Recently, I had the privilege and honor of traveling 178 miles with 5 brave classmates and 3 instructors through the Talkeetna mountain range over 22 days this September. As part of my Expedition Leadership course with Alaska Pacific University, the main goals of the course were: to take care of yourself and each other, distinguish professionally led expeditions from personal trips, understand that good decisions result from both rational and intuitive processes and to experience how leadership emerges among members of a small group. Traveling from September 1st through 22nd in the mountains, we encountered some adverse weather, technical terrain and numerous animal encounters. Below is an interactive map of the route with descriptions of each day of travel and some sights/hazards we encountered along the way.
While there are many things that I could discuss about the trip, I have a few prompts to help focus my experiences: any outdoor leadership revelations, lesson of leadership learning through personal challenge, why the Talkeetna mountains is an ideal learning environment for peer leadership, plus current and aspired comfort zones of personal leadership skills.
When my career at APU began, it started with a course called Introduction to Wilderness Skills. Within that course, we were introduced to basic concepts of leadership which formed my basis for my personal leadership development. Over the last three years, I’ve been able to improve these leadership skills in my everyday life with classes, work and personal development. With a variety of leadership lessons and opportunities during the trip, it allowed me to hone-in on my skills and develop my own style which I can use in my career path. Expedition Leadership allowed me to focus on the leadership skills that I can use as a student, but also as an outdoor professional. This was my revelation that happened towards the conclusion of the trip.
A lesson that I learned about leadership through personal challenge occurred during one moment when I was leader of the day. Each day during the course, a student became the group leader for the day, focusing their efforts on effective route selection and travel, scheduling and group management. Towards the middle of the trip on my leadership day, we were walking along this swampy marsh on the route that I had set. As we were traveling through, one student questioned why we were going through that mess, and not up higher along a ridge. After pondering it, I realized that his suggestion was much better than my original plan, so we diverted course and went for higher ground. This moment taught me to always be open for suggestion as a leader. While I had planned the original route that I was happy with, other members of the group felt otherwise, and therefor using consensus methods (when appropriate) was a new skill that I learned.
The Talkeetna mountain range includes some of the most notorious terrain in Alaska. From high mountain passes, to extremely dense low-valley vegetation with frequent inclement weather, it is the ideal setting for peer leadership learning. Particularly, during the Peer leadership portion of the trip, we were presented with (in my opinion) some of the most difficult terrain along the entire route. Working together as a group while maintaining an active leadership role, you are constantly present with challenges as a group and leader that must be overcome. This is why that particular section of the trip is so detrimental to the newly acquired skills; you’re putting them to the test.
Having a wide variety of leadership positions over my outdoor career, I have a wide leadership comfort zone. However, one area in which I hope to improve is to gain more experience as a leader, but with a focus on my future career path. Expedition Leadership allowed me to discover my personal leadership style and focus, and now I hope to gain more experience as a leader in the outdoor world so I can focus it along my future goals and aspirations.
Words cannot describe the incredible experience that I got to share with my course. Below are some photos to help give a glimpse at some of what we experienced through the course. I highly recommend that people consider a course of this nature, as it can open many doors towards your future goals. This trip taught me some incredible life-lessons and memories that I will cherish for a lifetime.
And one thing to always remember: when in doubt, just “do as the ‘bou!”
Quote of the the trip
The photos above are credited to Tyler Freitas and Caitlin Marine, two members of the Expedition Leadership Course 2013.