Radical Recreation: Emily of the woods

Courtney Schuman and Emily Wood pose at Los Cuernos in Torres Del Paine National Park. Photo credit: Emily Wood

Something about being surrounded by mountains makes one want to get out and explore. Emily Wood, natural science major with a concentration on environmental science and minor in biology, was raised by outdoorsy parents, which influenced her love for adventure.

Wood spent a lot of time doing outdoor activities such as camping, cross country skiing, running and horse back riding, all things that involve self-exploration and building a relationship with nature. Once Wood was old enough to venture out by herself, the mountains were calling her name.

“When my parents got me a car for my 17th birthday, I put on my hiking boots, threw a tent in the back, and didn’t really come home until school started again in August,” Wood said. “Since then I’ve done about 30 different hikes around south central Alaska; most of them a few different times.”

After doing so many hikes and spending most of her time exploring, her friends often joke about how much time she spends outdoors.

“She spends so much time in nature and that’s why we call her Emily of the woods,” Bre Bhangu, childhood friend, said.

One of Wood’s favorite hiking memories is when she hiked Crow Pass for the first time. Crow Pass is a 23-mile trail that connects Girdwood and Eagle River.

“It’s long, and arduous and kind of dangerous, and we managed to do it in one day. It was terrible and we were crawling by the end, but it was a challenge that no one else our age had undertaken,” Wood said. “When I look back at the pictures I always think we looked like such babies, it was like our ‘coming of age’ hike.”

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What makes hiking different from other outdoor activities is that anyone can do it without draining their bank account.

“Any kind of outdoor activity is great, hiking is especially awesome because it’s accessible to anyone,” Wood said. “Not everyone can afford to be a skier, or a rock climber, or go on kayak expeditions, but to be a hiker all you need are good shoes and a water bottle.”

Sometimes taking a hike alone is the perfect cure throughout stressful times.

“Hiking alone lets you take in everything around you, and you feel more in tune with yourself and appreciative of your surroundings,” Wood said. “It sounds very boring, but just going into the mountains by yourself when your stressed is the best way to sort out your thoughts and get perspective.”

Although Wood enjoys hiking alone, hiking with friends is an entirely different experience.

“I think that outdoorsy people all kind of operate on a similar frequency, and there’s nothing better than vibing in nature with like-minded people,” Wood said. “There’s something about reveling in the majesty of nature while riding an exercise-endorphin high that really binds people. It’s the best way to get to know people, go hiking with me once and we’ll probably be friends for life.”

Aurora Taylor, childhood friend, can sense Wood’s love for the outdoors through her personality, which often influences her to go out and explore.

“Emily emulates nature within her personality and makes the outdoors something anyone can be a part of and enjoy,” Taylor said. “Having Emily as a friend means always having an inspiration to get outside and make healthy choices.”

After a few trial and errors, Wood was able to decide on what major and career she eventually wanted to achieve. She has always wanted to help people, first by exploring what things were going on around the world, then she thought of maybe being a nurse and physically helping people, but then she realized that being out in nature and making earth a better place to live would be the most fulfilling.

“One day, last November I was out hiking by myself and I realized I was really dumb to think I could be happy working anywhere else but out in nature, and nature had everything I’d been looking for all along,” Wood said. “There’s no people around, there’s lots of rocks, plants and animals to study, what better way to help literally everyone than by saving our planet?”

Wood hopes to finish her undergrad at UAA then going to UAF for her masters in wildlife biology and conservation. Microorganisms are her passion and she wants to study oceanic species. Wood’s dream job is to work on a research vessel in Antarctica.

There are many short-term goals Wood would like to achieve such as the seven peak challenge, Pioneer Peak and Kesugi Ridge. Some long-term goals would be the Denali Summit, Everest Base Camp and K2. A more recent activity Wood is taking place in is her first Questival, which is a 24 hour adventure scavenger hunt that involves climbing mountains, taking on specific challenges and taking cool photos with friends.

Wood is interested in taking classes that UAA offer that teach about the outdoors and safety then eventually using what she learns in the future.

“I want to start taking UAA’s outdoor rec classes, I want to learn how to ice climb, outdoor rock climb, sea kayak, etc., because I hope to have a career where these are relevant skills,” Wood said.

Wood has adventured through Chilean Patagonia, doing a 40-mile trek through Torres Del Paine National Park. This trip was inspired after attending UAA’s Banff Mountain Film Festival, her favorite UAA event. Wood is already planning her next trip, still deciding between Bali and Iceland.