Stories from the Field
Denali and Sled Dogs
July 6, 2017
Today we woke up early, headed out, and played a game of Alaskan Baseball before going to work with our On Assignment groups. The Wildlife Conservation team came up with the idea to make a booklet with information on several species, including bears, caribou, and moose.
We had lunch from a Thai food truck, then visited a sled dog center. We got to pet 33 huskies and see a demonstration of how they hitch the dogs to the sled. All the dogs were very lively and excited to run around the track.
After spending time with the dogs, a small group of us went on a hike on the Horseshoe Lake Trail. We saw a lot of beavers dragging logs to their den, and a moose wading in the water with two calves. We got plenty of pictures and video recordings of all the nature around us. Later, when we got back to the hostel, we made burritos for dinner and had our nightly meeting.
The next morning, we went to a place located on a remote island that can only be reached by boat, helicopter, or swimming. When we arrived at the Peterson Bay Field Station, we had a briefing on the rules and regulations. We then went on two hikes. The first hike was a two-hour hike where we learned about many types of plants, such as the devil club plant, which can cause dangerous infections if you touch the roots. We then had a break before a second hike, where we went on a different trail in the woods. We saw more plants and fungi before we reached a rocky beach, which is one of the few places where you can stand on two tectonic plates at the same time. After learning more about the formation of the beach and the organisms that live there, we walked to an ancient midden pile where native Alaskans dumped their broken tools thousands of years ago.
We then returned to the center, where we ate hot dogs, hamburgers, and veggie burgers in celebration of the Fourth of July. We sat around a campfire, roasted marshmallows, and sang songs—a great end to a very eventful day.
July 6, 2017
To say we got an early start this morning would be an understatement; we woke up around five-thirty. Nonetheless, we all managed to pry ourselves from our beds, have breakfast, and set out to catch the 8:30 and 9:00 a.m. buses at Denali National Park. When we arrived, we split off into various groups.
We were on the bus for about four hours. While some passed the time with impossible questions about whether or not one could hope to defeat a thousand blue whales with a machine harpoon gun, or a silver-backed gorilla with two machetes in hand; others read, slept, or listened to music. But we all stopped what we were doing and scrambled over each other for a better view every time we saw a caribou, bear, moose, or Dall sheep.
Then we finally got off the bus. A few adventurers finally achieved their dream of receiving a junior ranger badge from Denali National Park, and then set off with us on our hike toward the slow river that trickled through the canyon below the mountainside we were on. Nat Geo Expert Boone Smith informed us that even though the river appeared to be at low tide, it actually had no tide at all, and was fed by glaciers. Once we made it down the hot, green mountainside, to the grey riverbank, we looked out, sweaty and satisfied to have made it to our destination. The silence didn’t last long, though: barely a minute had passed before someone suggested we peel off our shoes and socks and wade across the rocky river.
We agreed almost without hesitation. The rest of us wobbled across the freezing river, rocks poking at our feet, until we could finally put our shoes back on. Then came the real challenge: bushwhacking. (To be honest, I doubt the short hike we did through squat trees without a pre-made trail truly constituted bushwhacking, but it sounds a lot cooler than, well, a short hike through squat trees without a pre-made trail.)
When we finally reached the top of the other side of the canyon, we found ourselves staring into a ravine, facing us from the opposite side of another river. Finally, truly content with our distance and knowing we were pressed for time if we wanted to catch the 4:30 bus back to the parking lot, we didn’t stay around for long. We looked through our binoculars at an abandoned cabin on the cliffside in front of us, swatted at horseflies, and listened to Boone’s wildlife stories; then we began the hike back up the mountain.
As I’m typing this, I’m sitting in front of a fire, roasting marshmallows and listening to the sounds of my friends and the river next to us. Needless to say, today has been a successful day.
Check out some of our photos from the Susitna Salmon Center and Denali!
July 7, 2016
Today is our last day in Alaska, and this place gave us one final show when we paddled out into Resurrection Bay from our secluded overnight location in Kayakers Cove. Just after pushing out, one of our group members spotted a Humpback Whale that swam towards us. We followed the whale through the deep coves.
Exploring Exit Glacier
July 9, 2016
Our arrival in Seward has been graced by sunshine and blue skies over Resurrection Bay and the surrounding mountains. This town on the Kenai Peninsula is the perfect home base for the second half of our adventure.
After a hike into Kenai Fjords National Park, we put on crampons and ice climbing boots and headed into the ice of the Exit Glacier. This Glacier is an offshoot of the immense Harding ice field, but continues to accelerate in its melt with changing climate, so we were grateful to experience the place, understanding how we interact and are impacting such landscapes.
With our guides, we climbed down and back out of a deep crevasse, experiencing the blue glacial ice, and trekked across the glacier. Truly an amazing experience to be in such a massive and dynamic landscape!
Afterward we headed to the harbor for a waterfront dinner and took some time to walk among many boats under the evening sun, taking photos of this maritime community and some wildlife (a sea otter was close by!). Our spirits are refreshed by the water, sun, mountains, and the awesome experience of being on the Exit Glacier!
Expert Drew Rush on the Magic of Denali and Photography
July 3, 2016
Working in photography, I don’t get a chance to photograph in groups very often. It has been so refreshing to join this National Geographic Student Expedition in Denali over the last few days and see the excitement of all the students in the group, whether it be the photography-focused students or the wildlife-focused group. We all were excited to get to Denali, and it sure didn’t disappoint. We hadn’t even made it into the park when we were greeted by two baby moose. You could sense the excitement – everyone’s shutters worked furiously as we talked about ways of interpreting scenes and making successful photographs.
Last Days in Alaska
July 15, 2015
In high spirits from the glacier trek and ice climbing we did yesterday in Seward, we made our way by ferry to Kayakers Cove. The setting is incredible, and we bid both technology and electricity farewell for a few days. We spent the morning and afternoon kayaking around the area, appreciating the coastal landscapes and tidepools. We’ve also spent time whale watching, and caught sight of humpback whales, Dall Porpoises, Harbour Seals, Steller Sea Lions, and puffins. In the evening we shared a home-cooked meal and the company of friends, and enjoyed the warmth of the fire pit, sauna, and wood burning stove of our cabin in between invigorating dips in the water. It was a wonderful culmination to an incredible trip — connecting with newfound friends we’ve shared wonderful experiences with in a truly unique place. This quote by Thoreau, posted on one cabin wall, puts it so well: “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life…”
Denali’s Big Four
July 5, 2015
After a great few days in Anchorage, we headed North toward Denali National Park. Once there, we hopped on a shuttle bound for the Eielson Visitor Center for a four-hour journey that took us some 67 miles inside the park. Each year, people flock here from all over the world to see Denali’s Big Four: moose, caribou, Dall sheep, and grizzly bears. We’re happy to report that chance was in our favor and we got to see all of the above!
Red, White and Glacial Blue in Alaska
July 8, 2014
Over the past few days we hiked through Denali National Park and Preserve (much of the time in a cool summer rain), had an amazing experience sighting and photographing caribou on a hillside, hiked to a glacier, posed for pictures in front of the bus used in the film “Into the Wild,” trekked up a peak, and met the working sled dogs of Denali National Park. Toss in copious amounts of laughter, learning, and even a bit of ukulele strumming, and you can begin to get an idea of the fun we’ve been having over the past few days up here in the 49th state.