Thirty Hours

Uncharacteristic heat leads to a lazy morning.  Although I’m out of bed in the morning, I probably am an honorary member of the crack of noon club today.  At 1pm I finally rouse myself out of my cabin and run up Mt. Healy.  Heat.  Sweat.  Mosquitoes.  I walk portions near the top.  Too steep.  Stop.  Gasp for breath.  Mosquitoes.  A pestilence of mosquitoes this season.

At the top.  Well, the overlook at least.  I jog 100 yards past the end of the official trail so I can feel superior to the tourists.  It’s the little things that are important.

Down now.  Much easier than up.  Except for when I slip on a boulder.  Or stub my toe.  Or stop to talk to the people who are very confused how I can run “barefoot” in my 5 fingers.  I’m doing it, so obviously it’s possible.

Park Service trail crew rebuilding the trail.  For a park so dedicated to protecting wildlife and the environment (truly!), they have strange ideas for trails.  Wide.  Gravel.  Lots of gravel.  Terrible drainage bars.  Oh well.   Large snowfield to the side of the trail at one point.  How is that even possible at this elevation when it’s been 80 degrees for the past week?

Back on the bike path, then back to home sweet home.  Shower.  Eat.  Pack camera, wellingtons, food and water.  Forget mosquito repellent.  More on that later.

First stop – buy my bus ticket for the next morning.  I consider the 6:00am bus.  For about 3 seconds.   7:00am sounds much better.

Stop at the Village, the property I worked at the past two summers.  I miss this place.  It still feels more like home to me than my current location.  Sigh.  Visit with a few people there.  We talk work.  Damnit.  It’s my day off.  Why are we talking about work?

6:30pm.  Off to the Denali Highway.  The light is near perfect.  And far less water than a few weeks ago when the road flooded and washed out.  Grateful for the “wellies” I bought this spring.  Should have bought them in 2011.  I wade into ponds and streams in an attempt to get a better shot.

I discover that boots don’t help when you step into 2 feet of thick mud.  I am not amused.  Onward and inward.  Mosquitoes.  A plague of mosquitoes.  Which is worse, a pestilence or a plague?  Who cares – lots of voracious mosquitoes make it hard to concentrate on photos.  I could really use the mosquito repellent sitting in my cabin.

(click on the photos to see them nice and large)

11:30pm.  Almost one hour until official sunset but a huge bank of clouds has obliterated the light.  Barely any clouds in the sky but the only ones there have to cover the sun?

12:30am.  Home.  Pack for the morning.  1:15am.  Sleep!

5:40am.  Alarm.  Are you kidding me?  Did I really buy a bus ticket yesterday for 7:00am?

6:40am.  At the Wilderness Access Center.  Fancy name for what is basically a bus station.  6:30am bus is late, so I’m able to catch the last available seat.  Why wait for my ticketed bus when I can head out now?

Two weeks ago everything was brown, but now all the plant life is bright green.  Flowers are everywhere.  Bear sighting.  At first the grizzly is over 100 meters away, but in a few minutes it approaches the road and crosses it.

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Further up, further in.  Fox on the road.  Moose in the distance.  Caribou on the ridge tops, trying to catch a cooling breeze.

Denali is fully visible.  Normally that’s a rare treat, but for the past 10 days there has been barely a cloud in the sky.  My 3rd season here; I’ve never seen the mountain as clear as it is today.  I’ve lived in the mountains since 1996, but this view is spectacular.

In a typical climbing season, 50% of the climb attempts on Denali are successful.  So far this season, the success rate is 79%. Unusual weather indeed.

No new friends on this bus ride.  A very different trip from two weeks ago.  Less wildlife – most of the animals scatter to higher ground to cool off in the heat – and my fellow bus riders are less social.  Fine with me.  Too early for talk.

Flowers everywhere.  Delayed this year with the delayed onset of summer.  No matter – the tundra is carpeted with yellow, white, purple, pink, and blue.

Quick break at Eielson Visitor Center.  Back on the bus.  Where to hike?  There!  I ask the driver to let me out at the base of a random peak.

Halfway up.  Why did I choose this peak?  It’s so steep and with such loose rock that it’s turned into a class 4 scramble.  Hands and feet.  One step up, slide a half step back.  Repeat.  I eventually reach the top.  Was there another possible outcome?  Views of Denali in one direction, Toklat drainage in the other.

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Lunch and rest.  Walk a short ridgeline before heading down.  A group of Dall sheep graze nearby.  Six ewes and three babies.  They regard me with indifference.  I’m easily 100 meters away, so they mostly ignore me.

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Scree ski down.  Walk back to the bus.  Walking the road.  Heat.  And sunburn.  Sunburn?  I’ve never worn sunscreen in Alaska.  Not once!  But it’s never been warm enough to go this long with minimal clothing.

Melting on the road.  Where’s the damn bus?

Picked up by my favorite driver.  He tells the same jokes every day probably, but the tourists love them.  I laugh too.  Who wouldn’t love a cheesy joke about his bus coming in 11th place in the bus jump competition?  And you have to appreciate a driver who hands out lollipops to hikers on the road.

Where are my quiet bus neighbors now?  Man behind me won’t stop talking to me, even after I pull out my book and read.  Am I on a plane?

6:00pm.  Home.  Heat.  It’s still hot.

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