Some stories seep into your soul. Intrigued by the literature of Alaska she studied in her English class at Conserve, stories of the size, beauty, and wildness of the North, Ahmae Epstein of CS11 set out this summer for an Alaskan adventure of her own. Here, in her own words, she recounts tales of her time in the Great Land.
“Alaska really is BIG. This was my first thought when riding the bus to Seward, Alaska. With Anchorage in my rearview mirror, I could only look to the narrow road ahead that wound its way deep, deep into the snow-capped mountains.
Conserve School was the first spark that ignited my passion for Alaska. Finishing out my freshman year at St. Olaf College, I was determined to pursue this passion, this curiosity I had for the deep wilderness and unknown. Through a few serendipitous events, I landed myself a job as a deckhand in Seward, Alaska. Taking only a small backpack and a footlocker full of dry food, I found myself on flight to Anchorage.
Every day mountains and glaciers greeted us at 5:00 am down at the docks to start our work day. My boat, the Alaskan Explorer, had a crew of four people: the captain, first mate and two deckhands. Five days a week we would take 150 passengers out into the Kenai Fjords National Park to witness all the wildlife and glaciers that the park had to offer. Rain or shine we would spend 9 hours out on the ocean, exploring the Chiswell Islands, watching the whales feed, and much, much more.
Puffins, sea lions, jellyfish, eagles, and bears were all a part of the experience. It was the humpback whales, however, that made me fall so much more deeply in love with Alaska. I had the wonderful experience of witnessing this 60-ton mammal breach so close to the bow of the boat, I could almost feel the spray on my face.
The glaciers were another sublime wonder of the Kenai Fjords. These massive rivers of ice, so animated and full of life, would calve into the ocean water creating a sound that could only be described as glacial thunder. At times the fallen ice would be so large, the wave generated by the fall could be felt a mile away.
In Alaska, even my off days were full of adventure! I spent my time on hikes that led to secret glacial lakes miles into the backcountry and high in the mountains. Icy blue and cold as an ice bath, we would strip to our underwear and plunge in for less than a minute before we would be forced to dry off and layer up.
As beautiful as it was, Alaska also has its dangers. On Aug 4th, the Alaska Explorer touched bottom. Those are the official words used by the Coast Guard. What really happened? Our boat struck a rock going full speed through a passage. Although we had little water coming in, our steering, engines, and propellers had been damaged extensively. The passengers only had a few minor injuries after the impact and we were able to transfer them safely to another boat to take them back to port. We, the crew, had to remain on board until a tug boat could arrive. We spent 21 hours on the boat that day and didn’t arrive back in Seward until 3:00 am, safe but shaken.
I was called to Alaska, just as the mountains called John Muir. I answered that call and fell in love with the land and the people with every fiber of my being. My heart was touched so deeply by the people I met and the sounds and sights I experienced. I hope one day to return and explore much more of this beautiful wilderness because as we all learned in English class at Conserve, Alaska is BIG!”