Unit 32 (Toklat River) to Toklat River Rest Area- Day 4

Toklat River (Unit 32) to Toklat River Rest Area

Mileage- 3.4 miles

Elevation Gain- 0

Elevation Loss- 0

Denali NP Day 4 Denali Day 4

We started Day 4 camped on the river bed of the Toklat River in Denali National Park.  Our goal for the day was to backpack to the Toklat River Rest Area, where we would catch a green park bus, and travel to this area west of Eielson Visitor Center called Grassy Pass.  We would then backpack to Unit 18, but more on that in the next post.

Our fourth morning started much like it ended the previous day- rainy.  It was overcast with a misting rain.  We knew that the prospects of staying dry the first half of the day were going to be slim.  Our 3.4 mile hike to the Toklat River Rest Area was riddled with an obstacle course of the braided Toklat.  It wasn’t as easy as picking a side and then walking along the dry river bed.  The Toklat braided from far side to far side.  A person was left with two choices- either do a dozen or so river crossing of various depths – or- go back into the dense brush and bushwhack for 3.4 miles.  We were none to eager to get back into the brush so we prepared for a morning of crossings.


It is easy to underestimate river crossings.  A person could easily approach a crossing with an unhealthy over-confidence and pay the price with a mistake.  If you have been a regular reader of this blog you will know that we are extremely cautious and conservative when it comes to safety.  All it takes is a split second to be careless or unfocused and it could mean serious injury or death.  When it comes to river crossings a group should work together to consider all possible routes.  Obviously going with the most shallow and slow-moving is preferred, but that is not always possible.  For us there were times when a deep, fast-moving stretch would Y and make a crossing a bit easier.  The truth is that it doesn’t take very deep water to get swept off of your feet, especially when it is fast moving.  The best approach to crossing is to face upstream, lean forward, and cross diagonally to the other side using your trekking poles for extra support.

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The rest area was within sight we had one crossing that remained… and as much as we studied and tried to consider other routes… there were no other options.  This crossing was thigh high and fast-moving.  Fiesbeck got in by himself initially to see if it was possible and quickly got out.  The current was so strong that he began to be lifted off of his feet.  He said that he even felt large rocks going passed his legs.  We discussed as a group and decided that we would do a four man conga line.  We lined up, held onto the man in front of us, and went for it with Fiesbeck forging the way.  We made it with no issue whatsoever.  The only drawback is that we didn’t get a picture.

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We arrived at the Toklat River Rest Area just before noon and waited for a westward traveling green bus to take us to our next destination.  We would be backpacking across the Muldrow Glacier and then summiting Mt. Eielson to finish our trip.


Unit 39 (Stony Creek) to Unit 32 (Toklat River)- Day 3

Hike from Unit 39 (Stony Creek) to Unit 32 (Toklat River)

