Denali Denali Denali
16.06.2009 87 °F
Part Two- Denali
Our arrival in Denali found us basking in 75 degree weather and beautiful blue skies punctuated by high cirrus clouds. On our first day we joined the 30% club, the 30% of visitors who actually saw the summit of Mt. McKinley. Our providential streak of clear days would continue for the next three days as we explored the park even though these high temperatures kept the animal activity to a minimum until the end of our stay.
We took the “luxurious camper bus” back to Wonder Lake. The trip lasted five hours in our school bus which had several of the back rows removed to make room for bikes, tents, and the massive back-packs that many of us were hauling. On this initial foray into the camp we saw, Dahl Sheep, caribou, and two bears on a distant ridgeline. It whet our appetite for things to come! At about 7:30PM we arrived at Wonder Lake and encountered the hordes of our mortal enemy for the first time, the dreaded Alaskan Mosquito. Thanks Justin for the heads up on the trip MVP- Most Valuable Purchase- Mosquito head net. It was the bomb! We laughed as the mosquitoes pelted the fine protective mesh around our faces to no avail.
During the next several days we completed several hikes, one of about 13 miles down to the Moose Creek Valley through deep willow brush and tundra. The three major highlights of this part of the trip were: 1)seeing Mount McKinley almost constantly, 2)Flightseeing, 3)the Grizzly Encounter, and 4) the people we met.
1.Mount McKinley is so huge that initially it is difficult to find. A “lower” ridge of mountains stands between the campground and it. These mountains rise to a height of around 13,000 feet but pale in the shadow of “The Big One.” I tried to point out the summits peaking out of the clouds to Sara, but at first it was difficult to see because of the sheer whiteness of the summit as well as the great height above the first range. When Sara finally saw it, its proportion and majesty truly stunned her and kept us both in a state of amazement.
2. On our third day, after resting at the confluence of Moose and Eureka creek (and looking for gold). We met Matt from Kantishna Air taxi and discussed the possibility of a flightseeing tour of the mountain. By the time he returned from his errand, we were ready to commit to a flight that evening. As we flew high over the 6 million acre park toward the mountain we were rewarded by ever clearer and nearer views of the glaciers and peaks surrounding the summit. Bright blue pools of water dotted the glaciers reflecting the blue sky overhead. Sharp toothed ridges shrouded in snow stood out vividly as we circled the mountain. We saw the climber’s base camp which appeared as a fragile inhabited miniature on the sheer slope of the mountain. We discovered in Anchorage that two climbers had died there that week. We flew to within about 1,000 feet of the summit. At the apex of our flight we saw the scattered clouds far below us framing the beauty of the isolated crests of the peak.
3. We had only seen two bears from about two miles away until our final trip out of the park. We were loaded on the camper bus, and we saw a Grizzly coming out of the brush on the north side of the main park road. It was about 50 yards away. Our driver advised us to lower our windows before we got closer and stay quiet to avoid scaring the bears! Soon two cubs followed the first bear out of the brush. The "momma" bear began to scratch her back and top of her head on the "Sable Pass 3,000 ft " sign. Soon the cubs were copying her. It was an itching frenzy. Next, the momma bear began chewing the sign to pieces. Chunks of wood were flying and sticking in her fur. Finally, she led the cubs toward the bus where they all scratched their backs on the side of the bus before heading to the south side of the road into a small stand of aspen-like trees. The momma bear stood on two legs and reached with her front legs to hold the tree steady behind her. She bagan to sway and scratch again using the tree as a back scratcher. One cub joined her on the left and the second cub soon joined her on the right. All three were scratching and swaying and shaking their hips. After they had scratched all their itches they headed south into the brush and were gone.
Insecto Vs. Mt. McKinley
More to come in the next installment… the people.
Sara and Mike