Denali National Park Day 2 by Kenny & Kristen

Posted on 2017-06-19

We woke up with some pretty sore legs from the hiking we had done the day before ( that healy trail is no joke!). But we packed up camp and sorted our bags out for our back country hiking and headed towards the park. We parked in the riley creek campground and hoped on the 6:55am bus headed westbound into the park toward kantishna( I think). The ride was going to take us a little more than three hours to make it to where we planned on hiking which was highway pass. On the we in we had a great bus driver named Wayne who gave us a great history on the park and was also very observant to the wildlife. We saw some caribou, grizzlies, and baby ravens all on the way in. The views were great and we even had a clear enough day to see Denali in the background (which is rare apparently since there are usually clouds about). Speaking of which – Denali is an AWESOME sight. Its pure white among mountains spotted with snow. It is literally the great one among the Alaskan Range. ![blogPics](/static/img/dnp2/dnp0.jpg "Views of Denali") One we hit our stop, we pulled our packs off the bus and said goodbye to our fellow passengers. As we heaved our packs onto our shoulders and buckled up we could hear the bus drive off and what happened next was pretty odd…It got quite – real quite. All we could hear was the wind through the valley and a few birds chirping as we walked but even though those noises were there . the Silence of nothing else was prominent. There was a glacial run-off we could see from the road which we knew we wanted to follow so we started our trek. In the first twenty minutes we could see a herd of Caribou heading eastward as we were heading south. They were about a half a mile away from us or so but it was neat to see them as they moved across the green tundra we were in. As we walked, the terrain was untouched mostly by humans though we could see several prints from either moose or caribou. There were no trails, we just walked where we wanted. We did have two main points we wanted to hit though which was Gravel mountain and Stoney dome. These were on the other side of a valley and small mountain chain we were going to have to navigate through which as we learned were much steeper than you would expect. ![blogPics](/static/img/dnp2/dnp1.jpg "Starting the Denali hike!") As you roll through the terrain you realize what kind of skills might be necessary to actually mountaineer. You can't just go straight up all the time and if you do, you might be putting yourself in a worse situation later. One of the best tips we learned was to not be so dead set on one particular path, there will be other ways to get to where you want to go. We learned this the hard way once we made it to the base of gravel mountain. We hiked up about ¾ ‘s the way and hit a point where we would either have to trudge up nearly 70 degree slips of small gravel chunks or head back down and follow a different water drainage area around to the north side of the mountain and try to approach it from a different angle. The amount of distance we had to travel seemed minimal but the slope was steep and loose. We gave it a shot though and this proved to be a big challenge for us and a life experience for Kristen. We made it about 40 feet from what we thought would be a point where we could actually rock climb up to the top of this peak when we realized this wasn’t going to work. Within the first minute or so of attempting to head back down, Kristen had a moment of fear in her eyes I have never seen before. Her hands and feet were planted but her breathing quickly escalated and she could not move. There was a terror in her heart that if she moved the rocks would slide and she would be unable to stop herself which would cause her to fall down this mountain. The panic was real so I quickly talked to her and let her know it was going to be ok. The technique to use is to walk sideways with the mountain leaning in to the mountain. As we inched our way down, Kristen was regaining her confidence and once we hit the green grass we took a rest to collect ourselves. This was a challenge for both of us because I was attempting to calm her the best way I knew how, which was the worst way she wanted to be calmed. ( Along with this we also learned that back country hiking is pretty good couples therapy/experience. You have a lot of time to spend together and with all that time comes opportunities to really get to know the other person, how they act, how they handle certain situations and how they need to be treated in order to operate smoothly. This was a tough one for us.) ![blogPics](/static/img/dnp2/dnp2.jpg "Battling Gravel Mountain") So we made our way back down the green slope and headed to the run off area to make our way back up to the side of the mountain hoping we would still be able to make the summit. Here is where we learned that looks can be deceiving. The mountains from the bottom look huge , and they are, but what you don’t see are the different ways the land forms,which makes it easier to go up, to the side and down the mountain to make your trek easier. It may take more time, but there are routes you can use to make it to the top without just trudging and burning through your energy and muscles. After realizing this we were able to circle up around the mountain and after taking a few pictures we moved on to the next valley to start looking for a campsite and prepare to hike stoney dome in the morning. ![blogPics](/static/img/dnp2/dnp3.jpg "Denali landscape") As we made our way down we could see a small stream we were going to have to cross. The problem was that it was just wide enough to not be able to jump across and we did not bring an extra pair of shoes in case ours got soaked (which would have been smart). So we walked along the stream far enough to a point where we realized there was no point for us to cross in this direction. So we trudged back upstream past where we first hit the stream hoping to find a new point of crossing, which we eventually found and crossed. The problem was that the hillside we then climbed was another valley away from the foot of stony dome that we were looking to head up. So we then went back down that hill on another side and crossed another stream in a different location which then set us up at the foot of stony dome with quit a large hill climb in front of us. ![blogPics](/static/img/dnp2/dnp4.jpg "Navigating Denali") I convinced Kristen that we could make this our last push and set up camp it it looked as flat as we thought from the top of Gravel mountain. So we pressed up and reached the first plateau and luckily it was a great surface to camp. Also the wind we blowing towards us at that point which meant our current location was a good spot to cook dinner I we then walked 100 yards into the wind. So we walked to the other side of the plateau and pitched camp, then walked back to our initial climb spot and cooked dinner. Unfortunately, 20 minutes into our dinner it started raining so we endured the rain for a bit to finish eating and then we packed all the food and cook prep into the bear canister and Kristen went back to the tent to get dry and I went 100 yards away from the cook site to store the food. ( its called the golden triangle).![blogPics](/static/img/dnp2/dnp5.jpg "Golden triangle for camping") We made it back to the tent and left our wet clothes to the side to dry off and then rolled out the sleeping bags to get ready for sleep. We were hoping that we were close enough to the mountain that the sun would set a bit behind it and give us a chance to get a little darkness to sleep along with some cool weather because the sun was still heating up the tent without any wind blowing on us. We did make it to sleep though with no issues and actually slept pretty great on the spongy tundra! ![blogPics](/static/img/dnp2/dnp6.jpg "Camping in Denali")

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