Denali AKA Mt. McKinley


Runtrails' Web Journal
Previous       2015 Journal Topics       Home       Next




Continued from the previous page.


We got off our bus a little before Stony Creek (next photo) and Ranger Julie talked with us several minutes about minimizing our impact on the environment.

In addition to the obvious Leave No Trace principles, Julie advised us to avoid following in anyone else's footsteps so no visible trails would be established.

Julie also showed us the emergency supplies and equipment in her large backpack, including a satellite radio and medical stuff, and talked about bear safety:

Like most of the interpretive rangers, Julie is young (mid-20s). This is her first summer at Denali. In the winter she works at the elk refuge near Jackson Hole, WY. She is personable and has done her homework re: Denali.  

Before we got going everyone introduced themselves. Five of us were fit retirees and five were fit younger folks. 

After a short patch of shrubs we were into the tundra the rest of the way up the slopes. There were several false summits and lots of ups and downs on the ridges and passes between each high point.


An early look back toward the park road to the east

 Following an undulating ridge between two drainages

On one part of the ridge with steep slopes on either side (middle of photo)
we had no choice but to walk on a trail that had already been made.

The footing was pretty good. When we came to a faint social trail made by previous hikers or big game animals, we were instructed to walk to the sides in the tundra plants, if possible.

In most any other park with trails, we'd be admonished to remain on the trail and not make new ones.

At Denali there are few established trails. Hikers here are encouraged to hike through the brush and tundra virtually anywhere, which is a very different concept. The exception is to stay out of areas closed periodically for nesting or fledging birds, grizzly kills, or other biological reasons for the safety of visitors and wildlife.


Before we reached our highest point Julie suggested we take a break for lunch on a grassy slope with excellent views to the upper Stony Creek drainage to the south and the mountains to the west.



All of a sudden an observant hiker with binoculars noticed some movement on the ridge to the west.

Soon we were all able to see with our eyes (or camera zoom lenses) a large herd of caribou make its way over the ridge and down to Stony Creek, where approximately three dozen of them disappeared behind the next ridge to the south that we'd be climbing:




Then a smaller group of about fifteen caribou did the same thing.

We were in awe of this spectacle and sat watching them for about 15 minutes. We were all a bit disappointed prior to this because the only wildlife we had seen from the bus this morning were two caribou and a bunch of ground squirrels. We made up for it during and after the hike.   


After our lunch break we continued along the ridge to our highest point of the hike, with grand views in every direction:




View south, upstream in the Stony Creek drainage; we could see several
of the caribou in the wet meadow below this plateau.

View east; the park road is barely discernable in the distance.

Looking NW:  we dropped down to the wide creek bed and followed it back to the road.

We started at 3,843 feet and topped out at 4,572 feet. I forgot to turn on my GPS after our lunch break and missed about 1/2 mile of ascent to the final high point. Descent was 3,250 feet so my total gain/loss was about 6,500 feet in about 3.5 miles.


Before our Disco hiking group turned back toward the park road Ranger Julie gave us options. Four of the hikers decided to continue farther south up the canyon before turning around.

The rest of us headed west, then north, descending to Stony Creek so we could walk back through the wide gravel bars to the park road:

Part way down the slope three adult caribou and two calves climbed up quite close to our group and we were able to get some better pictures of them: 

Above and below:  These caribou are shedding more than the ones I saw along the park road today.

We continued working our way down the mountainside to the creek bed:

As soon as I got down in the gravel I noticed a lone caribou feeding downstream. I don't think it was in either large herd we saw earlier.

When we crossed the shallow, narrow channel with water, I didn't even hesitate. One young man (below) also quickly waded across. After a lifetime of running and hiking on trails I'm used to crossing water much deeper than that in the Merrill Moab Ventilator running shoes I wear when hiking.

Just do it! Your shoes will dry . . .

Everyone else tried to find a way (unsuccessfully) to get across without getting their hiking boots wet. It was like watching newbies at trail runs when they do their utmost to avoid puddles, mud, or creek crossings. We'd been warned that these hikes usually include stream crossings so the participants should have known to wear footwear that can get wet or bring a separate pair in their pack, as the park website recommends.

After everyone got across the water we followed the scenic creek bed back to the park road for about a mile:

View upstream from the creek bed

Above and below:  views north toward the road

This hike was rated as "strenuous." I guess to many folks it is. To me it was moderate, even with my Granny Knees. I enjoyed it a lot. The weather was great (40s to 60s F. again), the views and company were nice, we saw lots of flowers, and I got to do something new.

It was well worth a $35 bus ticket.

Note:  We spent time inspecting a wide variety of wildflowers during the hike. At the end of this series of entries from Denali NP I'll include one with photos of a couple dozen different wildflowers blooming in the park at this time of year. That's one reason I wanted to visit the park earlier in the summer than we did three years ago.

Continued on the next page:  more photos from the ride to Eielson, then the ride back to the park entrance (includes some grizzly pictures, and closer views of caribou)

Happy trails,

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

Previous       Next

2015 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil