The program began on May 24 at NOLS headquarters in Palmer, AK, and ended there on Aug. 7. The program was divided into three parts, 23 days of sea kayaking, 23 days of backpacking, and 23 days of mountaineering on the glaciers.
Rush, the 2 NOLS leaders, and the 10 other students were brought to Whittier, on the Prince Edward Sound, and set out in kayaks. Their destination was Valdez, 196 miles away. Rush had never even been in a kayak before. After his first day of kayaking he could barely walk. To make matters worse, it rained for the first 14 days. "I learned that all those things that are supposedly waterproof really aren't," he said with a laugh. "I became well educated on how to keep dry. With the temperatures averaging only 40 degrees and seawater that was only in the mid 30s, the students lives depended on staying warm and dry.
The abundance of wildlife more than made up for any discomfort. Several times the group kayaked through a pod of Humpbacked Whales. "They were breeching on both sides of us," Rush commented. "Another time were in the midst of them when they were bubble netting. That is when they swim in a circle exhaling air. The plankton get caught in the bubbles and then the whales scoop them up. We could hear them communicating to each other under the water too," Rush added.
Other wildlife highlights in the sound were the Orca whales and tons of sea lions. "The sea lions were show boats,"Rush commented with a smile of remembrance. "They would come up close to our camp and show off." Unfortunately, sea lions are sometimes aggressive, a discomforting thought since they can weigh up to 1,200 lbs. One day a male sea lion trailed one of Ben's friends. Every time his friend turned around to see if the sea lion was still there, it would bare his teeth at him and growl!