Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Unit 1 of Denali National Park: Climbing Flat Top Mountain off the George Parks Highway

It's been another busy summer of work and play here in Denali Park, Alaska. We're both working for Grande Denali, LLC again, Reed as maintenace at the Grande Denali and I as the Housing Manager for both the Denali Bluffs and Grande Denali. We've been grateful to have our jobs for a second season, to settle into them and get to explore the area more. 

This summer I wanted to try learn something new by working a second job that would allow me to get familiar with working in a small business, and would help me to meet people outside of our company. I was fortunate to get a one-day-per-week job working at Black Bear Coffee shop, down on the strip / mall of Denali's 'downtown.' This job has given me the chance to work with a skilled group of people, and to learn a little about what it's like to operate a small business.  
I still have two days off per week, but it means less time off during the work week to prep for weekend outings. Reed's done an excellent job at stepping up and doing the work of getting us ready to go camping each weekend. We've also been helped by our experience this past winter of prepping for outdoor adventures, which taught us to whittle down our packing to the bare essentials, as less weight and bulk allows us to do more, go farther. 
Last weekend Reed secured us a backcountry permit for Unit 1 in Denali National Park, accessible from the George Parks Highway. I worked until 9:30pm, then walked home and decompressed for an hour. By the time that we were on the trail, it was nearly midnight. Yes, it was still light, which is one of the amazing things about Alaska in June and July. We parked at the Triple Lakes Trailhead and then set out up the Triple Lakes trail. When we crossed the Alaska Railroad, we followed the tracks south, to the faint traces of earlier footsteps. The beginning was fine, walking across foamy-tundra and knee high blueberry bushes. Pretty soon, though, the vegetation thickened, the ground got muddy and we found our best option was to follow what was clearly a moose trail. Their recent footsteps were clearly visible, and the vegetation had been pushed back. Trying to depart from this narrow thread was less appealing. It was 90+ minutes of type 3 fun. Reed wanted to stop and set up our tent for the night. So did I. But there was nowhere flat or dry enough. So on we went. When we crested the top edge of the ridge, it was amazing to find that the mountain really way flat up top. 
By 2am our tent was set up, and we were snugly in our sleeping bags. We slept well until 9am, when we awoke, did our morning routine including eating granola bars smothered in peanut butter, (retrieved the Ursack from 100 meters away & watched a moose in the distance) and then went back to sleep. 

We were glad to get a bit of catch up sleep. We slept most of the day, until after 2, then got up and gobbled down more granola bars with peanut butter. The best part was that there was more up still available to us. We had camped on the low ridge, and the peak was clearly visible since the clouds and fog had moved along to the next set of peaks. We walked for another hour to get to the top. It was like a park at the top, with low grass and evidence of dahl sheep all around. I would have liked to continue on, but our time was running short, so we turned around and headed back the way that we had come. We passed near the moose we had seen that morning, or perhaps it was a different one. Their tracks were abundant. We picked blueberries; their deep blue caught our eyes and our attention. Then we found a chute to descend. It was steep, but so much less dense brush than the way that we had ascended. 

We were down by 8pm, having seen and experienced quite a lot for less than 24 hours. I love the proximity to the park that we enjoy working right here at the park entrance. On the way down, we passed by one of the remnants of the Alaska telegraph line, from the early 1900s. Glass insulators still atop the badly leaning pole. 

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