Off to Denali

Trip to Denali National Park, Alaska

July 26th – August 3rd 2015

Denali_1Sunday, Day 1 – Got into Anchorage at 1:45pm but had to wait for the shuttle. I walked around looking for an AAA representative but couldn’t find one, so I called the number I had and left a message. Aaron called me and apologized for forgetting me and a shuttle would be there close to 4pm. It wasn’t a problem, the airport was cool. I got picked up by Matt (guide) and there were two other people in there. We went to Susitna Place and checked in. I met everyone else there, including our main guide Nico, who ended up being a 2000 graduate of South Glens Falls! Brad and Anna are from Chicago; both in their mid-30’s, she’s a 9th grade teacher and he’s a banker of some sort. They don’t have kids and have no desire to have any. Oscar is 29 and moved from Guatemala when he was 7. After living in Virginia all of his life, he moved to NYC early in July to go back to school to pursue his MBA. Caroline is 25, living in Alabama and does something like sailboat racing and outdoor events for kids. Ivan is from Sydney Australia and he and his wife arrived on a cruise from Vancouver. She’s not hiking but is incredibly nice, as is he. Bruce and his son are from Indianapolis, although his son lives in Houston now. He’s maybe late 20’s/early 30’s and Bruce is 61. They’re both lawyers, and Bruce had tongue cancer just 3 years ago. They actually met Brad and Anna in Glacier last year and decided to try to hike together again.

The whole group seems nice, funny, and very likable!

100_1667Monday, Day 2 – It was a rough start to the week. Flights were grounded due to low clouds over our destination so we had to burn off some time waiting. We all hopped in the van and took a tour of southern Anchorage and a wildlife viewing area. Eventually we went back to Rust’s Aviation, had lunch, and then decided to make the 3 hour drive to Talkeetna in hopes of catching a flight then. We got there and were told we could fly, but the group was broken into 3 groups. Brad, Anna, and I were in the first group to go. They’re incredibly nice. We took off from the lake and made the half hour flight to our lake destination. The views of the valley and lower Ruth Glacier were breathtaking. The flight was incredible and Chip the pilot very entertaining. Only guy that I’ve seen that rocks a soul patch, too. We landed on the lake and offloaded our gear. Nico, Anna, Brad, and I hiked about a half mile to our camp site. We set up the dining canopy and then Nico left his revolver with me while he went back to get the second group. Anna and Brad set up their tents, then checked out the scenery while I sat on the hill and walked around a bit. Anna seemed to be getting her hiking legs under her on the way.

Caroline, Ben, Bruce, and Ivan arrived on the second trip and set up their tents. Matt and Oscar arrived third about 2 hours after I did, and Oscar and I got to work setting up our tent. Afterwards I gave Matt a hand with his and Nico’s tent. It was about 8pm when we ate. Nico made a dinner of pasta, garlic, red sauce, & reindeer sausage that was delicious! We sat and talked a bit when it started to drizzle, so we hustled to get cleaned up and ready for bed. It was so light out at 11pm it felt like morning!

Tuesday, Day 3 – I was up all night due to Oscar snoring like crazy; well maybe an hour of sleep. I didn’t see that coming. I was up and out of the tent at 4am and took some pics. I walked around, sat and stacked rocks into a small cairn, took pics, walked. It seemed like a long time. I was exhausted and still on east coast time. Eventually everyone awoke and we had breakfast of coffee, eggs with hashbrowns and salsa. That was really tasty! We packed in a drizzle and hiked through some pretty hard terrain, then had a lunch of goat cheese and salami on gourmet crackers. We then hiked up and up into a draw, took a break, and hiked some more. We made camp and then had teriyaki chicken and noodles around 8:30 pm. My shoes and socks were soaked, and finally at 10pm I crawled into my bag, looking unsuccessfully for my earplugs. UGH!

