Today David stayed at the van and worked on his pictures while Janet rode the bus one more time. The plan was to ride out to the Eielson Visitors’ Center and take the Alpine hike. It’s a hike up the mountain to a ridge where one can walk off trail for miles. Since there are lots of people who use that trail, there was no danger in walking without a partner.
On the ride we saw a snow shoe hare (the population of these is very low right now – there is a normal fluctuation), a herd of over 150 caribou (the rangers remarked that it is unusual to see such a large group at this time of the year), three grizzlies, Dall sheep, and a law enforcement operation. The last caused quite a bit of conversation. It seems a carload of young people came through the unguarded gate last night and camped illegally in one of the pull-offs. What they did was not only illegal, but dangerous as they did not properly secure their food and were in prime grizzly country. They were ticketed for four different infractions and told to appear in court in Fairbanks in a couple of weeks. Since the rules of the park (no private vehicles beyond mile 15 without a permit, no back country camping without a permit, secure all food in bear proof containers which are provided) are clearly stated at the entrance gate, I doubt these campers ended up in the wrong spot by mistake; how they thought they could get away with it, I do not know.
At Eielson, Janet ended up not hiking. The fog was so thick that one could not see more than 10 feet. In fact the busses ceased leaving there for a while. After about 45 minutes, it cleared enough for the buses to run, but the Alpine hike still did not look interesting, so she started the ride back. As soon as we dropped in elevation, there was no fog (clouds) so the ride back was very pleasant. A number of backpackers boarded the bus so there were a number of conversations about where they had been and what they had seen. Unlike most parks we have visited, there are no trails that you are encouraged to stay on as you hike – you bushwhack. If you have a backcountry permit, it is for a particular “area” of the park. You hike and stay anywhere within that area. You can have multiple area permits, so you can hike from one to the next, but the number of people in one area at a time is limited by the permit system.
A side note, the sign board at Eielson reported that there were currently 169 people climbing 20,322-ft Denali and 37% of those who attempted Denali this year have summited.
After David cooked a great dinner on a campfire of hamburger and bacon, yellow squash with onions, and potatoes which we ate with a salad, we visited with friends in their mosquito-free, netted tent.
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