knitting, moccasin-making, backcountry cooking and many more.
For more about Yukon Women's Expeditions visit YukonWomenExpeditions.com
Emily Morse is a former editorial assistant at GoNOMAD who spent a year living and teaching in Japan.