Youth Leadership Adventures 2016 trip report: Diablo Ducklings

Guest post by Imara White, Apprentice Instructor for Youth Leadership Adventures
Youth Leadership Adventures is a North Cascades Institute program that takes high school youth out in the North Cascades backcountry to backpack or canoe, complete service projects, and develop outdoor leadership, field science, public speaking, and communication skills. The program works to inspire a conservation ethic in the next generation of leaders all while developing a love and connection to the North Cascades landscape. Our first session of three crews hit the trail on June 28 and returned after 8 days in the wilderness.  
One of these amazing groups was an all-female group. When they first arrived for their trip, they were bundle of nerves and excitement since almost all of the girls were new to canoeing, backpacking and camping.
The girls started out the trip by canoeing and although they were worried at first. With some training, the Ducklings- as they later aptly named themselves- were soon canoeing through the water as though they had been doing it their whole lives. The first day they paddled to Hidden Cove on Diablo Lake for lunch. As they stopped for bathroom breaks one girl, not fond of the outhouse, decided to take advantage of the beautiful location in order to use the bathroom. When she returned she proudly held up the Natures Calling Kit (an outdoor bathroom kit) for all to see and the rest of the group cheered her on with giggles. Using the bathroom outside was one of the major concerns of our group since many of the girls had never gone to the bathroom outside before. This one girl with her enthusiasm had brought the group together and shown them that it was something that everyone could do.
This aspect of support through words and actions is what characterized the Diablo Ducklings. Before the Ducklings were able to swim in the water around Buster Brown Camp they first had to work up the courage to get into the water. They had been warned that the water was cold and might contain Porcas (a rare pygmy orca whale known to inhabit Diablo Lake). At first, only one brave Duckling threw caution to the wind and leaped into the lake. The others nervously looked on, when her head broke the clear water and announced that the water was fine she walked out and held the hands of the more timid girls and they jumped in together. From then on it was difficult to get the Ducklings out of the water, with the first request the instructor’s heard reaching each new camp being, “Can we go swimming?” Even on a busy day where they transitioned from canoeing to backpacking they still made time for a short swim.
Their teamwork and enthusiasm shone on stewardship day when retired park maintenance volunteer, Rob Wilson, came with a long list of tasks to complete around Buster Brown Camp. As the girls got their hands on the tools, Rob gave a lesson on how to safely use the them and then set the girls to work cleaning out two trails which had become overgrown. Once cleared their next task was to rid, as best they could, the trails of any visible invasive species. The Ducklings worked so diligently that the instructors had to stop them from leaving the official Buster Brown trails in order to clear invasives from other trails. During lunch Rob announced that he wasn’t sure if they would be able to build the tent pad that day due to a large rock and a stump in the designated area. One girl scooted over to the spot and began digging at the rock with her hands and within twenty minutes, before lunch had even finished, had the rock removed. The other girls cheered as they took their tools and set to work clearing and leveling the tent pad space. The tent pad would have been finished that day had there not been a rock too big to dig out in the remaining time. Grinning from ear to ear at their completed work the instructors asked if they would like to come back and camp on the tent pad and without hesitation their hands shot up as they nodded their heads.
The love and support that the Ducklings gave to one another was show cased on Visitor Day at Thunder Point. Only two days into the trip, the Ducklings were asked to share their story with almost complete strangers; some spoke of how they came to the United States, others about the beauty of the North Cascades, and others still about their struggles with personal health. When it was time for a short bathroom break the Ducklings huddled to hug one another and offer love and support to those who had already spoken and words of advice and reflections to those who had yet to go.
This compassion and support of one another did not get left behind with the canoes as the Diablo Ducklings transitioned from canoeing to backpacking on day four, rather it grew stronger. Many of the girls had never been backpacking before, some had gone on day hikes but the prospect of hiking with a heavy pack was a concern for many of them. However, with each others love and support they realized that no matter how slow or fast you hike you can still reach the campsite. This especially rang true on our Challenge Day when one of the Ducklings had to hike much slower than the rest of the groups. It was a hard day for everyone and when it came time for the evening meeting every single girl had given at least one “prop” (an appreciation) to every other girl because they were proud of each other and their accomplishments as a group.
The Diablo Ducklings started out as a shy flock not knowing whether they could lean on one another in times of need but by the end of the trip they had discovered that there was more to being a duck than swimming and quacking. They discovered that their flock was built on bonds of trust, love, support, and late night giggles in tents.
Imara White is an Apprentice Instructor for Youth Leadership Adventures. Her first backpacking trip was with the Diablo Ducklings! She first came to the North Cascades when she was around 13, fell in love with the landscape and now have come back to share her love of the North Cascades with the amazing young men and women on YLA trips.


  1. Tanya Anderson

    Sounds like an amazing group of young women and a great learning experience for all!

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