Into The Wild

Trip Start Feb 28, 2010
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Trip End Jul 18, 2010


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Flag of United States  , Alaska
Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Ive traveled over 50 000km through 43 cities and 14 countries, choosing to leave a visit to Alaska till the very end and finally my dream of venturing out into the Alaskan wilderness is here.

Time to get to Denali National Park, a wild preserve kept in pristine condition since its discovery allowing anyone to enter and experience the awesomeness that it is.

Awkwardly running through the streets of Anchorage to catch my departing train, i quickly checked in and boarded in record time, surprised that my name was on the list considering i booked the thing months ago.
Once i boarded it was obvious that i did in fact book this thing a while back, 5 moths ago to be exact...the half dome cabin offering 360 degree views with especially wide seats and endless leg room. I definitely booked this when my bank account didn't flinch when it churned out big numbers....lucky i did otherwise i would've been sitting in the coal transporting cart this morning.

My ride offering first time views of the Alaskan summer landscape lasted exactly 8 hours before reaching the park, where i hitched a free ride on a shuttle bus to a famous little restaurant/bar in town where i got picked up by my hostels bus after chowing down an all American meal....what else but a burger. Its been hard getting anything else around the north but that.

Arriving at my (5 month in advance) pre booked cabins i was excited to see what i had reserved for myself, turns out i did a pretty good job.
A single log cabin located only a few metres from a running river offering a mountain landscape view from my front door, kind of makes me feel sorry for the dudes and dudettes who got stuck with the cold dirty tents next door...sorry Marie Jose.

So ive traveled further north, which now brings me closer to the arctic circle where the sun pretty much skims the surface at around 1am. This "sunset" lasts about 2.5 hours before showing popping up again and finding its way through the smallest gap in my paper thin "curtain". All part of the Alaskan life i guess, but it sure beats the winter time where they only get about 5 hours of sunlight in a day.

Denali National Park

DAY 1

Ive got a rough plan in my head of what i want to do here, it involves hiking, some more hiking, climbing and then some hiking. I was determined to give my Merrell's (shoes) the battering of a lifetime and put them to the ultimate test.
After getting some trail advice from the folks over at the Wilderness Centre (who know as much as a tin can of tuna), i decide that today is the day for Mount Healey.
Its a small mountain (by Alaskan standards) but i figure its a good one to warm up with and get an overall view of the town and to get a look as far as i could see into the park.
The trail starts only a short walk from the wilderness centre which is why its one of the more famous trailed hikes.

30 minutes into my hike walking through the relatively flat 'Bear Alert' trails i get to the first sign of an inclination which reassures me this is finally going somewhere, so i continue. Another half hour passes and it gets steeper as well as hotter, hot enough i forget im in Alaska so i take a break and shred a layer.
At this point i decide to ditch the boring trail which i can see wind its way up around the back, and hit it up straight up the guts....A scally rock wall full of slate and shale almost too brittle to climb. Perfect, now were talkin!!! Plus the views from this angle are even more amazing than the trail the 'other people' decided to follow.
Carefully scaling the rock face i make it to the first pass which is the steepest, where i think i nailed a timed photo shot which is slowly becoming a Chad specialty.
From here i see the top, its a long hike following a trail at the ridge of the baby beast which is what i like, especially since i see another rockface further ahead off the 'beaten path'.

Once i reach the top an hour later, the photo opportunities present themselves time and time again, so i snap away and eventually produce one of my most prized shots. Now to get this shot i needed to be quick, and as if the race against the timer wasnt enough this time it had to be a very careful climb up to a towering peak overlooking the valley. After 3 try's and almost aborting the shot i gave it one last go....got it. Check it out for yourself, you cant miss it.
From here on i decided to go higher to what i figured was the absolute peak, and a short climb later i reached it. A single boulder perched above the ridge sat there waiting for me to do my thing, and so i did.

I chilled up there for a while, taking in the views and planning out the next few days as i had lunch before returning back the same way i cam up, minus to steep climb down, this time i took the trail all the way to the base and headed back into town.
After re-energizing with a couple of Corona's (the only Mexican beer American's offer), i headed back to the hostel to cook me up a feast for dinner as i attempted to save a few bucks. 2 packs of 2 minutes noodles later i was satisfied and so decided to hit the sack early, only this time blocking out the daylight a little better than the previous night.


DAY 2

Target: Top of Mount Margret.
A 45 minutes free shuttle takes me into the park as far as it would for free, now its time to tread it.
I followed a trail along savage river until i reached what i thought to be a fairly easy hike up a flat face of the mountain. Man was i wrong.
An hour into the already steep hike led me to a face which was covered rock, rock and more rock with the occasional flat grassy areas offering me rest time.
I can understand how this might come across like a complaint, but for those of you who know me by now know that its the exact opposite. Im lovin this.

Newer and higher peaks slowly show themselves as i peak each ridge, the mountain seems to be never ending but the constantly improving views drive me higher and higher.
Hours pass and i find myself only halfway to the top, so i decide to rest it out for a bit and have a snack as i park myself onto a perch overlooking an already impressive valley.

The mountain gets steeper, the top gets further but i continue to chase it knowing the inevitable isn't too far off. And it pays off.
The final wall offers ways around it, but i choose to cut down time and just go up as i needed to get back down in time to catch one of the last buses out of this park.
Sure enough as i peak over the top rock i see it open up in front of me, i reached the top...but this was different. Flat planes!!!!
Total flatness, open fields of rolling hills topped with grass went as far as the mountain range did. These tops are so flat that Dal sheep have struggled their way up there for the summer, and did i mention the view. Woooooooohhhoooooooooo!!!!!!!

The whole park opened up right in front of me as i walked the planes, i was immersed in the famous Alaskan mountains and tundras in total solitude. There wasnt a single sound up there, only the sound of me chomping down on a well deserved Granny Smith apple. Pure bliss.
After spending about 30 minutes at the top and getting a littel too close for the Dal Sheep's' compfort, i headed back in the direction i thought was the way i came up. Wrong again.

This mountain threw a few surprises at me this day, sending me down faces littered in steep lose rock...not to fear, Bear Grylls is here.
My unnatural fascination with the TV show Man vs Wild finally pays off as i remember the techniques he used for sliding down these bad boys. Bear rules!

An hour and a half later, shoes were battered pants had taken a beating but i was down, early enough to take a nap as i waited to wave down the final bus to drive me out of this paradise.

Back at the cabin, my frozen pizza in a box tasted as good as any wood oven pizza would, but i guess after a day like this a cucumber sandwich could taste like a slice of chocolate cake.
Thinking of an early night was about as far as i got, because today was the last day for a few friends i had made at the hostel, so under the easily forgettable time of day we stayed up till around midnight before we looked at our watches in amazement (it never gets old) and decided to call it a night.


DAY 3

Target: Polychrome Mountain
After getting a tip from a few hikers in the hostel, i decided to conquer the Polychrome today, so this morning i boarded a shuttle bus going into the park that i booked 6 months ago and jumped off 2 hours later when i reached the base. Now the view from the drop off point was impressive, but it was about to get a whole lot better.

The morning was cold and wet but the sky began to clear as i headed off in the direction of the mountain like it knew i was coming. The grass was wet and the bushes were soggy making the hike up a trailess slope even tougher than it shouldve been.
An hour passed as i weaved my way up the cushiony surface before i reached the ridge, where i saw only a fraction of what i intended to see, so i continued my way up through the rocky slopes until i reached the Polychrome peak.
From this point i look over the never ending landscape in awe, realising i had just found myself a 360 degree view of the the entire park for as far as the eye could see.
Its at this point that my mental image of an Alaskan summer tundra dominated by distant green and white peaks had finally come to life, so after hanging out up there for lunch i left my mark (literally) and headed along Polychrome ridge looking for an alternate route down.
 
I soon found the road and waved down the next passing shuttle that would lead me back to the main village to catch my ride back to the hostel where i spend the rest of the night chatting with a Swiss couple who are travelling through North America for 4.5 months in an RV.


DAY 4

Target: Sable Dome
The never ending daylight continues to pound its way into my blacked out window, defenceless against it im obligated to get up early anyway as i need to catch the 7:30am shuttle that will take me four hours into the park to the last of my hikes in the national park.
The long ride in gave the passengers the opportunity to spot wildlife, and lots of it. On the way in we spotted moose, carribou, wolves and a great supply of grizzly bears on multiple occasions.

The ride to Eilson visitors centre was a great wildlife watching experience, but it was time to get off the bus and do my own thing for multiple reasons like; a) this is an 8 hour round trip and i aint stayin on a damn bus for that long b) theres a bunch of wildlife out there and i aint stayin on a damn bus c) theres a whole lot of land out there waiting for me to explore so i aint stayin on a damn bus d) i was stuck with one of the most annoying bus drivers on the planet!

Sable dome is on the agenda for the day, its a mountain deep into the park that is among the wildlife, flat enough to hike but high enough for bears to keep at th bottom.
I dont know what this thing looks like so i ask the bus driver to drop me off at the base of the mountain when he gets to it, with that all too cheesy grin on his face he agrees. All good right. WRONG.
This bus driver ends up overshooting the base of the mountain (a.k.a the prime drop off spot for the Chad) and only after me saying something stops about 500m down the road, on the opposite side of the grassy hill. Thanks Monty.
So now im forced to jump off and walk back and through the base that is covered in knee high shrubs. This would be OK if it wasnt wet and rainy, but it was and thanks to my man Monty i ended up begining the hike with drenched pants, shoes and socks. Thanks mate.

A couple of hours pass and i make it to a great viewing point, but not before running into a heard of carribou about 20 minutes from th peak. The carribou (a.k.a Reindeer) are a rare sight when hiking and to run into a whole herd of them on my own was pretty special, especially when i almost have a starng contest with one of them.
Continuing on i pursue the peak or what looks like the peak from the base, and when i reach it the wet shoes and socks seem to fizzle out of my memory as im faced with an awesome view into the south facing valley.
I see more mountain so i continue to climb, and as i climb i reach the "flat top" peak which now offers me an all round view into the surrounding valleys and tundras. Magnificent. I can hardly keep myself from running from edge to edge...so i do and its at this point i can say that i have hiked and seen all that i need to see within the park. I am satisfied....and tired. Time to head back.

Making my way back to the road i see buses in the distance pulling over to watch a couple of blotchy objects cross the road. I dont carry binoculors and ive never needed them so bad. Struggling to see what all the comotion is i decided to take a photo and zoom in on the subjects....BEARS!
A mother and a cub have just crossed the road as i watch from half way up the mountain, they look like a couple of rolling hay stacks tumbling in the wind, but still moving in my direction....time to move. Im now forced to ditch my original plan of hiking the flat grassy planes back to the road and need to go in the direction of the knee high shrubs again in order to avoid the bears. Ahhhh, wet socks and shoes again, im begining to get used to this.

After making it to the road and staying clear of the golden giants, an hour passes before the first bus with any room picks me up, but not before i get the chance to walk the road and view the awesome beauty the park had to offer.


DAY 5

Ive hiked the park to death, i cantget myself to board another shuttle further into the park as it now seems pointless to drive a minimum 8 hours and end up back in the same spot, so today i decide its time to hit the rapids.

After signing up for what i thought was a full day of white water adventure, im picked up at the WAC by a small van whch seemed to be about 30 minutes late...striking back memories of south american pick up's.
Arriving at the rafting headquaters, i gear up and join the morning group for what turns out to be a half day sitting in an inflatable boat controlled by one guide who is apparently giving us a scenic tour!
Say what??? The Chad sitting down in the corner of a raft watching the scnery go by....without a paddle??? What did i sign up for?
Turns out i signed up for a full day....but a full day that is half scenic tour and half white water. I mean sure, its great to see Alaska from a boat, but sittin there just aint me, but i could do nothing but wait this one out.
2 hours pass and the tour is finally over, im told to collect my helmet and move over to the other boat for the long awaited white water action.

We pass through about 6 rapids over a 2 hour ride, the water was fast today and pounded us from every direction whenever it felt like it, but luckily i was part of a group that could listen and follow the direction of the guide who seemed to know what he was doing because he managed to keep the boat from flipping...which is not exactly what i wanted so later i decided to take the plunge and feel what an Alaskan river can offer. Lets just say im lucky i was wearing a dry suit and not a wet one.

The rafting trip ended at around 1pm and i arrived back in town at around 2pm, giving meenough time to check out the visitors centre and watch an award winning documentary on the wilderness.
My final day in the park was over and i headed back to the hostel for a night of planning for the rest of my Alaskan adventure.


DAY 5

This is now the final day of my "planned" travels that began 4 months ago on the Canadian slopes of Whistler.
So i have now booked a seat on a van heading south that will pick me up tomorrow morning to take me back to Anchorage where i make up my mind on what to see next.

Today is a free day, slept in for the first time since i left Canada and it feels good. I take my time packing my bag before taking the advice off an employee to do a short local hike near the hostel..on a day when the clouds decided to sit over the town and shower us for the entire day.
I was only looking for a short low energy hike that would allow me to take it easy and pass some time on this rainy day....i guess theidea of wet shoes and socks doesnt bother me anymore.

The water pounded away at my rain jacket as i head out into the direction of Morning Mountain brushing through the knee high ungrazed grass and sloshing through ankle deep muddy puddles. I was enjoying it, but neded to find a way to keep my mind occupied to keep from going into an instinctual miserable state that rain automatically brings with it, so i somehow created a brand new story from scratch in my mind that may someday find its way to ink on paper....who knows, all that matters is that it worked, because after 2 hours of hiking up into the rain and wind, i had reached my destination. I had peaked my final summit in Denali and ready to move on. Time for some hot pizza.

The following day it was time to leave what i believe to be one of the greatest national parks in the world and head back south to Anchorage to put my rough plan for the next two weeks into action.
And after indulging in a full breakfast in a diner accross the road, i load my bags in the van and say goodbye to a hostel that could easily be the best hostel in the U.S.






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