Three weeks in Alaska yielded a huge species list. That it happened to come out to exactly one hundred identified species is a coincidence. Although by the time our count was in the mid-nineties, I went back and checked and double-checked to see if we could get the satisfaction of one hundred. It’s a good thing that I did, since I’d have forgotten the Steller’s Jay if I hadn’t. Obviously, we saw a great many more species than this (particularly plants), but these were the ones we could identify successfully. The one hundred breaks down as follows: nineteen mammals, thirty-eight birds, no reptiles or amphibians, one fish, eight mollusks/jellyfish/etc., one insect, four blooming wildflowers, twelve trees, and seventeen other plants or non-blooming wildflowers or fungi.
Saturday morning, September 5 marked the beginning of the end of our time in Alaska. At noon, the ferry LeConte would depart Gustavus, and on it our two-say journey home would commence.
But first, we had some last-minute things to do at Glacier Bay National Park.
Morning was chill in Savage River Campground on Thursday, August 27, but the gripping cold that campground host, Liz, had forecast had not yet arrived. In the tent, we had a more insistent puddle than we’d had the previous morning. It had rained overnight, but in the bright gray morning, there was only occasional drizzle.
We’d started our last canister of backpacker stove fuel the day before, and it was fairly light when I started heating water in the coffee percolator. Damned if it didn’t cut out just as the coffee was done. It was the first time we’d estimated perfectly how much fuel we’d need on a trip.
Packing up over coffee didn’t take long. Our plan was to have breakfast at the park grill while we finished writing our postcards to mail from the Park. We also wanted to visit the Alaska Geographic bookstore and, of course, the Visitor Center.
After our mishap on Mount Healy, Sean and I salvaged the afternoon of Wednesday, August 26 with a visit to Denali National Park’s sled dog kennels. We arrived at the Park Headquarters parking area shortly before the 2pm dogsledding demonstration.
The use of dogsleds to patrol Denali National Park dates all the way back to Harry Karstens, who became the Park’s first superintendent in 1921 after it was established in 1917. In the winter, Park Rangers go on one-day to six-week long dogsled patrols of the inner two-million acres of designated wilderness, where motorized vehicles are prohibited. The patrols haul supplies, contact winter visitors, and prevent illegal activities like poaching and snowmobiling.
Wednesday, August 26 was rainy in the eastern part of Denali National Park. We woke in our tent at Savage River Campground to a steady rain. But unlike our overnight at Savage River on Saturday, the interior of our tent was mostly dry. We’d chosen a better-drained site for the tent than I had that earlier night. This time there was just a little puddle of moisture down near our feet, which wasn’t horrible given the insistence of the rain. Continue reading
Tuesday morning, August 25, we awoke to a semi-steady rain, which had begun the night before. We would be departing Wonder Lake Campground under a thick cloud cover that only occasionally allowed the lower ridges of the Alaska Range to peek through.
As our full day at Wonder Lake continued, we enjoyed sunny skies over the tundra/taiga transition in which the campground was situated. We had spent the morning and early afternoon on a solid four-and-a-half hour hike to the McKinley River, and now, as we rested, the Alaska Range flooded the southeastern horizon with the Alaska of one’s imagination.
Next morning, Monday, August 24, the sky was filled with a layer of low, thick clouds. From our chat with Ranger Andy the previous evening, we knew that the activities of our full day at Wonder Lake Campground would be determined by whether or not the skies were clear. Since they were not, we would spend the morning and early afternoon hiking the McKinley Bar Trail from the campground through tundra and taiga to the McKinley River. Had they been clear, we’d have hiked up one of the ridges above camp to take in the view.
Wonder Lake Campground, located at mile 85 of the Denali Park Road and thereby the closest campground to The Mountain, is comprised of twenty-six tent sites mostly arrayed along a gently sloping amphitheater beneath a low ridge. Amid the campsites and stretching beneath the campground into the middle distance is a landscape sparsely studded with tall, thin Black Spruce amid low tundra brush.
Sunday morning, August 23, we awoke in a puddle. It had rained insistently all night, and at 5:20am, our tent was cold and wet. Sean had been right. We should have just slept in the Jeep, since now we had soaked gear that we had to pack up in order to catch the 7:05am camper bus to Wonder Lake Campground.
I climbed out of the tent in the pre-dawn light. It was cold, but it had stopped raining. I lit the camp stove and started boiling water in the coffee percolator. As cold as it was, somewhere in the 30s, it didn’t approach the 27 degrees we’d woken to at Theodore Roosevelt National Park. But it was damp, and the camp stove promptly grew a layer of hoarfrost and froze to the picnic table.