Eve Wiggins, 18, of Bainbridge Island, recently completed a 30-day expedition in Alaska with the National Outdoor Leadership School.
The classrooms for the expedition were the mountains, streams, rivers and lakes of South Central Alaska. Within this geographic region are the Talkeetna Mountains, the Alaska Range and the Wrangell St. Elias Mountains. This country is remote and wild; packrafting allowed the expedition to cover a route and see areas that would be inaccessible to either hiking or rafting alone.
Wiggins and her coursemates learned how to backpack through rugged mountains and how to paddle a packraft when the route was better accomplished by paddling a river, stream or lake. During parts of the course, students had their lightweight packrafts and other paddling gear inside their backpacks. Other times, students’ backpacks were tied onto the top of their packrafts as they floated downriver. Students had to learn to keep things lightweight to succeed on the course, and lightweight techniques and gear were a curriculum emphasis.
Students learned the skills needed to paddle and backpack after their course. These skills began with the basics —camping, cooking, stove use, leave-no-trace techniques, sanitation, navigation, bear avoidance, expedition behavior and leadership, which are the foundation for backcountry travel. As the course progressed, more advanced instruction included map reading, first aid, plant and animal identification, fishing, natural history, geology, weather and environmental issues.
Wiggins graduated from the course prepared to lead an expedition of her own. The course equipped students with the outdoor skills to safely and responsibly travel in the backcountry, coupled with the leadership skills to do so with others.