600 million acres of wilderness, zero bars of cell reception.
Camping on easy mode
I arrive at Denali prepared with hearty rations. Aside from camping equipment, the trunk's loaded with canned beans, beef jerky, PB&J ingredients, crackers, and granola bars. My rental Corolla will accompany me to the campsite where I'll park and pitch a tent a couple of feet from the car.
This is my first solo camping trip and no amount of fire starter can help me start and maintain a fire, so the car was in retrospect a pretty great idea. I start the car in the evening just before bed to warm up.
I'd say this is a little under halfway between RV camping and real camping.
Teklanika River, my backyard for a week.
The shuttle goes to Wonder Lake
The shuttle comes around every 15 minutes and runs as far as Wonder Lake, which makes getting around this park very easy. So as long as there aren't bears in sight, you can request to get off at any point.
It's worth noting though that there are plenty of mountain passes and the buses move rather slowly on them. A one way trip to Wonder Lake can take as long as 4 hours, which means you could end up spending a lot of time just on the bus.
Rangers observing a bear and her cubs.
Keeping the bears in the loop
Startling a bear is a recipe for disaster, especially if that bear's caring for cubs. Because of this, we're advised to make loud noises on hikes. It's one way to let the bears know of our presence and gives them enough time to move away from us.
If you're lucky, you can spot bears from the shuttle bus. Most drivers, when they spot a bear or other wildlife, will pull over so everyone could have a look. I was lucky to have this bear stroll on past us just a few meters from us.
Sometimes you happen to sit on the right side of the bus where the bear's walkin'.
Denali (Mt. McKinley) is the main attraction, but on most days and at most hours, it's obscured by thick cloud cover. There's only one instance where I can see the whole mountain clearly and that's from a long distance away when I'm driving from Anchorage to the National Park.
Denali on a great day (excuse the haze- I'm hundreds of miles away from the peak).
Denali on an OK day.
Denali on an average day.
At 3,700ft elevation the tundra supports low growth brush. Somehow, this climate is ideal for growing sweet blueberries which I can pick and eat by the handfuls on any trail.
These blueberries are ready to eat.
The landscapes are visually stunning as they are tasty.
Rivers split into braids of rivers as trees to branches. Ravines carve into otherwise smooth, flat plains. Unless the fog is heavy, it's impossible to ignore the angular mountains in the background. One of my favorite views is that of Polychrome mountain.
Two backpackers cross a river where it braids.
Smoke hangs over Denali on my last full day there. The park rangers tell us that there's a forest fire ten miles away and the wind's conveniently blown the smoke our way. I'm disappointed at first when I learn that I'll have one fewer day of fresh Denali air to breathe, but that feeling quickly recedes when I notice how the light catches through the smoke. Much in the way you'd see beams of light from your car cut through dense fog, sunlight scatters through the smoke, exhibiting what we call the Tyndall effect.
It's the perfect ingredient for heavenly landscapes.
Ravines under the cover of smoke.
Slanted angles, low growing tundra, and braided rivers.