Denali: big and beautiful

Almost the first thing we encountered pulling into Denali was a motorcycle plastered with stickers from the Americas and laden down with lots of stuff. This bike had clearly been driven through the Americas and we wanted to talk to it’s rider. This was our first overlander encounter. We did get an opportunity to chat with him. He gave us his overlander card and we made a mental note to make one of our own. He then shared a french toast breakfast with us huddled under our tarps in our rainy and a little chilly camp.

The only way to access Denali is on a bus, so the next morning we got on the first 6:15 am bus. The theory was that there would be more wildlife sitings if we went earlier because there would be no buses ahead of us to scare them away. We did see a lot of wildlife later in the day, but what we were greeted with was snow and frigid temperatures. Wasn’t this August? I layered up and withstood the cold, which was a good thing. The park and in particularly Mount McKinley (highest point in North America) did not disappoint.

We decided against any backcountry camping because a man had just been killed by a bear a few days before we arrived. The man did not keep his distance and paid dearly for the mistake. There are really no trails in Denali. It’s big, it’s open, and don’t think you climb a tree because there are none. Fellow visitors reported the hiking to be slow going because the ground is soft and wet. I don’t want to discourage hiking the park though. I expect there are some pretty breathtaking views if you’re willing to cowboy up.

 

Countdown

Seeing bears is a requirement for a proper Alaskan trip. The first campsite in Juneau hadn’t had a bear sighting in a month. The second hadn’t had one in 5 days. We saw a grizzly fishing on the way to the third site. Since G kept reminding me that he didn’t need to be faster than the bear, just faster than the slowest person in the party (me), I sent him to get the pics.  And as we were pulling into our last site, a black bear was coming out.

Brown Bear

 

A good omen

Working our way through a narrow fjord on the way to Juneau, the captain notifies the ship that they’ve spotted a spirit bear off the port side of the boat. Spirit bears are rare black bears with white coats due to a recessive gene. We heard through the ship grapevine that it took some documentary filmmakers 9 months to spot one spirit bear.  Needless to say, the captain turned the ship around three times to get a good shot. A good start to the trip.

Spirit Bear