Denali

Obtaining a backcountry permit at the Denali backcountry permit office as rookies was a time consuming process. After the four hour drive from Anchorage to Healy, we arrived in the soaking rain. From the ranger safety talk, to the safety video, to analyzing the availability board and studying the map, we spent over two hours planning and securing our permit for what was supposed to be a five day trip into the Denali Wilderness.

The morning of our trip we boarded one of many camper buses and began a two hour ride via the Park Road to segment seven. After Savage River, all private vehicles are prohibited. Only park service and tour shuttle buses are allowed to drive the famous road into the interior of Denali. We were socked in by low clouds and rain. The weather forecast predicted more of the same all week.

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We stepped off from the comfort of the bus that afternoon and entered into a world of unfamiliarity. Figuring out a safe way to descend from the road, down to the east fork of the Toklat River was a trick in itself. After reaching the braided gravel bars, we immediately began to skirt the Sable Pass wildlife closure area, and wildlife we saw. Within fifteen minutes of hiking we saw one adult and one caribou calf; within a half hour Kelly spots something moving in the distance. I pull up the binoculars and see a huge (what I can only assume to be male) grizzly walking the stream, heading in our general direction. We side step the swift running, glacial stream to the opposite side of the big bear. He moves north, we go south. I’m gawking at this point as the bear moves with his head down to the ground. His only care appears only to be able to graze.

I pull the binocs again to look at the beast: my first grizzly. It’s a big bear, but I refrain from telling Kelly that. I’m thrilled and excited. Kelly is nervous. The air is cold, the wind stiff and the level of  psychological intensity is great.

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We rounded the invisible boundary of the wildlife closure of segment seven and began heading up valley towards the toe of the glacier. According to rangers that we spoke with, it sounded as though the rare day that people pick up permits for this segment due to the closure. Solitude is the norm.

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We navigated the moderate terrain, void of any trails or sign of anything human induced.

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Bear Saxifrage

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Kel was calling them out; whether reindeer or just another bear. A sow and her cub fed on a hillside across from us at a comfortable distance of >five hundred yards away. We lowered our packs from our backs to stop for a quick snack before we dropped back down to the E Fk Toklat River.

“Tim”, Kelly says, as I had just finished spinning the lid onto our bear canister. What looked like an adolescent griz appeared on a hillside just a mere 75 yards away. We waved our trekking poles in the air, shouting at the bear to go somewhere else. It worked just as well as the video at the backcountry permit office said it would. The bear tucked tail and ran. I looked up to the distant dots of the sow and cub; moving farther and farther away now. We move another hundred yards south and see another herd of caribou grazing.

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Relief from the rain at last

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Fireweed

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We settled on an area to pitch the tent with short and sparse grass, where we figured our chances of another bear encounter would be low. If it were the year 1954, we would be camped on top of the glacier seen in the photo above. One of my goals of this trip would be to see as many glaciers as I could. A  theme related to this would be the constant reminder of their alarming retreat.

We finished hiking late that day. The twenty four hour light seen through our silnylon tent was indistinguishable from the time we went to sleep, to the time we woke up late the following morning. DSC05356

Hiking out of section seven and into eight for day two.

As we hiked up and out of the river valley, we could see the mother grizzly and her cub grazing on a green bench below.

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Herds of caribou in the distance

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Another tributary of the Toklat, this valley is the largest of segment eight and our destination for the day. Mount Pendleton sits hidden, high above the polychrome glaciers.

DSC05374Green and gold carpeted tundra

For most of the day we hiked in dry conditions. The wind still howled and the temps barely made it out of the mid fifties. The expansive valley was empty, but still scenic.

DSC05400We tried our best to make it back, closer towards the glacier. A combination of incoming  heavy rain and Kelly’s sore achilles and knee forced us to set up camp before we could go any further.

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Our double-wall tent sits amongst a wall of boulders. The rain let up just enough for us to comfortably move away from the tent to cook dinner and place our bear canister for the evening.

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The clouds lifted the following morning, but the rain never did stop. It had been raining for the last fourteen hours with no sign of ever letting up. Up to this point, the weather forecast was spot on, predicting a high percentage of showers each and everyday we’d be out.  We ate a cold breakfast, packed up camp and began heading back to the mouth of the valley. The moisture continued to pick up once the Park Road came into view. It was time to bail. There was plenty of fun to have, outside of getting soaked everyday, all day long. Fortunately, this was the only disappointing outcome from the remainder of our Alaska trip.

The Kenai

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Bird Ridge trail above the Turnagain

After an overnight stop in Talkeetna and a day in Anchorage, we headed south with Kristy and Amanda for a road trip. First stop: Seward.

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The one and only commitment we had made beforehand involved a day cruise to the Kenai Fjords out of Seward. The price of admission was well worth the boat tour. Of course it decided to rain for most of the day.

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The cruise touted a full day visiting multiple glaciers. Plans changed once the boat got out on open and rough water. The upside to this change of plans was the captain taking the time to spot a plethora of whale activity. Humpbacks to Orca, we saw a fair amount of blows, surfacing and fluking. Unfortunately the 2.9x zoom on my compact camera would not cut it.

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Aialik Glacier, Part of the Harding Icefield of Kenai Fjords National Park

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Kris

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Ice!

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For dinner we arrived at Fox Island for prime rib, salmon and king crab. On a whole, I ate like a king on this trip, taking advantage of the abundance of fresh seafood.

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The clear shore of Fox Island

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A sign marking the location of the Exit Glacier in 1917. The visitor center is a must for full displays of the story of this glaciers melting.

The next day we decided to hike the ever popular Harding Icefield trail, the only part of Kenai Fjords National Park accessible by road.

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Fireweed everywhere

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Exit Glacier

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Snowfields aplenty

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DSC05548Beach camping on the spit

DSC05555From camp we watched as whales surfaced during the early morning
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DSC05570Water Taxi across the bay

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Today we’d be hitting another popular area in the Grewingk Lake Trail

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Devils club

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Grewingk Glacier

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Exploring the beach

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Old dock and the waters of Halibut Cove

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Camp

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Our next destination would be Soldotna to meet the other men for some more car camping and to get outfitted to fish for sockeye on the Kenai River.

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My protege, she killed it

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Day hike to Rabbit Lake outside of Anchorage