It was another exciting weekend full of adventure, biking, and RVing! We got a late start but with Alaska’s midnight sun, it didn’t feel that way. We got to the park around 9pm and headed straight in to see what night animals we could see. It is always more fun traveling with someone. I was glad Josh and I (and the pups) got to all go together.
We stated in and the first animal we saw was a lone caribou. He was starting to grow his rack back and you could see the velvet. A little further down the road we saw our usual suspects along the road, ptarmigans and snowshoe hares.
The clouds were puffy and reflected the sunset light so beautifully. We also ended up seeing two moose. Josh stopped the RV and said there was a moose. I got out and started photographing a moose, which ended up being a different moose than the one Josh initially stopped for. A few caribou were lounging around on a hillside as the sun sank deeper below the mountains.
We parked out at Teklanika and had our dinner. Josh had the left over chicken and pasta we had had the night before. I ended up having two hotdogs with no bun. It felt like I was 5 again! It was yummy at least.
The next morning we woke up and ate a healthy breakfast, well Josh did. I ended up eating chocolate mini donuts. Josh had some donuts but then also had cheerios. After breakfast we packed up our bikes. It was the day I were waiting for, biking the road! I had wanted to bike past mile 30 for weeks now, but due to other circumstances, timing, and Josh’s work, it didn’t work out until now. All week I had been checking weather and it forecasted rain for Saturday. I pretty much had decided it was going to be a rainy, mucky bike ride and that we weren’t going to get to go as far as I hoped. After waking up Saturday morning, I had some new hope! No morning rain and some blue sky! Josh had gotten me bike shoes that clip into the pedals. I was a little weary of them, just because I know I like control. I didn’t want to stop and then fall because I couldn’t get my feet out from the pedals. We put on our bike shorts, our special shoes, our helmets, and a little clip thing that goes around your right leg so your pants don’t get stuck in the bike. We were ready to GO!
We stopped at the bridge to get a photo of the gorgeous day we were having. We then pressed on through Igloo forest. In Igloo forest we saw some massive bear paw prints in the mud. I felt as though these prints would rival the brown bear prints from Katmai. They were HUGE!
It was a very leisurely stroll for us and we had many people pass us. I feel like we should work out or work up to the amount of hiking and biking we do on the weekends. A few weeks ago I went from hiking 1-2 miles every other weekend and going up about 1-3 a day to hiking over 11 miles and over 187 flights of stairs in one day. Our goal for this bike ride was to get to Polychrome Pass, mainly to see if the Dall Sheep were around! I had seen a few Dall Sheep but they were super far away. It would be great to get to see them closer, to actually see their legs! After awhile we saw a few snowshoe hares. I quickly stopped and grabbed my camera. Josh also stopped but forgot about his bike shoes and pedals being connected. He fell and fell hard. I was really worried. He was able to get up and brush it off but he was bleeding and his wrist was sprained. While he was regrouping, I went over and photographed the hares. I started photographing one and then another one hopped out right in front of me!
After the hares, we pressed onward. We had made it to our first real hill and elevation climb. There would be three main ascents between mile 30 and mile 46 and back. The first one was pretty rough for me. I am not an uphill biking fan. I love downhill, just not the biggest uphill fan. I pedaled and pedaled and pedaled and didn’t see to get very far. I wanted to stop and take a break, my knee was hurting a little. I got my right foot unclipped but when I went to try and unclip the left I leaned too far to the left and I then fell over! It was in slow motion, mostly because I was traveling at such a ridiculously slow pace. I felt fine. I didn’t have a hurt wrist or leg. Later that night I found some pretty gnarly bruises though. After the fall I took a little walking break. I literally walked it off. I then got back on my bike and we pressed onward.
It was such a relief making it to the the top of the hill on Sable Pass. This was our first time making it to Sable in 2017. You can hike in Sable Pass but you have to stay on the road. The park service closes Sable Pass off to hiking due to some of the park’s largest predators living there. It is a common site for bears. We have also seen a wolf, coyote, caribou, and moose in Sable from the road. This trip all we saw in Sable were a bunch of ground squirrels and ptarmigans. We also had some buses pass us that were practicing and running routes getting ready for May 20, the first day for shuttle buses.
It was a huge relief tackling the first hill on the road. It was a nice long descent as well. We stopped a few times, one time to see part of the mountain. The clouds had a pocket, just large enough for a tiny sliver of the bottom right side of Denali to be visible. I took a picture and then it was quickly gone. We also stopped when I spotted 9 sheep! I believe they were the ewes and lambs.
We quickly made our way down that long hill only to have to climb back up to Polychrome. If we were smart we probably would have turned around after the top of Sable Pass, but we were not and continued on. The views were gorgeous. Snow striped the landscape and the clouds added some epic dimension to the sky.
Josh ended up falling again on our way up Polychrome and I ended up walking part of it. We were in pretty rough shape. By the time we finally reached the top, it started sprinkling. We had gotten a little sunburned from so much sun in Sable Pass and now it was starting to precipitate. I say precipitate because the rain drops quickly became hail! I was biking and felt pain when the drops would hit me and I realized it was hail! I stopped biking to get a few photos and to make the hail less painful. When I was biking I was biking into the hail so it was hitting my face.
