August 21st, 2001
Early in the morning we get started in Nenana. It's overcast, but it doesn't rain as we head south. Actually, it looks as it could get better any minute. We all agree on giving it another try to drive down to Denali State Park once more. And indeed, it gets better and better as we make headway. About 50 km before the Denali National Park (!) it changes back to what we experienced here the last time already, it's just bad, drizzling rain and rather cool. Despite all that we drive on, after all it's still 100 km to go before we reach Denali State Park. As we approach it the sky clears up, cloud vanish more and more. By the time we are at the park office bright sunshine is what's out there. Lucky are the obstinate ;-))
From here already the mountain group around Mt. McKinley is pretty impressive, even though Denali is still in clouds.
Quickly we pack our gear and borrow two bear boxes from the office. We have to drive a bit again to reach to northern trailhead. Our plan is to hike the Kesugi ridge, which we climb first and follow its slope southwards for three days. It's already in the afternoon, but the sun is still powerful and we sweat a lot on our way up.
In no time we are above the tree line and again and again we look back to the mountains that rise on the other side of the valley. After two hours we are at that point where the trail starts to run parallel to the slope.
With our heavy backpacks we climb across a field of rubble until we reach a lookout from where we have a breathtaking view.
After we get ourselves going again we hike down a few meters in elevation to get onto a small plateau that is the ideal camp site. As the tents are pitched we refresh ourselves in a little lake nearby. All around us ground squirrels and marmots show up an watch us curiously.
From the lake we have a great panorama with the camp below in front of the Ruth glacier.
This evening a single hiker ask us if she could join us here as she doesn't want to stay here on her own. Virginia is here name and she working somewhere down in California. So we all sit down into the soft layer of lichen to have a cup of hot chocolate and to chat a bit while we enjoy the sight.
We are incredible lucky that we can see Denali at all (good weather is rare here), but what we experience the next hours exceeds our expectations by far. In the evening we have some good food and then take a seat to watch some "TV" ;-)) The clouds dissolve more and more and finally Mt. McKinley is completely clear. Only minutes later the sun beats even that by setting just behind the summit of the highest mountain of North America (20.320 feet or 6193 meters).
With the sun setting the temperature sinks quickly and we crawl into our sleeping bags. We agreed to get up just before sunrise the next morning.
August 22nd, 2001
Around 6am we force ourselves out of the cozy warmth, but almost instantly we are rewarded for that. Just about the summits of the massif are dipped in the first rays of sun and they glow reddish. After only ten minutes the magic is over, but even the sight of the gigantic mountains is fabulous.
With no cloud at all Denali (which is the Indian name for Mt. McKinley) rises above the seemingly small mountains of the ridge in the foreground, but their summits are all above 4000 m ! We start into the day quite slow and enjoy a long breakfast with some small spectators that come up to our feet.
A fox passes our camp a little later and even wolves howls belong to the scenery.
In the late morning we break our camp and hike on. We offer Virginia to join us what she accepts gladly. We keep following the ridge and set camp about 2 km before the trail that leads down into the valley. Sunshine accompanies us beside the fantastic view all day long. Only very few people are lucky enough to see all that. Today's camp is as nice as the last, but a little bit less windy. Unfortunately the black flies like that better as well and so they annoy us for the better part of the afternoon. They only vanish in the evening when the wind rises again. We stay outside for long and enjoy being here. After supper we hit our sacs soon.
August 23rd, 2001
As we get up we see Denali as most people are likely to see it - hidden in clouds. We don't care as we've seen it long enough to memorize its majesty. We pack our stuff and soon we reach the intersection that leads us down again. Around 1:30pm we hit the highway. I hitchhike to get the van and 45 minutes later we are back at the park office to return the bear boxes. In Cantwell we fill up gas and pick up a fax that is supposed to confirm that Bine bought a flight home, but there's only my name on the paper. After some calls we take the Denali highway eastbound which leads us through a great tundra landscape for 200 km. After we left the muddy tracks we stop in Delta Junction, the ending point of the famous Alaska Highway, which we will have driven completely in the evening.
A sign warns of dangers of the unusual kind. As we head towards Tok in dusk we find out what's it all about. We don't hit a bison, but see some moose. The young and the cow just stand in the ditch and look puzzled as we rush past them. The bull some time later just jumps onto the road and only hitting the brakes hard avoids a crash. As we get to Tok in darkness we pitch the tents and cook a hot soup. After some organizing calls to Germany we fall asleep soon.