Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Denali - Mt McKinley

You know when you are back at one of the most prominent tourist destinations when you start paying tourist prices and see "Princess" tour buses rolling past.To see Denali NP and Mt McKinley are the sole purpose of many people visiting Alaska - it is that good!

Access into the NP is limited to a well run bus system, no private access is allowed and it caters nicely for as many tourists as it does. I unlike most tourists who only go on a day trip into the park, I went hiking for x5 days.
The bus trip in made me re-evaluate my plans as there was going to be a music festival that night so instead of camping by myself I followed the crowds and went to my first music festival. Being 90miles along dirt road with restricted access there was only 75-100people at the festival, the music was Bluegrass and Folk and it was a great evenings entertainment standing on the road with the stage also on the road...very low key and very cool. It was nice to wake up early though and escape the sea of humanity/tents and the few stoner's and drunks still up and about.I had planed on hiking further than I did the first day but between the incoming rain clouds, carrying a heavy pack of full of food/jumbo bear container and the constant bending over to pick handfuls of blueberries I didn't get far before setting up camp. However during arvo the sun came out and I started to get sick of blueberries so I found some amazing tunnels left behind from lakes in/on the glacier to climb around in.
I found ways to add blueberries to everything...the best by far was breakfast with porridge, almonds, cranberries and more fresh blueberries. Otherwise a blueberry crumble could be improvised by using a oats/honey bar sprinkled over the top after heating them. Yum Yum Yum! (it is also amazing the colour that they turn number 2's!)
The weather whilst in Denali NP was stunning...I saw the mountain for 4 consecutive days...most people don't even get to see the mountain as it hides itself in cloud 70% of the time. I was ambitious in my ridge climbing route and seemed to find the steepest points to climb over (would have been more fun without a 25kg bag on my back) but every time it was worth it for the views provided!

I saw numerous Grizzly bear feeding on the berries but there was x1 bear who rather than ignore me like every other bear decided to come within 15m and then do several bluff got my heart rate up anyhow! It was the first bear that wasn't scared of me...I didn't feel safe and the bear spray looks pretty small when a bear is that close. There was a classic moment when I was fumbling with the safety switch on the spray and I dropped the spray completely...I would have loved to seen my face at that stage scrabbling to find it while watching the bear getting closer and closer! Pity there are no photos...when I realised he was coming for me I put the camera away away quick smart and started screamed blue bloody murder at it. No amount of talking/screaming, clapping, banging my bear bell seemed to alert the bear to the fact I was not breakfast! I was backing away from the bear for 0.5mile before it decided that enough was enough and he went back to his berries felling pretty chuffed I'm sure that he got that response from me! I was pumping with adrenaline!!!
I had some amazing campsites, the most memorable was camping on top of a ridge when the weather changed later that evening...hail and snow decorated the tent nicely and between the squalls the rainbows over the tent made nice pictures!Following the national park I walked the Kesugi Ridge in the Denali State Park. This ridge line walk offers incredible views of the mountain and the colours were again beautiful.
I promised myself when I first got to Alaska to spend the money on a plane flight around Mt McKinley if the weather was clear enough. The day I got to Talkeetna where the airport is it was perfect! It is hard to describe the size of the cliffs carved out from the glacial action or the speed at which the 20,000ft peak rises out of the low-flat terrain to the north south. Landing on the glacier was so much fun and to see it in sunshine and perfect conditions made the flight worth every cent!With Denali done I had now just about 'finished' Alaska and I could say to everybody I had been everywhere in Alaska...more places than the person asking anyhow!