Cordova’s Girl Scout Troop 825 rarely lets the grass grow under their young feet.
From seeking adventure across the world and teaching others, to performing service work in foreign countries and in their own hometown, this group of Girl Scouts is not your average group of young women.
From July 29 to August 3, the intrepid youngsters, teens and their leaders spent five days and four nights hiking 33 miles and following in the footsteps of the pioneers of yesteryear, through the historical Chilkoot Trail.
The Chilkoot Trail is a 53 kilometer trail through the Coast Mountains that leads from Dyea, Alaska to Bennett, British Columbia, in Canada.
Originally, it was a major access route from the coast to Yukon goldfields in the late 1890s. The trail became obsolete in 1899 when a railway was built from Dyea’s neighbor port, Skagway, along the parallel White Pass trail.
Cordova’s Girl Scouts are fearless
“Never trust a map,” Lynette DeCook laughingly said.
DeCook is one of the troop’s leaders who has been helping for about two years. She’s also mother to Mikita DeCook, who is 14.
“It isn’t always flat when the map says it is,” DeCook said. “I kept wondering, ‘When do we get to the flat part of the map?’ We never did.”
In recent years, the 8th-grade through 11th-grade girls have traveled to the Girl Scout World Centers in India, Switzerland, Mexico and London. They’ve traveled in other parts of England and in Nepal, and extensively around Alaska.
Cordova’s Girl Scouts are known for being fearless and for their love of adventure.
The trip through the famous Chilkoot Trail encompassed 12 hours on an Alaska Marine Highway ferry, a 2,000-mile drive, a 33-mile long backpacking trip and a train ride at the end of the excursion.
Nineteen Cordovans went on the trip, divided in two groups.
Group one was included leader Lisa Carroll and her daughter, Olivia Carroll, 10th grade; Heather Maxcy and her daughter Carol Maxcy, 6th grade; Misty Jensen and recent Cordova High School graduate Celeste Jensen; and adults Jessica Smyke, Sarah Hoepfner, Jana Howard and Scott Perron.
Group two was comprised of Girl Scout Leader Anita Smyke and her daughter Ria Smyke, 9th grade; Kari Collins and her daughter Faith Collins, 9th grade; Andra Doll and Anika Witsoe, 9th grade; Lynette DeCook and her daughter Mikita DeCook, 9th grade; Andrea Vargas, who is in eighth grade; Maya Russin, 8th grade; and adults Paula Payne, Debra Adams and Natasha Casciano.
Walking in the footsteps of the past
On July 29 – day one, the first group began hiking in the early afternoon.
Five miles later they camped at Finnegan’s Point. Day two, the scouts put eight miles on their boots, overnighting at Sheep Camp. Day three was even longer – 8.5 miles over the Golden Stairway to Happy Camp. Day four they hiked 5.5 miles to Lindeman Camp and on day five, they added another seven miles by hiking to Bennet.
On the sixth day, they waited for their friends in the second group to arrive.
“I kept thinking about the gold miners,” said Jessica Smyke, “Who would hike up and down the pass all day long. I could do it maybe three times in a day, tops – and I was probably carrying 20-30 pounds less than they were.”
Jessica Smyke said they met people who were hiking the entire 33 miles of trail in a single day, then spending a day at the end, turning around and hiking another 33 miles back out the next day.
“That doesn’t sound fun to me,” Jessica Smyke said, “But, I was really impressed.”
Girl Scout parent Heather Maxcy, mom to Carol Maxcy, said neither she nor her daughter had any previous interest in Girl Scouts. The troops they’d encountered in the past didn’t do any of the activities they were interested in.
“The Girl Scout troops in Cordova have changed that,” Maxcy said. “Carol is excited and eager to be part of the exciting adventures they undertake. Because of leaders like Lisa Carroll and Anita Smyke, both Carol and I are excited to be part of a group of girls and women who are learning about and experiencing the outdoors.”
Group two’s Girl Scouts hiked 7.7 miles to Canyon City, their first day, July 30.
On day two, they hiked 5.3 miles to Sheep Camp and stayed the night. On day three the group added another 8.5 miles of backpacking and made it to Happy Camp over the Golden Staircase, where they spent the night. Day four saw them accomplish another 8.5 miles to Bare Loon Lake and on day five, the group walked a relatively short four miles to Bennet where they met up with the first group.
Back together again, the 19 scouts and leaders boarded the narrow gauge steam engine for a train ride back to Skagway, on August 3.
