A (Long) Walk In Denali

On the bus.  Always on the bus.  The only way to get into this park.  Sometimes it can be very frustrating.  But it’s so beautiful at this time of year it’s hard to complain.  Besides, this will be my last bus ride into Denali.  Not just for this season, but for good.  Probably.  Plans can change.

I’ve come into the park more this year than the past 2 seasons combined.  A wise choice, though I do miss my Denali Highway adventures.

Thursday night I got a ticket to Wonder Lake.   Thought I might go all the way there, or perhaps get off the bus at a earlier point.  Wonder Lake is a long day.  Eleven hours, even without any walking.  Plans change when, shortly after getting my ticket, my friend Marcie asks me to dinner for Friday night.  Easy decision – Marcie and her boyfriend are good people.  I was her boss until she took a job with the Park Service that pays $5 more per hour.  Hard to compete with that.  No more Wonder Lake.  Instead, a shorter day.

So.  On the bus.  Bear off the road.  The clouds are so heavy though that I can’t get a clear shot.  I’m not interested in a wildlife photograph shot at ISO 1000 during the daytime.  Plus, I live here.  I can make that choice.

Polychrome overlook.  Cold – so cold!  It’s as cold today as a typical Colorado February day.  I judged my clothing poorly.  I struggle to shoot photos as I shiver.  Winter is coming.

Eielson visitor center.  The colors have changed in just the 5 days since I came through with Camilla.  I wish the sun would come out just a little bit to ‘pop’ the colors, but no luck.  The clouds are thick.

September 11 is in a few days.  I shoot a photo of the visitor center flag, mountains and colors in the distance.  I think it will make a good 9/11 tribute on the company facebook page.  On 9/11, when I post the photo, it becomes one of our most popular ever, but no one seems to make the 9/11 connection.  Oh well.



Quick bathroom break, refill water.  On the road.  Literally.  I hike the road back east toward the entrance.  Still cold, but better now that I’m walking.  I’m glad I brought gloves.

Waterfall/cascade not far off the road.  I scramble downhill.  Wish I had my tripod.  I get creative with rocks.

(as always, click on one of the thumnails to view them much bigger)

I walk for 45 minutes, enjoying the scenery and quiet.  A bus comes along, I jump on.

It’s a driver I’ve come to know well this summer.  A good guy.  But today he won’t shut up.  He literally doesn’t shut up for 20 minutes straight.  Headache.  Using the bus PA system, it’s hard to ignore when the drivers are talking.  Education is good… this is too much.  I can’t even converse with the family I’m sitting by.

At Toklat rest area, I ask the driver to drop me at the Sable Pass sign.  I’ve wanted to hike this section all three seasons, today is finally the time.  A high animal traffic area, Sable Pass is closed to off-road hiking.  Ironically, I’ve never seen a bear within the 5 mile closure area.


My intention is only to walk to the top of the pass, to the famous sign with the nails in it.  Nails to keep the bears from destroying it.  I’d like to walk longer, not sure if I have time.  I reach the sign and continue on, waiting for a bus.  And wait.  And walk. Finally, a bus.  “Sorry-Bus Full” – the dreaded sign.  Driver stops, says the next bus is 15 minutes behind.  Perfect.  Fifty minutes later, finally, the bus.  “Sorry-Bus Full.”  Crap.

I reach the other end of the Sable Pass closure.  Five miles walked, just in this section.  Seven miles so far today.  My original intention was to only walk 3 miles total.

Bear sighting.  On the flanks of Cathedral Mountain, several hundred yards away.  I’ve never seen a bear in Denali when I was outside of a vehicle.  The bear ignores me.  Bears are gorging now, trying to get fat for their winter sleep.

Continue on.  Where’s a bus?  I worry I will miss dinner.

Walk more.  I’m over this.  Well over 9 miles walked now.  I can do much more, but it’s cold and rainy and I wasn’t planning this.

Bus.  Finally.

Food and drinks with friends.  Stories shared.  Plans discussed.  Winter is coming, the season is ending.  What’s next?  None of us knows.