My First Month in Alaska

I am sitting on the deck of the CNB (staff lounge building) eating Moose’s Tooth pizza, finally getting to read Carrot Quin’s blog posts about here Brooks Range Traverse, writing this with a red pen because it was the only one I could find. This is my life in Alaska.

Today is my day off. It’s been a brilliantly sunny and warm day, but a rain cloud has appeared to cast am ominous shadow and the wind is picking up… typical Alaska weather. Earlier today, I ran 3.5 miles down Glenn Highway to Caribou Creek Recreation Area, hiked down and waded to a sand bar in the middle of the Lion Head branch of the Matanuska River, ran back to MICA base, rewarded myself with Moose Tracks ice cream from our MICA Mocha truck for lunch, hand-washed some laundry, video-chatted with a friend in Tokyo, and took a shower in the outdoor solar and propane powered guide shower.

I am spending the summer as an apprentice guide with MICA Guides, a company that primarily operates on Matanuska Glacier, about 2 hours northeast of Anchorage on scenic Glenn Highway. Yesterday, I was checked off as an assistant climbing guide and a few days before that I was checked off to lead treks on the glacier by myself. The glacier is like the Labyrinth of Greek mythology, changing every time you walk on it. Guiding on the glacier is living the duck on water analogy, trying to look smooth and calm on the surface while processing safety considerations and balancing them with the guest experience and not tripping over your crampons while looking back to see if your clients are still alive staying in line.

In the past month, I have learned to ice climb, kayaked in Prince William Sound, slept on a glacier, hiked cross-country over tundra and helped build a house. My experience with MICA so far has been excellent. The first couple weeks of orientation (disorientation?) taught us to roll with the punches and be ready for anything. Which accrues benefits like being able to depart for an overnight backpacking trip with only 15 minutes notice (which is what I did with my last day off).

Talking about Berkshire Hathaway and value investing with guests on a recent work backpacking trip, I thought about the companies I have worked for. Law firms view the size of the pie (market) as limited and aggressively try to grab a bigger piece of the pie from competitors. This culture trickles down to individual lawyers within a firm, manifesting in behaviors such as work-hoarding and back-stabbing. The company I worked for as an in-house lawyer seemed to take the view “Shit! My piece of the pie is getting smaller!… But, we’re just going to either freak out or pretend it is not happening and not change the way we have been doing things”, which breeds a bunch of dutiful but complacent “shoganai” paycheck collectors. The attitude at MICA is to grow the staff and create opportunity and make the pie bigger for everyone. There is, of course, great emphasis on technical training and delivering excellent product, but also a recognition that guiding is a short-term career for most and thus a big emphasis on building better humans with leadership and life-skills in general. It’s really refreshing and I appreciate what Don, the owner, is trying to do here in this little intense, live-together, work-together utopia experiment. This is really a business that you can feel good about patronizing. So, come visit!

As a first-year apprentice guide, I am technically an unpaid intern, but I am getting a lot of training (the most I have ever gotten as a job) and get to go on trips and have experiences that would otherwise cost hundreds if not thousands of dollars. The mistakes I made while learning to lead treks were discouraging and ego-crushing at times and neither my phone nor computer recognize my fingerprints anymore (manual labor, plus hours of wet gloves on the glacier, plus washing dishes in scalding hot water and rinsing them in cold bleach water), but this is definitely a great introduction to being a mountain guide, and I am feeling pretty good about my life choices right now.

The Mat

The Mat

Climbing after hours

Climbing after work

Camp near Eagle River.JPG

I got paid to go backpacking!

Lion Head with the Crew

Lion Head hike with the crew

4 thoughts on “My First Month in Alaska

  1. I like the part about growing the pie and the duck too. Do you think the duck is a healthier way to view impostor syndrome?

    Like

  2. Thank you for this look behind the scenes in Alaskan Guides.
    IN 95 my first working trip to Alaska I was amazed at how good many of my different guides were.

    By 98 when I was guiding fishing trips down the Yukon to the Nowitna NWR what we do as guides was second nature.

    Like

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