Day 18 was beautiful! You could see Denali from Fairbanks and the WHOLE drive down. I was heading down to Denali with not-so-little Elias this weekend and we were meeting up with Miles, a photographer and student at University of Alaska Fairbanks. He is the one who sent me the information on the juried photo contest Circumpolar back in January. I got to meet him at the Juror talk and then the Circumpolar event at the Ursa Major Distillery. He is going to be an intern working at the Denali National Park Kennels! What an amazing position and way to spend a summer! When we got down to Denali we found Miles petting his future best friends – the Denali sled dogs! Elias wasn’t allowed to come hang out with the dogs, but I was! I pet some of the dogs and then we made our way into the park!
Miles had spent the last Saturday in the park just like I did but his time was spent hanging out with a large Dall Sheep ram. The dall sheep are the reason why Denali became a national park back in February 1917. So far I have not seen any dall sheep this year in the park. Miles and I drove as far as you could right now, mile 30. We saw Denali and some far away Caribou!
When we got to mile 30 I heard someone saw a large big bear between the Teklanika viewing rest stop and the bridge that goes over the Teklanika river. I looked pretty hard but did not see anything other than an abundant amount of bicyclists on the bridge. I took a few photos of the view and we turned around. We were set on hiking to the sheep! On our way back to the sheep, some Caribou decided to come cross the road!
We photographed the caribou as they came up to the road and then crossed in front of us. We then made our way to a place to park to start hiking! I add the exclamation point because I was really excited for this hike! Little did I know it would be one of the most intense hikes, more like climbs, I have ever done. Miles’ is a great wildlife photographer that specializes in sheep and mountain goats. He photographs it all but he tends to focus on the sheep. After hiking with him, I know why. He is one with the sheep! The way he can just hop up the mountain with ease… it was incredible! Me on the other hand… I was like a dying caribou stumbling and crawling up the mountain. Poor Miles had to stop and wait for me so many times… he must have been SO bored. He was so patient with me and so encouraging. I would not have made it without his positive attitude and enthusiasm for adventure! I was looking for adventure and I found it!
There was still quite a bit of snow in certain parts while climbing the mountain which made for some slippery obstacles. I almost slipped once which was a little, who am I kidding, a lot, scary! At one point I was pretty tired and we were taking a quick break when Miles expressed that we were half way. I looked up and really asked myself whether I was going to make it. Last weekend Miles was fortunate not to have to travel to the very top to see and photograph dall sheep. This week we went to the very top! I mean VERY top of the mountain. The view was spectacular. You could actually see some of the other Alaska range mountains around Denali, not just Denali and the outer range that you can see from the road.
We sat and just gazed out at the mountain replenishing with water and then having a quick snack. Miles was still determined to see sheep. Don’t get me wrong, I wanted to see the sheep, but I was pretty exhausted. I didn’t know how I was going to get up let alone travel down the mountain. Next time I think we should camp up on top so we don’t have to go up and down on the same day. After walking around looking off different sides of the mountain, Miles finally found them! Three large dall sheep rams. Unfortunately they were below us (there was nothing above us) and there was not an easily accessible route to them. I think if I wasn’t with Miles he just might have tried heading down to them, but there was no way I was making it down the steep cliffs.
I was pretty satisfied at least getting to see the sheep! The photo is not an epic dall sheep photo but our goal was to climb and see dall sheep, and that is what we did! If Miles was patient with me going up, he was even more patient with me coming down the mountain. I am a very cautious hiker. This keeps me alive but also makes me a pretty slow hiking buddy. The views were beyond incredible and the whole hike was worth it but I did feel bad for making Miles spend half of his time waiting for me!
It was a race to beat the sun on traveling down the mountain. We slid down the rocks, had our feet fall through the icy snow past our knees, and followed the game trails as much as we could to get down. It was such a relief that we both made it down and all in one piece! It was a colorful sunset as we hoped back into the car and made our way back to mile 3 where Miles had left his car. On our way back we happen to come across some moose! Five moose to be exact! It was an impressive amount of moose all together during non-rutting season. I stopped to photograph and document them before heading on down the road.
