Denali National Park
A memorable week was had in this area. Firstly we walked the K'esugi Ridge, then we managed to coordinate our travels with that of my Aunt and Uncle and enjoyed a wonderful, warm and sunny evening with them in the Base Camp Bar overlooking Denali.
North America's highest mountain also boasts one of their largest wilderness areas - Denali National Park which is 6 million acres. There is a 92 mile gravel road, which can only be travelled on one of the park buses. The number of visitors is controlled, wildlife are able to live undisturbed and huge areas are inaccessible to ensure this.
We rocked up on a Thursday and booked 2 nights at one of their wilderness campsites with the intention of getting a couple of days hiking in, booked ourselves onto one of the afternoon camper buses and packed up our rucksacks.
Cathedral Peak was our target, we had the topo map, we knew our route, so off we headed, first on the road then up the creek gulley to the ridge that would take us to the top. The wind was strong and in our faces, so a lot of noise was made to warn any wildlife of our approach. Despite this, as we made our way onto the moss and willow covered tundra a movement to our right caught Dave's eye, "Brown Bear to our right" he said quite casually, I spun my head and there it was standing on it's hind legs looking at us. "Holy Crap" I said, "Lets get out of here".
"Stand still next to me, keep together and don't move." Dave instructed and we shouted "Hey Bear we are moving off now". The bear was about 100ft away and could cover that distance in a few seconds, I was pretty scared and had to fight down the urge to turn and run away as fast as possible. Luckily this bear wasn't so curious and carried on digging, so we carried on up to the ridge and onto the scree slope to the top
From our vantage point we could see that our bear was in fact in a group of 3, an adult and 2 adolescents. We discussed what our best descent route would be to avoid them and headed down. Once safely back on the road we relaxed until looking back up the slope we saw the same three bears running around the hill towards us, I don't think we were their aim, but they were still way too close for comfort and travelling very fast. Fortunately a bus approached and we waved it down, the driver and occupants were wondering at our haste to get on until we pointed across the road, "There are 3 grizzlies over there." Everyone was happy to get so close to the bears and such good photos, but also to say how they were part of saving a couple of hikers. I was happy to get out the way of three running grizzlies.
The campsite that night was full and we had a great time chatting to the 2 Americans and a Brit cycling from Denali to Prudhoe Bay, 2 independent Female travellers from Germany and a group of Scouts from Alabama who had to change their camp from New Mexico to Alaska at the last minute because of forest fires.
Having lost interest in hiking, partly due to the previous days experience and the fact that it was freezing cold and really windy, we took the bus to the Eielson Centre the next day, a gorgeous route which took you 66 miles into the Park. I was amazed at the amount of wildlife we saw from the bus, herds of caribou, moose, golden eagles, dall sheep, falcons and more grizzlies. Denali truly was a wilderness adventure for us and one that we will not forget in a hurry in more ways than one.