Ha! It's not that difficult. You don't have to hike all the way up there
to see Denali, but it's a great hike and I highly recommend it.
On a clear day you can see Denali down on the park road from several
locations past (west of) the Savage River. I took the next two photos at about
Mile 16 as I walked up the road to the trailhead for this hike:
On a clear day you can also see The High One from the road at the Primrose
Overlook at Mile 17½.
Denali is also very visible from the trail
above treeline on the way up to the ridge, all through the tundra on the
south side of the ridge, and from the summit of nearby 5,059-foot Mt. Margaret, which
looms over the western side of the canyon through which the Savage River flows.
The advantage of hiking above the road is being able to see more of the
mountain's lower slopes.
I'm glad CJ, our campground host at Riley Creek, suggested we go up
there. I wouldn't have thought about hiking in this area without his tip.
I never saw any
information about the Primrose-Margaret trail in the park literature we picked up or even
on the park website. Only later when hunting for a quote for this entry
did I find the Oh, Ranger reference, and some non-park sites
written by individuals who hiked the ridge, on the internet.
This will be another multi-page entry.
I took a gazillion photos
again during this hike because of the superlative panoramic views not just of Denali but
also the surrounding terrain -- and close encounters with a
curious moose, three bull caribou, and four Dall sheep.
This was another near-perfect weather day with sunshine, just a few
clouds, more wind, and temps in the 60s-low 70s F.
Except for the wind,
couldn’t have asked for better weather for today's hike and bike ride.
Denali was “out” several hours longer than usual – until about 3 PM from
the NE views we had – even when other peaks in the Alaska Range had
clouds hanging over them.
These were our first
views of Denali on the drive out to Savage River this morning. I took
these shots from a pullover at about Mile 10:
Just awesome, and pure luck. When we made our campground reservations
last December 1 there was no way we could possibly know what the weather
would be while we were at the park.
Jim and I both took advantage of the good weather, fine views of Denali,
and our last day at the park by doing our longest ride and hike so far
this summer. Jim was better prepared for his ride than I was for my
hike, which turned out to be very strenuous the last two or three hours
because of some mistakes I made in route-finding.
Those green mountain
slopes that look so nice, smooth, and easy to hike from a distance?
Trust me, they aren't.
My truck's down there above the arrow -- shouldn't be too hard to just
take a short cut down there
from this ridge on Mt. Margaret, should it?? Keep reading to see
how that bright idea worked out . . .
LOCATION OF HIKE & RIDE
We drove the truck out to the far side of the Savage River bridge at
Mile 15, as far as we can drive our own vehicle. We got started
cycling/hiking about 9 AM.
Here's the park road
map again. I highlighted the section from Riley Creek Campground near
the park entrance to Teklanika River CG at Mile 29 so you can see
the areas I'll be talking about in this entry:
is off the map to the lower left, between Eielson and Wonder Lake.
Primrose Ridge and
Mt. Margaret aren't marked on that map. They are located on the north
side of the park road just west of the Savage River, about where the
picnic/restroom symbols are located at the end of the paved (red) part
of the road.
This is a view of Mt.
Margaret's north-south ridge looking up from the Savage River valley. I
walked a couple miles back and forth along that ridge before descending late in my
Unfortunately, I wasn't able to descend on this side. It would have been
a nice shortcut.
Near the beginning of
my hike this morning I spotted three white dots in the rocks on that slope --
Dall sheep, above the point of the arrow:
The rocky slopes on
either side of the Savage River are reported to be good places to spot
Dall sheep. I'll have some
good close-up shots of Dall sheep on a subsequent page.
ASCENDING THE PARK ROAD TO PRIMROSE OVERLOOK
Jim rode his bike 14+ miles southwest to the Teklanika River CG,
where we camped for several days last week. He rode through the loops to
see who was still there and refilled his water bottle.
The long, gradual hill up
from Savage River was easier for him this time because he knew the distance is
2½ miles to the Primrose Overlook from where we parked the truck. That
concept holds true for long ascents in foot races and hikes, too. Knowing the distance
doesn't make an ascent shorter, just easier mentally because you
know there's an end to it.
Jim rides up the park road from Savage River. The pavement soon ends
and the road is smooth dirt from Mile 15
to Mile 92.
I had to walk up that long hill on the road to access the trail up to Primrose Ridge and the summit of
Mt. Margaret. I don't know of any other human trails to get up there.
Believe me, I hunted continuously from both the road and the tundra and
didn't even see any distinct animal trails.
We started at 2,626 feet elevation at the bridge where we parked and went up to
about 3,200 feet at the Primrose Overlook at Mile 17½
The tan tour buses (not green shuttle buses) often stop here for a bathroom break
and a talk by a ranger or tour guide:
Primrose Ridge is in the background. That may be
Mt. Wright; Mt. Margaret is well to the right.
Jim got to the overlook well before I did and was gone when I
reached that spot.
We both did the same thing – got a good view of Denali, listened briefly
to the ranger, then went our own way.
