Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Valdez or Bust

After graduation, the team leaders were curious what we would be doing for our last week of work. We were SO happy to hear the good news that we were able to go on a road trip anywhere we wanted, as long as we were back in Indian by Tuesday around 1 pm. Anywhere is a big deal in such a vast state, so we made sure to take full advantage of one final hoorah with the co-workers we've lived and worked with for the past six months. We decided to drive to Valdez, a beautiful town on Prince William Sound, with more glaciers than anywhere I've seen. On the drive there, we drove over Thompson Pass, where I counted over 15 glaciers in sight at the same time! We had the most gorgeous blue skies and enjoyed every minute of the beautiful Richardson Highway.We had a great night camping in Valdez and woke up to another sunny day! We spent the morning watching a black bear fish for salmon and a few of us jumped in the FREEZING cold waters of the Valdez Glacier Lake. So refreshing! We continued the day by driving back up the Richardson highway to Paxson. WE found a spot where the Alyeska pipeline goes underground, making it easy to climb onto it. We entertained ourselves for a while playing on the pipeline right above the giant sign telling you not to climb on it. Once in Paxson, we met a super friendly guy who owns the Paxson lodge. He hooked us up with tons of potable water (a rare commodity on Alaskan road trips), free firewood, and a private campsite right next to the river. To show us where to camp, he drove our staff member around in his truck that no longer has brakes due to a collision with a moose. It is also lacking a front windshield and the right door doesn't open. Too funny!!

The last day of the trip was spent driving the Denali Highway, watching caribou run through the valleys, enjoying the spectacular views and geocaching the whole way! Geocaching is one of my new favorite hobbies, thanks to some of my co-leaders here that have introduced me to it. Anyone else into it? Let me know and lets go find some caches together!!! It's so much fun!

So now we're back at the shop, with just 3 days to go. I'm planning a trip to Kodiak Island with a coworker here for next week. My future after that is very up in the air, but I do know a visit to Kansas and Colorado are definitely in order. August 27th I'll be in Kansas so I look forward to seeing many of you soon!!

Fireweed on the Richardson Highway
 Worthington Glacier View from the highway. We later walked on this glacier.
Sarah enjoying Thompson Pass
 The beautiful town of Valdez
 The tide went out and left behind hundreds of salmon for the gulls to feast on
Black bear caught a salmon
Katie, Sean, and I standing on a glacial iceberg at Valdez Glacier
Sean, Bethand I playing on the pipeline :)

Happy to find the Landmark Gap Geocache on the Denali Highway


The last few weeks of the season our crew worked on another DOT project just south of Fairbanks, as well worked on a hiking trail in Girdwood. I was excited for a project near Fairbanks because it meant another beautiful roadtrip to an area I hadn't been yet, and it meant I'd be able to go the farthest North I've ever been. It was also a relief for the crew to be near a big city where cell service, laundry, grocery stores, etc. were readily available, after spending the previous 4 weeks in incredibly remote places. Fairbanks has some beautiful surrounding areas but nothing about the town itself interested me. We did have a chance to attend WEIO, World Eskimo-Indian Olympics, and that was a really neat experience. People from villages all over Alaska come to Fairbanks to compete in events such as ear pull (two people stand face to face with a rubber band around each of their ears and pull backwards until someone gives up- blood and tears are usually shed). Another event is called the 4 man carry where each contestant has four 150-170 lb people hand around their necks and they compete for who can walk the furthest before dropping the 4 men. This event was created in honor of the strength it takes the hunters to bring back a moose, caribou, seal, etc. after a successful kill. There are some very interesting (and HARD) competitions at WEIO to demonstrate endurance, pain tolerance, and strength. Very fun cultural event to attend! 

Working on trails in Girdwood for the last two weeks was awesome. It was such a great way to end our season, being out in the woods rather than on the side of the highway or pulling invasive weeds. We fixed up the Beaver Pond Trail by building a few walkways over streams and widening the trail corrider so visibilty was improved. It was really satisfying work and it was great to work for such a fun town and community.

So now all the youth corps members have graduated and returned home for school or work. We had a wonderful graduation ceremony for everyone that completed the season with a beautiful slideshow that captured all the hard work we completed and the millions of laughs we all shared this summer. It was sad to see them say good bye, but I know the memories of this summer will live on forever.

 WEIO One foot high kick event. Whoever can kick the ball at the tallest height and land with only their one hand and foot on the ground wins! This event is based off a signal the natives use while seal hunting to signal back to the village that they need assistance in bringing in a kill.

Blanket toss event, based on the blanket toss eskimos do for visibility in order to look out for whales to hunt. 
Beaver Pond Trail before we started work.

Beaver Pond Trail after our work- nice open corridor so no one surprises any bears and hikers don't get stabbed by Devil's Club and other spiky plants! 

Crew member, Kim, and I after completing the little flat bridge for bikers.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Denali Bushwhacking

An excerpt from my Journal:

July 30, 2010

"Woo Hoo! Freedom! I got to take two days off work this week to go backpacking in Denali National Park with my two college friends, Bonnie and Austin. I'm SO glad this worked out. We are on Day 2 of a 4 day, 3 night trail-less hike along the Savage River and Jenny Creek. None of us have ever done an entire backpacking trip by bushwhacking so its a bit of an intimidating experience, especially in such intense bear and moose country. We started off with quite the struggle, plowing through painful brush up to our hips. We were told there might be an old wagon road to follow but our first few attempts to find it were futile. Following a few game trails that would start and stop rather abruptly, we finally found the wagon road. What a relief! We finally were able to make some progress through the valley. After a full day of driving to the park, planning our trip, and bushwhacking for a number of hours, we were quite exhausted come 8 pm. I'm carrying the heaviest pack I've ever carried due to not sharing my tent with anyone, having a bear canister and carrying food for 4 days, my longest trip yet. My hip bones are bruised and my legs burn after just a few inclined stip, but I love it. I love this experience, being outdoors, exploring new places, spending time with great friends I haven't seen in a long time. Sure we are tired, sure our bodies ache, and sure we are constantly on guard for bears and other wildlife, but this experience is amazing. I love the mountains, I love the adventure, I love working through my fears. I wish everyone could experience the wilderness in sch breathtaking ways." 

The rest of the trip was equally as rewarding. We had fantastic weather and didn't see even one drop of rain the whole 4 days. We had a great viewing across the valley of a momma grizzly and her cub that luckily ran away after getting a good look at us from her hind legs. We successfully navigated our way down the Savage River Valley, over a ridge, and back to the road through the Jenny Creek Valley. It was an awesome four days of beautiful scenery and lots of laughs. 
Searching for the Wagon Trail through the thick brush. 
Enjoying the beauty!

Bonnie and I eating lunch in front of some beautiful ridges! 

Sunset beginning at 11 pm.

WOO HOO! We crossed the ridge into the second valley! 

Our home for the 3rd night.