While we started moving away from the moose, we must have spooked them. They ran parallel to the car like longer-legged wild horses! They were very fast. This made me question whether I could outrun a moose, which is protocol if one is coming after you… I knew for certain that after hiking up and down a mountain in an afternoon I could barely walk, let alone run. I slowed the car down in case they were trying to run past the car to cross the road. Part of my assumption was true as four of the five moose made their way on the road. They didn’t actually cross the road though. They decided to mosey on down the road for quite a ways. We drove behind them like a wild Alaska moose parade. It was dark and photos weren’t stellar but I did get some video of them trotting down the road.
Eventually the moose posse decided to get back off of the road, and we made our way back to mile three. I dropped Miles back off at his car and Elias and I made our way to the Riley Creek Campground. I was hurting… bad. I felt bad Elias had to spend so much time in his kennel that I let him sleep outside his kennel in the car with me that night. It took him awhile to settle down but once he did, he was excellent. I woke up to nothing torn up or no puddles of pee. A successful night. Waking up to Day 19 SUPER SORE was another story.
I was hurting. I could barely move my legs. I felt a little sick and my whole body ached. My knees were the worst though. My dad’s side of the family isn’t known for their strong knees, so I probably took about a year or two off of the life of mine after that hike! I had Miles send me how many miles and steps we took from his phone fitness tracker. Anyone want to guess how many FLIGHTS of stairs, not how many stairs, but FLIGHTS of stairs we went up and down while scaling and descending the mountain?
You read correctly! 189 FLIGHTS of stairs. Now to someone who works out frequently or someone in shape this may not be a super crazy number but to someone who maybe does 2 or 3 FLIGHTS of stairs a day to 189 FLIGHTS? Yeah, I was hurting. Also take into consideration this was recorded on Mile’s phone for his activity. I probably walked up and down even more steps with my shorter, weaker legs! I am actually writing this two days post hike and it is still taking me way longer than it should to get up and down stairs. Once I can walk without pain again I need to start working out more to get me in better hiking shape for the summer. Thank you to Miles for these photos you took of me! Being a photographer and doing many of these Denali trips on my own I rarely get photos of myself. You can definitely tell my fatigue in these!
I decided to stay clear of hiking on Sunday. I woke up many times to readjust my legs that night due to soreness. After about the 6th or 7th time waking up at about 7:30am, I woke up for the day. Elias and I snuggled a little but then went on our way into the park. We first saw a spruce grouse off the side of the road. It didn’t move as I turned the car around and got out for a quick photo. Next we saw two ptarmigan! They are starting to turn now and are getting more and more brown to them. It is crazy how many I saw heading into the park in the morning when I didn’t see a single one the day before in the later afternoon.
I got to see two more snowshoe hare as well while driving, although I was only able to photograph one. They are very skittish and hop away so quickly! After the hares we saw a new bird. Any birders out there? I think it is a Slate-Colored Race, based on the markings and my Alaska Birds Pocket Naturalist Guide I have. The guide isn’t very extensive so I definitely could be wrong.
We made our way to mile 30. I looked out into the river and saw some remarkable scenery but no wildlife. I talked to a guy out at mile 30 who had been on a bike ride and saw a large bear right off the road though. He was with a few young children and it was pretty close which made it a little frightening to the children. They biked on and didn’t have any trouble but the bear did come out to the road in which they got a good look at the large bear. After hearing the adventure that family had had Elias and I went on back down the road in search of more adventure for ourselves!
We didn’t have to go that far before a large caribou herd came and crossed the road. The lighting was a little harsh but kind of mystic and beautiful. I watched the caribou run and fall through the snow to climb up and over a hill. It was another beautiful day in Denali!
Looking back at Day 18 and Day 19 I had quite the adventure. I got to hike with a new friend and see my new animal – the Dall Sheep! I got to the top of a mountain! Seeing Denali from the top was worth the pain and time it took to get up. I thank Miles for helping me through the hike and his patience and company on Day 18. I hope to be in better shape and for some lower sheep on our next hike. I leave you with this great photo from Miles of Full Curl Photography! It would be more amazing without my tired self climbing! Ha!