Saturday, July 25, 2009

Alaska: the last frontier.

The sixth of July, we were headed to thinning project out in the middle of nowhere. Our task was not so much thinning, but destroying. We were supposed to cut down all these junipers in order to revive some springs that had disappeared because of them. We pulled up, warmed up our chainsaws and were just about ready to start cutting, when we received a call telling us to head back to SLC.

As we were heading back, we received the word that we were headed to Alaska. I for one, was very excited. Everyone else was also excited. This would be the majority of the crew's first time fighting fires in Alaska.

We drove to Boise that night, arriving late. The next morning, we woke up at 4:00 to catch the charter flight to Anchorage. Our crew, and 4 other Hotshot crews were all headed up to The Railroad Complex. A Cluster of fires just south of Fairbanks.

We arrived in Anchorage and immediately jumped on a bus to Nenana. After about an hour bus ride, we arrived at the helibase. Almost
immediately, we were on a helicopter headed to the fire in the middle of nowhere.

After landing, we gathered up, geared up, and got to work. For the first 11 days, we were up at 6 in the morning and in bed around 1 or 1:30 in the morning. Not very much sleep for what we were doing. Our work consisted for cutting a lot of trees down, digging a lot of line, burning
out, and a lot of mopping up.

The topography was flat, but hiking was very difficult. The tundra was very spongy. It was almost as if i was hiking on a a mattress. Sounds fun, but it's not. My hip flexors were in constant pain. I longed for walking on a solid surface. Nights were nice, except for the fact that there was no darkness. Waking up at 3 and thinking it was 9 was interesting.
Towards the end, we were all exhausted.

One of the days, we were taking our lunch break when a black bear wandered up. A native alaskan had warned us that black bears were very aggressive, and our crew supervisor had one charge him and two other people the other day, so we were pretty cautious. And by cautious, i mean i was up front taking photos and there was one guy in the back eating a sandwich. Most others were laughing and joking, and a couple were actually probably itching to fight it. One guy was terrified and actually thought he was going to die, even though he was standing behind a wall of other people. The bear came closer and swatted the air and made as if to charge. The kid who
thought he was going to die instantly popped a fusee (road flare) faster than i thought possible. The bear ran off and we all turned
around to look at him. His eyes were wide as saucers. It was really really funny.The rest of the role went without a hitch, except for a couple close calls with helicopters almost crashing and what not.

My alaska experience was quite enjoyable and would definitely love to do it again. Except without the mosquitoes.