Bordering Alaska, Canada’s Northwest Territories and the Arctic Ocean, The Yukon inspires intrepid outdoor adventures. This north American wilderness is just the sort of country that adventure guide Silke Taeter thrives in.
Silke guiding a hiking tour in Tombstone NP. Image Ruby Range Adventures
Inspired by a love of the great outdoors, we wanted to find out what inspires female outdoor guides to lead other women into the wilds, potentially taking them outside their comfort zone. In the second of this three-part series we meet Silke Taeter. (Chloe Dumont Samson featured in the first installment)
I ended up as a guide rather by accident. I’m a trained teacher and decided 11 years ago to leave Belgium for what was supposed to be a sabbatical year. After a couple of years of traveling I came to Canada with a Working Holiday Visa. I was looking for new challenges and a job that would combine my interests: traveling, meeting people and spending time outdoors.
Definitely! I saw an advertisement from a Yukon company which was looking for people who wanted to become guides. I applied and there I was, starting a career in a new field. I started out by guiding hotel based sightseeing tours, then transitioned into hiking and camping tours, and finally into canoeing and backpacking tours.
Silke and fellow guide Chloe guiding the Chilkoot Trail. Image Ruby Range Adventures
My teaching background certainly is a great asset for guiding. I have experience managing groups, talking in front of a group. Organizational skills, that are very important for teaching, could also easily be transferred to guiding.
Another part of my background that really helped guiding was my travel experience. I had lived and worked with people from different cultural background and knew of challenges that could come up in culturally diverse group settings. During traveling I spent many hours camping, hiking, and participating in other outdoor activities. I was comfortable living with little more than what I can carry on my back.
Other qualifications came through my time with the company and training I took upon starting to guide. These included Wilderness First Aid, canoe and rescue courses.
Silke with her group on a canoe tour. Image Red Ruby Adventures
More than six years.
Every day is different, depending on the tour I’m leading. What characterises most of them is an early start and a late finish: they are filled with adventures, challenges, and lots of fun.
Let’s take the example of a canoe tour on one of our beautiful rivers:
I get up around 7 am to prepare breakfast for the group. Since we paddle every day and set up our camp in different locations every evening, I will make sure that my personal gear as well as my tent is packed up before I even start the other preparations. Around 7:30 I wake up my group. 8:00 breakfast. After breakfast we start breaking down the camp and load canoes. Usually we are ready to go in between 9 and 10. Depending on the distance we have to cover, the weather and the group, we will paddle until 4 to 6 in the afternoon.
Of course, we stop several times along the way and have a longer break for lunch. During the day it’s all about our time on the water (teaching/learning paddle techniques, paddling, talking about the area/wildlife, …) and experiencing the incredible nature of the north. Once we reach camp, we set up our tents, built a campfire, have some free time to swim/read/socialize/nap and then it’s time to prepare dinner. After dinner we spend our evenings on the campfire, exchange stories and simply have a good time.
Silke guiding the Chilkoot Trail. Image Ruby Range Adventures
There are so many different highlights!
It’s always a highlight when I realize that my group that my group that started out as a bunch of strangers suddenly is a group of friends.
Another highlight is sitting at the campfire after a long successful day on the river or on the trail and sharing impressions and stories.
And then there is the moment when this one member of the group who struggled with their paddle for many days and finally ‘gets it’.
Although I believe that the journey is the destination, reaching the destination of a canoe or hiking trip is always a highlight. It’s a moment when everyone realizes how much they achieved. It’s a great feeling to know that we just paddled 300 km in six days or carried our loaded packs for more than 50 km over uneven terrain.
I think every day as a guide has challenges. I wake up in the morning and have only a slight idea what the day will look like. Yes, we have our route and a certain routine, but every group makes for a unique experience. Combine this with challenging environmental conditions in a remote wilderness area and you can see how every day is a new challenge.
I remember one tour where the weather just didn’t cooperate at all. We had seven days on the river, and it rained constantly. This was very challenging because, it’s not just the mood of the group that is in jeopardy, but also the health of the individuals. I had to make sure that we stopped often enough to warm up and try to provide opportunities to dry clothes. In addition to the rain, we had a headwind most days, so that the time we spent in the canoe was exhausting as well. In these weather conditions people become easily hypothermic. I had to use all my skills as a guide, motivate the group to keep their spirits up, be vigilant about their health conditions, push hard enough so that we make it to our destination in time, but not too hard so that everyone doesn’t have enough energy left to keep warm.
Another situation I remember was when an elderly gentleman joined a five day backpacking tour over the Chilkoot Trail in Canada’s Yukon. It is a challenging trail over a 1,000m pass from Alaska into the Yukon. He had never backpacked before and some of his gear was not appropriate for the tour. But how challenging the trail really was for him, became only clear once we hiked already parts of it. I was co-guiding the tour with my friend Chloe and together we made sure that one of us always had an eye on him. We also redistributed some of his gear (most of which landed in Chloe’s and my backpack) and spent most of the trip worrying about his condition.
Generally, I find it particularly challenging when group members just don’t get along but have to spend the next 7 to 14 days together. It is the rare exception, but I had one situation where one individual intentionally worked against the group.
Silke guiding a canoe tour on the Yukon River. Image Ruby Range Adventures
We have a wide variety of characters who join our tours, and I certainly see changes in women on my trips, especially those who came because a partner or friend had proposed the tour in the first place.
I’ve led a lot of tours for beginner paddler sand on these tours the changes are enormous. Some women are intimidated upon the first meeting and sometimes even scared because they suddenly realise that we’ll spend the next days in the wilderness with nothing else than the gear we carry in our canoes. Some have never slept in a tent or spent time on a river before. The first two days are always challenging. There are so many new impressions and there’s a lot to learn. Our tours are adventure tours and most participants will go beyond what they thought was possible. It is amazing how much (hidden) potential each and every one has.
What I often see at the beginning of a tour is that many women automatically opt for the position in the bow (front) of the canoe. This position seems easier compared to the stern (back). The stern person has to steer and paddle, while the bow person can get away with only paddling. Sometimes it takes some encouragement to get people (especially couples) to change position and try to be in charge. Once in the stern, many women see how skilled they are and it boosts confidence. Once confidence starts, it usually only grows – and that’s interesting to observe.
The same happens at camp. Our tours are group adventures, and they work best if everyone does their part. There are many jobs at camp, from setting up tents, collecting firewood, starting the campfire, cooking or washing dishes. Often women initially radiate towards the kitchen (funny, eh?), but throughout the tour I see them taking on different responsibilities and roles. They come out of the tour with more knowledge, more confidence, and a knowledge of accomplishment.
But I have also met many women, who don’t need to be encouraged and come with confidence, know what they’re doing and show from the beginning neither reservation, nor intimidation.
Hikers in Hoh Rain Forest. Image Port of Seattle
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