Wet and wild Denali

Trip Start Jan 10, 2008
Trip End Oct 03, 2008

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Flag of United States  , Alaska
Sunday, July 27, 2008

Raw, rugged, wet and wild, untouched, vast, mosquito ridden, inspiring, quintessential Alaska.

These are some of the things that pop to mind when I think back on our visit to Denali National Park.

Dubbed 'the sub-Arctic Serengeti', I have to admit that we were expecting Denali to be teeming with wildlife and that we would be seeing animals all over the place like we did in Yellowstone.

Kirilee likes to joke that she was half expecting animals to be sitting on the side of the road and waving at us... such was the reports we'd read about of the park about abundant wildlife.

Unfortunately, a whole load of really crappy weather and the simple fact that you can probably only see about 10% of Denali from the main road meant that we left just a little bit disappointed by our experience.

I stress 'a little' because Denali is really an astonishing national park... there ARE huge numbers and a huge variety of wildlife at Denali but it's of course spread throughout the enormous park, one of the biggest in North America... you can hardly expect all the animals to be hugging the main tourist road. But the main dampener on our experience really was the weather.

The average YEARLY rainfall tumbled down during our first three days in Denali and despite a few bright periods of respite, it was trying having to contend with all the rain, wind and seriously dense fog.... all while camping throughout our entire stay.

Imagine being kept up all night by torrential rain and howling winds battering your tent, getting a few hours of sleep only to wake up to more rain.

Setting up a tent site, making a fire to cook meals, getting out for a walk or a short trek... they're all extremely difficult and trying tasks in pouring rain.

Still, K and I persevered pretty well I think... we made the best of the awful conditions and in our five days at Denali we did manage to see most of the big animals... moose, caribou and bear plus fox and loads of beautiful birds... unfortunately we missed out on seeing any wolves which are spotted quite regularly. We also always expected that we wouldn't see the extremely elusive lynx... although there was a report that one ran through our campsite one morning while we were there.

We actually woke up shocked one morning, hearing a huge animal (probably caribou or moose), run straight past our tent while we were staying at Savage Creek. That was quite exciting.

Anyway, I don't want this blog to give you the impression that Denali is an awful place to visit or that we really hated our visit.... the crappy weather just made it a little more difficult to enjoy all the amazing sights.

Unlike Yellowstone, there is one main road stretching for 80 miles from the main entrance at Riley Creek all the way over to the majestic Wonder Lake.

It was at Wonder Lake that we had our most memorable experience of Denali.

Our first night camping had been spent at Savage Creek and on our second day, we spent almost 7 hours on the camper shuttle bus travelling through dense fog and rain until we arrived out at Wonder Lake. Once there, we were pretty excited to see the clouds clearing around the imposing Mount McKinley... the tallest mountain in North America for which the park is most famous for.

As the evening wore on, more sections of the mountain came into view but most of it, including the top third, remained shrouded in cloud. Still, we knew the fact that only 30% of visitors ever get to see Mt McKinley so we were pretty pleased to have seen this much and with the rain having cleared away and a fine, comfortable summer evening ahead of us, we set up camp and relaxed over a dinner of peanut butter and honey on rice cakes plus canned fruit and a ration of chocolate rolos (Kirilee dared not let me eat them all at once).

I was really tempted to stay up all night to see if more of the mountain came into view... I did make a quick venture over to see the Reflection Pond and more of Wonder Lake for an hour or two, but the one major negative about Wonder Lake, which I failed to mention, forced K and I to have an early night... MOSQUITOES... millions and millions of mosquitoes make Wonder Lake their home. It's no wonder locals joke that the state bird is in fact not the Ptarmigan but the humble mozzy.

So off we went to bed, chatting away in the safety of the tent until the late hours of the evening... we had set an early alarm of 5:30am, planning to make an early exit for our next campsite at Teklanika... that was until we woke in the morning and Kirilee peered through the opening at the front of our tent and first noticed one of the most impressive and awe-inspiring scenes of our trip.

Mount McKinley was far from shrouded in morning fog and clouds like we expected, North America's tallest and most imposing mountain was not only entirely free of clouds, it was bathed in the most glorious morning sunshine amid stunning blue skies with some beautiful wispy clouds hovering above just for effect.

It was a magnificent view and so we abandoned plans to take the early bus and instead, I ventured out to the Reflection Pond to take some photos while Kirilee soaked up the scene from our campsite.

We both ventured out on the bus to Kantishna where we came across an enormous caribou bull with stunning antlers wandering across the road, I took a pit-stop for half an hour at the north end of Wonder Lake to take photos at an even more magnificent viewpoint before the bus returned from Kantishna.... I jumped back onboard and K and I admired the stunning view as we cruised down the dirt road away from Wonder Lake... every 10 minutes, clouds cumulated more and more until it was again covered by the time we reached Eilson.

So we might not have got as up close to the wildlife or indeed seen as many animals as we would have liked but being a member of the 30% club, consisting of people who have seen Mt McKinley, went a long way to making up for it.

There's not too much more to say about our three other days in Denali.

After an evening and morning of beautiful weather out at Wonder Lake, the rain and heavy fog returned during our stays at Teklanika and back at Savage Creek... we finally got a close sighting of the enormous moose that frequent the front sections of the park and we also saw more bears, some foxes and various other smaller animals.

All in all, we'll remember Denali for being a wet and wild adventure, a prime example of Alaska's unpredictable and 'wild' nature... a challenge... but eternally memorable none-the-less.
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