Northern Lights Over Mt. McKinley
ridge through the
clouds was surreal and beautiful. It took a day to master the ridge
and reach the Great Icefalls of the Muldrow Glacier.
We started our
next day at 3 am to cover as much of the Muldrow Glacier before the
temperature rose and the snow softened. The trek became rough with
125 lb packs on our back. As the snow warmed, we started to break
through the ice bridges and drop into crevasses. Everyone in the
group wore snowshoes and stayed roped together to keep each of us
from falling past our waist into a crevasse. By the end of the day
we were snow shoeing in glacier slush above our knees. All of us
ended up breaking through the snow bridged crevasses, but our falls
were arrested mostly by the gear hanging on our backs.
As we left the
Muldrow Glacier we reached McGonagall Pass and could see Wonder Lake
(our destination) 26 miles to the north. We set up camp for the
night and consumed our remaining food supplies. It felt great to
of the climbing gear we had been wearing for over three weeks.
morning we woke to rain, but we were glad to be on solid rock and
anxious to see plants and the color green again. This part of
Denali National Park sees few visitors and there was little sign of
any trail most of the day. We stayed on caribou trails and headed
due north, crossing several fairly large streams and rivers. With
the rain we are soaked to the bone so at this point river crossings
didn’t make much difference. Also at this point the mosquitoes
became unbearable...even for Alaskans!
Our goal was to
reach Wonder Lake by 6 pm to catch the last Park Service Bus to the
Park entrance. At about 5 pm we reached the McKinley River, the
last major hurdle. The river is about a mile wide, braided, ice
cold and chest deep. We crossed the river as a group, in a line,
with loaded packs on our backs, hanging on to a single spruce pole.
The crossing was slow and difficult. Once on the north side of the
McKinley River, there was no sign of a trail. We finally wandered
onto the Park road at 10 pm a couple of miles east of Wonder Lake.
A Park employee
on a bicycle happened by shortly thereafter. He was so alarmed by
our appearance that he left all his food and took off to find the
Park Ranger at Wonder Lake.
We had all lost at least 30 lbs or more, our clothes were hanging on
our slighter frames, we were covered in mosquitoes and we probably
looked like refugees from a concentration camp!
The Park Ranger
found us a camp site but the Park bus driver offered to let us sleep
on the bus and escape from the mosquitoes and rain.
Wonder Lake was excited to meet climbers who had reached the summit
of Mt. McKinley and hiked all the way to Wonder Lake. All the
campers decided to cook us a dish. We had a great meal and enjoyed
sharing stories of the climb and posed for many pictures. We didn’t
realize at the time that everyone kept their distance. At 6 am the
next morning we took the six hour bus ride out of the Park….with all
the windows open. We apologized to our bus mates…If you think about
it, a month without a shower and a change of clothes really is a bit
Harvey (second from right)