Our guides are the best in the industry. Not only that — they own the company! At Spirit Walker we recognize that the guide is the most important part of any trip. We invest heavily in our guides to make sure they have more than just the necessary skills to make your trip safe and enjoyable. Our guides have the experience and training to provide the safest, most enjoyable wilderness adventure possible.
Qualifications and Training
All of our expedition guides have a Wilderness First Responder certification. Each year our guides complete a 40-hour training course, which includes kayak safety and rescue, wilderness medicine, and in-depth training in tides, wind, current and weather. Natural history is an equally important part of training, and instructors are selected from among our local experts: whale and bear biologists, geologists, and naturalists.
In addition, our guides have the training and experience to:
- Make things easier. Guides handle all trip planning, logistics, packing, and many camp chores. So relax and make the most of your trip! They provide complete instruction in kayaking and minimum impact camping. No experience is required for our trips!
- Keep you safe. Our experienced guides are highly trained to anticipate and avoid dangers to help ensure your safety. While every outdoor activity entails an element of risk (we can't promise you won't get hurt), we have never had a serious injury during our twenty-five years in operation.
- Keep you informed. Guides enhance your appreciation and enjoyment by sharing personal knowledge of the natural and cultural history of the areas we visit. Not only do they know the names of plants and animals, but can help weave together the rich connections between the plants, animals, geology, ocean and weather in a way that conveys the richness of the area.
- Share your experience. Our guides are good company too!
Meet our guides for 2016...
- Gary Carlson
Senior Guide, Owner
- Stephen Van Derhoff
Senior Guide, Owner
- Jessica Markowitz
- Emily Moody
- Jon Vogel
- Jai Crapella
Owner, Senior Guide
- Ilana Guttman
Owner, Senior Guide
- Nathan Borson
- Adam Andis
- Monica Vogel
- Karen Grosskreutz
- Sarah Ginter
Gary Carlson, Senior Guide & Owner
Gary Carlson has been guiding wilderness expeditions for over 20 years. He has guided and worked in Canada, Wales, the United States and Belize.
Throughout his career he has guided wilderness canoeing, sea kayaking, and whitewater kayaking expeditions. Many of these trips have been part of programs that he has designed and run. In addition, Gary teaches kayak safety classes and kayak building classes.
Gary has extensive natural history knowledge of Southeast Alaska. In the off season he has worked as a social services counselor, high school teacher, brick layer, and a computer consultant.
Stephen Van Derhoff, Senior Guide & Owner
Born in East Africa and raised throughout the world, Stephen has been seeking out wilderness adventures all of his life.
From mountain climbs, safaris, and rafting trips in Africa, to sailing trips through Central America, Stephen has always been passionate about wild places. His travels brought him to Alaska in 1999, where he immediately fell in love with the expansive wilderness, abundant wildlife, and chance to live and explore in such a wild place.
Since moving here, Stephen has spent his summers guiding sea kayaking expeditions throughout Southeast Alaska, as well as hiking, fishing, berry-picking, crabbing, and learning all he can about the nature of Southeast Alaska. Stephen lives in Gustavus, Alaska year-round with his wife and two kids.
Jessica Markowitz, Senior Guide
Jessi first came to Alaska in 2013 and like many people, fell in love with the wild beauty of Gustavus. Growing up in the New Jersey Pine Barrens provided her a natural playground to explore, camp, kayak, bike, and snowboard. Jessi's passion for the outdoors grew while attending the University of Denver where she earned her degree in environmental science and film production. She loves meeting new people and exploring new places. She recently returned stateside from travels that took her to the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro, the Base Camp of Mt. Everest, and the North Island of Japan. Jessi is thrilled to be back in Alaska for a third season of guiding with Spirit Walker.
Emily Moody, Senior Guide
Emily is the epitome of a Pacific Northwester, from her Xtra Tuf boots to her affinity for rain and glaciers. Born and raised in Tacoma, Washington, Emily made her first journey to Alaska in the spring of 2008 where she led bike tours in Skagway. Five months simply was not enough time for her and for the next several years she yearned to return to Alaska. Some would say she was “obsessed” although she prefers “spellbound.” She finally made it back to Alaska in the spring of 2011, this time as a teacher. She is currently living and teaching on beautiful Prince of Wales Island. In her spare time she enjoys practicing yoga and riding her bicycle.
Emily has led adults and children alike on outdoor adventures including kayaking canoeing, hiking and camping in Alaska and across the United States. She is jazzed to be spending another summer in Alaska doing her favorite thing, spending time outdoors with friends.
