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"The Eielson Alpine Hike is offered daily at noon, starting at Eielson Visitor Center  . . .  
The hike is strenuous. Be prepared to spend two to two and a half hours hiking up and down
Thorofare Ridge with a ranger. Hikes are limited to the first 11 visitors who sign up at the
center that day, so arrive early to ensure a spot on this strenuous but memorable hike.
Highlights: high-alpine tundra, tremendous views of Mt. McKinley on clear days,
and chances to see large mammals such as grizzly bears and caribou ."
~ from the Denali National Park website

Wow. Another great day in Denali. 

This hike, which I did solo, was one of the highlights. Jim's bike ride on the park road between Teklanika River and Sable Pass was another.

Once again, I've got a bunch of photos to share so I'll spread them out over several pages.

Here's a sneak preview of "Jim's bears." While riding he came up to this shuttle bus that was blocking the road at Sable Pass so a mama grizzly and her two cubs could safely cross the road. Jim stayed back approximately the recommended distance (100 yards for bears and wolves) to take a series of photos of the bears as they crossed the road and ambled up into the willows to browse:

I'll show close-ups of "his" bears on the last page of this five-page entry.

I got up at 6 AM. It was warmer outside than it was yesterday morning (49 F. today) -- and sunny. Yay! I just hoped it stayed sunny till I got out to Eielson.

I re-set the alarm for Jim at 7:30 AM, said goodbye, and left for the bus stop at 7:05. Jim decided 7:30 was too early to get up, shut the alarm off, and continued sleeping.  < wink >  He did get up in time for a memorable bike ride, however.


Today I got a "free" ride on the shuttle bus.

One big advantage of a Tek Pass is being able to ride any day you're camped at the Teklanika River Campground for the price of your first bus ticket (as long as you don't go farther than you initially paid for). Subsequent trips are stand-by, based on seat availability, but folks are usually able to get on an outbound bus fairly soon.

The first two shuttle buses were running late this morning because there were several critter stops before they got to Tek. This was a very good day for bear, Dall sheep, and caribou sightings on the two buses I rode (one out to Eielson Visitor Center, a different one back).

I expected the first bus, bound for Kantishna at Mile 92 on the park road, at about 7:25 AM per the bus schedule. The next one, to Eielson (Mile 66), was due at 7:40. Both were about 20 minutes late.

I highlighted where we went today -- Jim to Sable Pass and back (bike), Sue to Eielson and back (bus)

When I got out to the bus stop seven young Belgian tourists camped at Tek were already there. They had reserved tickets on the Kantishna bus. Two American couples arrived after I did, with reservations on the Eielson bus.

All of them had first dibs on their respective buses since it was their first ride. I hoped to ride stand-by on one bus or the other since this was not my first trip.

Alaska Range from park road in the Polychrome area

The driver of the Kantishna bus had room for me but asked me to wait for the Eielson bus in case some campers at the next pick-up spot, Igloo Campground, wanted to go all the way to Kantishna. There were only two Kantishna buses today and twenty bound for Eielson! (I mentioned in an earlier entry that Eielson is the most popular bus destination at Denali National Park.)

OK. The Belgians got on the Kantishna bus and the other five of us waited for the Eielson bus. We all got on it and there were a few seats to spare.

Colorful mountain in the Polychrome area; interesting clouds, too!

Shot taken through emergency window of another colorful mountain.

I sat in an aisle seat next to a personable woman who has lived in Anchorage for 21 years. Eight of her family members from UT and MN were also on the bus. I was in the third row, right side. Since I took so many photos from the bus yesterday I didn’t need a window seat or the left side this time. (I think the better views are to the south, which is the left side outbound on the park road.)

Our female bus driver was great. She pointed out things and gave history that Jim and I didn’t hear on the Wonder Lake bus on Thursday. I could also hear better since I was closer to the front today.


I quickly learned that the folks who started at the park entrance had already seen some bears, sheep, and caribou before reaching Tek at Mile 29. Those are three of the Big Five animals that park visitors most want to see; the others are wolves and moose.

In the next 37 miles to Eielson we saw a bunch more, too – several caribou, Dall sheep ‘way up on the hillsides several places, and a bunch of grizzly bears, some lone males and two sows with two cubs each. All were pretty far away but I took pictures with my 16-megapixel, 16x zoom digital compact camera anyway.

The first Big Five animal I saw after boarding the bus was a light brown grizzly bear in this tundra setting:


We didn't stop long enough for me to get a shot of his face. It was harder to take pictures of animals this morning since I didn't have a window seat.

Another good place to look for bears (and other Big Five critters) is the broad riverbeds full of gravel. We saw another grizzly bear in the East Fork of the Toklat River this morning:


I'm guessing those two bears were males since there were no cubs nearby.

Caribou can often be seen along river bars, too. One of the passengers spotted this one at the edge of the Toklat River this morning just before we reached the Toklat rest area:


The next set of photos shows several pairs/groups of Dall sheep, which can often be seen on rocky hillsides and cliffs along the park road. These were all in the Polychrome area:




I have a much closer shot of a Dall sheep from my return trip; it's on a subsequent page. 


“The mountain was mostly out” before 11 AM but not as completely as on Thursday when the sky was perfectly clear for several hours in the morning. We had more clouds today and they built up throughout the morning and afternoon.

An early but distant view of Denali this morning from the Sable Pass area

My first glimpses of Denali on the bus were 95% clear and about 90% by the time we got to Eielson at 10:30 AM.

I took this picture at Stony Hill at about Mile 60:


That photo has a few clouds in it so it isn't as perfect as the one I took two days ago -- but it's still a better look at Denali than on most days.

When I got off the bus at Eielson I tipped the bus driver, thanked her for all the information, and let her know I wouldn’t be going back on her bus because I’d be hiking.

Neither she nor the driver whose bus I took back to Tek later this afternoon asked to see my pass (or the dispatcher when I was ready to leave Eielson). I guess they assume if you’re at Tek or beyond, you have a valid ticket. They do check if you're on your first trip, though.


Above and below:  Denali from the roof of the Eielson Visitor Center

I took these last three photos of Denali from the visitor center before beginning my alpine hike up the mountain across the road.

I was glad I was able to see the mountain that clearly again from this location. As the day progressed Denali became less and less visible.

Continued on the next page: photos of my ascent of Thorofare Ridge

Happy trails,

"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, and Cody the ultra Lab

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© 2012 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil