Tag Archives: Denali NP

Denali National Park & Preserve

National Park Week, Final Day; Today’s Park Theme: B.A.R.K. Ranger Day

Denali and the Alaska Range, view from the south

I think it’s safe to say that I have visited Denali National Park more than any of the others. Of course, it’s only a two hour drive away. Denali is a gem of a Park, and its Mountain and namesake is the crown jewel. Discussions for the area to become a National Park started as early as 1906, and by 1915 there was a solid plan and momentum for the idea. The naming of the Park was contentious from the very beginning, and that should be the subject of a future blog post. Alaskans and Park proponents who had actually visited the area wanted to see the Park named Denali, which was the Athabaskan word for the Mountain. The powers in Washington DC, particularly  Thomas Riggs of the Alaska Engineering Commission, disagreed. The new park would be named Mount McKinley National Park, a decision that Alaskans would fight for decades until it was finally officially renamed Denali National Park in 1980.

A view along the Park Road

At first the new national park was accessed by the Alaska Railroad, which ran between Seward on the southern coast and Fairbanks. The Denali Highway was opened in 1957, giving road access to the Park from the Richardson Highway, which runs between Valdez on the coast and Fairbanks. It wasn’t until 1971 for Anchorage to have direct access to Denali with the building of the Parks Highway between Anchorage and Fairbanks. The Denali Park Road starts at the George Parks Highway, and travels west into the Park for 92 miles. The road ends at the historic mining community of Kantishna.

Teklanika River

There are several trails for hiking in Denali NP, but like the Wrangell-St Elias, this is wilderness, and most hiking is off trail and across country. River crossings are common, and seeing wildlife is (practically) guaranteed. I have one friend who is so wildlife viewing challenged, that other than rabbits and ravens, nothing will show for him. I add the “practically” for those in that exclusive club with my friend in NY.

Caribou in Denali

For the rest of us, wildlife viewing in Denali NP&P is a smorgasbord. I have never been in the Park without seeing caribou and moose, and always grizzly in the summer months. I once took my Dad to Denali and we rode the school bus to the end of the Park Road. While stretching our legs at a rest area, I spotted a wolf sauntering along a river bed, and pointed it out to my Dad and another gentleman who was on the bus with us, and they watched it through my binoculars until we had to board again. I ended up getting scolded by everyone else who was on the bus, because I didn’t hunt them all down and show them the wolf too. Beware of the bus etiquette.

Alaskan Standoff: Grizzly Bear vs Bull Caribou

Denali is a special place in the winter, and I’ve enjoyed snowshoeing the trails and even the roads with the crowds of summer a very distant memory. Dog mushing is a very common activity in the winter, either with your own team, or riding along with a guide. Cross country skiing, snowshoeing and winter camping are the most common wintertime activities. It is a very beautiful, and quiet, winter wonderland. I searched and searched for winter pictures, and I could not find where I stashed them so that I could easily find them again. I will have to go back to create some more.

Denali Park Kennels

Dog mushing teams have been a part of Denali Park since 1922. The Park still maintains and works a team of sled dogs. In non-Covid years, the kennels can be visited, and the rangers give some pretty cool demonstrations. Plus, these dogs are just a lot of fun to hang around; Alaskan sled dogs have developed their own unique personalities, and they love to show them off. Driving the Park Road, you will often see the dog handlers walking the sled dogs, so watch for the signs.

The Replacements: Denali Park Puppies

Denali National Park & Preserve covers 4,740,911 acres and received 594,660 visitors in 2018.

Find your Park! And pet a Puppy!

Images of the Denali Park Dog Team and Puppy Patrol courtesy of NPS/Denali Dog Ranger Division


Glacier on the move

Muldrow Glacier in Denali National Park is surging:

Muldrow Glacier, with Traleika Glacier coming in from the top left

In early March, pilot Chris Palm, who took the photo above, noticed something very different about Denali Park’s famed Muldrow Glacier. The normally smooth surface of the glacier was broken up by crevasses stretching across the width of Muldrow.

The long awaited surge had begun.

The 39 mile long, Muldrow Glacier last surged in 1957, so scientists were thrilled to study a natural phenomenon that has not occurred here in 64 years.

Surge-type glaciers are relatively rare, with approximately 1% of the glaciers world-wide being surge glaciers. Denali National Park has several, most of which get their start from the face of North America’s tallest peak.

