Tag Archives: Denali

Walter Harper Day

Looking down on Muldrow Glacier; Photo credit: Hudson Stuck, 1913

Today is Walter Harper Day in Alaska. Harper, at the age of 20, was the first person to stand on the summit of Denali on June 7, 1913.

It took the expedition three months to travel from Fairbanks to the summit of North America’s highest peak. The final four weeks of the trek were spent on The Mountain.

Walter Harper in 1916

Harper and his new bride were on the doomed final voyage of the steamer Princess Sophia, when it ran aground in Lynn Canal, and eventually sank when a storm came up. He was 25.


A snowy Denali National Park

The view across Denali National Park at the end of May, 2022

In the 99 years of record keeping within Denali National Park, the winter of 2021-22 was the record setter. 176 inches of snow fell at park headquarters this past winter, breaking the 174″ of 1970-71.

As of May 15, there were still 33″ of snow on the ground at the park’s headquarters, far above average for this late in the season.

It’s been a tough winter for wildlife, particularly moose, who have had to fight the deep drifts. Both moose and bears have been traveling on the park road, so traffic has been limited past Sable Pass. Bicyclists normally can travel up & down the park road, but with the stressed wildlife, that will remain limited until the snow melts.

The shuttle bus will only be traveling as far as Pretty Rocks, due to the road collapse from the melting ice formation.

The park’s visitor center will be open for the first time since 2019, and the park’s sled dog kennel will also be open for tours. 2022 is the 100th anniversary for the Denali Park Sled Dog Kennel.


Denali National Park & Preserve

National Parks Week: Day Four

Looking down on Muldrow Glacier; Image credit: Hudson Stuck

The image was taken in 1913, when Walter Harper, Hudson Stuck, Harry Karstens, and Robert Tatum trekked their way to Denali’s summit. It was Harper who became the first known individual to stand on the summit of North America’s highest peak.


“Moose’s Tooth”

Film Friday:

Photograph by Bradford Washburn; 1958

I am a huge fan of Bradford Washburn’s photography. Here is an image of Moose’s Tooth, which is a 10,000 foot peak near Ruth Gorge in the Alaska Range. Moose’s Tooth is 15 miles southeast of Denali. The first known summit of the peak took place in 1964.


“Denali and Wonder Lake”

Photograph by Ansel Adams; 1948

Some summer numbers

Map credit: ACCAP/UAF/NOAA

Wildfires within Alaska burned less than half the usual acreage in 2020, which is not really a surprise with an unusually wet summer.

Fairbanks had its 12th warmest and 20th wettest summer in the past 90 years.

Anchorage saw its 23rd warmest and 28th wettest in the past 70 years.

Juneau had its 10th warmest and 15th wettest in the past 81 years.

The western coast of Alaska was just plain wet.

Bristol Bay had some very rough seas during the fishing season, but that didn’t keep them from setting a record year for sockeye salmon.

The Yukon River drainage had no salmon in 2020. No chums. No kings. Nada. The entire fishery was closed.

One bright spot was the amount of sea ice in the Chukchi Sea in August. It was the most we have seen in 15 years.

Denali National Park has already seen 6″ of the white stuff.

Fairbanks has already seen frost.


Tom Sadowski

I received word over the the weekend, that photographer Tom Sadowski had passed away in his home in Maine this summer.

Anyone who has perused a gift store in Alaska has seen his postcards. Those postcards, were not in the Hallmark tradition, per se, but more of a quirky, sometimes zany, and always humorous visual, of life and travel in the 49th State.

Sadowski was a long time columnist for the Anchorage Free Press, writing some 500 weekly columns. He had gone into semi-retirement only last year.

Rest in peace Mr Sadowski.


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


Denali by Alaska Air