The forecast hasn’t been great and our first bus trip into the park was wildlife wonderful but lacking in distant mountain views. Of course, one of the bucket list items is to see Denali itself. Unfortunately, many visitors do not see Denali during their visit as it is not completely visible that many days in a given month. The weather is very changeable and weather forecasts are not too helpful. Another reason is because folks don’t stay very long. A ranger told me last night that the average Denali National Park visit is 15.5 hours! I think I understand. We met a couple that had just arrived at the park and were taking the 12 hour Wonder Lake bus trip, driving to Anchorage after that, and taking an all-night flight home all in the same day!
We decided to take the bus back into the park after a day’s break. The forecast was not good, but was improving. We got up and things looked good, so off we went. A few miles down the road we realized that this could be a good day for seeing the mountains. We saw a lot of wildlife, but at a distance as opposed to our previous trip. The big difference was the mountain views. It was mile after mile of beautiful vistas of the Alaska Range and our first view of Denali was spectacular. The bus stopped for us to take pictures at one of the iconic viewpoints of the mountain. The Eielson Visitor Center offers another great expansive view and the buses linger there for up to 30 minutes. Of course, you can always stay and wait for another bus.
We had planned to go no farther than the Eielson Visitor Center, but the bus driver encouraged us to continue and said that she would drop us off near Reflection Pond and pick us back up. We couldn’t pass up that offer. From Eielson Visitor Center to the end of the road are some of the best views of the Alaska Range and today did not disappoint. While the others journeyed down to Wonder Lake, we were dropped off and walked toward Kantishna to Reflection Pond made famous by an Ansel Adams’ photo many years ago. Reflection Pond is a “kettle lake” created as the glaciers receded. Many of the photos with Denali reflected in the water are taken from this spot.
Denali is massive and the ultimate adventure is to climb to the top. June is the end of the climbing season which starts in March. After June, the warming ice and snow are more dangerous due to greater potential for avalanches and widening crevasses. This year over 1000 climbers are attempting the feat with a little over 50% typically making it to the summit. Our bus driver said that current reports had about 300 climbers still on the mountain now. The climbers take a small plane equipped with skis to the “base camp” and then take two to three weeks to make the journey to the top. Much of this time is necessary to acclimatize to the altitude, transport heavy gear, and confront the extreme conditions. We were told that it only takes a few days to descend once reaching the top.
The south peak of Denali rises to 20,310 feet and the environment there is extreme. Think about the elevation in terms of some jet flights you may have taken. The common phase you hear is “the mountain makes its own weather,” and it does.
Upon our return we spotted a bear being constantly circled by a fox. No doubt the bear had taken the fox’s lunch.
A bull moose taking it easy.
A herd of caribou crossing the ice.
A ptarmigan alongside the road.
Those moose antlers are heavy. The moose’s antlers actually grow about a half to an inch a day during the spring and summer, then they shed them in the fall.
The extra hours on the bus were worth it but we were glad to get back to the Bighorn to relax in the not-so-setting sun.