Snow in Denali National Park!Posted: September 27, 2011
This weekend we went back to Denali National Park to see how things change in late fall. It was a whole new experience. As of mid-September everything closes for the season: no gas, no food, no shops, and the park buses don’t run. The park road is open for private vehicles to drive out to Teklanika River at mile 29. This is the only time of year when private vehicles can drive past mile 15. Driving on your own offers a sense of leisure and privacy that riding on a bus can’t. We pulled over to look when we wanted, chatted, and took way to many pictures. It gave the whole park a new sense of intimacy. But we did miss the height of the bus for looking out, the freedom of no one having to watch the road, and the advantage of many sets of eyes looking for wildlife. There are trade-offs for both times of year. But this trip was certainly beautiful.
The landscape has drastically changed. All the leaves are off the trees and most of the mountains are snow capped. There are less people and most of the animals are beginning to hide away for winter. It was moose rutting season, and we did spot one large bull while driving. I am still impressed every time we see a moose. They are just so big! The drive provided sweeping views of the front half of the park. But my favorite part of the day was our hike up Primrose Ridge.
Denali National Park has very few trails, most of the wilderness requires you to find your own route. Hiking up Primrose Ridge we followed a social trail. Social trails develop in places that have dense foliage and usually follow the easiest path in the general direction most people want to go, in this case up the mountain. The social trail was helpful because the first part of the hike climbs up through tall, thick brush. Once we were above the tree line the hiking was steep but easier to follow. The views were excellent. Across from us you could see Cathedral and Double Mountain with the Alaskan Range stretching out behind them. Mountains with snow on them always seem more dramatic.
Reaching Primrose Ridge, although very pretty, was not the final destination. Rising further above us was the snow covered western side of Mount Margaret (the summit was to the east and further up), and it was worth the extra climb. The ridge, covered in low, wet alpine continued until it met the rocky edges of Margaret. As we neared the rocks, light snow was scattered in patches across the ridge. We scampered up the east side of the rocks. At the top, we could see 360 degrees, mountains in every direction! The top had several inches of snow and strong, cold winds. We wandered around among the rock outcroppings enjoying the views. The wind was so strong ice was frozen in bent lines off the rocks and on the ground. This was Alaska at its finest. We stayed on top as long as we could before we started to get cold. Our pictures can’t even capture how impressive this hike was, but they give you an idea. Alaska is one big, beautiful place.