Region: Talketna Mountains - Denali State Park
Date: July 2-4, 2005
Mileage: ~28 (Through hike)
Elevation Gain: ~2,000'
Links: Denali State Park | Map
The view we should have gotten the entire length:|
From all that I had heard, this backpacking trip was going to provide some awesome views of Denali. So having convinced the novice backpacker to put on a pack for the first time, we set off from Fairbanks on a 4 hr drive to the southern part of the trail. The weather looked pretty bad, but steadily improved as we got near to the trail. We left a bike at the southern end, and went back north. This was going to be a through hike, and we needed transportation from the southern to northern end to retrieve the jeep.
The moment of truth, putting on the heavy packs for the first time, and ascending the ~1,000' to the top of the ridge... The misty clouds were hanging over the scenery, giving only tantalizing glimpses of the route ahead. Up we went through a dripping forest before exiting above into the scrub brush tundra that we would see for the majority of the trip
Nearing the top of the ridge, the mist clears enough to see the high parts of the ridge. The majority of the elevation gain is done for the day, now we just traverse the ridge to the south (with only one major stream valley crossing).
At the first obstacle, a stream crossing, I take care to not get my feet wet. It is only the first day of a 3 day backpack. The novice does not heed this advice, and after falling in the stream, proceeds to continue across, instead of quickly getting out of the water. I don't think his boots ever fully dried the entire trip, and may have contributed to his calling the trip "The Denali Death March"
We traverse along the ridge, looking for the particular stream crossing that will provide a good water source for dinner and refilling bottles, as well as a good stopping point for the day. After one large prominent ridge contour divot, I declared that the next good spot with a view to the west would be camp 1. The light is dimming because of the clouds, not because the sun was setting. The end of our day is graced by a rainbow, good sign for the morrow?
We woke up to rain and drizzle on the tent. Not wanting to start off hiking in the rain with wet gear, we wait. We end up waiting till ~11am to finally exit the tent and start off with the day. Daylight will not be a problem.
We make slow steady progress along the ridge, and the clouds slowly go higher in the sky. I keep looking for any evidence of Denali hiding in the clouds, but no luck. So instead I photograph the tundra and the amazing small trail we are following.
Mid-day we pass through Alaska's mini Stonehenge, where we stop for lunch. Granite Tors is more impressive for large rocks, but this is interesting at least. Without Denali to provide a stunning backdrop, it's missing something.
Quite unfortunately the last part of the day involved a drop into a stream basin, where we lose considerable elevation that we only have to regain. The stream is affectionately called "Bitch Creek". It is rather appropriate. As we descend down of the ridge proper, we enter into the dense underbrush where bears like to hide and play. The southern most section of the trail has been closed due to bear salmon fishing activity. This is NOT the place to be at dusk. Yet this is where we find ourselves. Robbie can only manage a stout 1mph. I try to encourage him to go faster, as I see bear scat littering the trail. I try to be nice about it, but I do not want to startle a bear in this undergrowth.
Thankfully we make it through the bear infested creek valley unscathed and back up near the top of the ridge nearing 7pm. We decide to stop by a beautiful lake, instead of going all the way up to the ridge. Here at least the trees are much shorter, and the bushes don't completely obscure the surroundings.
Once again we wake up to rain on the tent, and we again prepare slothlike, hoping it would once again clear. In order to speed our progress, I take some weight from Robbie's pack. Now I am carrying more total weight than someone larger than me. If we go faster, it's worth it. Robbie also has a 20mi bike ride to complete at the end of the day.
Today provides some of the best cross valley views, but still no Denali or higher peaks. Good thing, as this section of ridge is less picturesque than what we have seen already. A few lakes provide the best scenes.
The decent to Byers Lake is brutal! The trail is muddy, steep and slippery. It seems to take an eternity. Once at the bottom, we are faced with a nasty choice. 1 - Loop the longer way around the lake for extra mileage, or 2 - cross a thigh deep stream, as the bridge is out. We chose to cross the stream, as we don't have the legs or feet to go 2 extra miles. So we take off our shoes and hold our packs over our heads to cross the cold stream. At least the stream has a nice sandy base. Shoes slowly came back on for the short hike to the bike.
At the bike, Robbie puts on his bike shoes (that he packed the entire length) and takes off north. I go down to the lake to get some water for food, where I see a pristine iris. I relax my poor sore feet and eat some well deserved food after a long 3 days with a complaining backpacking novice.