A L A S K A
More images below if you want to skip the reading section and go straight to the pictures
I went to Alaska with the intention of saving money for painting so that I could have a crack at pursuing it more seriously.
I also went because of my thirst for adventure, the unknown. The opportunity to see this wild land that has been revered for so long. A chance to heli ski in some of the greatest mountains on earth. And for that little feeling in my heart that always wants to see more, know more and feel more.
When you think about backpacking or traveling, people who haven’t been think of how lucky you are. How they could never go because of their job, girlfriend, financial status or cat. But you can always go. It’s entirely up to you. Are you willing to leave everything you have behind for the chance of seeing something better or something worse? To leave knowing you may come back and everything has changed or worse, that it’s stayed exactly the same. Those of you who have travelled know how hard and lonely it can be. And how sometimes you will dream of home and familiarities so vividly. But no matter how you pine to hear English or for your stomach just to settle and hold down a meal, you wouldn’t change anything to have come here and felt this. Just this being. And being just for you.
I have been on several different trips around the world, all of them have presented challenges. Some easy to get over, most of them have been quite hard. But not Alaska. Alaska felt like home from the beginning…except for a couple creepy cab rides.
I instantly fell in love with the mountains. The size of them! My co workers (so much laughing) , the trees, the incredible masses of snow and how everyone I met at Tordrillo Mountain Lodge (TML), is here just to be here. No ulterior motives but just to spend time in a beautiful place watching the weather change. TML isn’t the real world, it’s a small collection of people in the middle of nowhere who love the outdoors and the challenges and joy it brings. These people give up their ‘normal’ lives for a few months a year to be here, work and watch the clouds roll in and out (preferably leaving behind a buttload of snow).
All I knew about Alaska before going was that there are lots of bears there, it host's some of the best heli skiing on earth and that it's the romanticized place where Chris McCandless (from 'Into the Wild) lived his final days. Everything I have read about Alaska is about how ‘special’ this place is, how big and how wild it is. Boy are they right.
I got a job through my Dad to work as a lodge assistant at a remote heli skiing lodge in the Tordrillo Mountains.
Arriving in February the temperature was between negative thirty Celsius and negative five for the first few weeks. So cold that if you stay outside long enough your nose hairs and eyeballs begin to freeze.
The staff quarters I was to live in for the winter was a cute little yurt. An uninsulated yurt. The fireplace inside was so small that you could only have one piece of wood inside it at a time, the fluting was broken so there was only one speed to burn; fast. The wood would burn so quickly that every forty five minutes one of us two girls that was living in the yurt would have to run in and add wood. It was felt like we had a child to look after with the size of responsibility this was. Even this was only just enough to take the edge off. The first night I went to sleep I decided to sleep on the top bunk..because heat rises right? I was surprised at how hard my mattress was! Hard as a rock! Oh well, just something else I’ll get used to. By the time I woke up the next morning my mattress was nice and soft. It dawned on me after a few more rock hard nights sleeping in the fetal position that my mattress would freeze every night and by morning had de thawed due to my body heat. Amazing!
I worked mostly as a cleaner and server averaging twelve plus hour days seven days a week. The work is non stop and the humans I work with are all nothing but fun. Our time off was when clients were out skiing and we’d finished our daily duties. We’d fill in our fleeting moments of free time with ski touring (we even saw a wolf from far away while we were skinning!), cross country skiing through the forests animals watching (finding scary bear tracks), watching the Northen Lights dance through the sky (which is the coldest activity you could ever dream of), running around the frozen lake, finding mammoth tusks (..maybe just Jake did), playing ping pong, having yurt parties and napping. Sometimes if there was a spare seat we’d be lucky enough to go heli skiing (!!!!!!! Fifteen runs in one day!) or for a plane or helicopter ride.
I would work this job for free just for the chance to heli ski in Alaska (pls don’t tell my boss I’d much rather get paid). Nothing has ever made me feel smaller than standing on the top of some of the peaks in the Alaska range.
After a quick three sixty on my future plans I decided to stay in Alaska and watch the seasons change.
I got to watch the dawning of post hole apocalypse season (in spring time the snow begins to melt so when walking around you often fall waist deep into the snow without warning. ACL’s getting put to the test) It is a better sport for being a spectator rather than a participant but you have to give and take a little.
I got a month of action packed explore time so that I could see a little more of this so far cold and white state. I spent time in Girdwood hiking, learning all about why to fear bears and be noisy, Denali National Park- animal appreciating (OMG sled dogs) and human appreciating (or appreciating the lack of them due to the cold!), Homer- sea otter viewing, dive bar drinking and seeing the most incredible line up of mountains and volcanoes, Valdez- watching Bald Eagles killing and fighting over fish, ski tour porn and eating the worst hot chips I’ve ever had. Seward- and how it looks almost exactly the same as Milford Sound (it even rains the same amount!)
Finally I settled in a trailer park in Soldotna for a few weeks of painting, hiking and getting eaten alive by mosquitos. The trailer park is where I was inspired to begin my Alaska painting series and my it was a fine place to be!
Summer in Alaska has been full of long nights and longer sunsets, mosquitos, wake surfing, animal watching, rain and mosquitos. The sockeye salmon have just started to run and the fat bear that lives by the fish weir is getting fatter.
Alaska has continuously humbled and surprised me with it’s unassuming beauty. Danger. Nature in it’s most raw and real state. I know everyones experience here will be different but for me it has been 10/10. I am lucky to have experienced it and I hope my paintings can reflect the wonder and regard I hold for this magical place.
* All images used are my own. Drone footage is taken by my friend Colten Lowe.