European pair heads into the frozen Yukon wilderness

For decades, the Yukon has been a popular destination for adventurers longing to find a sense of purpose. They've come from all corners of the world, for brief periods of time: sometimes they interact with us, sometimes not.

For decades, the Yukon has been a popular destination for adventurers longing to find a sense of purpose.

They’ve come from all corners of the world, for brief periods of time: sometimes they interact with us, sometimes not.

But Hendrik Kersten and Matt Lazenbury’s walk across the territory is about more than self reflection. The two Europeans also hope to learn from Yukon First Nations along the way, and bring those lessons home with them.

“The trip is about leaving the comfort zones of our home but it’s equally about learning as much as we can from these First Nations,” said Kersten, 25.

“Typically it’s the North American and European way to teach our cultures to others, but we want the reverse. Now in terms of climate change and environmental issues, we think it’s a good time to learn from them.”

On Friday, the pair will set off on a two-and-a-half month trek across the frozen wilderness from Whitehorse to Old Crow, with planned stops in Carmacks, Mayo, Dawson City and Eagle Plains.

The pair’s original destination was slated to be Inuvik, N.W.T. but they decided against walking the Dempster Highway, which they deemed too boring.

Preparations for the grueling trek got underway last week, as the pair hiked from Annie Lake Road to the Alligator Lake area, a distance of roughly 40 kilometres.

It was a good opportunity for them to test out their gear, which includes a tent, waterproof sleeping bags, Spot GPS tracking devices, pots and pans, warm clothing and skis.

They plan on hauling the equipment, about 140 kilograms of it, on sleds.

But the recent cold snap made them realize just how brutal a Yukon winter can be.

“The first night we slept in the tent and condensation was a huge problem,” said Kersten.

“It was about minus 45 degrees Celsius. The second night we made a fire and carved out some beds, then insulated them. And we saw the northern lights, which was amazing.”

Most of the equipment was donated from sponsors but the pair had to fork out the rest of the funds for the trip out of their own pockets.

They also have camera gear and hope to turn the entire experience into a documentary someday.

As Kersten explains it, the goal upon their return is to communicate positive values to children about the importance of having a relationship with the environment.

“We want to give them more insights on how nature should play a role in their lives,” the Parisian said.

Workshops and presentations have already been lined up at a school in Paris, and Lazenbury, 28, has contacts with the Army Cadet Force in England, which teaches children survival skills.

There’s also a plan for students in Paris to communicate with schools in the Yukon, as part of a cross-cultural exchange, Kersten said.

Kersten and Lazenbury met six years ago while studying at Lancaster University in England.

After they graduated in 2011, they began brainstorming destinations to explore around the world.

They finally settled on the Yukon because Kersten had spent some time here a few years ago, when he travelled from Whitehorse to Dawson City over 34 days.

He wrote and published a book about his experience, called Un Trek en Or, meaning “a golden trek.”

During that trip, he forged relationships with citizens of the First Nation of Nacho Nyak Dun.

“In Mayo we learned how to fish, how to prepare, smoke and dry it for the winter,” he said.

“They make sure nothing is wasted. It’s these ideas that we want to bring back to Europe.”

Lazenbury said another important objective is to convey the importance of elders and the roles they play in First Nation communities.

“In Europe, elders are seen as a burden to the younger generation and we just put them in retirement homes,” he said.

“But here, elders have such an important role for children, teaching them about life and how to survive. That’s something we want to bring back too.”

Kersten suffered a minor setback on Monday when he sprained his ankle playing soccer.

The pair now plan on leaving Whitehorse on Friday.

“Maybe it was a good omen,” Kersten said, walking around with the help of a ski pole.

“We still need to prepare a lot of things and talk to people before we leave.”

You can follow Kersten and Lazenbury’s progress on their website,

Contact Myles Dolphin at

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Yukon First Nation Education Directorate education advocates and volunteers help to sort and distribute Christmas hamper grocery boxes outside Elijah Smith Elementary School on Feb. 23. (Rebecca Bradford Andrew/Submitted)
First Nation Education Directorate begins Christmas hamper program

Pick-ups for hampers are scheduled at local schools

Cyrine Candido, cashier, right, wipes down the new plexi-glass dividers at Superstore on March 28, before it was commonplace for them to wear masks. The Yukon government is relaunching the Yukon Essential Workers Income Support Program as the second wave of COVID-19 begins to take place in the territory. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Yukon Essential Workers Income Support Program extended to 32 weeks

More than 100 businesses in the territory applied for the first phase of the program

City of Whitehorse staff will report back to city council members in three months, detailing where efforts are with the city’s wildfire risk reduction strategy and action plan for 2021 to 2024. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Council adopts wildfire risk reduction plan

Staff will report on progress in three months


Wyatt’s World for Nov. 25, 2020

Ivan, centre, and Tennette Dechkoff, right, stop to chat with a friend on Main Street in Whitehorse on Nov. 24. Starting Dec. 1 masks will be mandatory in public spaces across the Yukon in order to help curb the spread of COVID-19. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
UPDATED: Masks mandatory in public places starting on Dec. 1

“The safe six has just got a plus one,” Silver said.

Keith Lay speaks at a city council meeting on Dec. 4, 2017. Lay provided the lone submission to council on the city’s proposed $33 million capital spending plan for 2021 on Nov. 23, taking issue with a number of projects outlined. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Resident raises issues with city’s capital budget

Council to vote on budget in December

Beatrice Lorne was always remembered by gold rush veterans as the ‘Klondike Nightingale’. (Yukon Archives/Maggies Museum Collection)
History Hunter: Beatrice Lorne — The ‘Klondike Nightingale’

In June of 1929, 11 years after the end of the First… Continue reading

Samson Hartland is the executive director of the Yukon Chamber of Mines. The Yukon Chamber of Mines elected a new board of directors during its annual general meeting held virtually on Nov. 17. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
Yukon Chamber of Mines elects new board

The Yukon Chamber of Mines elected a new board of directors during… Continue reading

The Yukon Hospital Corporation has released its annual report for 2019-20, and — unsurprisingly — hospital visitations were down. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Annual report says COVID-19 had a large impact visitation numbers at Whitehorse General

The Yukon Hospital Corporation has released its annual report for 2019-20, and… Continue reading

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
City hall, briefly

A look at decisions made by Whitehorse city council this week

City council was closed to public on March 23 due to gathering rules brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. The council is now hoping there will be ways to improve access for residents to directly address council, even if it’s a virtual connection. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Solution sought to allow for more public presentations with council

Teleconference or video may provide opportunities, Roddick says

Megan Waterman, director of the Lastraw Ranch, is using remediated placer mine land in the Dawson area to raise local meat in a new initiative undertaken with the Yukon government’s agriculture branch. (Submitted)
Dawson-area farm using placer miner partnership to raise pigs on leased land

“Who in their right mind is going to do agriculture at a mining claim? But this made sense.”

Most Read