Mileage – ~7.5 miles

Elevation Gain- ~500 feet

Elevation Loss- ~500 feet Denali Day 3 NG Denali Day 3 This was our toughest day by far… and we had a feeling that it was going to be.  We knew that the terrain was going to be challenging.  The Unit 39 description on the Denali National Park website states that the route south of Mt. Sheldon to the Toklat River is “gentle but brushy in sections.”  Let’s put an emphasis on “brushy.”  Our immediate challenge, besides the overcast, rainy skies and cool temperatures, was a mix on dense pine trees, tussock tundra, and knee high scrub.  Within eyeshot we could see the saddle over which we would be passing just south of Mt. Sheldon.  The rule when backpacking without trails and only using topographical maps is to know the direction of your end point and then to identify more immediate visual goals that keep you in line with your end point.  By identifying the next goal before proceeding it allows you to stay on track even when you are diverted because of an obstacle.  This was essential for us on this particular day, but even more so on days 5 and 6 when crossing the Muldrow Glacier. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA IMG_3418 IMG_3419 After breaking out of the brushy stuff our hike was up a couple of hundred gently sloping feet to the Mt. Sheldon saddle.  Don’t worry… as wet, cold, and ticked as I look in the picture below… it wasn’t long after that moment that I said to the guys, “On a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being the most amazing time of my life… this is an 11!”  Believe me… as difficult as this day was physically… it beats almost anything else you could be doing in your regular, boring life.  Which reminds me, about 90% of backpacking is mental.  Having a negative, pessimistic, and defeated attitude can break even the most physically trained athlete.  That is why I love backpacking so much- It teaches you so much about life and how to endure and press on… even when you are in the most difficult situation. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA IMG_3421 Our view once we made it to the saddle was… well… disappointing.  More brush.  And more dense brush.  And more rain.  And more wind.  Just over the saddle was a perfect spot for a snack.  I believe that it was at this point that Patrick noted how there is absolutely no place to escape the wind and rain.  No tall trees.  No caves or overhangs.  Just you and the wind and the rain.  So you may as well decide to laugh and love it. IMG_3423 IMG_3429 IMG_3431 At one point we thought that we hit the jackpot by finding a dry creek bed to follow but it was short-lived. We reentered the brush and soon enough approached a marshy area with a couple of small ponds where we took another break. IMG_3433 IMG_3434 IMG_3438 IMG_3439 IMG_3443 It was at this point that we had to make a decision about our route. We were within eyeshot of Sheldon Creek and wondered if the most efficient route to Toklat would be following the creek. After weighing the options, including the distance to get to the creek and then fighting the dense Alders for a mile, we decided to stay with our current route across the tussock tundra, however we would have to fight the Alders occasionally. For any of you who think I have been exaggerating about the difficult conditions, here is a beautiful video illustration of how it really was.

As we were just above the final tree line before making our final descent down to the Toklat, the clouds began to break up and the sun began to peek through. It made for some sweet shots before tackling the roughest patch of this hike called Bear Draw. The trees and brush were so dense that it was almost too difficult to get through. Occasionally we would find a moose trail and follow it for a while before it trailed off to a dead end… and then it was bushwhacking. It seemed as if we would never make it to the bottom. I was growing increasingly weary, but just as I had a thought of stopping we popped right out onto the gravel bar. I can’t think of many trips in which I felt a greater sense of accomplishment than this particular day. It was long. It was hard. It was wet and cold. I immediately began to strip off all of my clothes, just standing in my underwear trying to dry off. The sun felt great. Well, it felt great for 20 minutes… and then began to rain on us the rest of the evening. IMG_3445 IMG_3449 IMG_3450 IMG_3460 IMG_3463 IMG_3471 IMG_3473 IMG_3474 IMG_3475 IMG_3476 IMG_3477 IMG_3480 IMG_3482 In my next post I will talk about Day 4- hiking down the Toklat to the Toklat Rest Area where we would catch the green bus and then beginning our next hike in Units 18, 19, and 13.


Unit 39/33 Day Hike (Denali National Park)- Day 2

Day Hike from Unit 39 Campsite up the mountains northeast of Mt. Galen in Unit 33

Mileage – 3.5 miles

Elevation Gain- Approximately 1800 feet

Elevation Loss- Approximately 1800 feet

Denali Day 2 NG

Denali Day 2

I was super excited for Day 2 in Denali National Park, as we would do something that we had never previously done on any of our backpacking trip… take a day hike in Units 39 and into Unit 33. In every other instance we had always packed up at the break of dawn and set out for another destination.  On this day we purposefully set up our permit so that we could keep our tents set up for another day in Unit 39 and just day hike without any significant weight on our backs.  Unit 39 is big enough, in and of itself, for several days of backpacking.  Even a day of day hiking would barely scratch the surface.

Mt. Galen is located in Unit 33 and is a part of the mountains that we were going to climb.  As with every other day in Denali, there were no trails… so we began formulating our route. As a side note, we knew that climbing close to 2000 feet would give us the opportunity to see what route we would take on the morning of Day 4 passed Mt. Sheldon and through the rough Bear Draw.  But Bear Draw would be equally as rough and demanding as the first 200 feet of our day hike.  Before we could get into an area where we could actually begin “hiking,” we had to go near vertical through some of the most dense brush and trees that we encounter on this trip.  The only way we could scale this mountainside was to dig our feet in and pull ourselves up by grabbing trees.  Fortunately this only last about 30 minutes.  Needless to say, we didn’t get any pictures of that adventure.


