Denali National Park, part 4 of 6

Our second trip into the backcountry included reduced visibility which is more typical to the area.
Toklat River
Our first day involved navigating the rivers through brush and deciphering which direction we wanted to head. Our first decision was to limit our river fording due to the cooler weather and the breeze that was coming down the river. At one point we navigated our way up a hill to avoid deep fast water where we had a snack and reviewed our options. A group of day hikers passed us at this point and ventured back down into the river bed. Eventually we caught back up with this group and checked in on them, as they had become very excited about something they had found which they promptly encouraged us to accept a photo opportunity with their find.

When exploring the world as a couple, it is nice to meet others who will help you with a non selfie photo op.

When exploring the world as a couple, it is nice to meet others who will help you with a non selfie photo op.

We had a nice laugh, and again found that we were about as far in as others would hike. We ventured off into the brush and once again left humanity behind.

The wind seemed to pick up speed and began to push against us. Eventually we found a large enough shrub that could protect us from the wind well enough that we could hydrate and discuss our situation. We decided that we would need to find and accept the first location with clean water so that we could refill our containers. One possibility we needed to consider was that water coming down rocky mountains tends to find new paths under rocks, making it somewhat impossible to collect and essentially drying up a creek bed. We set out toward the first alluvial fan where we figured we would find non-glacial water.

Wind on the Toklat

Looking up the Toklat River we could see the glacial dust being lifted from the river bed and carried toward us.

There was no water at our first destination.  So we needed to continue or return.  We decided that we had enough resources with us to turn around later in the day if we could not find enough water to store for breakfast.  Due to the wind, we also decided to stay clear of the river and avoid getting wet at all.  We did not want to be in a position where we lacked water and were unable to retain warmth.

In order to increase your success rate of pulling out of a fall into the river while fording, your backpack needs to be unbuckled so that you can remove the weight of it quickly.  This results in a good chance that you will lose everything to the river.  We had packed compacter bags to pull over our packs in a good rainstorm, so we did have the option to place our packs into these bags and then pull them across the river if necessary.  This is not an ideal process though because you would need to take your pack in and out of the plastic bag in order to carry the backpack across the dry portions of the riverbed.

We traversed some fairly serious hillside.

We traversed some fairly serious hillside.  Handholds were necessary at times and the rock beneath our feet was unstable.

We begin to wonder if we would ever find any water.  The wind was proving to be its own challenge to our strength but after some traversing, we were not looking forward to returning, especially as we knew that there was no water between us and the road.

It is rather incredible to look ahead and see a promise that has a high chance of not having what you need.  Especially when the path is steep, loose, and full of brush.  Going up hill does not guarantee an easier path, and the water below us was fast and appeared very deep.

It is rather incredible to look ahead and see a promise that has a high chance of not having what you need. Especially when the path is steep, loose, and full of brush. Going up hill does not guarantee an easier path, and the water below us was fast and appeared very deep.

 

We found a campsite and a cook site between water and a wall of rock that protected us from the wind.

Eventually we found  water and were delighted that it was near a wall of rock that protected us from the wind.  We couldn’t complain about the view either!

After setting up camp and gathering as much water as possible we settled down to dinner.  We agreed that our skills had served us well to get us this far, but we also had to acknowledge our disappointment because we had traveled only half the distance as we had planned.

The next morning we awoke and discovered that the sky had cleared and that the wind had mellowed out.  So we decided to leave base camp and venture toward the glaciers.  We really wanted to get onto a glacier!

We traversed the entire hike, navigating cliffs, brush, and caribou trails.

This waterfall was one of many areas to explore.

This waterfall was one of many areas to explore.

water out of rock

Looking up at the mountain above us we noticed these water falls that appeared out of no where and vanished into the rock.

The rivers merge and the shallowest spot we could find measured 3.5 feet on our trekking poles, so this is as far as we went on our day hike.  Note that the grassy area at the foot of the mountain is where we had intended to spend our first night.

The rivers merge and the shallowest spot we could find measured 3.5 feet on our trekking poles, so this is as far as we went on our day hike. Note that the grassy area at the foot of the mountain is where we had intended to spend our first night.

This was our second day hike away from our base camp and our experience was the same as the first.  We saw nobody on our second day.   The view was gorgeous all the way in and all the way out and was worth every step.  This day was still windy so we opted to stay dry.  The traverse was challenging at times and we ventured to follow caribou trails but discovered that they tend to vanish and appear off in the distance across impossible  and amazing terrain.

When day hiking, always pack your ten essentials in case you find yourself out longer than you intended.  The ten essentials are:

  1. A light source with fresh batteries
  2. Food (for sure food that doesn’t require water or cooking)
  3. Navigation tools , and the knowledge to use them
  4. First aid (including a blister kit and extra personal medications)
  5. Extra clothing to add warmth (a stocking hat and a raincoat)
  6. Hydration (e.g. bottle, iodine, water filter)
  7. necessary tools (like a knife)
  8. Something to create a fire in any weather
  9. sun protection
  10. emergency shelter (small and light weight)

When we returned to camp, we settled back down into the wind wishing that we did not need to pack up the next morning to head out.  When the wind died down we thought we heard other people.  We pulled out our binoculars and searched the far side of the river and the river for signs of people.  We never saw anyone.

The next morning we packed up and decided to go uphill, as it appeared that it could be easier than traversing the cliffs we had traversed on our way in.  The wind had decreased and the sun was out.  We took in the valley we had explored and turned to head back to the road.  Quickly we found a heavily used caribou trail and decided that we were already on a better path.  But we were not the only ones on it.

We froze  and the caribou froze when we suddenly realized that we were headed toward each other.  This guy opted for a different path, working his way around us and headed up the valley.

We froze and the caribou froze when we suddenly realized that we were headed toward each other. This guy opted for a different path, working his way around us and headed up the valley.

Eventually we did see other people, headed out.  But we saw them where we would also find day hikers.

Everything cleared up on our last day.  Not being ready to leave, we waved the first bus with room for us on.

Everything cleared up on our last day. Not being ready to leave, we waved the first bus with room for us on.  Compare this photo to the first photo in this blog post.

When we finally boarded a bus I found myself subject to several questions, questions that I was happy to answer.  Not many people get far from the road in the park and people want to know what it is like to be out there, to get out there, to be out there.

When ever I begin to prepare for a trip like this, I begin to wonder if I can meet any of my expectations.  Many people only report on their successes, making backpacking seem like this big hardcore adventure that can easily cause one to feel insignificant if they don’t meet some big goal.  But all you need is to fully prepare (learn what you need, talk to more than one expert, learn how to use your equipment) and then get your self out there.

You have to be able to carry everything you need, which reduces your daily choices which in turn means that the only choices you have to make are the ones that make you more comfortable in the moment.  You are only moving forward into the the next moment.  With each step you become what is happening and you become your own story.

 

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