GEOLOGICAL FIELDWORK IN ALASKA

CHARM AND CHALLENGES

 

Geologic Field Work in AK
The new outhouse is ready for service (Limestone Gap).

 

The Realities of Field Camp

The wilderness of Alaska attracts millions of visitors each year. Geologists, especially geology students, are very excited given the chance to do fieldwork in Alaska. However, the attraction of Alaska’s nature comes with a price. Remote wilderness implies limited and costly access, along with lack of amenities that are considered standard in most parts of the lower 48 or Europe. While most students are aware of that and are actually looking forward to a more primitive setting, it is important to point out certain challenges:

  • While in the field, we sleep in small tents and have our office in not too spacious wall-tents. This is all well when the weather is great, but it can become less comfortable when it is raining for a longer period of time – which can happen.
  • We will work with the same group of 17-20 people for two months; three weeks in a row at Limestone Gap. It is crucial to try to get along with each person, otherwise it will become miserable for the whole group.
  • We won’t have access to showers, not even cold ones, flushing toilets or laundromats. Creeks and outhouses will have to do.
  • While we may stay in camp during a heavy rainy day, you will have to endure rain when you are out in the field. Without the proper rain gear, it is not unusual to get soaking wet. The reality of fieldwork in Alaska is that it can become uncomfortable. Drying out can also be problematic.
  • We are hiking all day. In Denali NP we will be dropped off at the start of the day, but don’t return to the van until the end. 10 hours of fieldwork each day are not uncommon. The topography in Denali NP is more challenging, steeper and with more bush. The Limestone Gap mapping area is in the tundra, i.e. no bush, and less steep, but daily traverses are longer. In summary, fieldwork will be exhausting. That is a promise. If you have problems with longer and extensive physical exercise, you may want to reconsider applying for this Field Camp.
  • Safety: Although every effort is made to make this Field Camp a safe one – the Field Camp Director is certified in Wilderness First Aid, all participants take first aid course, we map in groups of 3-5 students – rest risk remains. While out in the Limestone Gap fly camp, weather may not permit immediate medical evacuation. You also have to remember that we are doing fieldwork in bear country. The chance of seeing bears in Denali NP is high, less common in Limestone Gap. Despite mapping in groups and having bear spray ready, you have to be aware that there is a remote chance of being attacked by a bear. Each group is equipped with a handheld radio to communicate with base camp or other groups.
  • While in Denali and Limestone Gap there is no cell phone connection. Communication with the outside world is done via satellite phone.

 

Enjoy the wilderness

After listing all the challenges that we may encounter we should not forget that you have the unique opportunity to experience Alaska’s wilderness. It may not be that obvious in Denali NP, where you can see a tour or shuttle bus every 5 minutes, but in Limestone Gap you can experience the tundra without feeling the presence of humans, except for your fellow geologists. And once you hike away from the road in Denali you are in untouched wilderness. We even have solar chargers; there is no need to run noisy gasoline generators to charge our devices.

Geologic Field Work in AK
White-tailed ptarmigan with her chick.

You will be able to see grizzly bears and Dall sheep (very likely in Denali NP), caribou (very certain in Limestone Gap), ptarmigans, golden eagles, with a bit of luck, fox or marmots in Limestone Gap. Our neighbors in Limestone Gap will be arctic ground squirrels.

Geologic Field Work in AK
Looking south across Billy Creek at the Chugach Mountains.

Finally, the views in Denali NP and Limestone Gap are spectacular. We will get a chance to see the highest peak in North America, finally officially called Denali – the Tall One, and the magnificent snowy peaks of the Chugach Mountains.

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