Thursday August 24: Denali Park
Three Lakes and Two Hikes
We seem to be lucking out with the weather. Today turned out not bad at all. Tomorrow was supposed to be wetter, but the weather app is predicting that tomorrow will be cloudy but dry.
(Interestingly, this place is cashless. Everything has to be paid with a credit or debit card. I just bought a bag of chips, and I had to pay for it with plastic.)
The plan was this morning that I would get up at 7:00, take a shower, and be ready at 7:30 to head for breakfast with Sam. Somehow, the alarm got screwed up, and at 7:45 Sam knocked on our door, and I was still in bed. I skipped the shower, threw on some clothes and headed out with Sam. Amy didn’t want to spend $30 for a few mouthfuls, so she stayed at the cabin and had some yogurt that we had brought with us.
Sam and I went to breakfast. They had an omelet station, so I got one of those (as I usually do). I was checking the weather forecast there, and it came up, but just then my omelet was ready, so I put my phone away and went back to our table. When I got there, I checked the weather, but it was gone, and I couldn’t get it back. For some reason, I was getting no connectivity. We found out later that there was some sort of area-wide power outage, and this took out their internet service.
After breakfast, I took a shower. We got changed and packed for a medium-length hike. The plan was to do the triple lake hike. The trail starts just across the river from the “village”, goes past three lakes (imaginatively called Lakes 1, 2, and 3). It is about 3 miles to Lake 3, so a round trip to there is 6 miles. Or you could continue for a total of 9 miles to the visitor’s center. We considered taking the bus there and hiking back, or hiking to the visitor’s center and taking the bus back. In the end, we decided to just do the round trip to Lake 3.
Halfway to Lake 1, Sam seemed to be getting frustrated at Amy’s pace, both on the uphill sections, and when Amy stopped for pictures. Amy suggested a change in plans: Sam and I would go on ahead to the visitor’s center, and she would do the Lake 3 and return loop, then drive to the visitor’s center and pick us up. We had gotten a somewhat late start (about 10), so we wouldn’t be getting to the visitor’s center until almost 3:00. The rain was forecast to start around 3, so it would be tight but doable.
As we went forward, we noticed the wind picking up. We could hear it in the trees, and we could feel it in the clearer areas. After we passed Lake 3, the trail became more overgrown. Obviously, a lot fewer people go between Lake 3 and the visitor’s center than who turn around at Lake 3. After Lake 3, the trail began to climb steadily. I kept waiting for it to level off, but it showed no signs of doing so. After, I’m guessing a mile or maybe a mile and a half, we reached the halfway point. At that point, it was equally far either way, but going back would be mostly downhill. We didn’t know what lay ahead, but it seemed to be a lot more “up”. Sam was getting a bit tired and more than a bit hungry, so we decided to turn back. It was the same distance (at least roughly), but going down would be quicker and easier, and it would avoid issues of trying to sync up at the visitor’s center.
Coming around a windy corner of the trail, Sam got attacked and mauled by the local wildlife. My best guess was that a bee was flying upwind, but because of the force of the wind, it was actually moving backwards at a reasonably high speed. It struck the center of Sam’s upper chest, and I think it essentially harpooned Sam.
I was impressed. Sam handled it a lot more restrained than I would have. He stopped and sort of tensed, and then said that he had just been stung by a bee. He turned around, and there was a bee, stuck to Sam’s chest by its rear end, buzzing around and presumably not that happy. I don’t think it meant to sting Sam.
I would have been jumping around and flailing my arms around, but Sam was very stoic. I used my hat to brush the bee away, which took a little effort. I checked, and the stinger was still attached. The stinger seemed to be going in at a fairly shallow angle, sort of like a splinter.
Sam was cool and collected, and was instructing me to use a credit card to remove it rather than tweezers. I tried a bit with a credit card, and it wasn’t working. I was wondering if I would have to resort to tweezers, when it came out on the corner of the credit card. Sam was definitely happier with it removed.
We continued down, looking for Amy. We didn’t know whether she was still on her way up, was on her way down, and if the latter, when she turned around. At each lake, the trail went past, and there was a side trail that went down to the lake and then back up to the main trail. You could go down and back up to visit the lake, or stay on the level and go “around” the lake. I didn’t want to risk going one way, missing Amy on the other way, and getting in front of her, so each time we came to a split, one of us took the “high road” and the other the “low road”, and we met up at the other junction.
