A day in Alaska, part III
Friday, June 22nd
I wake up early in a cabin in Toklat, a ranger settlement in the middle of the park. Awakening in Toklat feels like camping in Chamonix all over again. Toklat is small, squeezed in between mountains and an impressing broad river, and it's a very beautiful morning with a blazing sun in a bright blue sky. Alaskaaa!
Jess and I have a quick breakfast outside, gather our gear for the day, hike out towards the busses with Julie and Ross and off we go! Ross has planned another awesome off-trail-hike for us in Denali's wilderness, so excited! We get dropped off just before Stoney Overlook, and start our hike with half an hour of tundra crossing and bush walking. The grounds are quite dry and it's slightly downhill, so we move fast. We talk loudly, our voices carrying far to scare off any possible wildlife. But then the hike really begins; Ross picked out a nice little peak for us which requires a 2000 feet climb...
The first part climbing is up dry rocks, grass and tundra, which goes just fine. The second part however, is incredibly steep up wet slippery rocks and hardened snow, and goes slightly less fine. Falling or sliding is not an option, so we take our time to make our way up. I have to kick my boots very hard in the snow every step I take, to make sure my footing is stable and I don't slide down a couple hundred feet. It's seriously challenging and pretty damn hardcore, but we all make it safely to the top and godsallemáchtig what is the view worth it! WOW!!! I think this may be one of the best views I've ever seen, anywhere. We celebrate our mountain victory with delicious summit cupcakes from Julie, some well deserved lunch, relaxing and even a small nap! That's gotta be the best nap ever, have you ever woken up to such a view..?! :D
We descend to the ridge line, which we will be hiking out east. Descending from the top is almost as hard as climbing it; we very slowly and slippery make our way down a very steep, rocky and muddy slope. It's almost too steep, and I'm glad when we reach the ridge line. We hike along the ridge for about two hours, going up and down and meanwhile admiring the view.
Then we start the last part of our descend, back to the park road. This quickly turns into a very unpleasant scenario, as Ross (our 'guide') and Julie get split up from Jessica and myself. Jess and I end up in a ridge which is impossibly steep and filled with more hardened snow, rocks, mud and water. We struggle our way down, but after almost 7 hour of serious hiking our bodies are becoming very tired. Legs shaking, unstable footing, no sight or sound of Ross and Julie and our PMA (positive mental attitude, your biggest survival friend in the outdoors) is quickly going downhill - a very dangerous combination. So we decide to take our chances, and vertically climb over the ridge in the hope of a better terrain. And yes, we are lucky! On the other side awaits us tundra and grass! We stagger our last way down the mountain, pretty much tear right through the knee-deep river and scream our way through head-high bushes to scare of bears, and finally get back to the road 8,5 hours after our hike started. We! Made! It!!! We throw ourselves in front of a bus and ride back to Toklat, where Ross and Julie await us with the best American pancakes I've ever had. All is well of course, and we laugh about our adventure.
We pack our bags and drive out east in Ross' car, much more comfortable and faster than catching a park bus. The ride home is pretty calm and with very little wildlife, that is... Until we hit Mile 7. Mile 7 is very close to Headquarters, and here is the place "where things go to die". Basically a scrap metal yard in the middle of the park. However, a couple years ago this also became the place "where the newest wolf den is". So every time when I drive by, I automatically turn my head to look up the little road to see if there's something out there. And this time, as I turned and looked - I saw a wolf. I quite literally screamed "Wolf!!!", Ross hit the brakes and turned the car right around. By then the wolf had crossed the road and walked down a dried out river stream, but as we drove up, rolled down our windows and shut the motor off, he stood still and stared at us for a full 10 seconds, before finally disappearing in the woods. WOW!!!!! What an amazing first wolf sighting! To see a wolf in Denali is quite rare, and even more so to see one so close and so long! We are all completely awed and amazed, and I can't quite believe it. I keep saying "We saw a wolf!" over and over again.
What an amazing icing on the already wonderful cake, what an amazing day again... :)