Prep students answer the call of the wild in Alaska

Raising the Prep flag high on Mt. Alyeska

COVID-19 canceled many events and plans this year, but the Global Leadership Institute Alaska trip was not one of them. GLI director Colonel William Merrell worked hard to keep the trip afloat and was determined that the students would still go to Alaska. On June 13, five chaperones and fifteen students woke up bright and early to board their 7:00 am flight to Houston. After traveling all day, the group arrived in sunny Anchorage, Alaska, at 10:45 pm and were in awe of the mountain scenery that welcomed them.

Everyone was able to catch up on their sleep that night and piled in two Ford vans to start their first full day. Wildlife is everywhere in Alaska, and students were able to spot moose and black bears while traveling to Girdwood. The group checked into the charming Alyeska Resort and started to hike the mountain that was towering over the hotel. The view looking down was breathtaking, especially after walking up a 4,000 ft elevation gain.

The next day the students left the resort and drove an hour and a half to the small town of Seward, named after William Seward, the U.S. secretary of state who negotiated the purchase of Alaska from the Russians in 1869. The weather was surprisingly pleasant and sunny, which made it to be a perfect day to attend the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center and SeaLife Center. They were able to see all types of Alaskan wildlife, such as bison, puffins, elk, seals, brown bears, sea lions, moose, wolves, and much more. 

The quaint town of Seward has a population of 3,000, but it spikes up in the summer to 7,000 due to fishing season and tourists. Everyone walked around town and bought souvenirs, until their meeting with Liquid Adventures to discuss gear for their 3-day camping trip in Kenai Fjords National Park.

Students and chaperones hastily piled into the boats early in the morning to venture out into the wilderness. The two boats made their way down Resurrection Bay and embarked into the great outdoors. The group was able to enjoy beautiful weather while sipping hot chocolate and admiring the scenery and wildlife around them. The campsite was on a rocky beach, and the guides wasted no time getting everyone suited up to go on their first kayaking adventure. The students settled upon an island and ate lunch while exploring the outskirts of the beach before heading back. 

The usual summer weather is typically cold and rainy, and that’s what occurred on the second day of camping. Kayaking was pushed back to the evening due to the pouring rain,  so students spent their time exploring the campsite, playing cards, getting to know each other, and staying warm. On the last day of the camping expedition, everyone kayaked to the Holgate Glacier located across the bay. Senior Ty Usey shared his thoughts on the glacier: “From our campground, it looked much closer than it was. That was because the glacier was so big that the temperature dramatically changed when we got near it.” 

Before leaving the campsite, everyone participated in jumping in the freezing Alaskan water in a ritual nicknamed the “polar bear plunge.” Junior Walker Poole said, “I was nervous at first because of the cold water, then once I was in, I had a lot of fun and was glad I did it.”

Even after camping three days in the wilderness, the group still had a full schedule of fun activities, and the next one was deep-sea fishing. The students spent 10 to 12 hours fishing and caught some delicious fish. The most common ones caught were Halibut and Rockfish, and every fish they reeled in, they were able to send home to eat. Another fishing activity that students experienced was snagging for salmon. Trying to catch the cunning fish was a difficult task, but the group reeled in enough to feed everyone that night. Apollo’s is a popular restaurant located in downtown Seward that offers to cook the fish you caught, which turned out to be an interesting dinner.

In the last few days in Alaska, the students enjoyed one more hike and spent a whole day exploring Anchorage. Some highlights were playing Spikeball in the park, eating the best pizza in town at Moose’s Tooth, and shopping at the local mall. 

Chaperone Ms. Laura Hepner shares her experience: “I loved every part of the Alaska trip! Hiking, kayaking, camping, and fishing…in Alaska… what could be better?! And the students were awesome; they had positive attitudes, were respectful and well-behaved the entire trip. Our kayaking guide even told us that we were the best group he’s ever had, and he’s owned the company for 17 years! I could not have asked for a better experience!”

This was the first GLI Alaska trip and is set to happen again in years to come. “This was my first GLI trip, and I plan to go on another one soon,” said sophomore Sammie Zoog. The students and chaperones had a blast being able to experience all that Alaska has to offer and get to know each other better. 

The trip wouldn’t have been possible without Colonel Merrell. He checked daily on hotels, activities, and plane tickets to make sure nothing changed due to COVID-19. Colonel Merrell explained that the point of embarking on the GLI Alaska trip was about leadership. “After a lifetime of travels to our last frontier of Alaska, I wanted to share my knowledge with Prep students. I really enjoyed seeing Alaska again through their eyes, hearing their awe and excitement. Leadership is all about serving and building relationships, and I watched new relationships form during this epic adventure. Let’s go again!”