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 Arctic to the Bahamas. Tour groups have sprung up around the globe to provide a venue for women to come together to travel. Arctic Women Expeditions is one such company that takes women deep into the heart of the Yukon.
Arctic Women 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 Arctic.
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.
Tami Hamilton, a guide for Arctic Women 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.”
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 Artic 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 an experienced paddlers or a newcomer to the great outdoors, women may be able to find greater comfort and freedom together than in mixed-gender groups.
Donna Luick, who joined on an eight-day sea kayking trip on Atlin Lake last spring with Artic Women’s Expeditions, said, “I cannot tell you how much I enjoyed my time with AWE. The new friends I’ve made, skills I’ve learned and discoveries about myself… I never could have imagined. AWE 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.
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 each other’s company.
Mothers and Daughters Traveling Together
Another facet of women’s only travel is the immergence of mother-daughter trips. Arctic 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.
In addition to the mother-daughter trips, Arctic Women 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 include, winter camping basics, staying healthy, winter travel, and cooking.
Mastering the Yukon
Beginners need not fear being overwhelmed by the arctic. 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 Kuoni 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.”
There are some priceless experiences that one learns on these arctic expeditions. Hamilton laughs when asked whether there have been any disastrous trips, and says, “No, not disastrous trips. I’ve had learning experiences. There have been medical evacuations. I’ve been evacuated before. It happens to the best of us, but you learn valuable lessons. 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 arctic 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 fellow 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 is only 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 arctic, 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.”
Underwear Advice in the Arctic
Learning about what is important to women in the middle of the wilderness is another step on the journey. While this is definitely not the vacation to take if make-up is a must, there are some very important considerations that are specific to women.
The packing list for Arctic Women’s Expeditions includes “nylon panties with a cotton crotch.”
“Nylon is quick dry but cotton is more comfortable and hygienic,” Hamilton says. “Once you’ve tripped more than a few times you find out female hygiene is incredibly important when you are going out for more than four days.”
Likewise, although it is not a requirement, unscented deodorant is suggested. Immaculate cleanliness might be difficult to achieve when camping out, but hygiene is still key to an enjoyable trip.
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: spa day with aromatherapy to soothe sore muscles, dog sledding for those who do not want to miss a classic arctic opportunity, yoga and meditation for relaxation before returning to the busy world of work, photography for taking memorable photos of your Yukon adventure, belly dancing and can can dancing for those who want to learn a new skill and a handful of crafts from knitting to moccasin making.
For more about Arctic Women Expeditions visit ArcticWomenExpeditions.com.
Emily Morse is a former editorial assistant at GoNOMAD and a graduate of UMass Amherst. She is looking forward to teaching in Japan next year.