Friday, August 16, 2013

Bears, Bugs, and Bogs, OH MY! (Aka, Fieldwork In Alaska)

The Vengeance Team are old pros at dealing with fieldwork in some pretty desolate places, including the bowels of Eastern Oregon and the red rock desert of Southeast Utah. We've always got our sweat glands operating at full capacity, and we typically guzzle gallons of water by the hour while hiding in the postage stamp-sized shade offered by emaciated juniper trees, fighting the temptation to jump into the swimming pool mirage we've just hallucinated. Not only are we used to the heat, we've also got the certifications to keep us safe out there, too. We are both wilderness first responders, which in theory means we can help keep you safe in a wilderness setting but in practice just means we get to drunkenly brag about the awesome ways we've set fake femur fractures.

So naturally Vengeance Team North Division had little fear as she headed up to the great state of Alaska to work in Denali National Park and Preserve. Amy had read the job description, convinced herself she could handle it, and them promptly stopped thinking about it. Now, after a few months of work, she is ready to share her experiences in the North, and help you, gentle readers, prepare for any fieldwork that you could (and should!) be doing in Alaska. 

LESSON ONE: Grizzly Bears Are Really Big But Usually Don't Give a Shit About You
 Not quite as snuggly as plush toys would lead you to believe, but they're not all rabid monstrosities a la "The Edge." That said, sometimes the bears get a little close for comfort. Here's a great video of what you should do if you want the bears to laugh at you while you slink away in embarrassment. If, however, you're serious about bear safety here are a few tips:
  • Never hike alone, the bigger your group, the better. It is safer to be in a group of 3 versus 2 or 1. When/if you do see a bear, make lots of noise and join together to make yourselves look bigger and more intimidating. Do not sing anything from the Jungle Book.

  • Carry bear spray, and if you use it, aim for their eyes. Do not test it on yourself.
  • Do not run away from a bear. Do not run towards a bear.
  • Avoid getting between a momma bear and her cubs, as that is like getting between Homer Simpson and a donut, if Homer Simpson weighed half a ton and had huge teeth and claws.
  • If it's a grizzly bear and there is no way to avoid an attack, keep your backpack on and fall to the ground in the fetal position, protecting the back of your neck and face. 
  • If it's a black bear and an attack is unavoidable, continue to fight back. Throw things, scratch, punch, kick, survive to be the biggest badass of your particular social group. 
  • Use a bear can when overnight camping, both because it prevents the bears from eating your food and because it's kind of funny to watch them struggle to open it. Sort of like handing a 4-year-old a Chinese Finger trap, but bigger and furrier.
Plus, in Amy's personal opinion (backed up by stats somewhere we're sure) the MOOSE are the most dangerous animals out here and they can and will TAKE YOU TO POUND TOWN and you won't even see it coming. Check out this terrifying video from Anchorage of a moose attacking a person:

LESSON TWO: Mosquitoes Make A Delicious Garnish For Any Meal
 Mosquitoes are unavoidable in the summer time in Alaska. They stop for nothing and they will suck out all of your blood if given the chance, and they come in clouds. Tips:
  • Bug shirts (or at least a face bug net) are a necessity. Do not be deceived: these are not shirts for bugs, these are shirts you wear to deter bugs. Very important difference.
  • Even if it's warm out, you need to protect your skin from these monsters, wear layers
  • Skin So Soft is Amy's current favorite brand of bug spray, seeing as that brand doesn't dissolve through Styrofoam like the DEET products
  • Bug Zappers is an incredible invention that is also sickly satisfying, Amy got one of these bad boys at Fred Meyers for $8.99. Only 9 bucks to instantly electrocute a mosquito on contact? Doin' it.
    LESSON THREE: The Fire Swamp Ain't Just From The Princess Bride, That Shit Is Real
     Have you ever gotten into a fist fight with an alder root... and lost? Then maybe you have an idea of what it's like hiking in Alaska in the summer time. The plant growth is so thick you cannot see the ground and you just hope that you won't fall off a sudden ledge or into a wolverine den. It's also difficult to see what's in front of you- is that a giant bull moose or just a log? Alder swamps are truly the Russian Roulette of AK backcountry.
oh yeah, it's a bull moose, and he's looking straight at you
In the midst of sweating, swatting mosquitoes, battling brush, and calling out for bears you frequently find yourself knee deep in the nastiest, smelliest, squelchiest anoxic mud you've ever experienced. Sure, maybe a great environment for fossilization, but Amy's not dead yet and therefore would like to avoid permineralization for the time being.


Tips for hiking off the trail in interior Alaska:
  • Gaiters are your new best friends. They keep water, mud, bugs, and debris out of your shoes and keep your legs a little more protected. Don't have any? Spend the $30, they're worth it.
  • Have a GPS unit tracking your route. Things get confusing out there and everything starts to look the same so it can be easy to get lost. No GPS? Then get that map and compass out and make it work!
  • Waterproof boots are a necessity
  • Trekking poles are handy, but can also get in the way. Most people love them, Amy is just weird and doesn't wanna be a quadruped unless Darwin dictates it.
  • ALWAYS TELL SOMEONE WHERE YOU ARE GOING AND WHEN YOU SHOULD RETURN! Amy has a long-standing hatred towards Aron Ralston and doesn't want to feel the same way about you.   
  • Need gear but at the right price?? Join The Clymb today for awesome deals on outdoor gear:
In conclusion Alaska is the tits* and you all should come play. Just make sure you do safely, or if you don't, blame someone other than the Vengeance team for your leap for the Darwin Awards, mmkay?

*Amy is now geographically closer to Canada than Meaghan and reserves the right to say all sorts of stupid slang she's made up but is pretending is local. Meaghan is onto her though.

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