Guidelines for custodial groups hiking the Chilkoot Trail
Custodial groups require a higher standard of care
Leading a group of youth into the wilderness comes with tremendous responsibilities - there are risks to be managed and many decisions to be made. The onus is on everyone who encourages youth to explore the mountains to understand and accept the associated responsibilities. This includes parents, group organizers, group leaders and park managers.
These guidelines apply to custodial groups hiking on the Chilkoot Trail during the hiking season (June 1 - Sept 30). The goal of these guidelines is to ensure that custodial groups receive safe leadership. The information that follows will offer some assistance and resources for planning a safe and rewarding mountain experience.
- What is a custodial group?
- Pre-trip communication and disclosing risk to parents and administrators
- Competencies and qualifications of leaders
- Group size
- Avalanche safety
- Winter travel
What is a custodial group?
A "custodial group" means a group affiliated with an institution, where at least one person is below the age of majority and that minor is not in the company of his/her parent or legal guardian. The age of majority is 19 in British Columbia and the Yukon and 18 in Alaska.
Custodial refers to custody, and the fact that when leading minors in the absence of their parent or legal guardian, the group leader is in loco parentis (in the place of the parent). In other words: if an institution of some form has organized the group, and there are minors participating whose parents or legal guardian aren't present - then it is a custodial group.
This doesn't include groups of friends or families - this is about institutions, and their responsibility to the children they lead and the parents they replace. Institutional groups include but are not limited to school groups, Scout/Guide groups, church groups, cadet groups and community youth groups.
When you reserve, and again when you pick up your permits to hike the Chilkoot Trail, you should declare your party as a custodial group.
Please contact Parks Canada at 800-661-0486 or 867-667-3910 for further information regarding Custodial Groups traveling on the Chilkoot Trail.
Pre-trip information on hiking the Chilkoot Trail
Pre-trip communication and disclosing risk to parents and administrators
The trip leaders are responsible to communicate trip information and to disclose risk to parents and administrators well in advance of the scheduled trip. Planning ahead for backcountry travel is an absolutely essential part of the experience - a well-prepared group with well-researched options has the best chance for success. Of primary importance when planning a trip with custodial groups, is involving more than just the participants themselves. Parents and institutions also need reliable information if they are to make informed decisions on behalf of their children or students.
This requires extra effort on the part of everyone involved to explain the trip details, options, and risks in a clear and concise format that an untrained parent, group leader, or teacher will understand. These same people bear an equal or greater responsibility to listen to the information, and to ask questions which will ensure they understand the risks the group may face. All parents want to make the right decisions on behalf of their children and their own family's tolerance for risk. It is a major responsibility of the institutions organizing these trips to assist those parents in making informed decisions.
Resources such as guidebooks and maps should be considered long before the trip. Weather and trail conditions must be tracked regularly in the weeks leading up to the trip - and checked once more just prior to departure.
Pre-trip information on hiking the Chilkoot Trail
Competencies and qualifications of leaders
The goal of this policy is to ensure that custodial groups receive appropriate leadership. Anyone who proposes to lead a group into the backcountry must have significant personal experience with travel in mountain terrain, first aid training, and possess strong leadership skills. It is the responsibility of the institution associated with any custodial group to ensure that leaders have the appropriate knowledge, skills and abilities as identified below:
- Pre-trip and daily group planning
- Ability to assess abilities of trip participants and adapt program so that all trip members are able to have a safe experience
- Familiarity with trail and route selection for seasonal hazards
- Mountain safety and survival knowledge, skills and abilities
- Awareness of wildlife hazards and bear safety procedures
- Map and compass use and/or GPS and route finding experience
- Environmental practices, minimal impact camping and sanitation
- Site specific natural, cultural, and historical information
Minimum first aid training
- Wilderness First Aid and CPR / 40 hour equivalent for one leader
- Standard First Aid and CPR / 16 hour equivalent for the assisting leader
- Maximum group size of 12
In order to minimize the impacts of large groups only one large group (9 - 12 people) is permitted to cross Chilkoot Pass on any given day. Show respect for fellow hikers and the park environment by respecting these limitations. Use of multiple bookings to circumvent group size restrictions may result in loss of permits.
Ratios for all custodial groups
- Maximum group size of 12
- Minimum of two leaders required per group
- Minimum one leader per five youth (1:5)
There is no cell phone coverage along the Chilkoot Trail. It is recommended that all custodial groups carry an Iridium satellite phone for emergency communications. Iridium is the only carrier with reliable coverage on the Chilkoot Trail. Satellite phone rental should be arranged prior to departure as local availability is limited. Ensure that you are familiar with the use of your satellite phone and its limitations in mountainous terrain.
Each group should carry:
- Iridium Satellite phone
- All emergency contact numbers and contingency plans
As the Chilkoot Trail crosses an international border there is no single emergency contact number that is good for the whole trail. It is important to know which number to call in the event of an emergency. South of Chilkoot Pass you are in Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park and the U.S. National Park Service (NPS) is the resonding agency. North of Chilkoot Pass you are in Chilkoot Trail National Historic Site of Canada and Parks Canada is the responding agency.
Emergency contact numbers
Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park, Alaska
NPS Emergency Dispatch: 1-907-683-2276
Chilkoot Trail National Historic Site, British Columbia
Parks Canada Emergency Dispatch: 1-780-852-3100
It is the responsibility of custodial group leaders to ensure that all members of the hiking party are sufficiently equipped and that group gear is well maintained. It is vital that all groups visiting the Chilkoot Trail have equipment adequate for a harsh mountain climate. Tents, sleeping bags, and clothing must be of high quality and waterproof, as weather can be winter-like even in the summer. Refer to the equipment list in the pre-trip package. In addition to the personal gear and group equipment, each leader should carry:
- First aid kit
- Bear spray
During the early hiking season (June 1 until mid July) there is a risk of avalanches affecting the Chilkoot Trail. To quantify this risk, Parks Canada calculated the Avalanche Hazard Index (AHI) for custodial groups, based on the eight-year average of 110 custodial hikers from June 1 - July 15. The resulting value (AHI = 0.1) indicates a relatively low acceptable risk for these groups, thus no closures are warranted. However, policy guiding the actions of custodial groups travelling through avalanche terrain is still necessary.
In addition to the above recommendations for leadership, first aid training and group ratios, during the early hiking season, Parks Canada recommends:
- One leader should have previously hiked the Chilkoot Trail
- Leaders should have experience leading groups in the backcountry in avalanche terrain
- Groups should leave Sheep Camp no later than 6:00 am in order to facilitate travel through the avalanche zones north of Chilkoot Pass early in the day when the snowpack is more stable
- Groups should travel quickly and avoid stopping in avalanche zones
- Leaders should review the avalanche terrain maps for Chilkoot Pass
During the winter (October 1 - May 31) custodial groups require additional skills to travel safely in the Chilkoot Trail National Historic Site. Please call 1-800-661-0486.