Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Denali National Park

Travis survived another work week and we were definitely ready to play! I had all our camping gear sprawled out on the floor and our food packed when he got home from work on Thursday night. He got home later than we expected so we both decided it would be best to drive down to Denali National Park in the morning. We wanted to make sure we made it to the park in time to get our backcountry permits because the rangers will only issue them to you in person and there are a limited amount of permits per area in the park.

While we were packing up the last of our packs Travis tried to warn me  that if the weather was bad we wouldn't be very prepared and should camp in a developed camp site. He was giving me the warning because he knew how bad I wanted to backpack and didn't want my dreams crushed when we wouldn't be able to. Of course being the stubborn gal I am, I told him there was no stopping us and that the rain would come after we left the park. Denali can be tempermental and the rangers suggest bringing clothing for summer temperatures ranging from 30-80 degrees. That is a huge range! I packed just enough to cover us for 50-80 degree temperatures and no rain or snow gear. Well, our rain gear consisted of the cheap rain ponchos you buy at the dollar store. I checked the weather and there was a 40% chance of rain both days we would be hiking and the temperature was in the 70s by day and 40s by night. We were taking a risk but I felt good about it until we got to the rangers station.

We packed up the car Friday morning around 9 and got to the park around 11. We went straight to the rangers station to go through survival and bear orientation and to select a hiking zone. I was still feeling confident that we would be fine, until we watched the orientation video. They were talking about all this intense rain gear you should have, wading rivers, when to fight off bears, how many days extra food you should have and more. I was going over all the things we had in my head and we were striking out on everything. We weren't even hiking in "good" hiking clothes. Wet cotton is your enemy in the wilderness and we only had blue jeans and plaid shirts. To say the least my confidence was dropping, but I still wanted to back pack! When it was our turn to talk to the ranger, select a zone, and collect a permit I told him straight up that we didn't have much gear and would like a spot close enough to the main road that we could get back in case of emergency. We talked with the ranger awhile and decided on a hike with a marked trail for about 5 miles and then backcountry once the trail ended. After we left Travis teased and said, "Jess you can't tell the ranger we aren't prepared. He will think we are rookies." We were kinda rookies for the situation we were getting into and the video freaked me out haha. Travis was right though. He is good at helping me calm down and seeing where I can improve things. I just think it is hilarious how Travis and I switched places once we were collecting our permit. He was being calm and selecting sites while I was now the one questioning our gear and how prepared we really were. We decided to stop in town and get a few more things and eat a good meal before we started so we could help our food last longer. We picked up two one liter water bottles, a blue tarp, and ate some yummy hotdogs. I felt much better after having some food and reassurance from the Mr.

Ready to start our adventure! We had to shift our gear around to accommodate the large bear proof food can we had to haul around.  I think each pack weighed between 35-40 lbs.

Mountain rose.

Snow in June.

Making our way up. We told the ranger we wanted a zone with elevation changes. I had know idea how quickly the elevation would change though. The 5 mile maintained trail was called the Mount Healy overlook. It is pretty much 4.5 miles straight up.

"You're really going to take my picture right now?"

Flowers from the Mr. Note my red face. I thought I was in shape until I strapped a back to my back and scaled a mountain.

Almost to the outlook.

All the work was worth this. And to think, we will still climb higher.

And the rain did come, very hard and quick. Thank heavens Travis picked up this blue tarp before we started. He just through it over us as a make shift shelter and we hunkered down for a bit until the rain stopped.

We made it to the end of the trail. Time to make our own trails in the wilderness. I love the rainbow in the back.

There are some game trails and other trails from earlier forgers that we followed for a bit. We hiked over a few more of these peaks.

We decided it was time to hike down into the ravine and tundra because the peaks were getting more rocky/jagged and we were ready to establish camp. What better place to sleep then on cushy tundra? The tundra is amazing. It is like a blanket of sponge beneath your feet. You have to watch your step though because sometimes it disappears into mysterious holes and you can get stuck. There was minimal stuck-age for all concerned.
We saw this ridge from the other side of the ravine. We hiked down into the basin and then back up to the flat looking ridge.

Bear Grylls. Note knife and bear spray.

It was truly breath taking up here.

Camp est. 9:30 pm.

We woke up to Mount McKinley. Good morning neighbor! Travis and I were informed that we are now in the 10% club. Few people get a view of McKinely because he is usually covered by clouds. Thus, why we had no idea that he was right out our tent door when we went to bed the night before. He looks massive and almost fake next to the other peaks.
On our hike down we met some friends from British Columbia, New York, and a baby moose. Don't worry, we kept our eyes open for mamma moose.

This mamma moose wouldn't move out of our trail, so we had to go all the way around her. Don't mess with them mammas.

We took some advice and hopped on a bus to Tolkat. There are no motor vehicles aloud in the park except for the Denali shuttles. The shuttles are the only way you see the whole park and get to deeper backcountry zones.

Road kinda took a steep drop. The buses only drive about 25 mph because of road conditions like this and the wild life. The whole trip was about 53 miles but it was a 6 hour round trip ride.

Polychrome pass. Poly=many and chrome=colors.

Moose antler, SO heavy! I couldn't get it up to my ear and then I was afraid I might knock myself out.

He makes it look easy. Maybe I do need to workout more......

We hiked a total of about ten hours and saw caribou and a grizzly bear from the bus. We made it back to North Pole about 12:30 am on Saturday night. We drove home with the sun in our eyes and needed to use the sun visors the whole time. This place is very unique. Another successful weekend-we didn't get eaten by a bear, we had enough food, and we didn't freeze in wet clothing. 

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