Day 3: Mountaineering to the Pass
Somehow after all these exciting happenings on the previous day, we still got quite some good rest during the night. Now we woke up to some magnificent weather. Just now some of the first sun rays made it over the summit behind our tent and we enjoyed the fascinating scenery for a good while.
One of the highest summits we could see from our camp was probably already Denali itself, however, we were not quite sure about it as we didn’t really know how the mountain looks like from this point of view.
Once fully awake, we made breakfast and reorganized our bear canisters, as we would only take one of them with us for the day and leave the rest at the base camp. We organized our tent for our departure and started our exploration trip shortly afterward. We still followed the Glacier Creek a little further until the valley made a bend away from the Muldrow Glacier.
This side valley we wanted to climb all the way up to Anderson Pass. Anderson Pass is one of the few routes that make traveling over the Alaska Range by foot possible and the view from the pass looked promising on the maps.
But also the view back onto the Muldrow Glacier and its steep flanks on either side was spectacular at any time.
The first time on our trip we didn’t wear our rain pants and all this stuff and we enjoyed the light-footed way of traveling with a light backpack.
Shortly after we started our climb up we reached a small glacier lake. The sun was shining warm and we both had the same thought. Let’s jump in there and get rid of all the last days’ sweat. No sooner said than done we both spent a few shivering cold seconds in the water. A welcoming refresh and an even more welcoming wash.
Our route then led us over the remnants of an old glacier which had deposited tons of rocks and gravel. In addition to that, we found ourselves more and more often on some snowfields that still endured the heat of the long days.
And finally, we got to the point where we decided to split up. Mira had an uneasy feeling about one part of the terrain we had to pass. I, on the other hand, felt 100% confident about finding a safe route up to the pass and wanted at least have a look at it. And like I already assumed there was no hazard at any time and I could easily climb up to the summit of the pass. Up there I first got struck by a snow shower. Luckily I did not have to take on my rain pants as all the snow just bounced off my clothes and I did not get wet from it.
At first, the mood up there was a bit disappointing in these whiteout conditions but shortly afterward the weather cleared as quickly as it turned bad before. What I could see then definitely blew my mind. Deep into the Alaska Range, I could set my eyes and I’m sure glad that I got up there.
I would’ve bitten my ass off if I would’ve turned around this close to the summit. Still, I had high respect for Mira’s decision to listen to her uncomfortable feelings. Only a bit longer than an hour I was separated from her when I got back down. There she excitedly reported that just when I came back down a wolverine climbed up over the pass the other way. Man, I haven’t even noticed it.
After a quick snack, we then headed back down to our camp, where a few more hours of sunshine awaited us. That was so satisfying! Then there came another shower of rain that we patiently waited in our tent. And then, finally, we cooked our dinner, brushed our teeth and prepared everything to go to sleep. Still, we stayed up a little longer and enjoyed the endless sunset. Then, in the end, we went to bed at last.
Day 4: The Roof of North America
This day all signs were pointing towards farewell from our lovely camp. We started to put down our tent, had breakfast and started our hike.
This was the first day where the sun was actually shining bright right from the beginning and no rain fell at all. Our route led back along the Glacier Creek. Also on this day, we didn’t miss out on seeing plenty of wildlife. Here and there we could see Caribou, a herd of mountain goats ran excitingly away from us and during a snack break in the afternoon, we could gaze at two brown bears roaming along a mountain slope in the far distance. Maybe those were even the same ones we saw two days ago during dinner. Who knows…
Also, on this day we couldn’t get tired of seeing the massive summits of the Alaska Range, which were towering towards the sky around us. So impressive! All those views were obscured on our way in. And during our hike back we actually found the lost bear spray again.
The moment of the day, anyhow, was for me during our long afternoon snack. We relaxed in the sun, enjoyed the two grizzlies and did a little bird wash in the creek.
Only out of curiosity I climbed one of the smaller moraines behind us and got surprised up there. The first time ever I could see Denali in its full height, being sure that this was actually Denali. The roof of North America, 6191 meters rising towards the sky. I had to wait so long for this to happen. Two trips to Alaska it took. What a colossus! And what a lucky situation to be here.
The whole rest of our day’s journey the mountain showed itself here and there and also at our last campsite of the first stage of our trip it was still visible. Only later that evening a front of clouds slowly moved in and Denali disappeared again. That was the sign for us to quickly finish dinner and got to bed.
Day 5: The Weather-Chaos
Day five meant one major thing to us. We would get back to civilization to stock up our supplies and then move on to the northern part of the park. But let’s start at the beginning. After a long rain shower during the night we both woke up nearly the exact same moment as we got literally cooked by the sun in our tent. It’s super hard to find suitable campsites that are also shaded during the early morning hours. The daylight up here lasted almost twenty hours per day and somehow the sun could almost every time catch you. Well, we quickly got out of our tent just to see another storm approaching. It looked as if that storm would likely move just past us. Also, the Denali was visible again, so we weren’t too worried at this moment. We quickly packed our backpacks, had breakfast but left our outer tent still put up, just for the case. And as soon as we were done eating the weather struck.
The rain kept us in our tent over an hour long until there was a suitable weather window to quickly set off. We had to be fast.
The next dark wall of clouds was already on its way and we had to cross the vast gravel plain and the river again. We were almost running and after crossing the creek we didn’t bother tying our boots properly again because we just wanted to get off that wide open plain. What if that storm bore some thunder and lightning. That wouldn’t be good in this open place. Our fast travel got rewarded. We reached the other side in no time and the weather actually moved past us this time. So in the end, we made it without getting wet at all to the Visitor Center.
There we started with a well-deserved lunch break at one of the picnic tables. Also, we could dry our tent a bit in the sun, use the washrooms and stock up our supplies. And during all those tasks the mighty mountain appeared again. Immediately there were dozens of tourists pouring out of the building, armed with their cameras to capture this moment. What a contrast to the calm days before.
As the weather for the next days wasn’t really looking that great but we still had planned two more nights in the park we thought about the option to quit here and just drive out of the Park again. But somehow we always got positively surprised before when we ventured to do something with bad forecasts. So we ended up walking again, about two miles down the Park road, until we turned off into the wilderness again. This area was definitely different from our previous areas’ terrain characteristics. Over meadows, through small brushes, and through swamps, we had to find our way.
The sun was still out but in the meantime, another dark weather front was approaching us. This made us choose a safe site rather in the valley at the Moose Creek than somewhere exposed on top of a hill where the view would’ve probably been better.
And just when the tent was put up the rain kicked in again. This time it was even a hailstorm. This was really annoying after such a long trip and exhausting as well. After another rain shower immediately after that hailstorm we quickly had dinner and then crawled into our bed. That evening we decided that we were tired of hiking through the wilderness and that we would go back to the Visitor Center the next day to take a bus out of the park. The last days were so eventful and spectacular that this seemed to be the right point of time to call this an adventure.
Day 6: The Departure
Like I already mentioned we took down our tents right in the next morning and hiked back to the Visitor Center and the busses. Just when our camp was taken down another brown bear slowly trotted by and started to run away into the bushes as soon as he saw us. Well, now we’ve already seen eight brown bears on our trip.
This last morning we skipped breakfast and just had a granola bar as we wanted to avoid getting caught by more rain on this trip. So that’s how we made it almost dry back to civilization.
Shortly afterward we caught one of the busses that brought us to the entrance of the park, four hours away from where we were. The drive was mostly in the rain and we spent our time talking to two other Germans that had spent a few days in the backcountry as well. Just before the entrance, we saw another cute family of moose and then we were finally back.
Let’s quickly get a hot shower, definitely necessary and also well deserved, I guess?