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6 Things I Learned in the Yukon

In the summer of 2010 I participated in a guide training program in the Yukon Territory. Although I had spent quite a bit of time in the outdoors–hiking, backpacking and white water rafting it still didn’t hide the fact that I grew up in Oklahoma where the mountains number at a whopping zero. And despite my training at my school in Washington state, most of my outdoor recreation had been for leisure, not with a certain goal in mind. Suffice to say I learned a lot during my month in Canada’s wilderness. While I suffered crippling mental and physical defeats I also experienced pure self satisfaction and witnessed stunning beauty.

Moose meat is worth renouncing vegetarianism
When I started my trip I was a vegetarian. I went into this experience believing that with enough cheese and beans I would not only have a poop schedule to set your watch by, I would also have more than enough calories. I was wrong. After the first few days my usual state of fullness was replaced by a constant gnawing hunger despite my extreme caloric intake. Then one day, a man we were staying with, offered me meat from a moose he had recently killed. The meat was a little gamy and tough but oh-so-delicious. After that day I renounced vegetarianism and by the end of the trip I was drinking gravy. Not a joke.

Being one of three women in a group of hardcore men is…difficult

During my experience I was fortunate enough to be traveling with my best friend. Unfortunately, we spent our entire trip with eight (for the most part) unfriendly, terse, and über competitive men. We get it, your penis is big. With the combination of vast age and gender difference, our trip would be known by that guide company as representing one of the worst group dynamics in its companies’ history. Despite sexist remarks and not-so-latent misogyny, the women (and one gay man) grew exceedingly close as the chasm between us and the rest of the group grew day by day. By the end of the trip, however, I was more proud of myself than I had ever been and the miles of hiking along with the countless tears were definitely all worth it.

Hummocks hurt

While God may have created the earth with the Yukon in mind, he definitely set out to torture humans by creating the hummock. When I saw the hummocks for the first time I thought, “Oh how wonderful! I’ll just bounce from hummock to hummock like they are miniature trufula trees”. Wrong again Caroline. The hummocks, although a key part of the tundra ecosystem, wrench your ankles and require balance that even Gabby Douglas could not muster. A mile can take up to an hour while hiking through hummocks and with each step you can almost hear the faint sound of God laughing directly at you.

I actually am afraid of death and dying

Before I took off for the Yukon I didn’t fear anything but snakes and commitment. Upon leaving the Yukon I took with me a fear of the following: cold water, heights, starvation, bears, and death (most of the former resulting in the latter). You may be thinking that I am exaggerating and you are probably right. However, the Yukon exposed me to many physical and psychological challenges I had never before encountered–good and bad. After all, a little fear of death never hurt anyone.

If you like food, ditch your backpack and pick up a paddle

Half of this adventure was spent white water rafting and the other half was spent trekking near Canada’s Mount Logan. As a backpacker I am used to packing light. I have become used to tearing out book chapters and cutting my toothbrush in half to cut back on weight. So when we started packing for our rafting trip, after spending ten days in the backcountry, I began the mental preparation needed to overcome hunger all over again. However, much to my delight, I was informed that because we were rafting we could take whatever we wanted. And we did. We brought pounds of moose meat, salmon, cake, beer, and bacon. In fact, we probably spent more time eating than we did paddling. Either way, I found my new favorite sport.

The Yukon really is larger than life

Anyone who says, “everything is bigger in Texas” hasn’t been to the Yukon. The landscape is large enough to swallow you whole and while trekking I wasn’t sure whether I was walking through Canada or a Thomas Moran painting. I look back at pictures I took throughout the trip and am disappointed by how small it all looks, how utterly uncapturable. In order to truly remember the trip I have to close my eyes and imagine I’m overlooking the Donjek glacier, paddling through monstrous white water, or even trudging along, at an infuriatingly slow pace over miles and miles of hummocks. It’s almost real enough to make my ankles ache.

By Caroline Kellough


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