By Charlene S. Mixa
An Exhilarating Trek into Alaska’s Wilderness
Early September in Alaska is a wonderful time to see fall foliage in this magnificent huge state. A paradise for hikers, the South Denali area has lakes, streams, woods, alpine ridges and wildlife. There are spectacular views of 23, 230 foot Denali (Mt. McKinley). A hike allows you to really enjoy the Alaskan landscape. The Denali Wilderness Hike touts: “Explore Alaska’s spectacular wilderness on an exhilarating trek with an experienced naturalist guide”.
The morning for our hike arrives as cloudy, drizzling, rainy day. In the hotel lobby, we meet Howard, our guide and naturalist, along with the six other adventurous souls. Howard drives us to the base camp, where we don first class rain gear, including rain hats, rain pants, and rain boots. A picnic table has an array of foods including pasta salad, candy bars, fruits and snacks. We select and pack our own lunch and write our name on the bag. Then Howard loads all the lunches in his backpack. The weather remains overcast with a steady, gentle rain.
It’s back in the van and off to Denali State Park where Howard gives us instructions to stay together and “on the path”. The muddy, wet path is actually a deep rut and in some places the sides of the path are over my calves. Our trek through an Alaskan forest in September begins on the Little Coal Creek Trail. The leaves are a rich gold against the wet dark tree trunks create a dramatic picture. Continuing along the path single file, Howard stops periodically to point out various plants and how they adapt to the Alaskan climate. Alaskan dogwood is a low growth bush and not a tree. The trees in Alaska don’t get to the heights that they get in the lower 48 as the growing season is very short. Howard tells us in a couple of weeks this entire area will be covered in snow.
The muddy path tells a story as Howard points to the paw prints where two bears, probably a mother and a cub, have recently walked. He shows us the bear’s fur on a tree where it has marked its territory. While hiking Howard, reminds us to make noise and he often calls out “here bear!” Bears are most dangerous when you surprise them, so always make a lot of noise when in the woods. We stop and observe a beaver dam and lodge, amazed at the size and time it took to build.
Now the path ascends above the tree line and into the tundra. The tree line is only at 2,500 feet. With the cold long winters trees cannot survive above that altitude. The tundra is full of red and raspberry colors. There are free snacks along the way as we sample the low bush and high bush blueberries. Above the tree line, the view is wonderful with a golden forest and a lake just below us. Even on this rainy day, everyone admires the uniqueness of Alaska. There are ravines and low mountains around with colorful foliage, yet, Mt. McKinley remains lost in the clouds and haze.
Lunch time arrives. Even in the cool wet weather the hiking has burned up a lot of calories. In an area out of the wind, Howard gives us an insulated mat to sit on and our lunch bags. The rule is to eat all your lunch because Howard doesn’t carry it back. The pasta salad was great – or was I just starved. The lunch reenergized us for returning trek down the hill. Before heading back we scan the mountainside and valleys taking in all the beauty, being sure to take a few extra pictures.
The hike down is fun, slippery and challenging. Back at the van, everyone strips off the extra gear. It’s been a full day and we hiked over 7 miles with an elevation change of about 1,000 feet. As we pile in the van, we all thank Howard for a great hike in Alaska’s wilderness. Now for a hot shower, dry clothes and glass of wine to toast this memorable adventure!
Alaska Nature Guides has other options for hikes and walks in Talkeetna and Denali State Park. Hikes can be booked at Mt. McKinley Princess Lodge or directly at:
Denali State Park, Trapper Creek, AK 99683; http://dnr.alaska.gov/parks/units/denali1.htm
Alaska Nature Guides, (907) 733- 1237; www.alaskanatureguides.com or firstname.lastname@example.org