Newly formed transverse crevasses on Muldrow

As snow and ice builds up at the higher elevations of a glacier, meltwater is also building up underneath the glacier. This meltwater acts as a lubricant when the weight from above passes equilibrium. The glacier then surges downward at a rate of up to 100 times faster than normal. At some point, the meltwater trapped under the glacier will be released in an outburst flood. Once the water is reduced significantly, the glacier’s surge will slow and it will go back to a state of quiescent (non-surge) once again. Over time, the process repeats itself. Muldrow Glacier has a history of surging roughly every 50 years.

An animated time-lapse of Muldrow Glacier on the northeast flank of Denali. The starting time is August 2018.

There are two GPS stations on the glacier to monitor its movement. There are also four time-lapse cameras facing different areas of the glacier, including one at the terminus to monitor the glacier’s “bulldozing action”. Another is looking over the McKinley River in order to capture images of the outburst flood. The Alaska Earthquake Center also has a seismic monitoring station, and a sound station has also been installed in an attempt to capture the grinding sound of the surging glacier.

Mapping Muldrow’s movement

In 1957, most accounts have the surge starting in May, 1956 on Traleika Glacier, which is the main tributary of Muldrow. Muldrow Glacier would advance over 4 miles before the surge ended in September of 1957. Approximately 3.3 cubic kilometers of ice was redistributed from the upper reaches of the glacier to its toe. At the upper levels, the ice thickness had dropped as much as 170 meters, but the toe rose to a 200 foot tall ice wall.

Currently, the Muldrow Glacier is moving between 10 to 20 meters per day, and is only 800 meters short of the 1957 terminus. At the current rate of surge, Muldrow will reach the 1957 distance in June.

All images, photos and maps are courtesy of the NPS; Sources include: NPS – Denali NP&P, Alaska Department of Natural Resources, University of Alaska – Fairbanks


Climbing The Great One

Denali; Photo credit: National Park Service

For the first time in 70 years, no one climbed Denali in 2020. In an average year, 1200 climbers attempt to summit the tallest peak in North America, with around 58% being successful.

The National Park Service has announced that climbing permits have resumed for 2021. So far, most applications have been for domestic climbers, with the number of requests from foreign climbers being down from normal years.

This was certainly good news for businesses in the Northern Susitna Valley, which provides everything from transportation to The Mountain, as well as supplies and accommodations for the climbers.


Denali Trestle

Film Friday:

Alaska Railroad trestle bridge over Riley Creek; Denali National Park & Preserve

Camera: Minolta SRT201; Film: Kodak 35mm, Ektar100


Trying to squeeze in one more shot…

Film Friday:

Denali National Park

…and not quite making it.

Camera: Minolta SRT201; Film: Kodak 35mm, Ektar 100


Winter Weather Advisory

Our first of the season.

It’s been an odd year, all the way around, but especially with the weather. Fairbanks had a dusting of snow last week, but nothing measurable. Anchorage had measurable snow before we did.

Juneau beat both Fairbanks and Anchorage for the season’s first freeze. Juneau! That’s just not right.

So winter is coming for Fairbanks. Even though 2-3 inches of snow is hardly much to get excited over, at least it’s a start. Denali Park & Black Rapids are at least looking to get a good jump on the season.

I guess I’m ready for snow. Let it fall.

Graphics credit: National Weather Service – Fairbanks


Alaska Railroad

Film Friday:

Alaska Railroad bridge in Denali NP

While out on a hike in Denali NP, the Alaska Railroad bridge was off in the distance. The Alaska Railroad has a station within The Park.

Camera: Minolta SRT201; Film: Kodak 35mm, Ektar100


Bus 142

The famed Magic Bus; Fairbanks Transit Bus #142

The bus is a 1946 International Harvester K-5. Originally, it was a part of the Fairbanks City Transit System. Since 1960, #142 has been sitting in a clearing along the Stampede Trail.

The Stampede Trail runs from the Parks Highway, north of Healy and Denali National Park almost due west to an abandoned antimony mine. Prior to the building of the Parks Highway, the trail, which dates to 1903, was accessed from the Alaska Railroad.

Bus 142 and two others, were hauled down the Stampede Trail by bulldozer. The busses were equipped with bunks and a wood stove, for construction workers maintaining the trail for the mine. In 1970, the mine ceased operations. Two of the busses were hauled back out, but #142 was abandoned to the elements, due to a broken axle.

Over the years, Bus 142 served as a shelter for hunters, trappers and snowmachiners in the area. Other than that, hardly any thought was given to the old transit bus.

That all changed in 1993, when Jon Krakauer published an article in Outside magazine. The story detailed the travels and subsequent death of Chris McCandless, at the bus, the previous year. The story also inspired a book, as well as a major motion picture. The book is great; the movie: “meh”.

