Training Week 1

May 3, 2015 | 0 comments

It’s Saturday, and I’ve completed my first week of training at Denali. Admittedly, it was super overwhelming at first, but that is to be expected anywhere and especially at such a massive park, but thankfully things are starting to make a little more sense now. 
So far we’ve spent at least some part of each day outside, learning about botany, geology, hike guiding, and interpretive techniques. For our first excursion earlier in the week, we hiked the Horseshoe Lake Trail, which is one of the main trails from the visitor center where we will be leading hikes all summer. With over 30 of us in training, it was good to see the logistics of how to lead a hike for that sized group or even larger, on the narrow trails and under varying conditions. 
Heading up the trail with our big group

I’m not exactly looking forward to leading hikes for massive groups of people, but it will be good to learn how, and even better to learn how to make it a positive and meaningful experience for everyone.

Beaver dams in Horseshoe Lake

Part of the trail

Trail cutting through some of the skree slope

Horseshoe Lake

Railroad tracks across the trail

Snowshoe hare trying to hide
On Wednesday, we took a trip to Savage River, which is 15 miles up the park road and the farthest point to which the public will be able to drive once the park opens in a couple weeks.  Here we had a geology workshop with the park’s super awesome geologist, who actually kind of made geology make sense to me.
We talked about what makes up a braided river, how rivers and glaciers formed the valley, and the active plate tectonics that continue to shape this part of Alaska and often cause problems for the roads and bridges in the area.
Mr. Ground Squirrel on lookout duty

Our group learning about geology
Yesterday we went on an off-trail hike, at about Mile 17 on the park road. Total throwback to my Bering Land Bridge days! Unlike the forested habitat around C-Camp, out here it was all tundra, with just a few little white spruce trees scattered about. 

Giant moose track in the road

After the usual safety precautions (radioing in to dispatch to report our location, going over our first aid supply, group expectations, etc.), we began the slow and laborious ascent to the ridge line, high-stepping through thick dwarf birch that was sometimes higher than my hips. I really wished I was a moose with legs long enough to cruise through the brush!

Once the brush got pretty thick, we started our “Hey bear!” calls. No sooner had the first call been uttered which two enormous moose poked their heads up out of the birch, about 300 feet ahead! The wind was coming towards us, so they probably hadn’t even smelled us yet; had we not started calling, we may have surprised them at much closer range.

Surprise moose!

We stood back and chatted for a while until the moose wandered off, and then we continued on our way.

Trudging through the birch

Snowy mountains

As we began to ascend the slope, the views got more and more spectacular — and so did the weather. It went from cold and windy, to warm and mosquito-y, to cold and snowy, to warm and snowy, to warm and sunny, and back again all within a matter of hours.

Everywhere I’ve been, people have always joked “Don’t like the weather? Give it 5 minutes!” But I’ve never seen it more extreme than I have in Denali this week. And the coolest part is that you can see it coming across the mountains towards you, so I guess at least you can kind of know what to expect!

Some cool weather happening

Caribou in the distance

Far away snow squalls

More distant snow/rain

A little willow poof (that’s the scientific word for it. Duh.)

Part of our group at the ridge top

Although our hike was less than 3 miles, it was still pretty exhausting because of the elevation gain and the difficulty of pushing through the birch, but I had a total blast. So far, I absolutely love it here. It’s kind of all the best parts of Sitka and Nome, with a bunch of its own unique characteristics mixed in.

We have one more week of general training, and then a week of district-specific training before the park gates officially open to the public and the season begins. Hooray!


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