They made it, all 33 miles of the trail — one step at a time
Some of the girls were amazed to realize what they were capable of accomplishing once they wrapped up this epic journey.
“I was surprised in myself,” said Mikita, “That I could do it – and that the pass was the easiest part for me. My hardest moment was on the way to Happy Camp. You’d think that it’s just around that turn or hill and it’s not there. We eventually made it.”
They were roughing it.
Each traveler was responsible for pulling their own weight on the trip, carrying their supplies for the duration of the hike.
They packed clothing, food, first aid gear and toiletries.
The girls and leaders shared humorous stories from the trip – of one leader who decided early into the hike that her pre-moistened wipes weighed too much, so she dehydrated them; another young woman who brought along her favorite food and realized they were quite heavy to pack.
“I think one of the hardest times was when I ran out of avocados,” Jessica Smyke said, “But it was definitely worth it!”
As the girls became stronger day-by-day both physically and mentally, their packs, too, became lighter as they consumed their food stores.
There were no run-ins with wildlife reported, with the exception a few friendly Jays who ate out of the girls’ hands and a beautiful, big frog unlike any seen in Cordova.
“The funniest thing that happened was when we were driving,” Mikita DeCook said, “We thought we saw a bear. We sat there for about 10 minutes waiting, until we realized it was just a brown rock.”
The trip was made up of quite a lot of laughter, playfulness and togetherness.
“One of the funniest moments of the trip,” Lynette DeCook said, “Was watching some of the Girl Scouts attempt to do a can-can chorus line in the middle of Skagway, after a theater show at the end of the trip. It was pretty funny.”
The scenery in Canada and Alaska was spectacular and nearly everyone on the trip was taking pictures with either a camera or the cameras on their phones.
It was a time of discovery, each scout learning what she was capable of, as well as time to work on developing relationships between friends, and mothers and daughters who experienced the trip together.
“I loved having the time to spend with my daughter,” Lynette DeCook said, “It made me realize a few things, such as being more confident in my daughter’s abilities and her perseverance to face challenges. I also like a challenge!”
Blisters, aching bodies, heavy packs and daily challenges – the local girls conquered it all, without complaining, she said.
“I was amazed to see what these girls could do – with no complaints,” she said. “The last few miles to Happy Camp were not happy. They kept going and never once showed any sign of giving up.”
They helped each other and they took care of each other. They realized they could rely on each other no matter what the circumstances.
Mikita DeCook said she loved the hike.
“I’d do it again,” she said.
Cordova’s girls work hard locally, too
The Girl Scouts make a difference in Cordova, too, because of their volunteerism and service projects.
The young women in Troop 825 regularly participates in Alaska Shield and other disaster drills as victims. They help with the Adopt-A-Grandma Program and with Christmas dinners each year. They help pick up trash during Cordova Clean-Up days. They knit hats for new babies in town, play music at the Cordova Community Medical Center and they volunteer to run the water stations at the 4×4 Cancer Walk.
The scouts volunteer at the Native Village of Eyak’s Sobriety Celebration each year and they serve the senior citizens dinners throughout the year; they participate in the Cordova Small Boat Harbor Clean-Up; and they participate in SurPies – an event at Thanksgiving where they make homemade pies and hand them out to surprise recipients during the holiday.
They also help at flag raising ceremonies and with the Fourth of July and Halloween community events.
Group leaders said the Girl Scouts were a terrific example of responsibility on the Chilkoot Trail trip, as they greeted tasks with smiles, provided helping hands to those who needed it along the trail and were willing to included everyone in their games and laughter.
Wrapping up summer vacation,
“It was a pleasure to watch the young adults we had with us,” Heather Maxcy said. “Such enthusiasm, joy and happiness on the entire Chilkoot trail experience from backpacking to setting up camp, cooking dinner and playing hours of hacky sack in the evening.”
Participants paid for the Chilkoot Trail trip individually, out-of-pocket.
Anita Smyke said expenses for the trip were $320 per girl and $450 per adult.
“This included the ferry tickets for the people,” she said, “And vehicles, gas, food, camping along the way, the Chilkoot Trail pass and the train ride.”
Several of the girls and their parents believe that the incredible experiences the Cordova Girl Scouts have had the opportunity to participate in are due to the unfailing leadership of Anita Smyke. With an open heart and an open mind, and a dedicated work ethic, Smyke guides the girls who join Troop 825, to go further than they realize they can.
“The girls get to experience what they do,” Lynette DeCook said, “Because of Anita. We’re so thankful to have her. She really is an amazing woman.”