It began the same way as any other peaceful morning deep in the backcountry of Denali National Park. Samantha McGowan, hiking guide at the Denali Backcountry Lodge, was in the main lodge. Two exuberant guests, unknown to her, came up, cheered “Sammie!” and greeted her like an old friend.
This summer, through her role as Social Media Ambassador, Sammie has connected Pursuit's social media followers with an insider's look at what life is really like in Denali. She could tell from comments that people were engaged, but she didn’t know quite how much until Johnny and Velma Loza happily burst in that morning.
In her former life, Sammie worked a busy job in marketing in the DC area. Half-way through a short vacation to Alaska with her family years ago, she turned to her mom and said, “I’m quitting my job and moving here next summer.”
Five years later, Sammie’s love for the wild landscapes of Alaska hasn’t worn off. Spending the summer at the Denali Backcountry Lodge gives her the unique opportunity to guide hikes in a national park.
“The first time I came into the park, I remember being comforted by the fact that there are probably places within Denali National Park that have never been stepped on by humans, making this the most wild land I'd ever set eyes on in awe by how vast the landscape was," Sammie recalls.
She was beyond thrilled to share this place with guests, and when Sammie heard about an opportunity to collaborate with the Pursuit marketing team to gather on-the-ground content of her life in Alaska, she knew it was the right fit for her.
“As a seasonal worker, social media plays a huge role in my life—above all it allows me to stay in contact with my family and my friends all over the world,” says Sammie. “But even more than that, since I quit my corporate job and started working seasonally in the most beautiful place on earth, it has allowed me to connect with people in similar lifestyles and to inspire people.”
Sammie’s candid and engaging posts and Instagram takeovers have been an instant hit with followers. Via Instagram, Sammie took followers through a day-in-the-life as a hiking guide at the Lodge. From blueberry picking to gold panning to bus washing dance parties, it's a quintessentially Alaskan life at the foot of Denali, “the high one”.
Spending time with guests has changed her perspective on hiking, she says.
“I used to hike to get to the top of the mountain or to the alpine lake. But as a guide, I've learned to take my time, to appreciate the small things along the trail—the tiny alpine flower, the different lichens, the scuttling beetle…to stop and smell the roses, if you will.”
See some of Sammie's Instagram story
That August morning at the lodge, guests Velma and Johnny Loza excitedly explained to Sammie how they had been following along with her social stories as they prepared for their long-awaited trip to Alaska. "We were so anxious to meet Sammie and couldn't wait to view the mountain," says Johnny. From Sammie’s posts, Velma and Johnny learned about the activities offered, what the weather conditions might be like, and even how to plan their packing list.
“They looked at what my guests and I were wearing and bought clothes based on that,” explained Sammie. “They made sure to pack lots of layers to be ready for both warm and cool weather.”
Hiking through the breathtaking tundra was something that Velma might not have even considered if it weren’t for Sammie’s behind-the-scenes stories. She told Sammie that her friends had suggested she let her husband hike and spend the day relaxing at the spa instead. She did no such thing, and on their last day the couple were rewarded by views of the entire Alaska Range as they hiked around the aptly named Wonder Lake with Sammie.
"Seeing Denali was breathtaking," says Johnny. "It was awe inspiring…to see rare beauty at its finest."
Sammie hugged Velma and Johnny goodbye as they boarded the bus back to civilization. “I'm touched to have been able to be a part of their adventure, and hopefully helped make it a trip they'll cherish for the rest of their lives.”
"Working seasonally in the most beautiful place on earth has allowed me to connect with people in similar lifestyles and to inspire people.”