Other than the first two hundred, this was a remarkable hike.  The views, as we were ascending, of the river valley and the mountain ranges were spectacular (you can even see our tents amidst the scrub)… not to mention that we had the perfect August weather- mid 50’s and cool with sun and blue skies.  It is always interesting looking at the terrain from a distance compared to being in that exact terrain.  What I mean by that is from a distance the terrain looks so contoured, pillowy, smooth, and gentle.  It gives you the impression that you can just glide over it without any obstacles or resistance.  And then, once you are in the areas you once viewed as pillowy and gentle, you realize how coarse, rough, hard, and full of resistance and obstacles it actually is.  In many ways, it’s beauty can give one a false sense invincibility- we are the conquerors!  And it welcomes and seduces our naiveté and allows us to believe that we are in control even but for a moment, and then wakes us to our fragile and humble reality that while she is beautiful… she will never be conquered.

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It seems as if with every step we could see even more of Denali. Soon enough we were at the height at which we could see Mt. Galen and the other adjoining mountains.  The diversity of terrain was spectacular.  Not just the composition, but the colors.

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We took a long lunch break at the top. I am convinced that place was constructed for relaxing. Soon enough the afternoon storm clouds began to approach RAPIDLY and we decided to descend and stay ahead of it. Well, we just weren’t that fast. We decided that since we were going to be wet anyway that we might as well stop for a much needed blueberry break.

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We got back to camp with overcast skies and rain the rest of the evening. We actually turned in early because of the rain, but we also knew that our hardest day was yet to come. We would be passing through Bear Draw and down to the Toklat River.

To read about our previous days in Denali National Park click here.


Unit 39 Stony Creek (Denali National Park)- Day 1

Stony Creek Bridge Park Road (Unit 33) to Unit 39 Stony Creek

Mileage- 7.6 miles

Elevation Gain- minimal

Elevation Loss- minimal

Denali Day 1 NG Denali Day 1

The day before beginning our seven days in the backcountry of Denali we secured our backcountry permit, picked up our complimentary bear can, and scheduled our transportation to our drop-off point. The park really makes the entire process seamless and painless, but we came in with a game plan as well, and that helped. In terms of the transportation, the easiest way to get to your drop off destination is to get a ticket for one of the green school busses designated for campers. This can be done at the Wilderness Access Center. For my ticket it was about $35, I think. The rate varies based on how far you plan to travel into the park. You can find more information about the shuttle here. Our ticket has us being picked up at 6:50am at Riley Campground. We were able to park our car in a designated area for backpackers next to the shuttle pick-up at Riley. All of this was very easy and I was even able to pick up a cup of Starbucks that morning at the Wilderness Access Center. The shuttle ride was over three hours to the Stony Creek bridge. It wasn’t an official stop for the bus, but the drivers are cool with dropping you off wherever you need to go. We exited, grabbed our packs out of the back of the bus, and began to gear up.


One of the most unbelievable moments of the trip happened within the first seven minutes.  Three of us headed down a gravel bar, while the other guy took a small detour up a little ridge.  We were still very close to each other but separated by ten feet of thick brush.  We were all heading to the same point- the small ridge and gravel bar eventually would converge.  As we were walking the gravel bar… a grizzly walked out of the brush just to our right.  It stopped 60 feet directly in front of us.  We did everything by the text book.  We stopped, began backing up slowly with our bear spray in hand, and talking gently to the bear.  While Patrick Fosdick and I were preoccupied with our cans of bear spray, Josh Brown somehow was able to snap a low quality photo of it.  Until just the other day, I did not know anyone got a picture of it. 10441139_10152370287352572_8794405871893094599_n