The Stampede Trail is not considered “remote” by Alaska standards, but like any travel off the road system, the Stampede can, and does, have hazards. McCandless unfortunately found them, and tragically perished.

The bus now became a pilgrimage for many people from all around the globe. People flocked to take a selfie, while leaning against the bus, in the chair that McCandless took one from, just prior to his death.

The first 8 miles of the Stampede is maintained, partly paved and partly gravel. After that, the trail becomes more suited to ATV/off-road/hiking. The bus sits 28 miles down the trail. The main summer obstacle is the Teklanika River, although none of the rivers the trail crosses has a bridge. The flow of water can change drastically in the Teklanika with a rain storm or snow melt. When the river is rushing, it is an absolute torrent.

Two hikers who traveled out to see the bus, were swept to their deaths in the rushing water of the Teklanika. Many others were evacuated, after being caught on the wrong bank of the rushing river.

Bus 142 gets flown out by Chinook

The Denali Borough and State of Alaska had grown tired of the rescues. This summer, as training for the Alaska Air Guard, Bus 142 was flown out to the Parks Highway by Chinook helicopter. It spent the better part of the summer at an “undisclosed location”, probably in Anchorage.

Bus 142 in front of the Museum of the North

This past week, Bus 142, or as McCandless called it in his diary, “the Magic Bus”, returned to Fairbanks after 60 years. It came up the Parks Highway on a flatbed and posed for pictures in front of the University of Alaska’s Museum of the North. The bus will be stabilized, preserved and displayed at an outdoor exhibit on campus. Its entire history will be detailed with the new exhibit.

Anyone who wants to support the Museum’s conservation effort for Fairbanks City Transit Bus #142, can donate to the cause at the following site:

https://crowdfund.alaska.edu/project/22255


Alaska Roundup

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Naknek River; Camera: Leica M3, Film: Fujichrome Velvia 100

The North Slope village of Utqiagvik woke up to -20F degree temperatures on Wednesday morning.  That was a record low for the day for the village.  It was Utqiagvik’s first recording of a record low since 21 December 2007.  During that same time span, the village had set or tied 112 record high temperatures.

 

Alaska has started to “reopen” businesses throughout the state, with everyone seemingly holding their breath as it happens.  Travel restrictions into the state remain in place.  Restaurants are now able to seat to within 25% of capacity, and members at a table are supposed to be from the same household.

The Fairbanks Borough had seen two weeks go by without a new case of Covid-19, but that ended on Sunday with a case in North Pole.  Since then, North Pole has seen another diagnosed case.  The State had six new cases on Tuesday, for a total of 351.  228 individuals have recovered from Covid-19, and nine Alaskans have died from the virus.  Concerning, to me at least, is the first recorded cases in small, isolated, communities like Kodiak, Petersburg and Sitka after a long period of social distancing.

Fishing communities are still struggling with what to do for the summer season.  Valdez has decided to allow fishermen into town without any quarantine, where several smaller communities are demanding a quarantine.  The State of Alaska has agreed to allow fishermen to quarantine on their boats, although a realistic plan for that option remains elusive, considering most fly into these small communities, and air travel between towns not on the road system is off limits.  Travel between communities on the road system is now being allowed.

 

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Denali, and the Alaska Range

Tourism is all but scrapped for the 2020 season.  The two main cruise ship companies have written off Alaska for the year, and have even decided to keep their lodges and hotels closed until late spring 2021.

Denali National Park has now opened the Park Road to Mile 12.  As spring takes a stronger grip on the land, the Park will continue to open up more of the road as conditions allow.  Denali Park is also considering having additional road lotteries in 2020.  The lottery, which allows permit holders to drive well into the Park, where usually only busses are allowed, takes place in September.  Additional opportunities would be extremely welcome.  I’m thrilled with the idea, since the State is all but closed to Outside tourists this year.

No offense.

 

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Moose Crossing: Denali Highway at Tangle River

The Denali Highway, not to be confused with the Denali Park Road, is NOT open.  Yet, people keep getting stuck on the road between Cantwell and Paxson.  The Denali Highway, possibly the best drive in Alaska, is not maintained during the winter.  It is also not paved, which keeps the riffraff numbers down.  Or at least, the tour busses.

 


#OptOutside 2019

Just think: No lines, no fighting over the last extra large, no pushing or shoving, or trying to find a parking spot.

Opt to go Outside and explore. Every trail leads to an adventure.

If you happen to be in or near Baraboo, Wisconsin, The Leopoldo Center is holding crane viewing events this weekend.