The cell coverage was extremely spotty at best. I tried calling Amy a few times, but whenever I had a signal, apparently Amy did not. She tried sending me a text message, but it never left her phone.
We eventually caught up with Amy after we had already passed Lake 1. The three of us proceeded back to the village. We got back around 2 or maybe a bit later. We had packed rain gear, but we hadn’t needed it. It had spit at us slightly now and again, but the rain had held off.
Amy was thinking of the village “burger shack” for lunch, but it apparently didn’t open until 5pm, which we thought was odd. Instead, we drove back to the place we had eaten the previous day, which had pretty decent food.
As we were driving there, we got some light showers, which were actually very welcome. The windshield was covered with bug splats, and the washer fluid was apparently empty. The rain and wipers did a good job clearing the windshield.
After our late lunch, we returned to the village, but then Amy remembered that she had left her umbrella at the lunch place, so we drove back there (about 5-10 minutes down the road), got her umbrella, and then drove into the park. Our plan was do drive the park road and look for scenic overlooks and such. Unfortunately, we couldn’t see Denali itself because of the clouds.
We eventually got to the Savage River, which was as far as we could go. After that, it turned to gravel, and we couldn’t go any further. We parked there and planned to wander around a little. By that point, the spitting rain had stopped, and it was actually rather nice (not that a sunny blue sky wouldn’t have been nicer).
We saw that there was a level 2-mile loop trail, down one side of the river, over a foot-bridge, and back along the other side. Even though Sam and I were wearing sneakers, we decided to do this hike. We thought that the terrain looked like the highlands of Scotland, even though none of us have ever been there.
Near the end of the loop, there was a side trail branch that went towards the river. I tried taking that one, and after a short distance, I ran into a flock of ptarmigans. There must have been at least a dozen of them! They didn’t let you get too close, but you could get within about 3-4 feet of them, and I took lots of pictures (even though I didn’t have my long lens).
It turns out that the side path didn’t seem to rejoin the main path, so Sam and I retraced our steps, and followed Amy back to the car. At this point, it was clearing up, and we even saw a little weak sun casting a faint shadow.
We were driving back not long before dusk. We tried to find Denali a few times, but as far as we could tell, it was hiding in the clouds. About halfway back, we saw a “bison jam” on the road. We looked towards where people seemed to be looking, and I spotted a moose! Amy was stopped, so I got out and tried to get as good of picture as I could without my big lens. Eventually Amy found a place to park and joined me. We took a bunch of pictures, and then started driving off. Amy noticed that the moose was meandering closer to the road, so she stopped, and we went back for more pictures. Amy thought the moose was getting too close, so she returned to the car. I waited for him to raise his head one more time, and as I turned to return to the car, a ranger slowly drove by telling people that the moose was too close and they had to return to their cars.
We drove back to the village, got cleaned up, and then went to the main lodge for dinner. Sam thought we should have made reservations, but I assured him that reservations wouldn’t be needed. I was wrong. We ended up with about an hour wait for a table, which on the plus side gave me a chance to write up half of the day.
We were not impressed with the restaurant. The prices were high and the selection was low. They can get away with this because there are not a lot of alternatives.
After dinner, Amy and Sam went back to the cabins, while I stayed up at the lodge to finish recording the day’s events. It is nicer to do this there, as there are tables, and there are no tables at the cabin.
At one point, I went on a quest for more ice. The machine near the store was broken. The person at the store directed me to the one behind the dinner theater. That one seemed to be empty. So I went back to the store, and she directed me to a machine near one of the hotel buildings. That one, finally, was working.
I checked the weather forecast, and it looked like tomorrow would be dry. That would be wonderful. We’re planning some sort of hike in the morning, and then at 3, we’ll take a 5-hour bus trip through the park looking for wildlife, and maybe hearing other things about the park. For that trip, I was planning to bring my big lens.
I’ve been really impressed with the quality of pictures that Sam gets on his iPhone. I think I could make my yearly calendar with just photos from his phone, if I were so inclined.