If you have time to read only one posting, click the following link to read the entry for the last day of our journey.
Days 29-33, September 12-16, DENALI
This is the posting on our DENALI adventure from September 12th to 16th. i will include only one photo now and sort through the hundreds i took later and send them separately. also, i cannot edit this now, so i apologize for any errors that confuse things.
Day 29, Thursday, September 12th
The day started off in Fairbanks on a sour note in Fairbanks at the Tanana Camp where I camped for four days. If you are interested, you can find the story by clicking here. In the grander scheme of things, it, like the other individual involved, is a small thing, but it reminded me that everyone else I met along this trip was positive, honest, kind, generous, helpful, or all of the above, and that is one of the joys of this kind of a trip.
Noon...On the 120-mile drive down from Fairbanks to Denali on the Parks Highway, I passed a lone, young male hitchhiker. I could not stop for him because I have no room in the Defender with the dogs and stufff. All I could think of was Chris McCandless hitchhiking the same route back in the spring of '92. later, down the road, 16 miles before the Denali, I passed Stampede Road, where Chris, who lived just a few miles from me, was dropped off for his fated journey into the wild. I understand that several people since have died trying to duplicate his one-way journey to that old school bus in the wild. More about that into the wild guy. below.
Just a few miles from Denali, the scenery changed dramatically. You knew you were in for some drama by this preview of coming attraction, some big drama.
Not only did the scenery change, but the wind did, too. I have never experienced such high winds, mostly headwinds, in my life. Even on a flat road, the Defender would only do 38 Mph.
Before entering Denali at 4:30, having learned my lesson the hard way on the Dalton, I filled up my tank and the two spare gas cans holding five gallons each, enough for the round trip to Teklanika Camp, 30 miles up the park road, and two round trips, 65 miles each way, from the camp to Wonder Lake and Kantishna, at the end of the park road.
I checked in at the visitors center for my campsite at Teklanika. Thank goodness I had the foresight in March to reserve five nights there covering
the entire road lottery period. The camp is located 30 miles down the park road, saving me 60 miles of driving on dirt roads each day of the lottery. There are only 50 sites at the camp. 400 cars a day for four days are awarded permits to drive the Denali road, so those campsites are in demand.
Although rain was called for, the day turned out to be the most splendid days in a long time. Rain has been the rule for the past month. But even on nice days, Denali often hides her magnificent face and crown behind her scarf of fluffy white clouds, sometimes not so white. I heard that your chances of seeing Denali's crown are 1/6.
I then checked in for the road lottery permits for the 13th and 15th. I did not win the lottery myself, but I was able to convince my good friends Karen and Ron to hand over their passes to me.
6:00 p.m. We arrived at Teklanika after a splendid hour's drive down the park road. i then set up both tents as my base camp for the next five days. Sonntag and I stayed here in 2000 on our way home from Alaska. I always wanted too return, and finally, I did.
Day 30, First day of lottery road permit
There are four things to talk about when one talks about Denali: the road itself, the scenery, especially the enormously varied colors, the wildlife, and, of course, Denali herself. I am not capable of doing justice to any of them in writing or in my photography, so I will not try. I will add a photo or two of the scenery now, and more later, but you would do better to images of Denali on Google. I will say this, though. I had not thought about this trip in terms of the fall wardrobe that the park would be wearing, so it was quite a surprise for me to be treated to one of the most wondrous colorful displays I have ever seen.
As a side note, let me tell you about my photos, at least how I take them. This trip is for my dogs, so I want to minimize the amount of time they spend in the Defender (as well as maximize the number of photos of them, if you have not noticed). But because i cannot stop the vehicle every two minutes to take a great shot, the frequency at which new, splendid scenes appear when driving, most of my photos are taken from inside the Defender, sometimes while moving, sometimes through closed often-dirty windows. Rarely do i stop, get out of the vehicle, and position myself for a great photo simply because they would not be so great anyway because of my photography shortcomings. (At least once on the trip when I did position myself outside the vehicle for a great shot, I slipped and fell.)
As for the Denali road, it is dirt and gravel, and not easy on vehicles, including mine. At times, five times exactly, it morphs into what has to be the most dangerous road in America, if not anywhere. With a two-way dirt road barely wide enough for two regular vehicles, ruts at the bottom of one side serving as one shoulder, and guard-rail-less steep, sharp cliffs serving as the other shoulder, I am shocked that there isn't a body bag count posted at the visitor center. My guess us that there is none because they cannot recover the bodies to count them. And with my Defender, I am in no better shape than any other vehicle because it does well as an off-road vehicle and not as an over-the-cliff vehicle. And I am in worse shape when driving the cliff-side part of the road because my road visibility is worse because of my Defender's height and all the stuff I have obstructing my right view.
As for the wildlife, Denali is not teeming with wildlife as is the Serengeti Plain in Africa. If you travel the road, you will be lucky to see one animal of the several to see, brown bears, caribou, moose, dall sheep, wolves, geese preparing to migrate, among others. You will even luckier to see Denali's crest. Oh, there is also a large population of ptarmigan here, usually traveling in flocks moving slowly across the road in front of you at most inconvenient times. I ran into a flock when I came into camp and finally realized the answer to the ages-old question, Why did the ptarmigan cross the road?
