When planning these 100 days of Denali the weekend of February 24-26 was always a part of the plan. At first it was just chosen at random but then I realized it was not only Denali Winterfest but also the actual birthday of Denali national park. I had scheduled to drive down on Friday the 24 and spending the entire weekend camping in the Arctic oven. When Friday came, it came with lots of snow and ice warnings. I chickened out.
This is the first weekend where I did not have a traveling human adventurer to travel with and with slick, hazardous roads, I was almost completely deterred from coming at all. Shoveling the 6+ new inches from our driveway in the dark on Friday morning didn’t really inspire me to travel in the storm either.
It wasn’t until I woke up Saturday to the sun coming through my window did I actually get motivated to go travel down to Denali and celebrate during their winterfest! I checked the weather forecasts and the road conditions. Nothing had really changed. I saw an Instagram post from Winterfest that expressed they had some new fresh snow but lots of activities and they were encouraging people to come out. I started packing the car. I decided to take Elias and I gathered our needed supplies! When I picked him up to take him outside Nali was so sad that I decided to take her too! I put Elias in his kennel and went back for Nali. What I found when I went inside was Nali eating our bread on the floor. Her naughty behavior made me feel not sad about leaving her at home. I was already driving in less than great weather, I didn’t want to have to worry about a sick dog too.
It took me three hours to get to the park, an hour more than typical drives to Denali. The roads weren’t terrible but I drove slow and steady. I only had 7 vehicles come up from behind and pass me. Traffic was scarce at best. As I was driving I would second guess myself on going, and ask myself, “Am I crazy? What are you doing?” Every time the sun would sneak out of the clouds to shine through the trees I felt encouragement and pressed on.
When I did finally pull into Denali National Park I felt relief that I had made it! There was a giant Winterfest sign on top of the regular sign for Denali National Park. I pulled over by the sign and quickly loaded the different events taking place! I pulled in at 12:54 and the birthday celebration was at the visitor center at 1pm! I had 6 minutes! I rushed over but luckily they pushed back the singing and cupcakes to 1:15.
I walked around and got to see all the Winterfest and centennial posters and decorations. Listening to the ranger and then signing happy birthday just seemed to make the trip all worth it! The cupcake was definitely a plus as well.
I let Elias out and we took our picture at different locations in the park. He didn’t enjoy sticking his face in the ice carving that much but he did it anyway. He got a good chomp into the frosting of my cupcake at the winterfest sign photo!
The events I ended up going to on Saturday were the centennial birthday singing and celebration, the Open house at Harry Karsten’s office, the light lunch at the Murie dining hall to get my reusable mug, watching the snow carving contest be completed and judged, and then the public story swap. All of the activities were great! So many people came out for the celebration! We also drove to the end of the road, it was a pretty quick drive because the road is closed at headquarters, about mile 3 on the park road.
I could barely fit into the newly renovated Harry Karsten’s office. It was so incredible to get to see the actual letter sent to designate Denali as a National Park, which back then it was Mt. Mckinley National Park! If you look closely you can see the presidential seal on the paper! I also was in one of the photos on the Denali National Park and Preserve Facebook page in this cabin!
Elias was a huge hit at the snow carving contest. I think he enjoyed the snow cave the best. There were some great carvings including a bear, owl, beaver, denaliphant (ha!), shark, and many more.
The stories were great at the story swap. It was fun hearing about others’ adventures and to share the love for this incredible national park. One story was from a family who a few years ago were at Poly Chrome Pass during road lottery and witnessed two port-a-potties tipping over! Another adventurist also spoke over his first time in the park where he biked in by himself only to find he definitely wasn’t alone. He saw a wolf and then a moose chased him. He got stuck between a bear and that moose! It was crazy and he was very animated with his story. Another gentleman told a story about him and wife when he worked in the park. He had a cat living in one of the cabins in Denali and the cat liked to be outside. The story was about how he made a run line for his cat who ended up seeing wildlife of his own! All the presenters were great and I truly enjoyed listening in!
With me traveling on my own with Elias for one night I didn’t think the Arctic Oven was a good choice to use. Elias and I ended up car camping! I set up the back with Elias’ kennel and then my sleeping bags. It was a tight squeeze. I had forgotten a light source like a lantern or headlamp and it was getting dark fast. My options on how to spend the evening were extremely limited without light. Elias and I ate dinner and laid around. We talked to my mom and then eventually Josh. We started watching Ellen videos which are always hilarious, inspiring, and informative at the same time! With my phone dying and boredom setting in we went to bed rather early. We slept until 12:30am when I woke up due to the cold. I put Elias on his leash and lowered him down out of the car to let him out to pee. I didn’t even have to leave the car! I ran the car a few minutes and then pulled out the second sleeping back to cuddle up in and then we went back to bed.
We woke up at 8am. I couldn’t believe we slept in that long! Although the sun was rising, I wasn’t able to see it and not because of heavy clouds. Snow overnight had covered the car. We were in a giant snow ball. I turned the car on to warm it up and rolled down the window, just a little, to see what was outside. It was a wintry wonderland! The pristine, untouched snow was magnificent. We ate our breakfast in the car before heading to the Murie Science and Learning Center to fill up our water.
I filled up the water and was able to brush my teeth at the Murie Science and Learning Center. I took Elias on a little walk before checking out some snowshoes for the Ranger led snowshoe walk. I had worn snowshoes before but this was my first time in Denali National Park. It is great that the park service rents out the snowshoes for free. You can also use them as long as you would like! The snowshoes were easy to use and walk in. We started from the Murie Science and Learning center and large snowflakes were coming down hard! During the middle part of the walk the snow slowed and there was a fair amount of blue sky above us! At one point in the hike we go to travel into the “untouched wilderness!” A fellow snowshoer took this opportunity to lounge around, the snow pretty much encompassed him! Everyone was so nice and friendly, it truly was worth the trip!
I was wearing way to many layers for the walk and got super toasty. When I got back to the Learning center I refilled the water again and shed some layers. Although there were even more great events going on, I was told that the Fairbanks weather had finally had a break in it. I decided to get an early start driving back to have as much daylight as possible. I had an exceptional time at Winterfest and hope to go again next year!
The drive home was snowy, windy, and rough. There was quite a bit of traffic heading south but little traffic heading north. I could see the road going south but not all that well going north. After I got to Nenana the roads were better but the weather was worse. Snow blowing hard on the road. I made it to Fairbanks in about two and a half hours. When I got home the driveway was full of snow. I tried plowing for over an hour and a half but I still couldn’t get my car down my driveway. I was tired, sweaty, and wet from the snow. I came inside defeated. About an hour later I saw some movement outside and it was my neighbors coming to help shovel my driveway and get my car unstuck! I am so appreciative to them. It is times like this that restore your faith in human nature.
The whole weekend was inspiring to me. I knew coming into this 100 Days of Denali Challenge that it would be just that, a challenge. I knew there would be weekends and trips where I would be heading out alone, and for me, this would be one of my biggest struggles. I like to travel with friends and family. To get to experience and share adventures with those around me. I have never been keen on traveling alone and driving in sketchy weather but I feel especially proud and motivated after this past weekend. I haven’t even really put a dent into my 100 days and I am now officially a day behind but I am looking forward to my next trip to Denali National Park whether I will be traveling solo or not!