Wednesday, Day 4 – I slept really well, but still woke up at 4am. However, I did fall back asleep until almost 7am! The sun was shining brightly this morning, too. We had breakfast burritos and coffee, and then washed out our dishes as usual; boiling water, soap, and then a rinse. We put on our small packs for a day hike and left for the day. The views were absolutely amazing. We hiked down Ruth Glacier about 3 valleys over, then up a draw to a saddle where we could see the Tokositna Glacier. It was a bit foggy so we broke for lunch. Then Ivan, Bruce, and I walked back and the sun came out so you could now see for miles! We took quite a number of photos and hung out there awhile, and eventually most of the others joined us there. We all headed back to where we took our break, and while waiting for Oscar to use the poo bag (a bag with toilet paper, a lighter, a trowel, and hand cleaner), Nico had us keep warm doing the Penguin Dance. Very entertaining!

Everyone together again, we hiked up the side of a mountain to the end of the spur, rested, and then continued to hike the ridge up and up. There were great views but highly unnerving at times. Coming down, Caroline and I teamed up on our descent. She had me laughing so much all week, and this time wasn’t different. I was in front of her on a steep, rocky section and she slipped a bit. I immediately went to my butt to stop her and not get knocked forward and she slid up a bit toward me. I turned and asked “What’s the hurry?” and we started laughing hard. A large rock broke loose and someone yelled “ROCK!” It raced down the hill, narrowly missing Ivan and Oscar. I yelled an apology but of course Caroline and I started giggling again, trying not to sound like we enjoyed their near-death experience.

We made it all the way back to camp, and Brad thanked me for helping Anna through some difficult rocks along the way. I soaked my feet in the icy cold creek, and then cleaned up for dinner. We had delicious rice, chicken, and a real good sauce of tomatoes, beans and something else. We all laughed a lot tonight, and the company was great. I went to get more pics and enjoy the views, and then got ready for bed. It was about 11pm when I finally closed my eyes, although it was so bright out it made it difficult.

Thursday, Day 5 – I was up at 5:10am. It rained hard last night, and although I woke up a few times the sound lulled me back to sleep quickly. It wasn’t raining when I left the tent, so I walked around a lot and took photos. The fog came in quickly though. Nico eventually awoke and joined me at the canopy so we sat and chatted a bit, and then Matt came out. Caroline, Ivan, and the rest filtered in shortly afterwards. We had some kind of couscous with pineapple and other filler, but it wasn’t very good at all. We washed our dishes and packed in the morning drizzle again.

Caroline is hilarious and I don’t think she even tries. She’s had me laughing all week. Ivan is a doctor and quite captivating to listen to. He’s been to quite a few places. Oscar is going to college in NYC. He’s very well read and enjoys storytelling and jokes. Anna is very funny as well. She puts bags on her feet to dry her shoes and warm her feet, then cracks bag lady jokes. She also likes to point out Oscar’s “gay tendencies”. He owns a Subaru, can fold fitted sheets, has seen Twilight, and read an article on being a better boyfriend. Her and Brad make a great team and are very funny together. Bruce is a machine on the trail. He’s 61 years old, a lawyer, loves to play poker, and loves to smoke pot. He said on Sunday’s he and his wife get high and play bridge with the neighbors! Ben, his son, just shakes his head during his stories. Bruce even talks like a typical lawyer, moving his hands and articulating in a way that’s captivating. Ben is pretty quiet, but still adds to the conversation a bit.

We hiked and bushwacked some of the valleys. The sun was out so we stopped for water and to remove layers, had lunch of Greek feta and pita bread, and then had 10 minutes to nap. We hiked quite a bit more, eventually stopping to set up camp in a great overlook area. For dinner we had chicken pasta with cream sauce. It was good but filling, and we ate in relative quiet. Soon we were lively again, and were talking about our favorite movies and music. I mentioned seeing Kung Fury, and trying to describe it, must have got Ivan just right because he fell back laughing at my description, tears in his eyes. He said he can’t watch it because he’d rather remember the way I told it.