Jon Vogel, Senior Guide
Jon began leading sea kayaking expeditions for Spirit Walker in 2003. After two seasons of guiding, he embarked on a journey which led him to become a first grade teacher and a wooden kayak craftsman! This year, Jon is beginning his fourth season guiding with Spirit Walker. When he and his wife are not in Gustavus, they live in Portland, Oregon. There, Jon teaches at an environmental sciences school.
Jai Crapella, Senior Guide & Owner
When not guiding for Spirit Walker Expeditions, Jai Crapella (pronounced "jay") works for The Pew Environment Group/ Global Ocean Legacy, a program dedicated to creating large marine reserves around the world. She has also worked for the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council (SEACC), a non-profit organization working to safeguarding the unique environment and culture of Southeast Alaska.
Jai's very first kayak outing was a one month expedition in Glacier Bay in 1996. Totally inspired, she came back to Alaska for 2-5 week annual expeditions over the next 7 years, honing her kayaking skills, wilderness experience and local knowledge. In 2001, Jai moved to Douglas, Alaska (just outside Juneau) to be closer to the region she loves.
Jai is CPR and Wilderness First Responder accredited, with a deep appreciation of nature, and an ability to make personal connections with guests - providing them a unique wilderness experience.
Ilana Guttman, Guide & Owner
Born in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Ilana Guttman grew up in Seattle, Washington, where she has worked for the past 15 years providing Experiential Education. Her instructional design, group facilitation and training techniques have inspired hundreds to reach beyond their perceived limits to achieve seemingly "impossible" tasks.
Illana founded Womens' Outdoor Adventures, providing guided snow shoeing, rock climbing, hiking and skiing excursions for women, ages 14-80. She has also guided high-risk teens in week-long hiking and trail maintenance expedition in Mt. Rainier National Park and trained facilitators in "ropes" Challenge Course activities at Washington State University.
Illana attended Brown University and Reed College, where she graduated Phi Beta Kappa. During the summer months Ilana can be found kayaking and pounding nails in Southeast Alaska, where she and her husband, Gary, are building a small cabin.
Nathan Borson, Senior Guide
Nathan Borson has nearly 20 years experience as a sea kayak guide, with abundant local knowledge. He has extensive experience as recreational sea kayaker in Southeast Alaska as well as broad backpacking and camping experience.
Nate has lead trips all over Southeast Alaska and is one of the most knowledgeable guides in the industry. When he is not guiding or enjoying the outdoors, he works for Glacier Bay National Park as a computer specialist.
Adam Andis, Senior Guide
Adam Andis first fell in love with Alaska on a month-long sea kayaking and backpacking trip. He decided one month wasn't enough, so he has returned to share and enjoy this beautiful area with others.
Andis currently lives in Sitka, Alaska where he is the Communications Director and runs a wilderness research program for the Sitka Conservation Society.
Andis is an ACA certified Open Water Kayak and Rolling instructor, Wilderness First Responder, and Leave No Trace Master Educator. He has a B.S. Environmental Science and is a founder and board member of the National Wilderness Stewardship Alliance. He also owns a graphic design business and is a wicked crossword puzzler.
Monica Vogel, Senior Guide
Monica grew up in Northern California. She spent her childhood on the water -- fishing, canoeing, skiing, and swimming. Always needing to be near or on water Monica settled in the Pacific Northwest where she spent years whitewater kayaking, studying biology, and seeking adventures. These adventures led Monica to Gustavus in 2003. Monica lives in Portland, Oregon and she is a 1st and 2nd grade teacher. She gets to spend her summers enjoying Gustavus and the beauty that surrounds it.
Karen Grosskreutz, Senior Guide
Karen loves to sleep on the ground. She has instructed and guided throughout the United States as well as in Peru and India. She has led kayak and dive trips in the Virgin Islands and Thailand. She has also led month-long adventures teaching backpacking, climbing, and rafting around the Western United States and in Alaska. Personal expeditions include sea kayaking in Baja, climbing Aconcagua, and thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail. The most important part of any trip for Karen is connection with people and place.
Karen is an ACA Certified Coastal Sea Kayak Instructor and Wilderness First Responder. She most recently lived in Portland, Oregon.
Sarah Ginter, Senior Guide
Sarah was born and raised in Juneau, Alaska and has had a hard time staying away as an adult. She has worked as a whale-watching & hiking guide in Juneau during the summers for the past 3 years, discovering her absolute passion for "showing off" this magical rainforest she is somehow lucky enough to call home. When she's not tromping around Southeast Alaska, Sarah can be found riding her bicycle across the country, snowboarding, exploring foreign countries, or more recently, studying for a master's degree in Portland, Oregon.