The hail quickly subsided and the sun poked back out from behind the clouds. We had made it. We were exhausted. I quickly caught my second wind when I saw the dall sheep rams. I was super excited to get to see them. There were three pretty nice sized rams and three smaller rams. I tried to get a few different angles on them. At one point I was photographing one of the rams and it was munching on twigs. I heard a noise and it was a ground squirrel. I photographed him a little and then I saw the real big, full curl ram at the base of the mountain. He was HUGE! I turned back around to tell Josh and for him to come look and that first sheep who was munching on the twigs had come real close to me. It spooked me and I backed away towards the road to give him some space.
He entered the road and then up the hillside. After he made it up, all the other sheep followed suit. After watching the sheep for awhile and collecting ourselves we decided to start to head back out of Polychrome. This was another one of those moments where I asked myself why I stretched myself so hard and whether I thought I could make it all the way back. We had biked 16 miles to get to the sheep. 16 miles isn’t super far when biking, but when you go from 0 miles biked to 16 in one day… We also had to go back the same way we came, so after being exhausted about the first 16 miles we had to turn around and go 16 more miles back.
We started on our way and Josh stopped after seeing a new animal! It was a marmot! I had seen marmots in Rocky Mountain National Park and other locations, but not Denali. This marmot kind of looked like a mixture between a ground squirrel, pika, opossum, and badger. I photographed the marmot and a butterfly for a little bit before heading further down Polychrome pass.
When we got to the bottom we looked up and the last large hill of the day. I had originally thought that coming back wouldn’t be so bad. There is really only the one hill to climb. This hill tops all the other hills we went up. It was over 6 miles long of pretty much all uphill. We made frequent stops. Bikers were passing us like we weren’t moving at all. I walked part of the way and I feel as though I was traveling at a faster speed walking than biking at that point. It took us over an hour and a half to get up the 6 miles to the top of Sable Pass. Once at the top we were so relieved. My knee was hurting pretty bad by this point and I just wanted to get back to the RV to the pups.
It was all downhill from there, literally. It was smooth sailing and an enjoyable last part of the bike ride. Going through Igloo forest was fun but I could tell Josh was a little over it. It was a long day. We got back to the bridge and had a little baby hill left (it is actually pretty steep, but super short). We got 3/4 the way up it and a ranger in a mini van met up with us. She explained that a bear had just walked across the road and has been right off the side of the road for awhile now. So we traveled 33 miles in some of the best bear habitat in the entire park, didn’t see a bear, and right near where we parked our car was a bear. She recommended transporting us across the area where the bear went into the brush. We put our bikes in the back of her minivan and she drove us past where the bear was. We did not see the bear but it was a great break from biking. She let us out and we finally made it back to the RV. We were sore, Josh was bleeding, my face was sunburned, and we had dirt everywhere, but we made it! It was an adventurous day!
We then drove back to the entrance of the park. On our way we saw 11 caribou by some of the ice and snow still near the road of the park and two very far away moose. We got to riley creek and noticed that they had opened all three loops to the park. We found a spot and then went to pick up a pizza from prospector’s pizza. We ate and then went straight to bed.
We woke up on Mother’s Day pretty darn sore. It was then that I saw my pretty large bruises. We were slow moving on Day 25. Josh toasted a bagel for me on the stove, which was pretty delicious. It wasn’t 100% successful, but it was the thought that counts. I also ate quite a few donuts, mini donuts. After breakfast we made our way into the park to see what was out there on Day 25. There wasn’t much in the way of big game, but we saw lots of hares! I saw the cutest one on Day 25! It was about 50% turned, vs most of the others that are 75%-90% turned already. It’s white hairs stuck out so far and made it look super adorable and fuzzy.
We took a quick hike to stretch our sore legs before driving home. On the hike we saw a silly squirrel eating a pine cone. He was pretty fun to watch. I snapped a photo of the scenery. Even cloudy days are beautiful in Denali. Overall we met a few goals: made it to polychrome pass, got to see the dall sheep, and I was fortunate to see a new critter in Denali. We have a few battle scars but I think Josh and I won this round! See you again soon Denali!
After Day 25 I wanted to do some Wildlife and Denali Statistics. I am officially 25% through my 100 Days of Denali Challenge! Here is what I am currently tracking and the percentage of days I have seen these animals or the mountain:
Denali – 56% of the 25 days
Bear – 8% of the 25 days
Moose – 48% of the 25 days
Caribou – 44% of the 25 days
Dall Sheep – 12% of the 25 days
Wolves – 4% of the 25 days
Ptarmigan – 36% of the 25 days
Hare – 28% of the 25 days
Pika – 4% of the 25 days
all of my trips have varied in length in distance but those are the critters I saw and the amount that the mountain has been out! I have also just started a twitter account and am starting to tweet up some of these trips – you can follow along – LauraLynPhotography Thanks again for reading and I hope you all get out and enjoy Denali or any National Park around you!