The only problem with this situation was that Kevin Fiesbeck was on the other side of the brush to the left… and did not know that a bear was heading his direction.  We were not sure what to do.  We didn’t want to make a ton of noise to startle the bear, but we wanted to alert him.  Also, even if he heard us would he believe that a bear was REALLY heading at him with the first five minutes of the trip?  We joke around so much with each other that there was no way he would believe us.  The other problem was that the lady from whom we bought the bear spray shamed us into buying two cans of spray rather than four.  Well, guess who didn’t have any spray?  By the time we caught up with the pale white Fiesbeck he told us that the grizzly came out of the brush and stood five feet in front of him and just stared at him.  Not sure if he peed his pants, but he got the scare of his life.  Anyway, the lessons were learned even for four guys who has a ton of backcountry experience: 1. Just because you are AT THE BEGINNING of your hike… it doesn’t mean that there isn’t danger right around the corner. 2. Just because you are AT THE BEGINNING of your hike… it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be calling out for bears and making noise. 3. Just because you are AT THE BEGINNING of your hike… it doesn’t mean that you should be careless and not stick together. We didn’t make any more mistakes over the next seven days.


One of the greater challenges that we faced on this trip was creek and river crossings.  I will get into this more on Day 3, but the creeks and rivers very often braided, which made our hiking more like a game of Frogger.  We were always trying to find the path of least wetness.  You may say, “What’s the big deal with getting wet?  Suck it up.” Two reasons: 1.  For me staying dry is less about comfort than it is protecting myself.  If my boots are soaked and water-logged… then I have to deal with that for the next few days and risk foot related problems that could inhibit my hiking and slow us down.  If my pants are soaked… am I guaranteed sun to dry them out?  Not at all.  And without the ability to start a fire in Denali… clothes stay soaked.  Cool temperatures could potentially lead to hypothermic symptoms or even hypothermia. 2.  Even though most of the crossings were knee or below, the force by which the water was moving could EASILY sweep us down stream and compromise our safety.  On day 3 we dealt with water too deep and too fast moving to cross individually, but more on that later.  Be safe when crossing!


In terms of terrain from Unit 33 into Unit 39, it may have been the easiest of our seven days.  Granted it is trail-less and you can make your own route, many times your route necessitates rougher terrain.  This day took us along creek beds, shallow creek crossings, spongy tundra, thigh high scrub brush, and Alder bushes.  I suppose it may have been the adrenaline of the first day (because the spongy tundra, thigh high scrub, and Alder bushes would take it’s toll on us on Day 3), but we didn’t have any trouble tackling the terrain on Day 1.  In fact, covering 7.6 miles in the trail-less Denali was somewhat impressive.  I can’t recall exactly how many hours we hiked the first day, but my guess is around four, which would make our speed close to 2mph.  We very, very rarely made it above 1mph the rest of the trip.  This is a testament to the roughness of the terrain and the amount of time it takes to find the least obstructive route.  But, always make time for blueberry breaks no matter where you are!

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The weather in Denali was unpredictable.  It could start the day cloudy and rain, but then later be blue skies with sun.  And believe me… the weather could change quickly.  On this particular day it started off quite cool in the low 50’s with gusty winds but then late in the afternoon the clouds broke and the sun popped out.  The blue skies and sun made for some really sweet picture taking!

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We finished Day 1 setting up camp close to Stony Creek.  The next morning would take us on a day hike across Stony Creek and up 1800-2000 feet to the peak of some unnamed mountains for epic views of the surrounding mountains and valley, including our route through Bear Draw on Day 3.

Atop Mt. Eielson by Josh Brown

Denali Backpacking Trip- Quick Summary

I will give a day-by-day breakdown of our 7 day backcountry backpacking trip to Denali National Park and Wilderness over the next few weeks, but I would like to give a quick summary of the trip with a listing of the units in which we stayed and a few additional thoughts about the trip.

