Thursday, June 21, 2012

Denali...A Hike Back of Beyond, Or Where Ever Else you choose

Denali National Park, 6 million acres ( roughly the size of Massachussets), one 92 mile road, a handful of campgrounds, and maybe a handful of marked trails ( all of which are within the first ten miles of the park entrance.  See the park by park bus or tour bus which all run along the same park road, or by foot - literally by foot on or off road throughout the national park and wilderness areas ( excluding only small areas of high wildlife nesting or breeding zones). 

On five of our seven days in Denali we too off on hikes, two days in areas of our choosing, and three days on Park Ranger 'Discovery' hikes.  Sans trails, hikes generally begin with a bus ride which culminates with a request to the bus driver for a drop roadside. Like that canyon view or ridge line? Good enough, bus drivers will stop anywhere along the park road for drop off or pickup of hikers or cyclists. 

Noting that there are no marked or maintained trails, rules of the road here are to avoid 'social trails, those developed by the foot pounding on sensitive tundra by high frequency visits, or 'game trails, those developed through the course of normal game passages.  So where do we hike? Simply anywhere. Chose a destination and plot a path through brush, cross streams, up canyon and ridge lines, across tundra and swampy meadows, and up scree ladden slopes. Not your basic Sunday walk in the park.

The rewards? Too numerous to catalogue, and the vistas up yonder ridge line are not to be believed. Walking up one mountain bald, we encountered a small group of caribou heading in our direction. Owning up to the rule requiring that we remain at least 25 yards from caribou or most other wildlife (300 yards away from grizzly bears - further from grizzly moms and their cubs) we proceed to walk in a line away from the caribou. The caribou's response? They followed us remaining within a nominal 25 yards of us.  They must have had the same wildlife education lessons.

Oh! And on that same hike we had earlier observed a larger herd of caribou advancing in the valley below us to on the eastern slope, shortly thereafter to find ourselves watching a grizzly mom and cub crossing a snow patch in the valley to our western flank.  All that after having been treated to a couple of Ptarmagin(Alaskan state bird) nicely blending in with the snow as we clmbed a ravine.

Hiking Denali is rough walking at best, and bone chilling equally often. High alpine (tundra) meadows normally a pleasure to cross were marshy to full-on muddy, stream crossings chilling and more so following afternoon rains.  Altitude gains at your leisure and choosing. Denali/McKinley rises to 20,320', so option exist for level sand bar ( glacier created river basins) walks or steep canyon or river bed climbs.

And yes Denali weather is fairly consistent. Clear blue skies early AM. No stress, leave the rain suits in camp. Clouding over by late morning, a breeze, maybe a chill in the air. Winds picking up on ridge lines. An hour later, likelihood of rain increases. Storm clusters scatter across the sky. Its raining. It stops. It continues raining. The sun comes out and dries up all the rain. Late afternoon clouds threatening again. This time its raining mosquitoes.  Evening ( term used loosely as I'm not sure when evening or nighttime is, its always daylight) rain threatens, but generally clears in time for dinner prep, rain resuming intermittently over the early morning hours.  Next day much the same.

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  1. i just caught up with your hiking and wilderness adventures. most impressive - both the nature that you encountered in the form of animals and terrain and your hardiness in persisting through the inhospitable weather. great photos! caribou and bears upclose -- oh my! but -- roly-poly ptarmigan! my favorite.

  2. so much to see and loads of exercise! Love Helen x