Alaska: 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.

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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.

An edited, day-by-day version of my adventure in Denali National Park appeared in the fourth issue of Sidewalk – a hiking and backpacking magazine.

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

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