1. We flew into Anchorage from Seattle with our beginning destination as Indianapolis (which is a long story that I will not bore you with). We were about 6 hours later arriving in Anchorage than we anticipated. Being that I like to have all of the logistical stuff ironed out EXACTLY… this killed me. Our initial plan had us arriving in Denali at 6am, which is three hours BEFORE the Backcountry Office. I thought that arriving AFTER the Backcountry Office opened would put us in a real pinch for getting the units that we really wanted. Despite arriving six hours after the office opened we were surprised that there were plenty of space available in the units we preferred. We had already ranked all of the units based upon our preferences, so it was really easy to put together a plan. The backcountry staffer we worked with in the office was really helpful and gave us quite a few hints and advice on navigating from one unit to the other. The Backcountry Office was busy. I think there were three or four other groups trying to get permits while we were there. All in all I think the whole process took about 45 minutes… and that includes us watching the mandatory safety video and safety talk. It all went pretty fast.

*One additional tidbit that may help. When we initially went into the Backcountry Office and went to the desk the guy who helped us immediately began by giving us an overview of the park. It went something like this, “Welcome to Denali. The park is divided into 87 units…” I immediately stopped him and said, “Ok. We have done all of our homework. We know how the park is divided… so on and so forth. We have all of the units ranked based upon our preferences so let’s get started.” I wasn’t tired or grumpy… it’s just that I figured people got the standard overview BECAUSE the majority of folks go into the office without a plan, without doing their research, and likely only want to go out for a night or two. My point in telling you this is so that you will do your homework in advance. It will save you time if you already have a few plans put together. Know your top units and be prepared to plug them in on the application sheet once you arrive. With other groups competing for the same spots… it just may give you the advantage when you are trying to get that super sweet unit with McKinley views.

2. Our unit itinerary was as follows:

Day 1 – Unit 39 -Stony Creek ~7.6 miles
Day 2 – Unit 39 -Stony Creek ~3.5 miles
Day 3 – Unit 32 -Toklat River ~7.5 miles
Day 4 – Unit 32 -Toklat River~3.4 miles
Day 4 – Unit 18 – ~4.9 miles
Day 5 – Unit 19 – ~3.9 miles
Day 6 – Unit 13 – ~5.1 miles
Day 7 – Unit 13 – ~9.2 miles

Total Trip Distance – 45.1 miles

We did two loops. The first was north of the road and the second was south of the road. That is why on Day 4 you see a split in the mileage, because we finished the first loop and started the second loop. The first loop was in the lower foothills along tundra, knee-high scrub, dense Alder bush and pine trees, and then the Toklat River gravel bar. The second loop was primarily along open, rocky creek areas, non-technical glacial, and gravel bars. The second loop proved to have minimal brushy areas, which was welcomed. While I will detail each day and the units, we were all asked to not provide specific information as to our camping areas or specific routes. Denali National Park prides itself on minimizing impact on the environment, which is commendable.

3. Have an expectation that you will absolutely get wet. Yeah, we all read the book by Ike Waits. We knew that his advice was to find the closest puddle and jump in it. But, somehow I think we, optimistically and unrealistically, were hoping that somehow we could avoid getting completely soaked. His advice was spot on. Find a puddle and jump in it. In fact, lie down in it and do the snow angel thing in it. Because if you are planning to spend any amount of time in the backcountry (and in our instance 7 days), I almost guarantee that you will get soaked. It will either be from the rain that always seems to be lurking around every turn of the creek or over every saddle- or- it will be from the endless river crossings that you will tackle. Plan to get wet. Fix it in your mind. Know that it will happen. And just enjoy the experience.

4. Everything is harder in Alaska. Despite the significant amount of experience that each of us brought into this trip… Denali was tough. There was a point during Day 7 when we finally came to the conclusion that Alaska was out to get us… was always trying to get the upper hand… was trying to give us the big middle finger. There wasn’t anything that was easy. Not having trails was difficult due to the terrain. Intermittent to continuous rain with cool temps was taxing. Crossing braided rivers took time and required patience. And every time that we could see our final destination for the day… there were more obstacles to getting there than we could imagine. If it wasn’t going over one ridge line only to see the next ridge line with dense bush in the way… then it was seeing the gravel bar and river from 700 feet up but having to fight a couple of miles of dense Alder. And all of that in the rain. I am not crying here… just stating a fact- when you backpack Denali and you cover a few dozen miles over a many days you will find it to be a “take no prisoner” experience. Your feet will hurt… will be wrinkled from being soaked… and you will have blisters. We all did. This isn’t to say that you won’t have an absolute blast… because you will. It is amazing and life-changing. Just go in with proper expectations.