Another clear view of Denali this morning when I
reached the Primrose Overlook about 10 AM.
Before we got to the overlook, however, we both had a bit of excitement.
CLOSE ENCOUNTERS WITH CARIBOU
On the way up the road we both saw two separate bull caribou walking on
They were about a mile uphill from the river when I saw them. I knew an
interesting critter was nearby when I saw this tan tour bus and green
shuttle bus stopped in the road for passengers to watch and photograph
I stayed at the edge of the road to the left as the handsome fella
walked on the other side of the road:
end of Mt. Margaret's ridgeline is in the background, with Primrose
Ridge to the left.
Caribou #1 paused a a few yards
down the road (below), apparently waiting for a four-hoofed buddy I didn't know was
coming until he was close to me:
end of Healy Ridge is in the background; it's on the other side of the
Big Five lesson learned:
when you're busy watching one critter there may be more in the
vicinity! That's an important safety point, as well as a useful tip for
Here comes Caribou #2:
He appeared to be about the same
age and size as the first guy and also sported a large, velvety rack.
Both caribou passed within
about 20-25 feet of me, which is three times closer than rangers
advise being to most of the wildlife in the park (much farther away for
bears and moose). I didn't have much choice because the shoulder
of the road on my side was steeply sloped down. I just stood still, talking
to them quietly as they approached and continued on
past me like I wasn't even there. They were walking at a leisurely pace and
appeared to be totally unconcerned about my presence.
I also saw a bull caribou on the road about this same spot as I was
finishing up my hike late in the afternoon. I'll show you
a picture of him on the last page of this entry.
website has some great information
about caribou and other species of animals in Alaska. Click on the
various tabs like "life history" to learn more about their habits. I'm
pretty fascinated with caribou, since this trip is the first I've seen
them in the wild.
There was also a female moose along the road this morning before we
reached the Primrose Overlook, the first we’ve seen at Denali.
Jim was 'way ahead of me by then and didn’t see her off in the brush. I
probably would have missed her, too, if three buses hadn't been stopped in the road
ahead of me. Passengers were at the windows taking pictures of her browsing in
the willows about 50 feet off the north side of the road:
I didn’t notice until I zoomed in on the pictures on my computer tonight
that she was inspecting a camera set up on a tripod in the willows!
Smile, Ms. Moose! I think you're on Candid Camera.
Hmmm . . . better check this out.
Never mind; it isn't edible.
There was at least one other camera near the road in the same vicinity. Jim
saw it, too. We assume it’s a common area for wildlife to be in the road
and the park is monitoring their activity for various reasons.
After a few minutes the moose crossed the road between the first two buses and
disappeared into the willows on the side where I was walking:
By the time I walked past the spot where she entered the dense willows I
couldn't see her any more. That was our
first and last Denali
moose on this visit to the park and Jim didn't get to see her at all.
That's OK. Tomorrow
we're going back to Anchorage and we'll probably see several
moose in town and at the JBER campground again. How ironic!
see any lynx in the city, however . . .
SURPRISE SIGHTING OF A LYNX
When Jim got done at Tek he turned around and rode his bike back to
the truck at Savage River. He loved all the great views of Denali,
mostly going outbound. He left me an upbeat note re: what fun he was
having, then headed toward our campground.
He stopped on the east side of the Savage River bridge to see what the
folks in the buses that were stopped there were looking at.
More caribou? Nope – a large lynx walking on the river gravel!!!
He thought it was a mountain lion but there aren’t mountain lions at
Denali. CJ verified that a very large lynx frequents the bridge area.
Jim was far enough away -- probably a couple hundred feet --
that the 12-megapixel, 4X zoom Canon camera
wasn't capable of getting a close-up in the series of eight photos he
took as the lynx walked upstream. You can tell it’s a large cat but you
can’t see details in the cropped pictures:
As I’ve said before, next time we come up here, we’re going to have a
much better camera than the ones we have.
Seeing the lynx was a highlight, much as seeing the wolves last week. We
never expected to see either species.
We did expect to see a lot more than one moose at Denali in eleven days. Neither of us
saw any bears today, either. That was unusual for as many miles as Jim rode.
Here's more information about
lynx from the Alaska Dept. of Fish &
Game website, if you're interested in learning more about them.
View of Denali about Mile 16, after I saw the two
caribou this morning.
On the way back to Riley Creek
Jim also stopped at the Savage River Campground at Mile 12 for more water. He went
back a nearby gravel trail to an historic cabin there (presently used as a
ranger patrol cabin) but he didn't take any photos of it. You can read
more about the cabin
By the time he got back to our
camper near the park entrance he’d done 46 miles – and thoroughly enjoyed the ride. He’s
already talking about potential bike rides he wants to take “next time” we’re
Love it! I have more hikes in mind, too, as well as visiting the Murie Science
Center. I planned to do that on my way back home today but I didn’t have time.
Continued on the
page: the ascent to Primrose Ridge, with lots more Denali pics
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil,
and Cody the ultra Lab
© 2012 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil