Alaska Part 2 – The Backcountry

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We woke up to large pieces of ice on our tent. It was cold, but the rain had stopped. We packed up camp and hiked back across the tundra to the road. It was too early and cold to wait for a bus, so we walked the three or four miles West to the Eielson Visitor Center. Here we sat for an hour, warming our bones and resting up for the remainder of our hike. For a few moments the clouds broke, and we could see Denali (Mount McKinley). Above the snowy peaks sat clouds, and above the clouds stood the highest peak in North America. It was a sight to behold.

Morning

The morning after our little bus incident was beautiful and dry

Jon Hiking

Jon hiking back to the park road

Denali

Denali peaking through the clouds

After a little regrouping, we donned our packs and hiked back into the wilderness. There is a short social trail from the visitor center down into the gravel bed of the Thorofare River. It involved a bit of bushwacking, but we made it down without running into a surprise bear.

Creek Crossing

Crossing the creek near Eielson Visitor Center

It took us over an hour to hike out across this valley to the base of the mountains on the other side. Along the way, we crossed the heavily braided Thorofare River. Despite the night’s rain, the crossings were shallow and rather trivial.

Gravel Bar

The gravel bar created by the Thorofare River

From there we began the shallow climb along Glacier Creek. This creek flows north along the enormous Muldrow Glacier which, at that elevation, just looks like a big pile of dirt. For another few hours we followed this creek drainage. We hiked until we reached a huge opening in the valley. We made camp in this open, U-shaped, glacially carved valley. With so much daylight, we had plenty of time to stare off into the vast Alaska Range. We were surrounded by snowy mountains, and it was still only August! As we went to sleep that night, the rain began to pitter-patter on our tent.

Pass

Had things worked out the previous day, we would have gone over the pass between these mountains

Valley

The valley we set up camp

Tent

Our tent at one of the most spectacular campsites in the world

We woke up the next morning, and the rain had stopped. We packed up and doubled back on our boot steps. The Thorofare River was flowing much higher than the day previous, perhaps because of a combination of warmer weather and the previous night’s rain. We crossed it without incident, though, and continued on back to the Eielson Visitor Center. As we hiked up to the top of the trail, a ranger stood waiting for us. He told us that the trail we hiked up was closed because of a grizzly bear. We turned around, and, sure enough, only a couple hundred feet from where we had just walked, there ambled a bear. We took pictures and went into the visitor center to warm up.

River Crossing

This was the section of the Thorofare River that we crossed

Hiking

Jon hiking across the gravel bar

Trail

One of the few sections of trail in Denali National Park

From the visitor center we caught a bus back out toward the park entrance. We decided to camp at the main campground for the rest of the trip so that we wouldn’t have to worry about the logistics of catching a bus back to Anchorage on the same day we hike out of the wilderness. What we lost in solitude we gained in creature comforts. It did rain that night, but we enjoyed running water, flush toilets, and a presentation about the squirrels of Denali National Park. The rest of the trip would be dayhikes.

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