Grassy Pass to Green Point (Unit 18)
Mileage- 4.9 miles
Elevation Gain- 0 feet
Elevation Loss- ~300 feet
It was our fourth day and we had just finished our first loop that took us through Stony Creek, Bear Draw, and along the Toklat River to the Toklat Rest Area. Our day was not finished as we would board a green passenger bus and head west passed Eielson Visitor Center to a place known as Grassy Pass. This would be the beginning our next 4-day adventure that would take us across the Muldrow Glacier and back, up Mt. Eielson, and then back to the Eielson Visitor Center.
Hiking from Grassy Pass down to the gravel bed was rough. While there was a “social” trail that we followed, it didn’t seem very social. It was wildly overgrown and with every step each of our boots were completely submerged in thick mud. That pretty much sums up each day in Denali. When you thought that there might be something easy, Alaska always had the last laugh. There wasn’t anything easy during our week of backpacking. It was hard and tested each of us mentally- Could we continue to deal with and endure the rain, the cold, the wet feet, the exhausting brush, and every other obstacle thrown our way? Of course we could. But it would take some serious mental victories.
Walking across this gravel bar was interesting to say the least. We spotted some caribou in the distance, as they were grazing and eating. They hardly noticed us as we were within 60 yards, but then they began to clear out. Further ahead we saw more caribou (the women and children) also clearing out and heading counter-clockwise and heading in the distance to our left. As we continued to walk we noticed two male caribou to our two o’clock position probably a quarter mile away. One of them went clockwise circling around us to our right and then behind us in the distance. The other caribou stayed directly in front of us… and began aggressively hammering his front hooves as a warning. There were two problems. The first is that it was rutting season and the males were extra aggressive. The second was that we needed to go exactly where that caribou was standing. We were like, “Come on caribou. Can’t anything be easy here. Just move along and leave us alone.” We were forced to swing left a bit to create more distance, but it didn’t seem to matter as the caribou began charging us. Fortunately the distance between us was still appropriate and it was just warning us… but we picked up a few big rocks that we were ready to chuck if it got any closer. It finally cleared out in the brush, but it was still in the area we needed to travel. As we crossed the Thoroughfare River we went through the brush which opened up into a corridor. Guess who was standing 100 yards away staring at us? Yup. He began to charge again… but we started whopping and hollering until he finally cleared out. We finally saw him in the distance with his bride. Just protecting his lady.
For the remainder of the day we would follow Glacier Creek. For pumping purposes, we had to be diligent with locating clean water sources. While there were many creeks and rivers, they were mostly glacial melt and incredibly silty. The silt can easily destroy water filters. Fortunately for us with a little searching we found some clean water streams that came from snow melt on top of the mountains. More on that with the next post. The sun was finally beginning to break through the clouds and we found a nice grassy patch to lay out all of our wet gear for a quick dry. I LOVE THOSE MOMENTS!
We continued to hike along Glacier Creek for a couple of miles until everything began to open up. We set up the tents on a large gravel bar in a beautiful spot with Glacier Creek and mountains all around us. Just a very short hike up a hill to our west, we could see the Muldrow Glacier and the route we would be taking the next day as we crossed it.
The Muldrow Glacier, while looking like a short, non-technical hike to the other side, is quite deceiving. On Day 5 it would take us 4.5 hours, as we got off track and did not take the most direct route, and on Day 6 it took us 3 hours. As we settled down into Unit 18 for the night we knew that traveling to Unit 19 would be a bit challenging.
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.