News Story

Youth Embark on Pioneer Trek in Alaska

Alaskan youth ages 14 to 18 and adult leaders from Soldotna (southwest of Anchorage) embarked on a pioneer trek to reenact the Mormon pioneers’ journey more than 150 years ago. While the youth trek was not on the plains of the Midwest, teenagers were still tested going through the Caribou Hills in the Kenai Peninsula. More than 180 Church members participated in the handcart event, dressing in attire straight from the 1800s, cooking their food in Dutch ovens and being assigned a trek family.

Traveling more than 30 miles in just three days, these dedicated teens were tried in all types of weather and terrain in the Alaskan wilderness. Pulling handcarts filled with their belongings, they learned firsthand about faith and endurance, as well as love for their fellow teens and leaders. Each day of the trek was carefully planned with opportunities to grow spiritually.

The first day they walked 11 miles, pulling their heavy handcarts up and down dusty hills. It was harder than many of the youth and adults expected. After a long day on the trail, it was a relief to stop and finally make camp, but then the eye-opener hit; there was more work to be done. There were tents to be set up and dinner to prepare before the “families” could truly rest for the night.

After breaking camp on the second day, the handcarts were loaded and another day of walking began. Soon they encountered a trail thick in mud, and the teens were instructed to remove their shoes and place them high on the carts for safekeeping. The boys in each family rolled up their pants and were quickly knee deep in mud, trying hard to pull their handcarts through the muck without the help of the girls in skirts. Some teens who had already walked through the mud ran back to help others, and everyone arrived safely on dry ground.

Feeling the effects of walking and pulling a handcart, the youth were surprised when it was announced that the boys would be leaving the group to continue their trek alone. A 13-mile hike was planned for them to remember a specific group of pioneer men who left their families behind in the 1840s to protect members of the Church under threat from mob violence. Of course, with the boys leaving, this meant the girls would be pulling the handcarts alone, traveling a few miles up and down steep hills under a surprisingly hot Alaskan sun. The girls proved they were equal to the task and arrived at the next designated spot to camp, where they set up tents and prepared dinner. The boys joined them later, and both groups were treated to uplifting devotionals before turning in for the night.

The third day of the trek included no walking; instead, the teens participated in a fun “Pioneer Olympics.” There were more Dutch oven meals and finally square dancing to a fiddle band that topped off the day.

Day four was back to walking the trail with handcarts, but this time, rather than eating breakfast, the youth fasted to focus on their relationship with Jesus Christ. Each person was given time alone to ponder, pray and read a letter from their parents.

Near the end of the pioneer trek, one family stopped to bury their “baby,” a lifelike doll the youth pretended was part of their family. This pretend baby’s death represented all of the children who died crossing the plains in the 1800s and the anguish of their families who had to continue on without them. The youth said they were surprised by how realistic their emotions were and felt truly saddened by the experience. They said their trek family grew closer because of it.

The four-day trek came to a close as the youth were given an opportunity to express their feelings about the experience. By now they were feeling humble and grateful for their homes and families, and they had a greater appreciation for the pioneers who went before them.

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