Didn’t mean to leave everyone hanging after my last two posts! But, really, a good story takes a while to tell, right? And this next chapter includes my first real “backcountry” hike, bears, caribou, and pretending to be a park ranger in Denali. Yes, you read that right.
Need a quick refresher? Read Part 4 here.
When you last left the two of the heroes of this story (aka my friend Stephanie and myself) decided to leave Wonder Lake and take the bus back to Eielson Visitor’s Center.
Panorama of the view from Eielson
We’d decided we wanted to hike the Old Gorge Creek Trail since it was the one our friend John had worked on. However, when we arrived at Eielson this sign greeted us at the trailhead.
Oooookay. I guess we won’t go that way! Instead, we decided to try the Alpine Trail. Which had something like over 1000 feet of elevation gain in under a mile. Whew!
But, the views were spectacular.
Over three quarters of the way to the “top” this sign greeted us:
Eh, you know what? You only live once! Stephanie and I decided to ignore the sign and go ahead. Thank goodness we did because the views only got better. Also, we got our first real taste of hiking without a trail.
Yep, THIS sign means we were now free to roam wherever we wanted. And roam we did. We climbed a ridge and played in the snow.
That may look like a bank of clouds next to my left elbow, but it’s actually Mt. Denali!
Then, as we were exploring, we looked up as this guy came over the ridge and seemed to head straight for us!
Um, hello little guy. We’re caribou-friendly, I promise! Stephanie and I froze and reviewed the wildlife safety tips we’d read and what John had shared. Bear? Freeze, spread your arms, and be loud. Moose? Run and get behind a tree. Caribou? NO IDEA! So, we froze and just chatted with each other figuring if we ignored him then he would ignore us. He stopped, looked at us, and then continued on his way along the ridge.
Stephanie and I marveled at how close he’d come and then continued marveling at the fact that we were on a mountain, in Alaska, and we could walk wherever we wanted!
We didn’t stay up there forever, though. While we were hiking up Alpine we turned around to take in the view and saw mama bear and her little cub almost a mile away, down the mountain, wandering away from the trail we’d wanted to hike originally. The little tan specks were barely discernible as bears, but it’s definitely what they were. So, we headed back down to see if it was safe to hike Gorge Trail.
Turns out it was, but we didn’t really have time to hike all of it before we needed to catch the last bus that would get us back to our campsite in time for dinner and the evening’s ranger talk.
And, let me tell you, it’s a good thing we got back in time. Because this evening ended up being one of my favorite stories of the trip.
See, a few evenings a week, a ranger comes to the campground and does an educational talk on something to do with Denali. I’d see on the schedule on the bulletin board at Eielson that this evening’s was on “Dinosaurs in Denali”. Sounds like an interesting way to spend an hour.
After dinner and a little before 7PM, Stephanie and I started walking to the “amphitheater” (aka the clearing with log benches) to hear the ranger talk scheduled to start at 7. As we got close, a man came running up to us.
“Have you seen the Smith family? Their son is injured! He was bit by a dog!!”
Whoa. Okay. I knew the ranger would be at the amphitheater and I knew the campground also had a host station where someone should be with a radio. I looked at Stephanie and told her to go get the ranger and I would go get the host. Off we ran in separate directions.
On my way to the host, I ran into a guy I’d talked to the day before. “Don’t worry,” he said. “I got the host and they’re radioing for an ambulance.” Don’t forget – cell phones don’t work in backcountry!
I ran back to Stephanie and saw that the ranger was with the boy and his family. Okay, great. “Someone needs to tell people that the ranger talk might not happen,” I said.
“Go for it,” Stephanie said.
Well. It’s a good thing I’ve been in Toastmasters for years and don’t have a fear of public speaking!
So, I went up in front of a group of 20 or so people to explain the situation. “You can wait and see if the ranger comes back, though.”
At that point, my friend John came up to stand next to me. “While we’re waiting,” he said, “what animals have you seen in the park so far?”
And that’s when I noticed the ranger had left all of her notes and visual aids on the bench behind me.
Yes, together John and I gave the presentation on Dinosaurs in Denali to a packed house! And then John explained more about trail building and maintenance in the park and we attempted to answer questions.
Let me remind you: I’d been in Alaska less than a week and in Denali for less than 3 days. Still, we did a good enough job that we got compliments from people who attended when we saw them the next day. And no one left while we were speaking! The ranger didn’t come back while we were talking and when we left after over an hour she was still with the kid and his family. We heard later that the ambulance was delayed because there was a moose on the road. Only in Alaska, right?
Thinking about taking a trip of your own next summer? No one says you have to end up giving a ranger talk! But you will need to pack the right stuff. My last post gave my recommendations and many of them are on sale again at Shopbop.
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