Summer hikes through juniper and sage-laden mountains beneath a still-bright night-time sky. Paddling glacier-fed rivers under the gaze of alder-munching moose and darting kingfishers. Stalking monster lake trout whose primordial brains quiver and snap at the sight of your waggling lure.
If you’re into the outdoors, the North has it all. Women—especially Northerners—have taken to these pleasures of the backcountry for generations, and now some tour groups are tapping into that history. Adventure companies are wising up to the demand for women-only activities, offering outdoor experiences for women who want to learn new skills, meet new friends and enjoy the wild—without feeling like they have to compete with, rely on, or interact with men.
Wendy Grater, owner and operator of Black Feather (a wilderness adventure company based in Seguin, ON) says that from what she has observed, women get a different, sometimes richer, backcountry experience when they go without men. Black Feather offers two women’s only guided canoe trips in the North—one on the Keele River, which is the most accessible to less experienced canoeists, and one on the famous Nahanni River, which is more challenging.
“As a woman myself and the owner of the company, I certainly appreciate the fact that not having men on the trip means that women experience the trip pretty fully,” Grater says. “Often, if there are men or their partner or whatever, the guys would do the firewood collecting, that kind of thing, you know what I mean? There are a lot more gender-specific duties that just get automatically put on them. But if you’re just all women, you do everything.”
There’s a kind of freedom in that, says Grater, and the new challenges allow women to test their strengths, learn new skills, and overcome obstacles with teamwork.
“That’s the spirit I love to see on these trips—like, yeah, the canoes are heavy, but together we can get them over the portage trail. Whereas, if the guys are there, they just say, ‘Hey, we’ll take the canoes.’ I think there is a sense of accomplishment (for women) that comes with that.”
Many women have a fear of travelling alone, or if they’re with men in a group, worry about measuring up to them, Grater notes. So travelling with a group of all females allows women to explore the wilderness in a freer, less gender-com- plicated way.
Don’t care for the water? It’s a little-known fact outside the territory that the Yukon has some of the best mountain biking trails around, with a hearty women’s biking scene led by the women-only club, the Dirt Girls.
Southern companies such as Pemberton-based Sweet Skills also offer women-only excursions to the Yukon, particularly Carcross, which founder and head coach Sylvie Allen says is “amazing for coaching and doing big adventure rides.”
Allen says she sees a lot of her clients enjoying the social aspects of women’s-only excursions, making new friends while riding and spending the day together. Moreover, the environment is more supportive and less competitive without men, which means female riders feel more confident trying new things and pushing themselves to try—and retry—things they might not in a co-ed setting.
“You’re pushing yourself to do bigger, longer rides than you thought you could... it’s really cool to see people ace a bigger ride or have a new skill,” she says.
“With a group of women, there’s a lot of support for pushing yourself to your limits,” says Julia Stanslawski of Calgary, who came up to the Yukon to ride in one of Allen’s classes.
“You get inspired by women coaches, seeing them do a lot of these technical features I’d be, I guess, scared to do. Seeing other women were competent and capable of doing it and I have the skills, it was just more of a mental block they were able to help me get through... in kind of a supportive way.”
“Some women come for an amazing adventure,” Allen says, “But at the end of the camp you’re going to be a better rider, no matter what your skill level.”
Maybe you (like this author) aren’t into hurtling down a rocky precipice at 40 kilometers an hour relying solely on gravity and a willful disdain for death and dismemberment to keep astride a bicycle. Is fishing (a sport that can be enjoyed standing upright and drinking a beer) more your speed? Starting this year, Peterson’s Point Lake Lodge of the Northwest Territories will be offering a women-only fishing retreat, says owner and operator Amanda Peterson.
“There are lots of women who love the outdoors,” says Peterson, and there’s interest from those visitors to “just go to a place and have an experience... We see it as a viable and untapped market here in the Northwest Territories.”
Peterson’s Point Lake Lodge is famous for its lake trout fishing, she says, and, aside from keeping a few “shakers”—trout between four and six pounds—for a shore lunch or dinner, the lodge is entirely catch- and-release.
All sorts of skill sets are welcome, but if there are any specific skills—like tying on a fly leader, for example—that someone wants to learn, Peterson says the guides would be happy to take some time to share their expertise.
Peterson likens a women-only experience like these trips to going to an all-female gym; doing something in a female-only setting simply takes the pressure off and many women have more comfort in that dynamic.
“You get a couple of women together and come up to the lodge... you incorporate it with a hike and a sauna at the end of the day,” she says, with everyone learning and enjoying the outdoors together.
Don’t have the cash for a guided tour like one of the ones listed above? No problem. For Northerners, the backcountry—with its berry-studded marshes, ptarmigan-rich highlands and cold-but-clean lakes are open to everyone. Many women have a surprising number of outdoor skills that get overlooked, and your friends and neighbours are probably quite willing to teach and share. Regardless of your preferred activity—paddle, bike, or hook-and-line—there’s always space in the backcountry for adventurous types: male, female, or non-binary.
Grab a couple of friends and head out into the backcountry yourself—try new things, make new pals and find a trail of your own.