Monday, July 8, 2013
Overcast, rain showers then partly sunny, mid 60s, rain showers overnight
Sandy made pancakes for breakfast after which we worked on the log and talked with some folks camping nearby from Austin, TX. We then caught the 1:00 pm shuttle to Polychrome Overlook to do a short hike.
There are very few formal hiking trails in Denali Park. A few around the visitor centers and the one at Savage River are about it. Visitors are invited to hike wherever they like but you have to strike out on your own. However, except for the backcountry camping crowd, few do. They stick to walking the road and the river beds.
We decided to do a hike with the intention of following the road beginning at Polychrome Overlook where the vistas are awesome and you don’t get to look at it long enough from the bus. However, as we got off the bus we met two families, four adults and seven kids ranging in age from about ten to eighteen, who were planning a backcountry hike. We asked if we could join them. They said, “Sure!” but warned us that we’d have a river crossing near the end of the hike. Off we went!
Well, the five and a half mile hike was a bit more than we expected, difficult enough to consume more than five hours. But what a five miles and five hours it was!
We followed ridgelines rather than valleys because it’s a lot more work to walk through the brush and tundra in the valleys and hillsides than it is to climb the ridges. The first steep, 600 foot climb, much of it through loose, broken rock, was really hard work but the view was worth it! Then, back down we went, 900 feet of steep, rocky hillside. There were numerous ups and downs on other ridges after that. The last 300 foot descent was so steep that we had to slide sideways through loose dirt/gravel mix rather than walk. The views were great and the families we were hiking with were a lot of fun.
After about four miles of ridges we finally descended to the East Fork of the Toklat River, following game trails through an area of wet creek bottom. We planned to walk the riverbed back to the road for a bus pickup. At the river’s edge we encountered a caribou climbing up from the river. Cool! It was, by far, the closest encounter we’ve had with a large animal.
Proceeding up this large, braided river, we knew that we’d have to ford the stream. What we didn’t realize was that the river meandered from a bluff to another bluff on opposite sides of the river. That meant we’d have to ford the river not once, but three times to get to the road. These rivers flow very rapidly and they were more than knee deep in places. We picked our crossings carefully, forded the opaque, silt-laden water by feel and held hands for security. It was getting late and we were fortunate to catch one of the last buses of the day.
The hike was more of an adventure than we expected. But it all ended well and it turned out to be the highlight of our stay in Denali. Our hiking boots will never be the same, though. They took three days to dry!
Arriving back at campground around 8:00, we were still wet and pretty chilled. On went the furnace. We washed up at the kitchen sink in the camper and put on dry, warn clothes. Much better and we felt great!
Dinner was a really easy one, warmed up Bush’s Bar-B-Que Beans by Bill and a hearty salad by Sandy.
Tuesday, July 9, 2013
Mostly overcast, low 60s and rain on and off all night
We changed up the pace with a nice, relaxing morning and didn’t get on to the shuttle until noon. Destination, Polychrome, again. This time to walk the road as we’d planned for Monday. It was a it was much more tame and we enjoyed the views. Bill was able to take lots of photos that he was unable to take from the bus. As for thrills, though, it wasn’t quite up to Monday’s standard.
We keep running into folks with a Lancaster connection. True to form, a guy sitting beside Sandy on the shuttle bus once lived in Millersville and worked for Armstrong!
We attended another ranger program at the little campground ampitheater, this one about “The Small Carnivors of Denali”. As with the earlier ones, it was excellent. We were really impressed by talks given by rangers at this park.
Dinner was a chicken stirfry with peanut sauce.