Denali National Park (USA)
The Denali National Park! Through this untamed wilderness, with Mt. McKinley, the highest peak in North America, are prowling grizzly bears, moose and elk. The absence of predefined routes results in almost endless trekking possibilities, which makes this the ultimate adventure for every hiker.
Impressive: The get together with the wilderness
Two rangers, who resemble each other with their wild hairstyles and beards, as well as with their outfit so much that it is apparently indicated in the job description as a requirement for this work, welcome the hikers in the information hut. I get a bear-proof container for the food and I specify the sectors in which I will spend the nights. To ensure that the maximum number of guests per sector is not exceeded, the grimy-looking park attendant checks the board next to him. The final safety instructions are shown by DVD, so that in the event of an unlikely meeting with a grizzly you can get away as lightly as possible, I hop onto the bus.
This regularly travels the only road that exists in this park. Agape, I admire the unspoiled nature through the window. The snow-capped Mt. Denali, which looks as if it is sprinkled with powdered sugar, is perched on the horizon. I’m rudely torn from my thoughts when the bus suddenly stops and the driver calls back: “Sector 10”. A look at my paper tells me that I am meant by it. I exit, take my backpack out of the trunk, and look around uncertainly. A few seconds later, the bus has already disappeared behind the next curve. I stand alone on the street. The wide wilderness before me.
I don’t get far today. Because of the bear-proof container, I have 2 kilograms more on my back. I check the map, as well as compass and walk along a river bed, through which only a small stream flows. For two hours, I continue before I recognize a comfortable green area on the right side – ideal for a tent.
Learning by experience: Reading of topographic maps
Strengthened by coffee and porridge, I return to the riverbed. Meanwhile the sun dances with the clouds and between two mountains to my left a multicolored rainbow is formed – an enjoyable sight. Today I have to get to Sector 12, so I turn right, and see a large elevation in front of me. After half of the steep track, I have to change over to free climbing, a senseless undertaking. Back at a plateau below I check the map again. After another coffee, I become aware of the importance of the lines, especially those that are very close together.
I create an alternative plan, leave the invincible hill on the right, and stride across a rather flat surface. A further difficulty I recognize later in the furrows, which have been left by melted glaciers. I’m spoiled for choice to make my way downhill and uphill again on the other side, or to take a detour and walk across the estuary.
A last steep climb separates me from Sector 12, which, however, becomes a painful experience. The so far predominantly earthy ground is replaced by stones, which cause me to slip back half a step with every step forward. Exhausted, I stand on the ridge after a tough half hour and look back – again as a colorful rainbow passes the brown greenish hilly landscape. In order to escape the cloud wall it is painted on, I start directly with the descent. The hurry turns out to be a good idea in hindsight – the upper part of the mountain is dressed a quarter-hour later in a dense fog. The temperature drops, as well as some rain. Tired, I pitch my tent at an uncomfortable angle, but the lure of the sleeping bag is too strong for my cramped legs to search for a better spot.
Camping on the back of Mt. Eielson
A healthy sleep is an important part of hiking – unfortunately, I was granted neither in this nor in the following night. After a few hours of walking, I find no better place for my tent than in the middle of the rocky river bed – level, but uncomfortable. I remove the frost at the tent in the early morning and am greeted by the icy glimmering of the Sunrise Glacier in the distance. The temperature drops with every meter of height that I win. More sliding than walking, I cross the foot of this glacier, before it continues up on the other side to a pass.
The downhill part is easy – at least until I find a river at the bottom of the gorge, which winds from one side to the other and back again. I try to keep my feet dry while balancing from stone to stone or jump to the other side of the water – no simple task with the still heavy pack on my back. After a while I can take a look at my campsite. This is being formed on a foothill of Mt. Eielson, which ends on a grassy plateau. This plateau seems ideal to me – if there was not a wide river, which separates me from my destination. So the day ends for me with a 270 degree view of the wide valley below me, sheltered by the mountain – a place that is definitely worth the wet feet that I got in the end.
When I open my tent the next morning, I am gazed at by a herd of caribou, which run off immediately after. A last coffee, before heading north, towards the road, towards civilization.