Life Last Summer: A Brief Summary

Wow, time flies. One minute you’re a sophomore in college and then suddenly it’s summer and you’re working full-time in the wilderness, and before you even have time to update your blog, you’re a junior and it’s already midterms.  And then you get worn out, and then you procrastinate, and then… you update your blog again.

So, ever wonder what the summer looked like?

This is it.

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Hah, kidding.

The time has come; enough time has passed.  More sensory recollections of the summer have faded.  The cold, the dampness, the exhaustion, the rain; all that has blurred together into the beautiful imagery of an absolutely incredible summer.  What a truly once-in-a-lifetime experience.  Three entire months of living and working in the Alaskan wild.

Let’s set the scene.  The lodge was located in Kenai Fjords National Park, a remote part of coastal Alaska known for its marine wildlife, rainforests, and glaciers.  Seward, the nearest fishing town, was our portal to civilization: from there, it was a 2.5 hour boat ride to the lodge.  This sounds infinitely remote, but boats came several times a day with guests, propane, food, supplies, and mail, so we were, in fact, not as removed as one might think.  Below, some typical scenes of the Kenai Fjords landscape, complete with sea otters and dramatic jagged cliffs.

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We (being Zach and I) arrived at the Glacier Lodge around June.  June was actually a pretty gorgeous month all things considered, but thanks to the Snowmaggedeon winter that preceded it, there was still snow everywhere.  Like… snow down to the ocean in some places.   The roads around camp were lined with walls of snow up to about 8 feet high, and to access our tent cabin, we actually had to slide down a snowbank into our front door.  When we first got there, it was packed in with snow on all sides, therefore functioning like a freezer box.  It was cold.  On sunny days, though, the mix of snow and springtime greenery was absolutely stunning.

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Some of the guys burning trash inside a snowbank:

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Here’s the staff tent camp after everything melted, and on a rare sunny day.  You can see we had boardwalks because the ground was often really muddy from the rain.  Most of us lived in tent cabins, a combination of plywood structure and canvas-walled tent.  They were pretty sturdy and just big enough for two people each, but perpetually damp, cold,  and frustratingly dark.  We had a propane space heater to use, but the thing made us uneasy with its spaceship-esque noises, red-hot glow and risk of death by carbon monoxide.  I think we only used it a couple of times.  It sounded like a jet plane taking off when we turned it on.

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Home sweet home! Our cabin. It’s nostalgic to look at it now.
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Fortunately, we had a staff lounge cabin with a stocked and functioning kitchen, a woodstove, electricity and (gasp) sometimes-functioning wireless Internet!  It could get cramped with all twenty employees trying to eat around the crowded table at once, but it was a warm haven away from the rain.  This is where we prepared all our own lunches and dinners – the kitchen staff at the guest lodge would make a staff dinner for everyone at night.  Pretty luxurious, if you think about it.

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Life in the tent cabin was vastly improved when, halfway through the season, my dad bought us some giant sheets of plexiglass that Zach made into windows. The glass was so clear, it gave the impression of not having anything there at all, and suddenly our cabin became a much brighter and more pleasant place to spend time.

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Here’s the beach where I would go on runs a couple times a week, always with bear mace in hand.

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And a shot of camp – there’s the staff lounge in the background.

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Later in the summer, the snow obviously melted, and things got glorious. Although you can’t have a rainforest without a whole lot of rain, the bluebird days were incredible, and wildflowers grew everywhere. Here’s a shot of Pedersen Lagoon, which the lodge faces out towards.  Pedersen glacier is just out of sight to the right.

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Here, you can see the outer beach where the boats would come with guests and supplies.  The lodge is quite hidden in the trees that aren’t even in the shot in this picture, so arriving there feels like you’re getting dropped off in the middle of nowhere (which, really, you are).  This is where I would come running a lot, and where most days we would drive the six-wheeler to come drop off and pick up luggage and supplies from the boat.  Yes, the water is really that color – all the silt from the glaciers creates that beautiful milky blue.

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Pedersen glacier, which the lodge faces.  You can see a tiny canoe down there, where a guide is taking guests on a hike to the base of the ice.

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Staff bonfires, which happened more or less every sunny night (read: not too often). The staff was friendly, fun, kind, healthy and wonderful – also incredibly musically talented.

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Also, during June and most of July, it never really got dark. This is probably 11 PM in late June.

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Poker was popular.

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Sometimes, the tide would bring in a bunch of icebergs from the glacier and scatter them all across the beach.

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Sometimes, there were breaching orca whales.

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One of the staff members, Mike, would go shrimping every single day at the base of Aialik Glacier.

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Here was my favorite part of my job: driving out the outgoing guests’ luggage, carrying the ramp to the shore, and waiting for the boat. We would help the new guests ashore, offload their luggage, load the other luggage, and drive it back to the lodge. It was so beautiful. Once, a humpback whale surfaced less than 20 feet offshore.

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And once, just once, there was a magical glowing iceberg.

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