Thursday, March 18, 2010

Tents are up!

A week and a half into work and things are going great!! I can't believe I've only been here for 10 days, as I already feel so comfortable with all the other leaders in training. The first week consisted of basic orientation to SAGA, Alaska, outdoor living, and lots of team building activities, including a ropes course which is always fun. I really am enjoying getting to know all the other leaders out here. 

My home is on the far left and thanks to some good investments in gear, I'm staying warm through the night!! :) 

 This is our wall tent. There are 8 of us that cook and eat in here. We got the crappiest tent that shrunk over the years so its WAY too small. We call our team the hobbits and this is our Shire. 

Everyone one is super fun and interesting to get to know. One of my biggest fears of coming out here to do this work was that I was under qualified since I've never done this kind of work before. That fear has been put to ease, as the level of experience that my co-leaders have varies from none to lots. I am definitely not the only person without trail building experience and I am confident that SAGA will train me well to do whatever is required. I am excited to learn!!

This week we started our Wilderness First Responder Course. I really really love learning about how to take care of others in backcountry settings. I can't believe that I've done what I have in the backcountry without this knowledge in the past. We have a great teacher named Lucy who will continue to teach us all through next week. Yesterday I got to ride in a stretcher all wrapped up in a hypothermia wrap so that was quite fun! I really hope I don't have to use any of these skills this summer but if anything happens, at least I'll be more prepared. 

Last weekend I hiked to Herbert Glacier. It seriously took my breath away. It was the bluest, clearest glacier I've ever seen. We wanted to get closer but unfortunatly there was a big uncrossable river that prevented a hike closer but we still had a fabulous view. 
 A close up of Herbert Glacier
This is the closest we could get to the glacier. It was so amazing!!

Where we are all camping is just a 5 minute walk to the beach. It is so much fun to go on a walk and watch the sea lions swimming in the sunset. We hunt in the tide poles for sea creatures and so far I've seen some really cool anemones, star fish, rock fish, and hermit crabs. We even got to eat some bladderrock, a sea kelp, and one night made soup with it!

 The amazing view from just a few minutes from camp
Yummy bladder rack!!

As you can tell from the pictures, the weather is quite rainy and snowy. We are all getting used to it quite quickly because if you let it get you down, you'll be down a lot! I actually find it to be quite refreshing and makes me feel really alive. It also helps you to appreciate the sunny days so much more! There haven't been any signs of bears yet but they might be coming out soon. This has been an unusally warm winter so they might come out earlier than normal. Oh! I forgot to mention the bald eagles- they are EVERYWHERE! Today I got the closest I've ever been to one, it was just 20 feet away from me, swooping to the ground to steal some food from the parking lot floor. They are so amazing and HUGE! There are also lots of ravens here and I love to listen to their variety of calls.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Address (UPDATED!)

For those of you that love snail mail as much as I do, here's my address:

Claire Vandewalle
c/o SAGA
9397 LaPerouse Ave
Juneau, AK 99801

That will be good for atleast 2 months and maybe more, I'll post if it changes.
Hope to hear from you! And make sure to include a return address so I can reply!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Glaciers, Whales, and the Best Hospitality

Upon arrival in Juneau, Craig and I faced some frustration as we drove from campsite to campsite, finding them all closed for the season. Yes it is the beginning of March, and yes we are in Alaska where it's cold, and yes we are in Juneau where it rains and snows always...but that doesn't mean they should close all the camp sites! We really didn't know what we were going to do because the cheapest place to stay here was still $70 a night. Just for reference, a Motel 8 in Boise, Id is $40/ night. In Juneau, AK, it's $110. It's understandable because this place is so hard to access and all supplies must come in by boat, but it just wasn't in our budget to dish out that much cash. Thanks to a friend of a college friend, I had one contact in Juneau, Alida. She was so welcoming and kind and invited Craig and I over for tea. We explained our dilema of not knowing where we could stay and before we knew it, she hooked us up with a lady named Lori, who would quickly make all of our cares disappear. Lori runs a Methodist Camp about 25 miles outside of town with about 15 cabins on the property. She rents them out to visitors and for some very generous reason, she invited Craig and I to stay for 5 days at no cost. We were so relieved and appreciative to have a roof over our head and we were so surprised to find that this was not just any old cabin, it was fabulous! Not only was it a heated cabin, but it also had a kitchenette and a double bed with heated blankets! How spoiled are we! We've really been enjoying our stay in the cabin. Lori and her husband, Virgil, are so friendly and even had us over to play games and eat chocolate one night!
The Treat Cabin- thanks a million, Lori & Virgil!!!!

One afternoon, Craig and I took at trip to the Mendenhall Glacier to hike around. If the lake is frozen enough, you can walk or ski across it all the way up to the glacier. That wasn't the case for us so we just hiked around in the forest around it and got some great views of the pretty blue ice. We also made a trip to the Alaskan Brewery-delicious!