As for the scenery in Denali, except on the last four days of the season, you can only see it from the school busses that plod the road many times a day, as I did in 1992 when I back backed into Denali near Moose Creek, way back near Wonder Lake, which sits at the end of the road. But when you drive the road yourself, as 400 vehicles per day can during what is called the road lottery permit days, it is a different experience. From the moment you enter the park road to the very end, there is not a scene to your left or right that is not dramatic. As a lone driver, I had to watch the road most of the time, but did manage to steak enough time looking at the views and stop and stare when I wanted to. The draw is not Denali herself, or her attendNt mountains, but the valleys, rivers and streams, and in the Denali's autumn, which we are in, the colors, and oh, what colors! I cannot tell you how many times I had to stop the vehicle and just sat there saying to myself, "Jesus Christ, would you look at that view?" (Jesus never responded to me, although, like Al Gore, if he did, he probably would have said he invented it. And If I told you he did, you would think I was losing my mind. You might be right about that, but there are other signs.)
Perhaps the best way to tell you about our trip into Denali is to repeat the entries from my notebook as I drove through the park over two magnificent days, perhaps weather-wise the best days in a very long time. Times of journal entries are noted. Miles from when we entered the park are in parentheses
10:00 (32) on the Denali Road. I purposely waited to let the 399 other permit holders get a head start, as if 400 cars strung along 180 miles would constitute a traffic jam.
Although rain was called for, the day turned out to be the most splendid days in a long time. Temperature in morning was cold, but it warmed up as the sun came up to a nice 58. Rain has been the rule for the past month. But even on nice days, Denali often hides her magnificent face and crown behind her scarf of fluffy white clouds, sometimes not so white. I heard that your chances of seeing Denali's crown are 1/6.
I expected to cover the 60 miles to Wonder Lake at 30 miles an hour, so expected to be back in camp by 4 pm with three breaks for the dogs, the highlight of the trip for them..
11:00 (46) break at magnificent cutoff. Discovered that new water container had leaked in the back of Defender soaking everything, including Erde. Took a long time to c,Dan up. Tommy Norris from August GA came by. He paid us a great compliment by telling others that this (leben in his wheelchair) is better than Denali. I appreciated the comment. He and his friend Chuck from Anchorage took the photos of the three of us.
12:00 (50) the first of the five cliff roads each way. I am used to treacherous roads but this one takes the prize.
12:30 (58) The Grant Creek Wolf Pack. Two adults and maybe five pups, following their mom through the brush. All I could think of was that evil sports trapper/hunter who last year or two years ago trapped and killed the well-known alpha female wolf of this very pack here when she wandered out of the park temporarily. Oh, how I wished that Dick Cheney had been out hunting in the same area that day.
when i exit the defender to view some wildlife, I cannot go far from the Defender because Erde, followed predictably by Leben, barks for me to let her come out. I am tempted to call her a pain in the you-know-what, but remind myself that the trip is for them.
12:45 (60). Traffic jam of 10 vehicles. Lone Grizzly bear about 100 feet away. Feeding on berries to stock up for winter. Bears here are grizzlies and not brown bears because there are no salmon runs that I know of. But bears here have it better off then their Gates of the Arctic cousins. Here a bear's range is 100 square miles. In Gates it is 300. (On Kodiak and in Katmai it is about 10-25 because lots of salmon). Watching that bear feed, maybe in panic because it is getting late and the snows are coming, all I could think of was that here we are enjoying seeing this bear, without understanding what we were watching.
1:15 (63). Lone young male caribou standing majestically on a hillside to the south. Only second time I have seen one. First time was in 1992 50 miles up the road after the bus dropped me off for my solo backpacking near Moose Creek.
1:30 (67) break for dogs. Denali in all her majesty in full view. Wow. What a mountain. Dogs busy sniffing around. Marianne and Doug of Anchorage took photo of the three of us. i think of my friend Carl F who wanted to climb Denali, but he died at 31 in a fall on Mt. Rainer.
2:10 (74) this looks like the spot where I was dropped off for my backpacking trip in late July 1992. Little did i realize it then, but i was only 30 miles from Chris McCandless then, the week before he he died. two guys go into the same wild, but only one makes it out. this is not the first time that has happened to me. lucky me.
2:45 (85). big bull moose the north. just standing there. looks like the moose from Dalton. then again, all moose look alike to me. crowd of about 25 people gathering, including three kids closest to moose. stupid kids. stuoid parents. moose moves a little and then starts to buck, or whatever a moose does. not good. people start running in all directions. i cannot be sure, but did that moose just smile?
2:55 (86). someone just. pointed out to me that i left my camera on my hood. actually, it was my binoculars. why can't i follow my rules?
3:15 (92). Wonder Lake. at last. i have been trying to get here since 1992. magnificent. long break for dogs. again, leben in his wheelchair draws a lot of attention. but it takes time that i do not have to explain, but i stay polite. erde attracts attention too, but for her own reasons.
