2012  HIKING, CYCLING,

& RV TRAVEL ADVENTURES

 

   
 
Runtrails' Web Journal
 
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   THE MURIE SCIENCE CENTER, FALL SCENES
IN DENALI'S FRONT COUNTRY, AND
MORE ABOUT BEAR SAFETY

MONDAY, AUGUST 27

 
"The reality here is that every human-bear encounter is its own experiment. There  
are so many variables it is impossible to recreate what exactly happened in any encounter.
A human meets a bear. The human reacts. The bear reacts. And there begins a string of
interconnected reactions. There are some good, general guidelines on what the best 
options are for people in this situation, but they are guidelines."
 
~ Craig Medred, Alaska Dispatch website
 
 

The article goes on to cite instances where people blatantly disregard those guidelines and don't get injured, while others may follow all the safety rules and still get mauled and/or killed by a bear.

I'll talk more about the article and Denali National Park's first bear fatality in 95 years in just a bit.

SUNSHINE & SERIOUS BUSINESS

We could hear rain throughout the night when we were awake but when I got up about 7:30 AM I could see some blue patches of sky to the east, west, and south. That sure brightened my mood!

Neighbors in tents were already preparing to leave Ė it's not much fun to tent-camp in cold rain.


No tents in this picture, but there's a pop-up tent camper.

We noticed several tents in the Bear Loop last evening. The two previous times we were here we saw some tents in the nearby Cougar and Wolf loops but not Bear, which has the most large sites for RVs.

Some of them may be the dozen or so backcountry hikers/groups who had to return to the front country (area of the park near the entrance) after the grizzly bear fatality along the Toklat River on Friday. That must have been disappointing for them but at least they are safe while the investigation continues.

I heard on the news this morning that rangers will be trying to simulate the dead hikerís movements during the three days he was in the wilderness. I assume they will be relying on the photos he took, as well as the itinerary he gave them before embarking on his hike.


The rain hastened the fall of golden aspen leaves.

All backpackers are supposed to register at the back country office at the Wilderness Outdoor Center before they take camper buses to the back country and begin hiking. They must pay a fee, listen to a presentation about wilderness safety/leave no trace/and other regulations, and present a plan for where they are going.

Some areas of the park are off-limits for various reasons but otherwise both day hikers and back packers are encouraged to wander freely throughout most of the wilderness. The Toklat River area where the victim was mauled is one of the more popular places for visitors to hike.

BEARS AND HUMANS ARE UNPREDICTABLE

The victim, Richard White, was a 49-year-old male San Diego, CA resident who was in his third day of hiking alone in the back country when he was attacked.

We don't spend much time listening to the radio or TV or reading news online while we're at Denali but apparently there's been plenty of speculation in Alaska about the circumstances surrounding White's death. Some folks blame him for the attack, others think only the bear is at fault.

From what I've read and heard it appears that White got too close to the bear -- and stayed too close for too long to take photos --  but many facts are simply unknown at this point. It's very unusual for a bear to view a human as prey. Attacks are more common when a bear is startled, feels threatened, is interrupted while eating a dead animal, and/or is a mama bear protecting her cub(s).


Tonight's sunset and a fresh dusting of snow on some peaks visible near our campground

I donít know if White was a professional or amateur photographer. He seemed intent on getting close-up photos of a grizzly and that determination may have cost him his life.

Itís a good lesson for me, and every other amateur or pro photographer, that a picture might be worth a thousand words -- and maybe even a thousand dollars -- but itís not worth the risk of losing your life.

But is that how it went down??

Most days this summer I have checked the Alaska Dispatch website for news. Today I found this article by one of the staff writers, Craig Medred, entitled "Denali mauling proves only thing predictable about bears is their unpredictability."

It's a good read that will make you think. I realized that I've been assuming White was responsible for his death and the subsequent death of the grizzly that killed him -- without knowing the whole story.

Why do I think this way?

Probably because it would make me feel more comfortable hiking alone in bear territory (anywhere, not just in Alaska) if I knew that White simply got too close, stayed too long, and startled /aggravated the bear -- rather than knowing this was one in a million bears that views humans as fair prey just for the hell of it.

That kind of random mayhem is scary because I don't have any control over it. I do have control over my own actions and reactions . . . even though I admit I haven't been following all the proper bear safety guidelines every time I'm hiking.

Lots to think about in this case.

VISITING THE MURIE SCIENCE & LEARNING CENTER

When we were at the park earlier this month we never did get over to the Murie Science Center, which is located on the park road a little past the main Denali Visitor Center.

 

The center is named for Adolph Murie and other family members who were so instrumental in conducting research about the wildlife in the area before and after it was established as a national park and preserve.

