Monday, March 21, 2011

Snowshoeing in Denali

I didn't realize how close Denali National Park actually is to Fairbanks, until the Spring Break Road Trip to Anchorage. So snowshoeing in Denali it was to be on a fine Sunday. I loaded up the snowshoes, my back pack and headed off. During the winter, operations at DNP are limited. The visitor center is closed, as is the bookstore. But they do have a ranger working and of course you can get your stamp for your National Park Passport (a main reason for going!)
Everyone has an ice sculpture!
Park entrance.
After talking to the Ranger I decided to head out on the Tiaga trail -- nice loop hike overlooking a lake, lots of wildlife had recently been spotted on the trail, and it would be just over an hour's hike. Perfect. I headed off down the trail and after a bit realized I had been steadily climbing up. This was not part of the Ranger's trail description.

I confess, I wasn't listening to the ranger the entire time. She exhibited a frontal lisp and was, quite frankly, an orthodontia hot mess. I spent the majority of our conversation analyzing her speech and have no idea what she said. (I did catch the part about her being very excited about 15 Danish men having visited the park the previous day. Yeah, I know when to pay attention.) Perhaps this is why I missed the turn off for Tiaga trail and instead ended up climbing Mt. Healy. This not helpful when you've told someone you're itinerary is for one trail and you actually hike a different one; and is what leads to people having to cut their arm off with a swiss army knife. I had my leatherman -- I was prepared.

Turns out, I'm glad I made that trail mistake. In not too much time I was up high enough to have incredible views of the surrounding mountains.

Straight to the summit! But, the higher I climbed, the windier it became abd the more scarce the trail grew. The map wasn't detailed enough for me to pinpoint exactly where I was. With every turn I thought I was "topping out" but would then realize I wasn't even close. The trail was icy and steep in sections and I was having a hard time getting the crampons of my snowshoes to grab hold of the ice going up. I didn't want to dwell on what that would mean going down. Snowshoes are great but if the crampons don't have good contact with the ice they are nothing more than nice sleds to the bottom of the mountain. Don't ask how I know.

At one of the turns of the switchback the trail disappeared. I could probably have figured it out but it was already 4:00 and no one knew where I was. Best to turn back. I had my full pack with me: 0-degree sleeping bag, Big Agnes (not an uncomfortable Ridgerest), food, SteriPEN, etc. But, I didn't want to have to test out my overnight survival skills. Back down the mountain I went. 3 1/2 hours after I had set out, I was back to the car.

On a Sister Mary scale, it was a good trip. I only fell to the ground twice. I had a few close calls for full-on face plants but demonstrated remarkable recovery and stuck my landings. It was only when picking out pictures for this post that I realized I had my snowshoes on the wrong feet. <sigh> Can you imagine me trying to climb something more substantial? I'd confuse the water bottle and the pee bottle for sure!

 Here's the photo reel:
 Lunch spot.
Frozen creek
Going up. It's hard to tell from the picture but this is actually steep. It was here that I began to question which trail I was actually on.
Surrounding mountains and down below is the Denali visitor's center.

Mountains, mountains, mountains. Everywhere you look, mountains. So nice.

Lots of animal tracks.
Mt. Healy
Confusing trail signs! Trust me on this -- it wasn't as straightforward as it looks.
Summer buses hibernating.

The end.

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