Every year before the winter backcountry operations really start; time is set aside for a training trip. This training trip is especially important for new kennels staff members to learn the demands of their job, traveling with a team of human and canine rangers throughout Denali National Park
The first day of training started off like any normal day running the dogs; creating teams, loading equipment, and making sure we were wearing the proper layers for the weather - except this time we weren’t coming back for another two days. Three days isn’t a very long time to be gone, but the amount I learned about our upcoming winter projects, day to day tasks on the trail, and myself was incredible.
The team learns about the tents and how to set them up.
The team meets to discuss ice conditions on the Savage River
When we are out in the backcountry with the dogs this winter we will be working on several projects simultaneously. One of our ongoing projects this winter is assisting researchers working on a mesocarnivore study. For this study, we will collect scat samples we find in the snow between Park Headquarters and Toklat. Scat specimen the study is focused on include wolf, coyote, and fox. Other than the scat itself, we collect data including a GPS waypoint of where we found the scat, our educated guess of what kind of scat it is, and an estimation of how old the scat is. Actually collecting the scat may be the hardest part- without contaminating the scat, you need use an inverted plastic bag over your hand to pull the frozen scat out of the frozen snow into a small plastic bag. (It’s harder than it sounds!) Since we work with sled dogs all the time it is easy for us to accidentally contaminate the samples with sled dog DNA so we have to be extra careful.
Volunteers learn how to properly collect scat.
The best thing about this kennels staff training adventure was learning about the team and myself. As part of the training we talked about how each individual person learns, how to deal with stressful situations, and how to suggest new ideas to one another. Out in the field, you are relying on yourself and other team members for safety. Learning how to communicate with each other in a positive way will help the season go smoothly.
For myself, I learned about creativity, flexibility, and passion. Things don’t always work out the way you planned, especially when working with Alaska winter weather and sled dogs. So when a situation gets stressful, stop and think. Get creative on how to solve the problem, be flexible, and be passionate about the task. I look at my four legged coworkers who are so passionate about their job and I can’t wait to embrace that passion and use it to remind myself and my co-workers why we do the work we do. This winter I will be working with some of the most incredible dogs I know in one of the most incredible places I have been. This winter I will be pushing myself to the extremes; physically, mentally, and emotionally. And I can’t wait.