The Mendenhall Glacier

Craig happily eating snow, Copper not so happily standing in the wet cold

View from the brewery, the clear line where rain turned to snow at the higher elevation

On the drive back to the cabin, we drove into the most beautiful sunset over the water and mountains. We pulled over on the side of the highway to enjoy the view a bit longer when we heard a strange noise. In pure jest, Craig said, "That must have been a whale." The two of us laughed until our gaze simultaneously fell upon the backs of two humpback whales swimming right in front of us. We were speechless! It was so awesome to see the two swim along with water squirting out their spouts. We weren't close enough for photos of the whales but it's a memory I won't forget.
The beautiful view where we spotted the whales! :)

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Ferry

From Prince Rupert, BC we boarded the ferry that would take us to Juneau, my home for at least the next 2 months. The weather was still super rainy and overcast so we couldn’t see a lot of the anticipated views of the inside passage.

The view of the boat as we waited to drive the car on. Yuk!

The first day on the ferry was so quiet and the boat seemed really empty. That was definitely not the case once we stopped in Ketchikan, where 500 high school athletes boarded the ferry to travel to an upcoming sports event. I guess taking a ferry to compete against other schools would be commonplace when you live in such small towns on the coast where no roads connect one town to another. My first step in Alaska was here in Ketchikan, where we got off to take Copper, Craig’s dog, for a walk. Dogs have to stay in the car on the car deck at the bottom of the boat and you can only visit them or take them out when the ferry is at port. During the first night we also stopped in Wrangle and Petersburg but seeing as those stops were at 1 am and 5 am, we didn’t see much (or any) of those towns.

The second morning I jumped out of bed as quickly as I could, so anxious to see if the skies had cleared up. As I climbed the stairs to the deck, I was delighted to be able to see as far as the horizon would allow. A huge sky overlooking the vast ocean. Little tree covered islands here and there with enormous snow capped mountain ranges covering the islands further in the distance. Perfection.
A much better view on day 2!
At port in Kake, Alaska

So thankful for the beautiful weather, we spent all day on the decks. We even got to play music with two of the high school music teachers we found playing guitars on the top deck. We made stops in Kake and Sitka, and now, to Juneau!
Juneau in the rain! You can see the Mendenthal Glacier in the middle. The bottom left is where you can see city lights.

The Road

After an incredible vacation in Salida with great visits from friends and family, I stuffed all the things I'll need in Alaska into 2 backpacks and I was ready to go. For now, it seems like I'm not bringing very much but I know once my tent becomes my house, and I have to travel on small planes and boats, I will suddenly feel like I have way too much stuff.
Bag sandwhich!

Craig and I hit the road in the morning, Boise being our first stop. After driving through thick fog all through Idaho, we crossed the state line into Oregon where blue skies and a bright sun promptly greeted us. For the past three years, I have felt really drawn to Oregon and am considering that as a great place to end up after Alaska. We drove along the Northern part of the state, through the Columbia River Gorge, and then up to Washington where we would spend our off day in Olympic National Park.

*picture on craigs camera, will upload when i get it from him*
Horsetail Falls, Columbia River Gorge

It was dark by the time we set up camp in the park so we were pleasantly surprised when we woke up surrounded by gorgeous green rainforest. I’m not exaggerating when I say everything was green. Every last tree branch was covered in bright green moss with green bushes and ferns all over the forest floor.

Campsite in the rainforest, Olympic National Park

Even the lakes are green!

The next two days included crossing the border into Canada and driving through British Columbia. Half of the days were absolutely beautiful and I felt as though I was driving on Going to The Sun Road in Glacier National Park. The other half were rainy and foggy and you could see just enough to know you were missing out on some beautiful views. Hopefully we can catch what we missed on the way home in the fall. Oh and FYI, if you ever plan on tent camping in Canada in February, prepare to be laughed at. :) Both nights we pulled up to RV parks/campgrounds (that’s all that’s open this time of year) in the pouring rain to meet friendly, welcoming hosts that weren’t afraid to comment on how crazy we were. After camping in the rain for the fourth night in a row, I was a)thankful it wasn’t snow, b)grateful for having a quality tent that keeps me dry and c) realizing this is what I signed up for the next 5 months and that it is all totally worth it.
Driving around the park was not as easy as we had hoped, as no roads go through the park, only around it. This would be an awesome place for backcountry hiking and camping but since we only had one day, this wasn’t an option. We still enjoyed all that we had time to see, including some really beautiful lakes and rivers that, surprise!, also looked green, made it out to Ruby Beach, and then camped at a state park north of Seattle.

*picture on craigs camera, will upload when i get it from him*
Ruby Beach