4:00 ready to move on back to camp. will postpone trip to Kintishna until Monday. as we were getting ready to move on, i heard this strange noise in the sky that went on for about 15 minutes. i looked up and saw a flock of many, many geese circling counter-clockwise in a huge circle. after the leader was assured that all had been accounted for, the flock headed south. first time i had seen that mustering of geese. i understand that at times, some are left behind. that's cruel mother nature.
5:00 (112) another break for dogs. Ellison center. dogs get more breaks today because of where we are. special treat.
5:50 (124) bear still there feeding on my way back. my guess is that he or she will be there for the next several days. lots of berries in this area. bears, by the way, don't pick the berries off the bushes like we dainty humans do; they eat the entire bushes.
7:00 (153) Arrived back in camp, four hours after i expected. later learned that just before we pulled in, a grizzly ambled through the camp nearby. probably looking for food, or Erde.
set up first fire of trip tonight. good for warmth and light. you do light fires here for atmosphere here as we do in DC.
Day 31, Free day
6:30 temperature was 20 when i got up.
First day of trip with absolutely nothing to do, all day. thank god i did not get lottery ticket for today. bad day to be out. heavy clouds, etc. talked with Edward Boudreau (photographer) for long time exchanging stories. he took photos of us next day with Denali in background. he also gave me a tour of his Jumping Jack tent/trailer. Some day i may have to upgrade to something like that.
Day 32, Second day of road permit.
6:00 cold again this morning. low last night was 18, 22 when i got up, but lots of sun, no clouds so temperature went up fast. but i put on Leben's coat to keep him warm. he has a harder time in the cold because the swimming he does back home takes away his body oils that keep him warm. lots of moisture in air so everything was frozen that was exposed to moisture, including tent. if day was not good, i was not going to travel Denali road today, but day was actually better....no clouds at all. how lucky i was to get the permit for two great days.
took down tarp shelter, but did not think ahead so it landed in fire. but it was so frozen, nothing burned. lucky me.
10:15 (153) again waited to give others a head start on the road. i can't take traffic jams well, although here that means 10 vehicles. but i welcome them because they tell me where the animals are. i would not be able to see them on my own driving.
11:30 (172) three Dall Sheep high on steep mountain cliff. how do they do that?
11:50 (182) same bear as yesterday. move up river a bit. totally ignoring us humans as he or she prepares for winter, which is coming soon.
11:55 (184) 12 Dall sheep way up high on steep cliff.
12:15 (188) break for dogs at magnificent overlook of Denali. Ed B. took photo of the three of us. some woman approached me and told me she had been trailing me for miles to get some great shots of Defender climbing steep hills, etc. she asked if she could follow me and i told her to go ahead, but i lost her. it seems that everyone is interested in the Defender after the other wildlife and Leben's wheelchair.
2:19 (219) Kantishna. i did not spend time here on tour of Quigleys' cabin because of my rule that if dogs cannot do it, i do not. took some photos. speak about remote living. there are also four lodges here for people who like their vacations to be really remote.
2:55 (229) back to wonder lake. great campground here. maybe someday. but no way to get the dogs out here since they are not a.lowed on the busses.
had a hard time figuring out how new red bas can works. they tried to mprove the design of these things since i last used one in 2001 but made it much more complex. i pity poor guy who needs to use one in an emergency. progress. for every step forward we tame, we actually move two back.
4:10 move on from wonder lake.
5.10 (249) vehicle speeding around blind turn on one of those treacherous cliff roads nearly ran me off steep cliff. he is supposed to stop for oncoming traffic because we are closer to cliff. probably some guy who got a late start today and is speeding his way through all 180 miles. maybe he'll add to body bag count, but not his own.
6:00 (270) flock of ptarmigan crossing road in front of me. must stop fr them, it's the law. why don't they fly over? that is the question we should ask.
6:05 (273) another moose. maybe this is why ptarmigan were crossing the road, to get away from this guy. looks like the same moose from Dalton.
didn't see the bear on the way back. maybe he/she has left for hibernation in the hills.
6:45 (296) Back at camp. cleaned Defender; discovered that my stove mysteriously disappeared from common storage during the day. need stove to make rice for erde. people next door loaned me theirs and gave me firewood. i never ceased to be amazed by kindness of strangers. (stove reappeared next day as mysteriously as it disappeared.). i liked loaner stove so much, decided to get one myself in Skagway, 1000 miles away, next opportunity i will have. (distance and time in this part of the world follow different rules of physics than back home. i look forward to 1000 mile legs of trips here, whereas in DC i try to avoid even 5-mile trips in the city. i can predict how long a 1000 leg will take me, whereas in DC i am off by hundreds of percents.)
9:00 discovered that i left tent light on whole day. but battery lasted and still good. also, when i went to take a photo of dogs sleeping, battery in camera died. lucky me that it did not happen on the road.
10:45 taps. cold. really cold already. i recall the words from a song from the fifties, "Meanwhile, back in the jungle," when the guy discovers he is being cooked. in a rapid, high voice he squeaks out something like, "Get me outta here!" well, get me outta here before the snows come.
Ed, from somewhere on the road