I think they were ready to called ‘the people with the white coats’ when I further explained that I had organized the expedition on a piece of blank paper and a few ideas. That I wasn’t being paid for my time while I was away and that I was in fact funding my own way onto the trip and contributing exactly same amount of money as each of the young people. I would of course be accepting accountability for the group during the whole four weeks as we operated in one of the remotest parts of the world.
Well perhaps an experience like this is not everyone’s cup of tea but for me running and organizing youth expeditions has become fairly normal summer experience during the last 14 years.
Since 1996 I have organized and led nine youth expeditions of not less than 21 days to some very challenging environments. Many of these ventures have been approved by organizations such as the Dorset Expeditionary Society (where I am a trustee), The Young Explorer Trust and the Duke of Edinburgh Award. By not employing guides or local hosts and by relying on a carefully selected expedition leadership team I am able to keep the costs for the young people down while ensuring high standards of safety and care for all of the group.
I like planning, organizing and accepting accountability for these trips and spend hours preparing maps, researching expedition areas and working on the logistics. I select my expedition team at least nine months before we depart for the expedition area and spend at least six days working with the group in the UK and training the team before we depart. While we are away we operate as a close family ensure the welfare of all.
I have always believed that extra-curricular activities are one of the most important roles of a teacher and outdoor experiences are one of the things that really gives a school or youth organization spirit. I have learnt more about leadership and management from my summer adventures with young people than I ever have from a formal or academic leadership course.
My expeditions always have objectives for example with under 18s I have canoed the Bowron Lakes of British Columbia, Climbed Mt. Rainier in Washington State, Trekked the Wonderland Trail in Mt Rainier National Park, Climbed the Marmolada by Via Ferata and Glacier in the Italian Dolomites, Paddled Beaver Creek in the Alaskan Interior, Sea Kayaked 200 miles across the Prince William Sound in Southern Alaska and gathered data for research papers in remote parts of Wyoming.
But as well as these physical and academic objectives I believe the youth expeditions that I run are mentally tough. It’s hard to live in the wilderness for a prolonged period of time and it’s the routine of wilderness survival and the ‘thinking time’ associated with it that increasingly young people struggle to cope with. For me the mental challenge remains the most important parts of a young persons development – after all if we can’t develop young people that are mentally strong what hope will we have for the future leadership of our society?
The ‘Gates of the Arctic’ Alaska 2010 Expedition had two main objectives. These were to trek in the Wrangell-St. Elias and to Canoe the Noatak River from its headwaters in the Gates of the Arctic National Park to Noatak Village a distance of nearly 400 miles.
Over the four weeks that we were away we were quite simply punished by the weather and Alaska threw every type of it at us from blistering heat, unforgiving rain and even snow. This combined with the being totally self-sufficient during both objectives and the remoteness of the expedition made it the toughest trip I have ever done with young people.
The group were well prepared and humor, teamwork and compassion conquered the hardship of the environment. We succeeded in both our goals and it was an absolute pleasure to work with such talent.
I’ll document the expedition in the next few posts.