This past February, 8 brave 4-Hers headed out to Starrigavan campground for an overnight winter adventure as the culminating activity to the Alaska-Way-of-Life Club Outdoor Survival Series.
4-Hers learned a variety of land survival skills each Tuesday afternoon for 6 weeks leading up to the campout. AMSEA Instructor, Rick Petersen, co-instructed this course with me, with a guest appearance from Sitka National Historical Park Ranger Ryan Carpenter. Session topics included fire building, water purification, trip planning, hypothermia prevention, building survival kits, and more. Regardless of what the weather threw our way, the 4-H youth were enthusiastic to participate and embrace the adversities that come with experiencing the outdoors in Southeast Alaska. And yes, that meant practicing building fires on a dark, windy, rainy night in January.
The girls setting up their 6 person tent at the site. Photo Credit: Jasmine Shaw
Snack break on the muskeg trail. Mangos thanks to Eliot and cookies by the Prussians! Photo Credit: Jasmine Shaw
The weekend of the campout, we arrived at Starrigavan on Saturday afternoon. Campsite host, Harry, loaded up our baggage in his truck and drove it to the group campsite. After setting up tents at our site, we headed out for a hike to explore the four ecosystems present at Starrigavan: estuary, muskeg, young growth, and intertidal zone. Jasmine Shaw, Sitka Cooperative Extension extraordinare, led the hike, sharing her naturalist skills.
At the base of the forest muskeg trail, there was an injured swan. We aided in the swan’s rescue by reporting it to the Alaska Raptor Center, a local organization that rescues birds, and “Georgina” is now rehabilitating under their care. After moments of empathy for this swan, 4-Hers continued on to the muskeg, where we were lucky enough to forage 9 (!) lowbush cranberries, and some Bog Labrador tea leaves. The sun continued to shine as we marched through the forest to Old Sitka and the ocean, where we met some folks subsistence clamming and found cool shells.
4-Hers enjoying Old Sitka. Photo Credit: Jasmine Shaw
As the sun crept behind the mountains, the 4-Hers quickly put on layers, grabbed headlamps, and started on tasks for the evening. One group tended to the fire, while another worked on preparing our backcountry mac n’ cheese feast. In the midst of gobbling handfuls of shredded cheese, waiting for water to boil, and stoking the fire, dinner prep was underway. We buttered up some loaves of bread and packaged some broccolli in aluminum foil, throwing them over the flames for a delicious roasted treat with our cheesy macaroni.
Raven Richards and Eliot Holloway leading the way for dinner prep. Photo Credit: Jasmine Shaw
Post-dinner activities included a frosty walk to the artesian well, scary storytelling, stargazing, and roasting marshmallows. After a night of (somewhat) sleeping, 4-Hers woke up to a cloudy, crisp morning. We gathered around the fire to eat oatmeal, drink labrador tea, and talk about Leave No Trace principles when camping in the outdoors. We then cleaned up our campsite, and loaded our stuff back on Harry’s truck. We followed the truck, walking/sliding on the icy road up to Harry’s cabin, where we enjoyed a much needed cup of tea, celebrated the end of our adventure and warmed up before parents arrived.
The stylish Lydia Suminski, watching (?) over a pot of bubbling labrador tea. Photo Credit: Jasmine Shaw
Stunned and exhausted 4-Hers warming up in the safety of Harry the Host's cabin before reuniting with parents. Photo Credit: Jasmine Shaw
This series and campout allowed myself to reflect on my roots in adventuring outdoors. Growing up, camping and backpacking was something that I was introduced to through summer camp programs. It is during those trips that I discovered a love for outdoor adventure that has shaped my path today. Bonds with other campers and counselors became some of my closest friendships, and I think back to those landscapes often as I venture into new ones today.
I think each 4-H member walked away with new skills, friendships, and a greater understanding of camping in cold weather. For many, this was a first camping trip, and hopefully an accomplishment 4-Hers can look back on in the future with pride.
The crew posing in a tree near Old Sitka. Photo Credit: Jasmine Shaw