Preserving Absence:

An exploration of trail-less wilderness

Denali National Park and Preserve is where I truly fell in love with the outdoors. I'd spent two summers in Yellowstone and done a lot of hiking and backpacking—but I'd never really sunk deeply into a single area.

So in May 2008, I packed all my things into a Ford passenger van and drove north from Wasilla, Alaska; to the entrance area of the park, where we stocked up on supplies and caught some zzz's; and then the entirety of the 95-ish mile park road, through the most incredible landscapes I'd ever seen with the tallest mountain in North America looking over all; finally arriving at Denali Backcountry Lodge, my home for the summer.

I once ventured 30 miles east to Eilson Visitor Center for a hike. But otherwise, I stayed within a few miles of my bunkhouse in Kantishna. I led the same local hikes over and over, day in and day out, no matter the weather, all summer long. I got to know the land, rocks, plants, animals, and streams. I learned that a whole other level of connection to and affection for a place was possible. And I learned that nothing will connect you to a place more quickly and deeply than multi-day trips without a single human-made trail in sight.

That summer plus another led me to graduate school, studying GIS, cartography, and geography at the University of Oregon.

 

I once ventured 30 miles east to Eilson Visitor Center for a hike. But otherwise, I stayed within a few miles of my bunkhouse in Kantishna. I led the same local hikes over and over, day in and day out, no matter the weather, all summer long. I got to know the land, rocks, plants, animals, and streams. I learned that a whole other level of connection to and affection for a place was possible. And I learned that nothing will connect you to a place more quickly and deeply than multi-day trips without a single man-made trail in sight.

That summer plus another led me to graduate school, studying GIS, cartography, and geography at the University of Oregon. 

The Environmental Studies program was thankfully open-minded about allowing a Master's Project rather than a thesis; and even more open-minded about letting me create an atlas espousing the deep benefits and experiential uniqueness of off-trail hiking.

This book was a culmination of my three years guiding, backpacking, and packrafting in Alaska with my graduate school skills, combining original cartography, photography, prose, and book design.

I hope you enjoy it, And if you ever have a chance to hike without a trail, embrace the difficulties. There are so many rewards on the other side!

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