The YAYA Hiker Girl Scouts have explored western Washington for over a decade. This year, they’re tackling their biggest challenge yet …
“Is this real? Am I really standing in the middle of this? How is it possible, when the only time you see this kind of beauty is in pictures and on postcards?”
That’s how Girl Scout Victoria Holmes describes her favorite part of hiking: that moment when you pause on a trail, breath in the nature around you, and get to appreciate the beauty of the land.
Young Adults Yearning for Adventure
Victoria got her taste for hiking through the Girl Scout YAYA Hiker Group. This scrappy band—which includes girls from across western Washington—was started in 2002 by veteran Girl Scout Ellen Dahill Govan.
“I’m in my thirty-eighth or thirty-ninth year with Girl Scouts,” she says. Since she joined as a Brownie in the 1960s, Ellen has been involved as a troop leader, service unit team member, lead delegate, organizer of the upcoming Cascade Challenge and so much more at Girl Scouts of Western Washington.
Her focus has always been on nature: “I grew up as an outdoor girl. It’s part of my makeup and it’s helped me grow confident and strong,” explains Ellen.
So, when her daughter hit high school and needed more players for their outdoor adventures, Ellen started reaching out to other troops and service units. The YAYA (which stands for Young Adults Yearning for Adventure) Hiker Group was born!
Hiking Across Western Washington
The group—made up of Girl Scouts in the sixth grade and up—hikes between January-November and backpacks April-October. And they make a statement on the trail: “We have anywhere from 6 to 26 hikers show up for our hikes!” notes Ellen.
They also adventure out across the state. “We go all over the place,” says Ellen. “For our day hikes, we’ll go as far south as Mount Rainier National Park, in Olympia, as far North as Bellingham, east to Yakima area, and everything in between.” For backpacking trips, the range is even wider—extending south to Mount St. Helens and along the Olympic coastline.
“My goal is to introduce the girls to places beyond their normal area,” Ellen explains. “I love it when I hear ‘Wow! We have a desert only two and a half hours away?’”
Because of the wide range of hiking locations, Girl Scouts from across western Washington can participate and become friends.
“It’s really awesome to watch the budding friendships of a girl who lives in Sultan with a girl who lives in Everett,” notes Ellen.
The girls back up this idea too: “My favorite part about being in the YAYA Hikers is that you get to meet new people,” says Eva Woeck, a twelfth grader who’s been part of the group for six years. “You’re able to build relationships with girls your age and they can help you reach your goals.”
“The whole group is always really great, no matter the mix of people, and I think that is from the common interest,” explains Victoria. “We all love getting outdoors and going on an adventure, whether it’s a day hike to a nearby lake, or a week-long backpack trek along 50 miles.”
Every girl who’s part of the group takes Hiking 101—which covers the ten essentials of leave-no-trace hiking, and practical things like clothing choices and (very important) how to go to the bathroom in the woods! After that, girls are added to Ellen’s email list and get monthly descriptions of upcoming hikes (which usually cost $6-$12 each) and recaps from past adventures.
The emails include lines like: “Our September backpack to the Mt. Baker Wilderness was amazing—great weather, incredible views, most excellent camaraderie, and the fresh picked huckleberries and blueberries in our skillet biscuits were just short of divine!”
Makes you want to hit the trail, right?
And girls don’t have to be experienced hikers to join. “I always say, just come and give us a try!” says Ellen. She adds an additional tip if you’re getting nervous: “Just focus on the ice cream that we always have at the end of each trip!”
Tackling Their Biggest Challenge Yet
While hikers at any experience level are welcome in the group, some trips are reserved for the most adventurous. This August, veteran members are planning to tackle the biggest hike in YAYA history: a 74-mile section of the Pacific Crest Trail.
It’s serious business, with ten days on the trail, a 15-thousand foot elevation gain and only one opportunity to restock their food supply half-way through the trip.
The group will be small—only 12 people—to comply with back-country hiking regulations and leave-no-trace practices. “Twelve heartbeats is our limit,” explains Ellen. And each one of those twelve will need to ready for the challenge. “When you’re in the wilderness, you’re only as strong as your weakest link,” says Ellen. “The girls will really need to rely on each other and support each other.”
Confident, Strong and Raccoon-Proof
Hiking builds strength—both physically and mentally.
“A huge benefit of hiking is the confidence the girls gain that they can do this—the confidence that they’re going to take the knowledge that we learn and show up prepared, and then they go and do this hike that’s a killer workout and feel so good about themselves,” says Ellen.
Some of that confidence comes from facing challenges head on. And the YAYAs have definitely had a few!
From a sneaky raccoon stealing a hiking pack (note: never leave any food—even a candy wrapper—in your bag!), to mud-soaked slogs in northwest downpours, to working through a team crisis to safely ford a torrential creek, the group has faced some big hurdles.
But even the rocky patches are part of the fun. “My favorite part about being a YAYA hiker is the adventure!” says Victoria.
Getting girls outdoors—whether it’s going on a hike, canoeing at camp, or just exploring a little piece of nature—has been a critical part of the Girl Scout mission for over a hundred years. But people are sometimes still surprised to see young women out on the trails.
“When people find out about our group, I’ve heard comments like ‘Wow, I didn’t know girls did this kind thing!’” says Ellen. “Or we’ll be 20 miles from a trailhead and we meet people and they go ‘Wow, it’s just women out here!’ I am amazed that we still get those kind of comments in this day and age.”
That’s just one of the reasons that Ellen sees no end in sight for the YAYAs—“There’s so much that girls can get out of hiking!”
When it comes to the benefits of getting out to nature, Victoria sums it up best:
“As much as I hate waking up early to go carry a heavy pack for miles with possible rain or snow, for me, it’s all worth it when I get that 10 minute glimpse of some of the most picturesque scenery, or that natural high of being on the trail in perfect weather and smelling the fresh air and hearing nothing but the chirping of birds and chatter of happy hikers.
Hiking has become a meditation. It’s a relief to get away from everyday life, breath the clean air and relax. I know now that the outdoors will always be an important part of my life. And that I never want to stop hiking.”
Interested in joining the YAYA Hiker Group or starting your own hiking group? Email Ellen for details and ideas!