After the previous day’s adventure of mosquitos, hiking up a mountain, encountering baby caribou, and pretending to be a park ranger, I didn’t know what would possibly top that!
Need a reminder? Here’s the recap.
I still can’t quite express to you how amazing it is to be able to be able to hike anywhere you want. It sounds terrifying and, to be honest, I was a little apprehensive about doing it on my own. Originally Stephanie and I decided that on our last day in Denali we would do some backcountry hiking but we’d stay within sight of the road. Well, John had other plans.
We amassed a group of 11 intrepid adventurers and, with instructions on where to get off the bus, we grabbed a seat on whichever bus had empty space and all met up at the start of a “social trail”.
Social trails aren’t official park trails, but frequent visitors to the park have favorite spots to start hikes and, over time, these become a little bit more worn in. The park doesn’t particularly want these to get traveled frequently, so they actually have instructions to not walk in a single file line.
It took awhile for all of us to get to the starting spot, but once we were there we hiked down to a creek and had our first water crossing adventure. I took my shoes off but, honestly, I don’t recommend it. Bring dry socks in your bag and you’ll be better off.
Our goal for this hike was to circle Cathedral Mountain. John, our guide, had done this particular hike before but we also had at least one map and one GPS device to keep us from getting too lost. But, really, as long as we kept the mountain on our left we’d be fine.
And that’s it! We hiked for 9 hours and over 10 miles, climbed up and down ridges, bushwhacked through waist-high brush, had some wildlife sightings, encountered only two other people, sang songs, got super grumpy, and cheered when we got back to the road.
Here’s a short photo journey of some of what we saw.
The plan? Hike down to the river bed and then hike along the river. But first we had to go around that lake down there.
And, since Stephanie and I are apparently caribou magnets, we had to navigate a herd of them.
We had to cross a creek and some spots in the river once we got there.
Walking down the riverbed seemed like walking on the face of some other planet.
We stopped for lunch. I saw a bear.
Our original plan was to walk along the river bed until we got back to the road. However, our plan was thwarted by signage telling us that we shouldn’t go any further because of wolf dens. Alrighty then!
We backtracked a bit looking for a way to climb up out of the river bed and get back onto the mountain side. That’s when we ran into a couple that said they’d seen a bear further up the mountain. This, of course, freaked out some of the people we were with. But, did you know that there has never been a bear attach on a group of four or more people? Pretty sure this group of 11 wasn’t going to have any problems.
In fact, our biggest problem was hiking through waist high brush. Let me tell you, after an hour or more of that I was getting pretty tired. I was more focused on trying to find the most expedient route than I was on taking pictures, to be honest.
In fact, I fully admit at this stage I just wanted to put my head down and forge on as fast as I could. But, we didn’t want to leave the back of the pack too far behind. So, we’d hike to small ridges and then wait for everyone to catch up. Rinse and repeat. Finally, we got back to a more wooded area and we started to see signs that other people had gone that same way.
And then, lo and behold, we found another river and just across it was a campsite! And then we found the road. Hooray!
Thankfully we had perfect weather, enough food and water (barely), and some great stories to tell.
I’d love to do a hike like this again, but maybe with fewer people. We didn’t see as much wildlife as I was expecting and we probably could have tried a few more strenuous routes with a slightly different group of people. Still, it was an experience I won’t soon forget and one that is really difficult to put into words or even photos.
Seriously, if you want to truly see Denali, I recommend doing a hiking trip with Sierra Club. I’m proof that there’s no previous experience required!