Monday, 1 August 2011

Denali National Park: Conclusion and Tipps

Mt McKinley massif
My usual question "Would I recommend this trip to a friend?" is difficult to answer in this case. I liked and hated Denali at the same time. I realised that this sort of crosscountry bushwhacking is definitely NOT my cup of tea. I just want to hike - and not bushwhack at 6 km per day! So for hiking I can definitely not recommend Denali. But on the other hand Denali was breathtakingly beautiful - if the weather permits you to see it! I have been very lucky because it was raining only 2 days during my 9 day stay. I was even able to see the famous Mt. McKinley, the highest mountain in the US between the clouds which is a rather rare, but spectacular event.

So my conclusion is: Yes, it is worth seeing Denali, but if you are not interesting in bushwhacking in alpine tundra I would not go out of my way to get there. If you are already in Alaska for whatever other reason, I would have a look at Denali through their bus system, maybe do a short 1 or 2 day hike, but I would not spend an extended period of time there.

Denali is a rather expensive adventure and here are some tricks on how to save money:

Savage River
There are various designated campgrounds all along the park road for which you have to make a reservation and pay a reservation and campground fee. You can easily avoid that by just getting a FREE backcountry permit for the surrounding backcountry unit. This way you only have to camp out of sight of the road and the camp ground which usually means just walking about 10 minutes. But you can still use the camp ground facilities like food stoarge locker, toilets and in some cases the running water. And you could even attend the nightly camp fire talks led by the park rangers which are really interesting.
View from Savage River

There is a free shuttle bus into the park as far as mile 15. If you want to go further you have to pay for the shuttle bus. Mile 15 gets you to Savage River campground, from where you can hike up the Savage River drainage which is a nice and relatively easy hike, as there are well used social trails. As described above you could camp close to the official campground for free in the backcountry unit. This way you can hike and camp in Denali without having to pay anything!

Moose antler found in a creek
If you opt to go inside the park and do some serious hiking / bushwhacking stick to either broad river valleys or ridgeline walking. Anything else will just lead to even worse bushwhacking. Do not expect to do more than 10 miles per day. Bring old clothes and backpacks as you will probably tear things up in the thorny bushes. Bring all your food with you from either Anchorage or Fairbanks as stores inside the park are very expensive. If you unexpectedly run out of food inside the park check the food storages at the popular camp grounds. They all have free food shelves for leftovers and some are so well stocked that you can resupply several days out of there! Bring enough time and patience for the backcountry permit process - the whole procedure including video and safety talk will take at least 1 - 1,5 hour. Expect to wait at least 30 - 45 minutes in line before you can purchase your bus ticket for buses beyond mile 15. I know all this sounds really painful, but overall the system works very well - as long as you have enough time and patience.

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