The Disgruntled Guide and the Downfall of Wild

Nearly four years ago when I first saw the entrance to one of America’s most iconic parks, I was immediately awestruck. The entrance was guarded by narrow posts set to mark the depth of snow. Past these gangly sentinels, the park road wound around to a few educational buildings set in a thick spruce forest, and further past the road meandered up a forested hill before opening up into the vast expanse of wild tundra and sloping glacial valleys. It was love at first sight, and despite my then-crippling injury I hobbled my way. I promised myself I’d return. But when the opportunity reared its head to see the pristine tundra once again my heart sank. While the sights were the same, the wild had been pre-packaged.


There’s this horrible trend growing in the world nowadays that revolves around nature and wild places, and it’s the same thing that made me sick of commercial guiding. It’s this belief that nature is cool, and it is! But something as innately magnificent as wilderness cannot be marketed. Inspiration cannot be served; humility cannot be purchased. In other words, while I poured my heart and soul into my career as a guide it made me sick to see people act as if they cared but truly only wanted the “experience” at best, or the f*cking Instagram photo at worst. Imagine how sickening it is to wake up every morning and literally bleed to protect and educate the very thing that makes your heart sing only to see people take away a shitty cell phone photo to turn into likes online. It’s insulting, and I have enough sense around people to know when that’s all you’re after.


Wild places are not simply experiences or bragging rights. They are a creature unto themselves, an entity to meet and coexist with. People are beginning to treat nature like a chance encounter with a celebrity: intrusively, arrogantly, entitled, disrespectfully…

Denali nowadays caters to the likes. It does not cater to the people who wish to know it, love it, and bleed for it (and on a side note, I called ahead of time to confirm if I was still able to drive to mile 30 only to be told otherwise upon arrival, thanks for getting your act together, guys). My heart ached to see that ancient High One stuck in the middle of a marketing scheme.


Now, now… I’m sure you’re reading this scoffing just a bit, “Courtney, you have an Instagram and takes heaps of photos.” And you’re right. I do. But the difference is that I started doing that for my own sake because my memory isn’t the best, and it turned out that I’m not too bad with a camera so I made a bit of a hobby out of it. My camera joins my escapades as a personal historian and nothing more, and only a fraction of my photos are viewable by the public. And frankly, my favorite photos are the nondescript occurrences along the way (like all my American dipper photos, I know each of those birds personally).

So please, take all your photos, selfies, panoramas, snapchats, etc… but make sure your heart is in the right place. If it even remotely crosses your mind how good a photo will look online, you’re doing it wrong. Your life is not a marketable product, nor is nature’s existence. Your moments are your own: experience them for you. Not the likes. And for fox sake, if you try get a selfie with a damn bear, I will personally beat your ass.

Tenana Valleyb


2 thoughts on “The Disgruntled Guide and the Downfall of Wild

  1. I feel your pain, Courtney. The first time I went to AK (1992) I remember seeing people hardly looking at what they were looking at. “Oh, to the left, Denali!” Turn and snap a picture or use your camcorder. Even though fb and all the other social media didn’t exist, the home video show did and their footage surely ran its course upon return to the lower 48 did. I felt sorry for these folks, wondering if they really took in the beauty, the magnificence, that is Alaska. Oh, well, their loss. They did no damage to the place (at least I hope not!) nor to my experience. In my heart, as it is in yours and countless others, Alaska is so much more than a video, a picture or a post. It fills one’s soul with wonder, timeless and permanent beauty.

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