Into the wild: Local teens from Nevada County return from an adventure in the Alaska bush |

Into the wild: Local teens from Nevada County return from an adventure in the Alaska bush

Submitted to The Union
Rick Berry, founder and executive director of 4 Elements Earth Education in Nevada City, just returned from taking seven teens (along with six adults) to Alaska in collaboration with the Alaska Wilderness Skills organization. The group hiked into the wilderness for two days with minimal gear and then rafted back on the Tokositna River.
Photo by Rick Berry

With the buzz of back to school, the inevitable question arises: “What did you do this summer?” Seven local teens will have a remarkable tale to tell.

Rick Berry, the executive director of Nevada City-based non-profit 4 Elements Earth Education (4EEE), led a summer adventure in Alaska that would prove to be a journey of a lifetime for seven teenagers and six adults, beginning at the base of Peters Hills, Alaska — smack dab in the middle of Grizzly bear country.

Berry instructed the crew to pack minimal gear to start: a blanket pack, extra clothes, rain gear and tarp, water bottle, nuts and dried fruit, hard boiled eggs and two sandwiches.

The beginning of the trek offered vistas of Trapper Creek to the east, and the gigantic Alaskan mountain range to the north, with the beacon of Mount Denali rising up above the clouds.

It also offered fresh brown bear tracks, the sheer size of them an immediate rousing mark of their new surroundings. First lesson for the crew: gun safety.

Adventuring through Alaska

The group then began their trek through varied landscapes of open tundra and thickets of Alder jungles speckled with Devils Club (a stabbing plant that is both dangerous and medicinal), often stopping and grazing on a cornucopia of berries. They covered just under 20 miles on foot, and spent the first night in the rain under a tarp with wool blankets for warmth.

On the second day the group came across a slough of water without a plan on how to cross. The teens were asked how they could cross it, and one of them pulled an inflatable dingy raft out of his pack, big enough for one person.

The crew crossed that way — shuttling the dingy back and forth — until they made it to the Tokositna River in time for their important helicopter supply drop that included 1600 pounds worth of gear.

After a days’ rest in the shadows of Mt. Denali, bathing in the clear glacier waters, Berry noticed that the group soon became immersed in “wilderness mind,” the underlying purpose of a trip like this.

“Our days were longer and time slowed way down. This is the very essence of what to strive for … a state of conscious awareness,” Berry said. “Our modern time clock begins to vanish and the present moment becomes the eternal now. The teens were sharing stories around the fire about the meal being eaten (salmon, moose and caribou, hunted by the guides), which tied them even more closely to the land and all she provides.”

Feeling rejuvenated, the group was ready to face the next task — to raft the Tokositna River for 60 miles.

The river was smooth the first day as they navigated through silty glacier waters and a large beaver habitat, arriving at “Wolf” Island to camp, where there were many tracks of a recent wolf pack from the week before.

The river wasn’t so smooth-going the following days, with intermittent cold rain and many downed trees from the recent high water. Entering the Ruth River where it merges to create the Sulitna River, the cold glacial water created a high bank of fog on the river’s surface for them to steer through.

But there were standout moments for the group, too, like floating by a huge family of 30 or more eagles all perched in the trees; a found keepsake for one teen of moose antlers; and a final day of camping under raft shelters that provided a kitchen camp for cooking with the cookstoves for the first time, and a campfire camp, where the group enjoyed a meal of fresh salmon and salty potatoes.

“The last day we rafted straight across the river to witness salmon fins streaking in the river at the mouth of a small creek,” Berry said. “They came flopping on the shore as they were scared by one of our rafts. A teen bent down and picked one up — a beautiful pink salmon with a hump on its back flopped around in his hands. He let it go back to the stream, free to start its journey up the steep mountain creek and spawn.”

Next up from 4EEE

4 Elements Earth Education, headquartered in Nevada City, offers programs year-round for public school, charter and home-school schedules.

4EEE’s mission is to guide youth, families and community toward pure connections with the Earth through direct, nature-based experiences by teaching the art and science of wilderness survival through outdoor adventure, storytelling, land stewardship and hands-on development of traditional skills.

One of its programs, Fox Walkers, is an ongoing program in Nevada City designed for home-schoolers and public school students that imparts hands-on instruction in the ancient arts of wilderness survival, animal tracking and nature awareness.

The late fall session starts at the end of October, and runs for seven weeks.

Visit or call 530-265-2036 for more information.

Source: 4 Elements Earth Education

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