That’s it for now. I will get to the daily summaries soon.




So Your Barefoot Shoes Stink…

If you have a pair of Vibrams, or another brand of shoe with Vibram soles, I guarantee they stink to high heaven.

The truth is that this kind of barefoot shoe has become incredibly popular for trail runners and day hikers, among others, for their close-to-the-earth feel and light weight. I have had two pairs to date, both Merrells, and I am in love with them (I lost the first pair so I had to pick up another pair).

The problem, as I continued to wear them day in and day out without socks, is that they began to stink. And the stink is so putrid that you have to put the shoes outside or in the garage. Not just that but you have to scrub your feet after each wear because they make your feet smell just as putrid.

You may be asking if the shoe is worth the smell. Great question. The answer is yes. They are so versatile that I wear them exercising, as a casual shoe, on the trail, or as a camp shoe at the end of a long day backpacking.

So the issue then becomes odor management. To date I have been unsuccessful at remedying the funk. Yes I have washed them. Yes I have sprayed them after each wear. But the funk is still there.

ALAS! As I have been getting my gear together for the Denali backpacking trip I am taking in a week and a half, I began to do some serious contemplating about my Barefoot shoes, because they ultimately have to be packed with my gear. Thanks to my trusty sixteen-year old Miniature Schnauzer, who has been peeing and pooping in my house because of his old age, I have become a significant consumer of Animal Odor Enzyme Spray. This spray works by, not masking the smell, but by breaking down organic stains, which produce the stinky smells. I deduced that if this enzymatic cleaner could tackle animal urine, it could certainly tackle my shoes.

I took the full bottle of enzyme cleaner, went outside with my shoes, and began to spray. I completely super-saturated them. I sprayed inside and out. I sprayed inside the shoes and let the enzyme solution pool in the in-sole. And then I left them outside for about four hours. I then took the hose and sprayed them down really good and hung them out to dry for the night.

As I went outside to inspect my shoes this morning… they went from a perfect 10 on the stink scale to an amazing 1. While no other method has taken the shoes below a 7, in my subjective opinion, this method worked wonders and has made my packing worries go away.

Tell me what you think. Do you have stinky Vibrams? What methods have you tried? Have they worked?



Preparing for a Denali NP Backpacking Trip…

Featured picture from Daniel Leifheit via Denali NPS

If you have landed on this post… you are likely very interested in backpacking Denali National Park.  Let me say at the outset that planning a Denali backpacking trip is unlike anything else you have done.  Over the last eight or so years I have backpacked many National Parks, each of them with their own individual and unique process for planning and permitting, as well as their own  distinct rules for the backcountry.  With Denali one may as well throw most of that expertise out the window.

Denali is unlike any other National Park in the United States.  It is the size of Massachusetts.  It’s diversity in terrain, plant-life, and wildlife is second to none. And the trail-less backcountry is as intimidating as it is exciting. So planning for a week-long backcountry backpacking trip can very easily overwhelming.

Before I get into the planning specifics… let me note a few important things that you need to know from the very beginning.

1. You need a backcountry permit to do overnight backcountry camping, whether it is one night or longer. And, the only way to get a permit is to show up in person. That’s right… in person. Unlike other National Parks that allow you to submit permit applications via an online form or by snail mail, Denali only gives out permits to individuals and groups who show up at their Backcountry Office on a first-come-first-serve basis beginning at 9am local time.

2. The entire park is divided into a grid with each part of the grid referred to as a “unit.” There are 84 total units, all varying in size and occupancy limits. As you can imagine, even though each unit varies in size, each unit is quite large. And while the park does not have designated areas within each unit were you have to camp (because you can camp anywhere within the unit), the number of backpackers able to camp in a specific unit is limited, with some units allowing a maximum of two people per night up to twelve people per night. This limitation decreases the amount of foot traffic and impact on the environment. Additionally, these limitations may significantly effect routes and specific areas you may want to pass through or camp within.

