Independence Day Part 2: Denali

Hey, guess what else I am finally working on?  That's right. Utah pages. For real. I have pictures and words on a page and shit. Maybe someday soon I will be happy enough with it to share. Now back to your promised part 2 of the long weekend post.

Part two of the long 4th of July weekends found us on the Denali Highway, headed toward the National Park. We had both been in about 30 miles from the Paxson side on a snow machine last winter. I have been in about 70 miles from the Cantwell side. In 10 years of living here, I had yet to drive this iconic highway. The opportunity finally presented itself. Sunday morning saw us loading up the orange Subaru and headed more north, and west. 

We cruised up to the Richardson Highway. Fireweed lined the road. Mt. Drum loomed in the distance. I have always looked on in awe as I have approached the looming beast. I recently had stumbled upon the name. I talked about climbing it some day, pulled out my trusty pocket computer, and got some basic beta. Looks do-able. Maybe a blog post in the future will describe our ascent of Mt. Drum. Lindsay stopped the car in the middle of the road to get out and take photos. They turned out pretty awesome. I bet she will put them up on her webpage someday so you can buy sweet prints.

As we turned off the Richardson Highway onto the Denali Highway, the sky opened up. It rained the entire 135 miles. Many of the mountains were shrouded in clouds. We stopped at a small pond and tried to take some photos of a family of swans. They swam and walked away from us before any good photos were taken. Oh well. It took about 5 hours to traverse the highway, with various photography stops

 Looking for Swans

Looking for Swans

 The Denali Highway... it goes on and on. 

The Denali Highway... it goes on and on. 

We rolled into Denali National Park around 4 pm with no plan. We stopped by the Wilderness Access Center and inquired about camping. Ideally, we would camp in the park. Turns out there were camp sites available in the park, but no bus with room. Oh well. On to plan B. We ended up staying in a tent site at Riley Creek Campground near the park gate. We stopped by the Backcountry Information Center and asked about hiking near the park gate. Turns out everything around there was closed at the time due to wildlife (bears). Well, the earliest bust into the park that we could get onto departed at 1 pm, so that didn't leave us with many options. 

Plan B offered us the option of heading up to Healy to check out 49th State Brewing Co and the replica of the Magic Bus they had out front. We dropped our gear at the camp site and headed out. The beer was quite excellent. The place was packed though and the food was standard brewery food. Luckily, we found a few seats at the bar pretty quick and avoid the 45 minute wait for a table. The place was decorated well, just packed. And a drunk guy at the bar decided to hit on Lindsay which kind of soured the experience for us both. We checked out the maps of the park and planned the day for tomorrow.  

On the way to the bar, we drove by a few trails that looked cool. We elected to hike up the trail at the Bison Gulch Bridge located at mile 244 on the Parks Highway. Due to the logistical difficulties of getting into the park, we decided to access the park from this trail as our adventure for day 4 of the weekend. We stopped at the trailhead on the way back to camp and looked at the route. There is another trail that goes up Antler Creek just to the north. We couldn't see if the two trails connected but decided to find out. Plan made. 

Camp was relaxing. Our camp neighbors were quiet and we strolled around the connecting trails in the area. It rained some more. Oh well, that is what waterproof clothes are for. 

The morning was cloudy, but pleasant. We packed up and headed to Bison Gulch. The trail started off a little overgrown-for maybe the first 1/4 mile. It is pretty steep the whole way; the higher we went, the more the wind picked up. The trail leads up to several ridges. One does indeed appear to loop around to the Antler Creek trail we saw. This route would take the better part of the day. Another leads to Mt. Healy. The views were spectacular.

Since we had to drive back to Anchorage, we attempted to make a loop out of the hike taking what looked like a trail that would lead to the south side of Antler Creek (the obvious trail from the road is on the north side). We followed this trail until it stopped and then we made our own... and got completely socked in with brush and alders. Fuck brush and alders. They suck. And critters hide in them. We hiked back up to the Bison Gulch trail and followed it back. 

Bison Gulch would be a great trail to take up on a couple-day backpacking trip following ridge lines. We hope to come back with more time to explore some day.