The Murie Center conducts arctic and subarctic research and discovery at Denali and other Alaska parks in a partnership with the National Park Service, Alaska Geographic, the Denali Education Center, and other organizations.

It also offers science exhibits and education programs year-round.

 

Around lunchtime today we drove over to the center, which is just a couple miles from our campground.

That was good timing because we got to enjoy a free noontime presentation about studies done on golden eagles that nest in Denali in the summer:

 

Each day is a different topic so we might go back for more.

Exhibits are housed in a handsome, light-filled room just inside the main entrance:

After the eagle presentation we browsed five computer monitors set up at different stations in the room shown above. You can scroll through different pages on each screen to see photos, text, and videos about different scientific studies being done in the park re: Dall sheep, wolves, animal tracks, time-lapse photography (changes in glaciers, etc. from year to year), and pictures of places in the park that visitors usually canít reach.

It's interesting for curious visitors of all ages, it's free, and it's a great place to spend time on a rainy day at Denali.

RAIN DOWN HERE, SNOW UP THERE  

Although this morning the weather was nice it was completely overcast again after lunch and raining intermittently. In the afternoon we had a mix of sun and light rain, sometimes at the same time! I didn't see any rainbows, though.

Temps didnít get out of the 40s F. today and there was some wind to make it feel even colder. Tonight will dip down into the upper 30s and it might get down to 33 F. tomorrow night.

Brr. Gotta watch that our RV water lines donít freeze.


Sunset (about 9:30 tonight) and the Alaska RR tracks

This afternoon I walked Cody around all three loops in the campground between showers when fleeting pieces of blue sky were evident.

We saw CJ and Monnie, the campground hosts, several times as they drove their golf cart around the loops to check on sites that were vacated today. There were 30 or more. CJ said that not only is turnover rather high, there are fewer and fewer campers here now.

CJ and Monnie seemed happy to see us again. Theyíll be here until September 18, the end of the main visitor season.  

The Bear Loop remains open all year long but the water will be shut off when temperatures dip below freezing. Although the park road is closed beyond the park HQ (about Mile 3) when the road is covered with snow, visitors are allowed to come in to snowshoe, cross-country-ski, dog-sled, and participate in some other activities at the Murie Science Center, which doubles as the visitor center in the winter.

While it was raining I spent several hours going through photos weíve taken since we got to Alaska so I can show a selection on our website. [I uploaded them to the website on September 1 since most of the daily Alaska journal entries weren't finished until 2013.]

It was less cloudy by evening so I took Cody for another walk in the campground. Our loop was two-thirds empty this morning but mostly full now. Itís closest to the Mercantile and fills up first.

From a couple places in the campground I could see some light snow on top of Mt. Healy Ė terminal dust already!!!  That's the first snow of the season, usually just a light dusting like this.

This is the only picture I got of the snow at that time (the other snow photos on this page were taken about an hour later):


Mt. Healy and Healy Ridge at about 8-8:30 PM -- just a smidgen of snow

Cool! While it was raining down in the campground, it had been snowing above approximately 3,000 feet.

I walked over to the Mercantile to show Jim the snow; he was doing laundry and using the free WiFi. Soon after I returned to the camper it began raining lightly again for about half an hour. Then the sun came out again.

It had been like that all afternoon and evening . . .

Jim called me about 9:15 PM. He was driving back to the camper and said he wanted to show me something from the road as soon as I could get my coat and shoes on. He picked me up and I could see right away what he wanted me to see Ė a bunch of snow on the mountains across Nenana Canyon:

Above and below:  two views from the park to the new snow above Nenana Canyon ~ 9:30 PM

Oh, my! That snow wasnít there an hour earlier when I was out with Cody. We have a great view of the peaks across the canyon from the road in front of our camper, and can also see the summit of Mt. Healy behind us.

As we drove toward the visitor center we could see that Mt. Healy also had a lot more snow on it now (~ 9:30 PM) than an hour earlier:

Gee, I was thinking about hiking up there tomorrow!

Since the sun was already setting we turned around at the visitor center and went back to the camper (about a mile away). We could see some pink clouds to the west but I didnít get any better sunset shots than the ones I've already shown. As sometimes happens, the clouds were more pink to the east than to the west.

Wow. This snowfall makes us rethink our plans to stay at Denali for another six or seven days. Seems to me this cold spell is pretty sudden and early but what do I know about autumn at Denali? All I know is that a lot has changed in less than two weeks since we were here.  

We will really have to keep close watch on the weather forecasts from Denali to Fairbanks to Tok and all along the various routes through Canada to make sure we don't get stuck up here all winter!!

Next entrya busy, sunny day enjoying the brilliant fall colors along the park road and several trails near the park entrance + grizzly research at Denali (a very interesting presentation at the Murie Science Center)

Happy trails,

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

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© 2012 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil

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