3.  Being that the Denali backcountry is trail-less (except for game trails and a handful of man-made trails), one should be comfortable using a compass and topographic map to orient and navigate.  Additionally, the trail-less backcountry will slow you down.  Under normal circumstances and conditions on well-maintained trails (of course depending on elevation changes, fitness, and snack/nature breaks) one may expect to average anywhere from 2-3 mph with a full pack.  In Denali, your expectations of daily mileage and speed should be tempered with the challenges of route finding, bushwhacking, stream/river crossings, etc.  Anticipating 1 mph is a reasonable expectation.  Sure you may move a bit quicker in a gravel bar, but you will be slowed down by the dense brush.  It all averages out.


One of the larger challenges with planning a Denali backpacking trip is planning a route. If you are unfamiliar with the park, the variation in topography, and what is realistic in terms of distance and route from unit to unit, you are not alone. This is where we found ourselves at the beginning of our planning. I spent an enormous amount of time searching the internet to find information about the individual units. In my experience, there just isn’t much information out there discussing the units. The very best resource is Denali’s own National Park website that details in specificity each unit in the park (terrain, passageways to other unit, notable features, etc). This proved to be invaluable. While we are certainly at the mercy of the Backcountry Office in securing our route when we get there, because of demand and availability, we want to have each unit researched and ranked (according to the criteria most important for us) so that when we are given different route scenarios we can refer back to our preferences and priorities. If we are going to spend the time and money to get there… we want to have the possibility of the best backpacking trip as we can.


The weather in Alaska can be very unpredictable. In fact, it has been known to snow in any of the twelve months. Not only that but Alaska knows how to rain as well. The rainfall in July and August averages over five inches in each month. Packing the appropriate gear can be tricky because you basically have to plan for every contingency (snow/cold, rain, warm).

Denali Backcountry Office provides a bear canister to each person who camps in the backcountry. Forget finding places to tie off your food. Just throw your food in a bear canister and toss it a hundred yards from your camp and you should be safe from bears through the night.

Keep in mind that you can not take bear spray or gas stove canisters on your flight to Alaska. The good news is that you can purchase gas canisters and bear spray at Denali Mountain Works (http://denalimountainworks.com) located at mile 239 Parks Hwy, off Canyon Dr., about 1 mile north of the entrance to Denali National Park. Phone- tel:907-683-1542.

River Crossings

This one may be a bit strange but river crossings have been one of the biggest issues for us. It’s not that we are concerned with how to cross, because our knowledge of how to cross is fine. It is more about having wet boots. We have looked at this from every angle and still are not satisfied with the conclusions. The bottom-line is that we don’t want to have soaked boots for the duration of our hike. But, we also don’t want to change shoes at every crossing like a bunch of pansies. That just doesn’t seem like a good Alaskan approach. The truth is that we know we are going to get wet in Alaska, that isn’t a big deal. Wet boots are abysmal. We still don’t have a satisfactory approach to this but would love to hear your thoughts.

The Green Bus

The main mode of transportation through the park, after the first dozen miles or so, is the Green Bus. These Green Busses take site seers, day hikers, and backpackers alike all 80+ miles of the park. You can stay on the bus the entire round-trip or you can jump off at any point to hike or backpack. All you have to do is catch a subsequent bus when you are ready to continue on.

For backpackers, who do not know their route or the units they will visit throughout their hike, it is difficult to plan in advance or make reservations until the backpacking route is secured. In many ways, a Denali backpacking trip is a lesson in going with the flow. And this is something I am not used to.

I am sure there is so much more that could be said. This has been one of the easiest trips for which we have planned… and one of the hardest. The easy stuff is airlines and rental cars, but the rest of your trip involves flexibility. The best piece of advice I would give is to read and study as much as you can so that you can roll with the punches.

Do you have additional advice based on your planning to backpack Denali? What is it? Leave comments below.