2010 Alaska: Denali

Places Alaska. Denali National Park, Denali State Park and surroundings
Time & length September 2010, 4 ½ weeks
Partners Christian Bock, Eva-Maria Kubin
Part two of our nine-week Alaska trip. Caused by illness we started our time in Denali with just a few shorter hikes and a bit of packrafting, later we hiked over the Kesugi Ridge, before crossing the Alaska Range from the Park Road to Cantwell.

After leaving the northern Wrangells and buying groceries in Glennallen it didn’t take us long to hitchhike along the Denali Highway in its beautiful Indian Summer colors to Denali Park. To the Rangers I explained the quite challenging 21-days trip that I had picked months before by studying maps at home. Unlike in the Wrangells we now needed a permit which showed the exact itinerary as well as a “Bear Resistant Food Container” which prevents bears from getting our food. After all administrations were done we took one of the green “Camper Busses” into the park… and I already felt a bit sick. I didn’t know what it was and I wanted to continue anyway so we made camp at a place close to Eielson where our trek was supposed to begin.

In the afternoon it started raining – and it rained for 16 hours straight. I woke up with a very sore throat, weak and just as unmotivated as both of my partners. From the weather forecast we knew nothing was supposed to change in the next days, we ran right into a period of poor weather. So we decided to go back to the park entrance. I had high expectations of this hike and cancelling a trip like this is never easy (I’m happy to remark that I made good for this exact same hike in September 2011).

Anyway, in these five days on the Denali Highway and in the park I had the chance to take a few pictures of the nice scenery as well as of the wildlife. Take a look.

Back at the park entrance we crawled away into our tents. Ironically the weather got better the next day, although I didn’t really leave the tent due to my physical conditions. In the evening I started feeling better and together with Christian I decided to go rafting as soon as possible. Not quite healthy yet but all the more enthusiastic we hitchhiked down to the village of Healy and rafted the Nenana River on the first day and from Cantwell to the park entrance on the second day while Eva did a couple of short hikes in the park. And how much we enjoyed packrafting…!
Together we climbed Mt. Healy on the next day and slept on top of it in our bivi bags until the Northern Lights came out to keep us awake with their beauty.

Then we decided to leave the area for a while and hitchhiked south to the Denali State Park to hike along the Kesugi Ridge. The weather was excellent and from the trail which follows along the ridgeline we saw Denali (native name for Mt. McKinley) all day long. On the second day we split up since Eva and I wanted to do the hike in a “normal” pace in order to do another hike in the National Park later while Christian wanted to take more time up in the Kesugi Ridge. No problem, we talked about when and where to meet again, then we left Christian behind gazing towards the big mountains and the glaciers to the west.

The Kesugi Ridge Trail is one of the nicest I’ve ever hiked on, especially in this time of the year everything looked just beautiful. On our way we saw quite a few black bears feasting on blueberries just like we did all the time.

Back at the Ranger Station in Denali Park we arranged a six-days trip starting at Savage River Campground and ending in Cantwell with a lot of free time for explorations on the way. We hiked through beautiful valleys and two nice passes; saw a lot of moose, dall sheep, a wolf, a grizzly and a porcupine. We also took a day off in the middle of this stunning landscape to relax and enjoy the last warming sunbeams of this ending summer. At night we already had -14°C which even for Alaska is unusual in this time of the year.

When we returned from our hike over the Alaska Range and gladly reunited with Christian, the time left was limited. Now at the end of September we decided to hitchhike north to Fairbanks. We stayed in the woods just behind the city for two nights before we found a host in town via “couchsurfing”. With Eva I later hitchhiked to Chena Hot Springs where we took a nice bath outside before feeling cold later in the tent at -17°C: that’s like a hard winter’s night in the Alps.

Not much later we found ourselves sitting in a plane on our flight back to Germany, totally happy and – at least me – with the strong wish to come back. Alaska is just beautiful, there is not much more to say. It’s unbelievably spacious, diverse, wild and rough. It’s a land for adventurers and the ones who are willing to accept privations in order to see remote places and pure nature at its best. Even though we spent nine weeks in Alaska we just saw a tiny little part of it. There was no question I would be back there soon.