Posts Tagged ‘Perseverance Theatre’

Denali 2. Independence day

Wednesday, August 1st, 2012

The 2012 ASTI program ended on July 1st. I had a flight up to Anchorage on the morning of the 3rd so I had some time to prepare in Juneau. The way my dates were working out, it was looking like I would have 7 days out in the wild. My plan was to take advantage of a program that Denali Park has, called Back Country Camping. I would spend a week, alone in the wilderness of Denali Park.

Denali Park is the size of Vermont and most of it is completely undeveloped. There is no trail system in the bulk of the park. Instead of trails, the system that exists is that the park is divided into 87 “Units.” To get access to the Back Country, you must register with the Park Rangers who discuss your itinerary and then work out with you when you will be in which unit. The point of this is that each unit has a quota of people who can be in it at any given time. The units are unmarked, except on the maps at the Ranger Station, so you have to get your US Geological Survey maps and mark the relevant borders for your trip, yourself. It is then up to you and your compass skills. You are on your own out there. The only way that anyone will know if anything is wrong is if someone calls park dispatch because you didn’t return when you were supposed to. At that point they will know which unit you were supposed to be in last. It is interesting to note that many of the units in Denali are larger than entire state/national parks in other parts of the country.

I identified about a half-dozen units which would potentially give me some options in terms of finding some spots with good views of Mt. Denali, and began gathering my gear. I had a rather old-fashioned external frame pack that someone gave me several years ago, along with a very cool little tent. Although I like the tent very much I didn’t have a rain-fly for it, and I just wasn’t sure about spending that length of time dependent on it. At the urging of my “little-big-sister” Faith (an experienced back-packer), I looked into renting a tent from REI in Anchorage. It was 50 bucks for a weeks rental of a pretty good tent, so this became a no-brainer. I had most all of the rest of the gear I would need from other trips including the Kayak Ranger trip. But there were some things I needed.

Art Rotch put me in touch with a friend; David Tomeo who is a Program Director for Alaska Geographic at the Murie Science and Learning Center which is inside Denali. He was wonderfully reassuring when I explained my plans.

I wrote to Lynn, mostly because I wanted to see him while I was in Juneau, and see if he had any advise. His response surprised me. He offered me the loan of an electric bear-fence! I had seen these things at Western Auto (the best place to get gear in Juneau) but it really surprised me that someone like Lynn even had one. The result of this was the thought: “Am I in more trouble than I thought?” There is one thing that I knew. I would rather have the bear-fence and not need it, than need the bear-fence and not have it. I was deciding not to take any kind of gun or bear-spray. My reasoning being that by the time I was in a situation where I could use mace, I had already made about 7 mistakes. But I remembered how hard it was to get to sleep in Holcomb bay the first couple of nights. I would close my eyes and all I could think about was waking up with a bear-snout sniffing my face… As David Tomeo said about the fence; “You probably won’t need it, but if you think it’ll help you sleep, it’s probably worth it.”

I went out to Lynn’s beautiful house near Amalga Harbor. He cooked us some of his excellent pasta, and treated me to his always fantastic conversation. There were two pieces of advice he gave me that really stuck with me. One I followed. One I didn’t. The one that I followed was to get some trekking poles. The one that I didn’t was not to take a book. I understood why he advised this. It was to remove any internal escape. And I agreed. I had already thought about not taking a book, and had decided that there was one that I would take. It was The Golden Spruce. And there was a specific reason why I wanted to take it which had little to do with escape. I did not take lightly, setting aside the wilderness advice of Lynn Schooler. On the other hand trekking poles were an absolute revelation! I was SO HAPPY Lynn suggested them. As he said: “You’re much more stable as a quadruped, and it saves your knees.”

I was struck that Lynn rather casually referred to my trip as my “vision quest.” It’s not a term I feel I have a right to, but I certainly liked it as a container for what was ahead of me.

The entire trip, lived as a knot in the pit of my stomach. I had that weird sense of how this must be the right thing to do because it’s completely freaking me out! Or is this accurate fight-or-flight and I should just go home?

