We went on to Alaska for our honeymoon. Sort of. I mean, we call it our honeymoon because it was the first trip we took together after we got married (even though it was like 5 months after the day).
We couchsurfed and camped our way from Juneau to Denali National Park and saw some of the most beautiful sceneries we’d ever seen.
Of all of the wonderful memories that came out of our trip to Alaska, a week backpacking in Denali was the most notable. Not only for the raw and the wild of Alaska that it represents, but also for the high rate of mishaps and misadventures that happened there:
1. We went in spring. Spring might not be the best time to go backpacking in Denali
There’s nothing wrong about going in spring. But it’s a little bit of a crapshoot. You can have nice weather, blue sky on one day and snow shower on the next.
Another reason not to in spring is the chance that the area beyond Eielson overlook is still closed due to snow. That was what happened to us, but it was not a big deal since what was available to explore was still mind-numbingly big.
One benefit of going in spring: we didn’t see a single soul out there once we got off the main road.
2. We lost perspective: Things always look smaller in the distance
Those overhead thickets we were fighting through looked like harmless, calf-length brushes nestled under gently sloping hills about 30 minutes ago.
Ah, the lesson of perspective.
Something about the landscape really distorts the sense of perspective out there. We were foiled over and over again and ended up scratched and bruised from bush whacking.
And the gently sloping hills?
Up close they turned into scree-covered, ankle twisting, very steep hills.
3. We were too lazy to climb up: Following a drainage is not the best idea
Faced with a hollow (small valley) with a river running along it, it was very tempting to stay close to the river. Why hike uphill if you don’t have to, plus you can forget about continuously stopping to consult the map for awhile.
As long as you follow the river you won’t get lost.
So, you walk towards it deeper and deeper into the valley, until you hear ‘Squeealch’ as your boot sinks in ankle deep water.
And you try to remember if you pack that extra pair of socks after all.
4. We didn’t allocate enough days. We thought 4 days would be enough
We could’ve stayed there forever.
Denali National Park is huge. At 6 million acres it’s bigger than the state of Massachusetts. We were only planning to stay there for 4 days — but in the end we ended staying for a week. And even then it wasn’t enough.
If you’re not planning to do a hike, 2 days would be enough. If you’re a little into hiking, I’d suggest a week.
If you’re big into hiking like we are — a month or two.
Or a lifetime.
5. We depended on SteriPen for purifying our water
Because it was so cold our battery powered SteriPen stopped working. Lesson learned: batteries are unreliable in cold weather.
Actually, the bigger lesson was: always have backup plan to purify your water. Especially if you’re out in the middle of nowhere.
We could boil water though, which led me to the next point:
6. We brought the wrong stove: Propane or cartridge stoves do not work well in cold weather
Those who took physics will remember that… well, I don’t remember how the theory goes, but it goes something like : cold weather equals having all of your shit stop working.
No hot food. No drinking water. What a honeymoon.
7. Overestimating our knowledge of map, compass, and reading the topo lines
There are no trails in Denali. You have to know how to read a map and a compass.
We were pretty new to map reading and even though we weren’t lost, we kept second guessing ourselves.
That’s especially true when we were bushwhacking ankle deep in boggy marshes. We kept consulting the map — there must be a way out of this miserable wetness.
Yes, there was. Up!
Let’s consult the topo map. Oh, it doesn’t look that bad.
So climb and climb we did until it was getting really steep we were in danger of slipping and not being able to stop ourselves..
We consulted our map only to find out there are two separate river forks about an inch apart on the map. Which one were we following?
Maybe we were lost after all.
I originally titled this post ‘4 Mistakes We Made in Denali’ — apparently we ended up making more than that.
You’d think we had a horrible time there with the wet, the weather, and our gear failure. At certain times we did our share of cursing and whining.
But Denali was… majestic
Mountains, wildlife, and even more mountains. It was our kind of honeymoon. Wet boots, broken equipment, and all.
And we got to see grizzlies! In the wild! A whole bunch of them, actually.
But that’s for the next post.