We cleaned up and got ready for bed. It was a beautiful evening.

Friday, Day 6 – I was up at 6:30am and felt great! It was beautiful out with a great sunrise. I walked around a bit and took plenty of photos. We saw a rainbow in the valley while we ate berry pancakes and had coffee. It was warm so I opted to start the day in shorts and a t-shirt for the first time. We hiked up the draw where we stayed the night before, but as we approached the saddle above, clouds rolled in and the skies opened up. At first a light rain so I delayed putting on rain gear. As it got worse, I finally put on my raincoat and pack cover. Suddenly we were hit with hail for about 5 minutes, and then the rain fell again. It rained for at least two hours, soaking us through. We continued on, moving up and up through the ridge line. The skies cleared and you could see valleys, glaciers, and mountains for miles! We took plenty of photos and then continued over the ridge. At times it was less than 8’ wide and quite intimidating, but we all made if through and started our descent toward our final campsite. On the way we crossed bridges of snow and ice, and rocks of all sizes. The rain hit once more, then more hail, and we were soaked through yet again. Eventually the rain stopped and the sun shone brightly, drying our clothes almost as quickly as they were soaked. We hiked a bit longer over large boulders, making camp near two small streams just short of the lake in which we arrived. Our dinner was light hearted but we knew it was our last one out here. I don’t even remember what we had that night. We cleaned up and each of us headed to our tents to sleep.

Saturday, Day 7 – I was up early this morning and made my way to the crest of a small hill. The skies were beautiful and you could see sunrays touching entire mountain faces. Even Mount Church at 8233 feet was shining brightly. Everyone awoke to bright sunshine, and we had an oatmeal breakfast that wasn’t exactly to my liking. Caroline couldn’t eat it as well.

We cleaned up and packed, then made our way to the lake. We were leaving the way we arrived; only Oscar would join me, Anna, Brad, and Nico in the plane. The half hour flight to Talkeetna was even more wonderful than the first one, with skies a bright, clear blue. We arrived at Talkeetna, offloaded, and then bussed to the K2 office. I bought a hat and shirt and then the four of us walked around town, eventually stopping at the Talkeetna Brewhouse for burgers and a beer. I paid for our dinner, and then the others came in. We had great conversations, bought shirts, and then walked around town a bit more. At 3:30 we headed to the K2 office where we hung out until 4, then walked to the train station. We were hikers and looked like it, surrounded by crowds of tourists that were bussed in from a Carnival Cruise.

We took a 3 hour train ride from Talkeetna to Anchorage. It wasn’t particularly great, with 4 little kids raising hell the whole time. Most everyone went to the bar car but me and Matt tried to nap.

We got into Anchorage around 8pm, and then bussed over to the AAA shop. There we emptied our bags, returning our gear and picking up any bags we left behind. I returned the bear can, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, and trekking poles, and gave a tip to Matt and Nico. Some people flying out that night showered, and then we plotted our trail on some maps we had. I said goodbye to most everyone, and Oscar, Ivan, and I got into the van to leave. I was heading back to Susitna and was dropped off last. I said goodbye with a hug to each of them, and at my stop hugged Matt and thanked him for a great week. I was staying an extra night, and thankfully had the room to myself. I showered and cleaned up, and hit the bed hard.

Sunday, Day 8 – I was up at 6am, ready to head home. I showered, made some phone calls, and headed up for a delicious breakfast. Linda, the owner, chatted with me awhile about the trip. She was wonderful and so nice. I headed back to my room to get ready and Matt texted he would pick me up to shuttle me to the airport around 10:30. I waited in the main room, and when he arrived said goodbye to my wonderful hosts. Matt and I cruised to the airport, and hugging him again told him he should visit the Adirondacks someday. The flights home were relatively uneventful, although sitting between two 300 pound guys between Denver and Newark weren’t my idea of a comfortable flight! I finally arrived in Albany at 9:15am Monday, tired, fully bearded, and ready to get home.

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