Denali National Park 2008

One stop during our road trip to northern Alaska in the fall of 2008 was to hike and camp in Denali National Park and Preserve. We hoped to catch a glimpse of Mount McKinley and the
Alaska Range from the northern side of the mountain. Click to view photos full size

We spent our first day at the Denali Visitor Center arranging our permits and transportation into the park. For backcountry camping  you must arrive a day before your hike begins and watch a film on park regulations and bear safety along with a review of your equipment, supplies and maps from one of the Park Rangers before being issued a backcountry permit. Our next step was obtaining a ticket to ride the shuttle bus into the park. The following morning we boarded the bus for the three hour ride to Wonder Lake.

Along the way we saw a phenomenal amount of wildlife; bear, wolf, moose, mountain goat, big horn sheep and this heard of caribou taking a rest on the open tundra.

Fall is a wonderful time to be at Denali with lots of color in the foliage and few misquotes
The busses make frequent stops along the way for photography and wildlife viewing.

The bus stopped for a rest stop at the Eielson Visitor Center to allow us to view the exhibits and curiosities; can you imagine carrying this on your head all day?!?

From the Eielson Visitor Center we got our first grand view of the mountain as it emerged from the clouds. Inside there were fascinating pictures and exhibits on the pioneering climbs of North America’s highest peak.

We stepped off the bus at Wonder Lake to begin our hike or should we say bushwhack as there is no trails just open tundra. Backcountry regulations require you to camp one half mile from, and out of sight of, the road. Easy enough, we climbed to the top of a ridge and placed our tent behind some brush for wind protection and to stay out of sight. Backcountry unit # 36 (Jumbo Creek) turned out to be a fine choice with a great view of the mountain and several small lakes nearby for water.

An interesting juxtaposition of life and death, the skull and antlers of a caribou against the living carpet of lichens and alpine blueberries, found when hiking in the hills around camp.

Denali’s massive north face, the Wickersham Wall is over 13,000 feet high and named for Alaska’s Judge Wickersham who made an attempt on the wall in 1903, but it was not successfully climbed until 1963. Owing to its size, rapidly changing conditions and extremely cold weather Wickersham Wall is still one of the great mountaineering challenges of the world. A list of notable first assents on Denali can be found here.

Since only about half of the visitors to the park ever see the mountain we felt very blessed, at dinner that evening by this small lake with the mountain aglow in the setting sun we said a prayer of thanks for our remarkable time there. For the true lover of nature, Denali National Park and Preserve is one of the most wonderful places in the world.

A couple Books of good books about climbing Denali:

Ascent of Denali by Hudson Stuck
A great read during your visit to the mountain; Ascent of Denali recounts the first ascent of North America’s highest peak in 1913. Mountaineering in Alaska “old school”, when even getting to the mountain meant traveling hundreds of miles by dogsled.

This book is mountaineering classic. Come along on the harrowing ride up the frigid slopes of Mount McKinley in winter, where death, team disputes, and extreme conditions provide the riveting backdrop for the first successful winter climb to the summit.