I got into Anchorage early on the morning of the 3rd and took a cab to Lucy Peckam’s house. She was down in Washington State but had arranged for me to use her Honda Escape for my trip while she was gone. I drove it to the Anchorage REI and got there in time to see the doors opened. I spent the bulk of the morning there. Jetboil, binoculars, water-filtration system, weather-band radio, freeze-dried meals, and trekking poles! Among other miscellaneous stuff. Plus, I picked up the tent I had reserved. Then to a grocery store to pick up the rest of the food I needed; oatmeal, cheese, vacuum-packed tuna, whole-wheat tortillas, coffee, tea.

At the crack of dawn, I headed up to Denali. Passing through the famous Wasilla (which auto-correct just tried to spell as “weasel”). It was a gorgeous drive up along the eastern edge of the park. Listening to Anchorage NPR slowly get fainter and fainter…

I checked in at the Back Country Camping desk. Went through the briefing process. Discussed my itinerary. I would spend the first night in Unit 35 and the rest in 34. I bought and notated the maps I would need, and was issued my BRFC (Bear Resistant Food Container). I was told that Denali has NEVER had a fatality caused by a bear. The main reason for this is that they have very successfully disassociated humans from food in the mind of the bears. In order to maintain this, it is very important that a bear NEVER get any food from you. Also I was taught an important triangle: With your tent as the downwind point of an equilateral triangle, your food storage is 100 yards away as another point, and your cook-site is another point 100 yards away.

The knot is the stomach is tightening and becoming a solid surface to push off of. I buy my ticket for the bus which will take me along the one road in the park, and drop me off in Unit 35. The buses are the main way that most people see the park, or get to the organized campsites. Once in the park, we campers can ride any bus that has room if we want to go somewhere further than we want to hike… but there’s only one road.

I call Akiko and give her the number for park dispatch and tell her that if she doesn’t hear from me by the evening of the 11th, something’s gone wrong and she should call them.

From here on in this series, italicized text is transcribed from my camp-journal.

4th of July: Day one

Boarded 2:00 pm Camper Bus driven by Mona.

5 hour bus ride to aprox Mile 72. Saw 3 bears + 2 cubs. 2 Caribou.

In my experience in the wild, to get decent pictures of wildlife, you have to either get really really close, or have a bigger lens than I want to be lugging around. I’ll leave that to Michio and Lynn. Here are some shots of the landscape as we drove into the park. Click on the images for high res.

Met Mona’s Husband Chuck, and camper from Anchorage. Denali Played peek-a-boo whole trip.

First Glimpse of Mt Denali

Bus driving away after dropping me off…

Hiked in towards Moose Creek from road. Hard work. Heavy pack. Glad to have poles, but lost tip caps. No good running stream so made camp near small pond. Got feet + boots wet trying to get water to filter. Also lost half may water to Jetboil tipping. Ate freeze dried meal. I think I brought too much food. Can’t get sunblock, bug juice into BRFC. Leaving them in small bags nearby along with first aid kit. Mosquitos a big pain. REI sent two tents. Went to sleep a bit discouraged.

The brevity of this first entry in my journal is eloquent to me. I was deeply discouraged this first night. The short hike had been SO difficult. The pack was heavier than I had thought and the terrain was impossible. I don’t know what I would have done without my poles. On top of this I was devastated that I was so stupid as to get my feet unnecessarily wet, and especially that I lost half my water just because I wasn’t being careful. Mindful. There’s a description of a man in The Blue Bear that I kept thinking of: “…the slow careful movements of someone who spends a lot of time outdoors…” This was NOT how I would be described.

My BRFC was full of food. It was my driver Mona who advised me to put everything that didn’t smell like me in the BRFC. But when I tried I couldn’t get the sunscreen etc in…

Also it was true. I had checked the contents of the tent bag before leaving but I didn’t unfold the rain-fly. When I did, I found another tent folded into it. Now I had THAT to lug around with me. It wasn’t that big or heavy but I didn’t need it and there was nothing I could do with it.

By the time I went to sleep I was cold and deeply miserable.

Went out to pee at 3am. Mind blowing sight of Moon + Alaska range. Denali in glory. Too cold to take picture.

Maybe this wasn’t so dumb…