My name is Nicole Gormley but friends call me “Grom”. I am 25 years old and work as a freelance television producer focusing on adventure and wildlife programming for companies like National Geographic and Discovery Channel. I was born and raised in California and like every good Californian have a special place in my heart for the ocean. I love to travel especially for work because the access is unparalleled.
What was your first international travel experience?
My first trip outside the country was on a cruise to Mexico with a family friend in 2004, but I’m happy to say my traveling exploits have gotten a lot more adventurous since then! Traveling makes you feel small, excited, human and animalistic all at once. It allows me to explore other cultures, but also makes me appreciate the relationships I have when I get a chance to come back home. Some of my favorite spots to travel are those I go to for work because we often have to go to very remote places to film specific animals. Not many people ever get to experience these places or animals firsthand so it makes for some pretty exciting adventures.
What brought you to Alaska?
In the past year, I’ve come out to Alaska twice for filming and I’m hoping to go back soon. I was first there for about 3 weeks to film polar bears and brown bears on the northern coast in the Arctic Circle, but this past summer I was in different parts of Alaska for about a month to film survivalists living off the land.
How did you plan your trip?
Both for filming and for my personal travel, I tend to plan trips based on what I want to see. For instance, when we wanted to film Kodiak bears we timed our trip with one of the several salmon runs when the bears are typically present. It requires a lot of extensive online research, but more importantly talking to the locals and getting a good guide… their input is always invaluable.
What were some of your experiences while there?
Alaska is hands down one of the most special places in the world. The land is unforgiving, Its beauty is expansive, and the animals are wild. I feel fortunate that I have had the chance to travel to the furthest northern and southern stretches of the state because the experiences are so drastically different depending on your latitude and when you go.
That being said, no matter where you go eating wild game is pretty integral to the Alaskan experience. Most local Alaskans will partake in some degree of subsistence living from hunting bowhead whale in the northern coastal villages to catching wild salmon down south. Since I’m usually busy working during my trips, eating is one of the main ways I'm able to experience each location. Looking back, one of the craziest things I’ve eaten was when I was visiting Kaktovik, a village in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge most commonly known for its access to view polar bears. I was offered “muktuk” the Inupiat name for whale meat. I was skeptical of eating whale but decided to try it since I prefer to try nearly everything at least once. Well, the muktuk I ate was left outside to ferment (a local way to prepare the meat), and was far too “whaley” for my taste. However the local kids were inhaling it, saying it was their favorite food! Although I didn’t love muktuk (boiled, fermented, or any other way), I did love eating the other seasonal wild game. Caribou, salmon, and halibut are at the top of my favorites list.
Food aside, my favorite experiences came from being out in nature, because the chance to see and photograph wildlife is second to none. I saw brown bears, polar bears, whales, foxes, moose, bald eagles, and tons more. Accompanying the wildlife, the landscape is epic and the views are spectacular. Although I loved seeing the Northern Lights, nothing beats Alaska during the summer when the sunlight is endless. I was often times pinching myself in disbelief when I went wake-boarding or climbing into the midnight hours.
What recommendations can you provide to future travelers interested in visiting Alaska?
It’s difficult to say because traveling should be dictated by what the traveler loves. Overall, try to see less but feel more. Don’t be too concerned with doing it all and the “must see lists” popular travel guides write. Just focus on your hobbies and what you love. I will say though, seeing the northern lights and polar bears first hand was a blessed and unforgettable experience. If you're unsure of where to start, this is a great place. If you can, try and see the polar bears in Kaktovik, because unfortunately, they will likely not be around for too much longer. It's a sad reality, but being in the arctic made me realize how quickly our world is changing as a result of climate change.
Of all the images you've captured during your trip, which would you say is your favorite?
This is hard to answer but my favorite image from Alaska is of the young girl in the blue Hawaiian print fur coat with the flower in her hair. I don’t think it is my best picture by any means but I just think she is absolutely beautiful. While I was filming on the outskirts of town, my hands were freezing beyond belief. She came out and wanted to talk and offered me some fruit gummies, instantly warming my heart and my hands. Being in the freezing cold was so normal for her and she just looked fabulous.
What is your favorite memory of the trip?
There are too many to recount, but here are some of my favorites:
- Wake-boarding at midnight on summer solstice (Afognak Island)
- Weirdly, sitting in our makeshift production van and staking out polar bears for hours and hours getting delirious and laughing with fellow stir crazy filmmakers
- The moment you come in from a nasty blizzard (can happen anywhere in AK)
- Hanging out with the Inupiat kids in town
- views along nearly every hike (Lions head, an easy 1/2 day hike, near Matanuska Glacier is one for the books)
- Watching a Kodiak sow and her two cubs trying to catch salmon
- Crossing glacial rivers via raft and seeing the different blues in glacier ice
What do you think is the biggest misconception projected about Alaska you would like to debunk?
Cruises. If you want to really see Alaska avoid going on a cruise. I am sure they are nice but while passing through Anchorage it would really bum me out to see the throngs of tourists flood out of the cruise ship and only see Anchorage. Anchorage is a gatekeeper to all these awesome places that you can drive or catch a jumper flight to. If you are on a cruise you never get the real experience. That’s like going just to LA to explore California… it’s great but there is so much more to see.
What's next for you?
Unfortunately, I was recently bit in the foot by a lemon shark while diving in the Bahamas so I am hanging at home and waiting for it to heal so I can get back on my feet. I got really lucky, I have all my limbs and toes and am expecting a full recovery. That being said, not sure where or what is next for me. Just happy to be home and have some time to catch up with friends and family. I will admit though that I am antsy to get back in the water but hopefully only a month or so left until I can go in the ocean.
To see more of Nicole's incredible travels and photography, be sure to follow her @Gromlet on Instagram.
Images Courtesy of Nicole Gormley