Respected, innovative outdoor brand Arc’teryx steps into the guided trips business. And if our experience with them—trekking through the wildest parts of Canada’s Yukon Territories—is any indication, thrill-seekers of all sorts are in for a breathtaking, pulse-raising treat. The Arc’teryx Trips website, which is officially open now, lists trips departing in 2020. The first round of trips will offer immersive travel experiences giving participants unrivaled access to remote destinations, including Canada’s Ghost, Tombstone and Chilcotin Ranges, the Tetons, Alaska, Corsica, the Alps, the Dolomites and more, in a mixed offering of trail running, mountaineering, trekking trips.
For any hiking enthusiasts out there, the mention of these destinations alone proves enough to pique curiosity. Furthermore, the trips themselves are as meticulously designed as everything Arc’teryx does. There are, of course, plenty of logistics to coordinate (itineraries, transfers, packing lists, etc) all of which the Arc’teryx Trips team handles effortlessly, but what it all comes down to is the group. Each trip has only four to 12 guests, ensuring an intimate, exclusive experience for everyone. Additionally, a pre-screening phone interview means that all guests have the requisite level of outdoor experience to make the most out of their trip. Arc’teryx makes sure that everyone is on a level playing field, so there won’t be any stragglers holding up the group.
All in all, the pitch for Arc’teryx Trips is compelling: small groups, exclusive destinations, and, obviously, a chance to put your finest Arc’teryx gear to work. But as we came to find out on our trip to Yukon last month, the Arc’teryx Trips experience represents something greater than the sum of its parts.
When invited on the four-day trek through Tombstone, we were overwhelmed with excitement. Located in northern Canada’s remote Yukon Territories just a few hours’ drive south of the Arctic Circle, Tombstone Territorial Park is a vast, remote, wild expanse of land that few are able to visit. The name itself connotes a foreboding sense of finality, and the staggeringly vast landscape embodies an unimaginable sense of scale. This big, unspoiled country is as inspiring as it is menacing.
The mountains themselves were formed by volcanic magma, which somehow remains the least interesting thing about their geology. The Tombstones were never glaciated during any of the planet’s Ice Ages, so they never received the “exfoliating effect” that has rounded off so many of the mountains we have in the US—like the rolling Appalachians, for instance. As a result, the range stands more jagged and sensational than anything else you’ll find on the continent—there’s a reason many consider this area to be the Canadian answer to Patagonia. Pair that with a (barely) sub-Arctic tundra landscape completely devoid of trees and the result is something more akin to the surface of an alien planet than what one would assume they’d find in Canada. The word “rugged” feels inadequate. In other words, while an adventurous person might be attracted to Tombstone, it’s the kind of place where many would feel more comfortable participating in a guided trip.
Fortunately, it’s a brisk autumn day in mid-September when our group arrives at the Tombstone Interpretive Center to pick up our permits and check-in with the park authorities. The park is due to close just a few days after our entry, because the climate can be so unforgiving that time of year, and the ranger has plenty of stories to share from an eventful season at the park. “There haven’t been any bear incidents this year,” she tells us. “So you guys should be fine. Just remember to carry bear spray.”
Pulling out a map of the park and reviewing our three-night itinerary, she traces her finger over contour lines and pointing out various obstacles. “This is the part where you will cry,” she announces, as we squirm in our seats. “And these boulder fields are where you might break a leg. And be careful on this part, we’ve had three people slip this section and break their noses this summer. It’s exactly where people start to get tired, they lose their footing, and—whoosh—they fall flat on their faces.”
Luckily, Arc’teryx has two of their best mountain guides in Canada to chaperone us: Lilla Molnar and Sarah Hueniken—both well-known in the guiding community. Every step of the way, Molnar and Hueniken answer our questions, which vary in seriousness, with grace and confidence—from how many snacks we should carry to how to traverse boulder fields without falling and breaking our noses. Theirs is an effortlessness and élan that can only come through years and years of experience. These women are some of the best in the business, and would take good care of us—so we never once doubt our safety.
Molnar and Hueniken’s knowledge feels essential throughout the journey, as there are many obstacles along the way. Perhaps the most exciting (read: terrifying) portion of the trip is an area called the Glissade Pass, an exceedingly steep scree slope that gains some 1200 vertical feet in a one mile hike nearly straight up the side of a mountain. Without hyperbole: one wrong move could result in a tumble all the way down to your demise.
After the quad-destroying climb up the Glissade Pass, those same 1200 vertical feet come right back at us in reverse on the way down the other side of the pass. However, it’s not the sheer height or overwhelming exposure that’s got the adrenaline pumping—it’s that the entire Pass is made up of scree (small, flat, sharp stones) that shifts underfoot. As Molnar and Hueniken carefully instruct everyone in our group, trekking downhill through scree is a ballet of sorts, like learning to dance with the mountain. After a few minutes (and maybe a tumble or two) we’re “glissading” down the Pass with ease. Crisis averted, thanks to our guides. Suddenly running into a grizzly bear seems like no big deal.
By the time we reach our campsite that evening, there’s an incredible sense of peace with a landscape that just a few days before seemed so insurmountable and utterly terrifying. While a trip like this brings one to the edge of their comfort zone—and then beyond—by the end, it’s clear that Arc’teryx Trips are a luxurious proposition, not because of the price tag or the exclusivity, but because of the dramatic singularity of the whole majestic experience.
Images courtesy of Arc’teryx