Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Roadtrip to Denali, "the real wilderness"

Last week offered us a chance to enjoy a small summer holiday, since Wednesday was 4th of July, the Independence Day! So we decided to do a roadtrip to south. We started the trip on Wednesday morning, direction Denali National Park and Preserve. We spent the first night near Healy, 180 km (111 miles) from Fairbanks (for those who know movie called “Into the Wild”, Alexander Supertramp's bus is located "near" Healy!).

Pics from the first day

We had reservation for the 7.00 am bus to Denali Park. You can only enter the park by busses and since we wanted to hike a bit and stay one night in a tent, we had to get a backcountry permit. That meant watching a video about surviving in wilderness, getting some tips from a park ranger and reserving an area where you were going to camp. They allow only certain amount of people in the park to diminish the impact, it is, they say, after all “true wilderness” what you experience in Denali… You also have to have all the food and cooking device in a bear container.

So having all this information and device we headed to the park. The bus was almost full, mainly of tourists, the fact that drove us crazy. But it got easier when we spotted our first wildlife: two bears eating in bush next to the bus.

The bus

The Bears

 That was very exciting to see and almost made up the price you have to pay to enter the park (bus + entrance fee). Later we also spotted caribous, and of course, the amazing landscape of Alaska Range. Mountains and deep and wide river valleys dominated the view and the park road passed so deep up and downhills it felt sometimes like in a rollercoaster. What a ride! And we also saw a nice view of Mt. McKinley!

We went with the bus until Eielson Visitor Center that offers exhibition about the park and its wildlife, and also very nice view to the surrounding landscape.

After we headed back to our area that we reserved for our hike trip. It was located near Toklat river and we started to hike along the wide river basin where water only covered maybe 10 % of the ground. We were calling the bears to let them know we were there. We didn’t see any, but we were sure they were there...

After hiking a while we spotted almost dry creek basin on right side and decided to climb along that to the uplands in distance. On the way we saw caribous, one just passed us from 5 meters! The wildlife here doesn’t seem to care about people here at all. The fact that makes it maybe not-so-wild anymore…

Finally, on a top of a hill we found a perfect place for the tent. Water was near, ground was grassy and plain, and the view was amazing. Couldn’t hope for any better spot! Before doing anything else, we had a nap on a grass… During the evening we climbed in a higher hill surrounding our camp place and saw moose running, maybe escaping something we didn’t see. And we also saw nine Dall sheep climbing on a mountain next to ours. So we had seen the Big Four of the park. Good job! The weather continued to be sunny and warm all day and evening. Nice opportunity to just sit down on a summit and enjoy the landscape!

The night was very windy but our tent handled it very well and we woke up after nine hours of sleep. The weather was again sunny and warm. Because we had only booked one night in wilderness, we had to head back to the road and bus. On bus we saw again caribous and bears, nice way to end the wild experience.

After getting back to the park entrance we also visited the dog kennel and the visitor center.
Then it was time to decide what we were going to do next. Since we had the whole weekend, we decided to drive the famous Denali Highway, about 200 km (130 miles) long drive along Alaska Range. Most of the road is gravel road and it is described to be very popular among campers, hikers, hunters and fishers. And yes, the informal campsites beside the road were occupied and we saw RVs everywhere. Finally we also found a nice place for our car and camped the night watching rain clouds moving along the Alaska Range.

On Saturday we spent in the car. First finishing the Denali Highway and then driving back to home by the same road we took three months ago on our first road trip. We stopped for lunch at a same place we had lunch then, when the mountains along the road were still covered by snow. Then we had another stop next to Donelly Dome, that we climbed last time on our roadtrip. We had nap and spent time reading and relaxing. Finally when we reached Delta Junction, we decided we can’t come the whole way without having burgers and French fries in our place, the Alaskan steakhouse. It was good again, and we were still bad at playing pool…

After we decided to finish the trip and drive directly home since it was raining. Well done Subaru, over 800 km (500 miles)!

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