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Lessons from the Alaskan Wilderness
U. S. A. | NEWS
Sarah Gagnier shares lessons learnt while roughing it on Camp Kenai


Fourteen teenage girls and six adults launched the first Camp Kenai Outdoor Adventure Camp in the Kenai Peninsula (Alaska) this July 2012. The camp consisted of a five-day, forty-mile backpacking trip on Resurrection Trail, days of horseback riding, white water rafting, bike riding, 4-wheeling, gold-panning, glacier visiting, waterfall climbing, moose and bear-sighting, camping, daily Mass, a Eucharistic Procession and much more!

Sarah Gagnier, a consecrated woman from Washington State and now working in Atlanta, shares 9 lessons learnt while roughing it in the Alaskan wilderness.

  1. Decide what’s essential for the trip and get rid of the unessential, if you are determined to persevere until the end of the trail. There are no pack donkeys or horses, so you bear the consequences of your inability to detach from any non-essentials. In other words, pick up your backpack (1/3 of your body weight) and follow Him.   
  2. If you start to feel a “hot spot” on your foot, tell the medic immediately.  If not, a blister will quickly form and make things more difficult than they were before. On a spiritual note, go to Confession or speak with a trusted friend or mentor before a little problem picks up unnecessary momentum.
  3. Drink water and
    eat periodically when walking the trail, otherwise you risk dehydration or exhaustion
    .  One of our campers learned this lesson the hard way and had to miss fun activities. This rule applies to our prayer life. We need to be nourished by Christ in prayer at all times.
  4. The temptation to stop walking on the trail due to fatigue is to focus inward, to experience isolation from the others. The key is to address it or redirect your attention heavenward to the beauty above and around you. We told stories, jokes or prayed the Rosary to redirect a struggling girl’s attention. One of the priests walked backwards and made her look out for his safety as a means of playfully distracting her.
  5. Giving the right value to essential things is critical for “happy trails.”  The whole group had to sacrifice so that there would be enough materials for everyone. We had many opportunities to live charity and to be attentive to the needs of others.
  6. Expend energy to increase energy.  We were wet, tired, and ready to take a long break when the opportunity to go sledding presented itself.  We ran up a mountain, tackled each other in the snow, had a snowball fight, went sledding and ended up with more energy and joy than when we started.  imilarly, isn’t it true that there’s more joy in giving than in receiving?  And in giving ourselves to others we often find that we receive more than we give? 
  7. Teamwork = survival.  Our white-water rafting guide told us that if one of us fell out of the boat, the rule was to pick up our feet and ride the waves.  The last thing we ought to do, he told us, was to attempt to stand up straight in the moving river.  If one of our feet or legs was to get caught on something under water, that would be “all she wrote.” 
    When one of the girls fell out of and under her moving boat, she depended on the help of her teammates to grab her and pull her back up into the boat.  In a similar way, we need to remain close to “the boat” of the Church, and ultimately the Lord when we experience difficulty.  Those of us in “the boat” also need to be on the active lookout to help others in their time of need.    
  8. Beauty matters, even when no one is looking. Girls are fashion-conscious, even on a 16 day trek in the wilderness…  It would seem that one wouldn’t care, especially when there aren’t any boys around, but in general, girls like to look good.
  9. We never walk alone.  The bear and moose footprints and scat were a constant reminder that we weren’t alone on the trails. The animal markings and towering mountains led one of the girls to remember the famous “footprints” prayer and to discover God’s presence in His creation and in each of the people on the trip.   

Camp Kenai is open to girls ages 14-18. The dates for next summer’s Camp Kenai are July 7-21, 2013.  Save the date, check out the website, and contact the camp director, Shelby, at for more information!





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