Friday, June 5, 2009

Into the Wild (with a happy ending)

I just returned from a week in Alaska, backpacking through-out Denali National Park. Unlike Alexander Supertramp, I am obviously still alive after the experience. And I brought a friend. The disgustingly tall (6'8'') freak on the left is Joe. The shorter, more handsome guy on the right is me. Ok, when I take off the glasses, we are about even.

We spent 5 days and 5 nights in and around the mountains of the Alaska Range which runs across central Alaska. Mt. McKinley stands there as North America's tallest mountain, and is also known as Denali, (the High One in native speak). The vertical relief is higher than Mt. Everest, though it is not as high above sea level.

I forgot my filters and a lens stopped functioning during the trip, so the photographic quality this time around is a bit disappointing. I still had a blast.

A single road penetrates the wilderness of Denali National park, like a thin blade through a vast green heart. Back country campers must catch this road into the wilderness, and hike from the road into the taiga forests and tundra of the park. We took the bus for 40 miles the first day, and exited near Sable pass, beginning our journey south. As we hiked around the back side of Sable Mountain, the snow began to fall. We let our packs fall and decided to try climbing one of the smaller scree peaks above us.

As we climbed our sweat soaked our clothes from the inside, and the heat from our bodies melted the snow from the outside. The scree trickled down the mountain side in our wake, providing little good footing. Eventually we made it to a point where it would become dangerous to go further and headed back down. The return trip was more like skiing than hiking. Using the loose rock, we skid and slid back down to our packs in about a quarter of the time it took us to climb up.

Continuing on our way south, the snow turned into a light rain, which remained for the rest of the day. Coming around the south side of the mountain, we turned back east and headed for the Teklanika river. Upon reaching it, we took our first break of the day before heading south.

After sitting in the rain for a bit we headed south for a few more miles. The wind was high, but the rain finally came to a stop, so we took advantage of the lull to set up camp. We stayed in that spot for two days, hiking around and taking in the scenery. The wind was ferocious for two days, and we eventually headed back west, deeper into the park in search of Mt. Eilson. Here are some pictures from the rest of the trip: