SUBSCRIBE | NEWSLETTERS | MAPS | VIDEOS | BLOGS | MARKETPLACE | CONTESTS
TRY BACKPACKER FREE!
SUBSCRIBE NOW and get
2 Free Issues and 3 Free Gifts!
Full Name:
Address 1:
Address 2:
City:
State:
Zip Code:
Email: (required)
If I like it and decide to continue, I'll pay just $12.00, and receive a full one-year subscription (9 issues in all), a 73% savings off the newsstand price! If for any reason I decide not to continue, I'll write "cancel" on the invoice and owe nothing.
Your subscription includes 3 FREE downloadable booklets.
Or click here to pay now and get 2 extra issues
Offer valid in US only.

Also on Backpacker.com


Enter Zip Code

Backpacker Magazine – August 2012

The Last Bus

A former Denali ranger shares her secrets for finding solitude, scoring the most coveted permits, seeing wildlife, beating the weather, and more. Follow her from-the-field advice for the ultimate trip in America's wildest park.

by: Tracy Ross

Photo by Patrick Endres
Photo by Patrick Endres
Photo by Kevyn Jalone
Photo by Kevyn Jalone
Photo by Ron Niebrugge
Photo by Ron Niebrugge
Photo by Kevyn Jalone
Photo by Kevyn Jalone
Photo by Kevyn Jalone
Photo by Kevyn Jalone

Here’s how it works: The shuttle bus does its last run into the park on the day prior to what’s called Road Lottery, a brief period during which officials allow private citizens to drive their vehicles along the storied route. But they can only stay overnight at three developed campgrounds, which eliminates self-driven backpackers. Without the hiker shuttle, hikers effectively vanish.

Even better: Through the final day of the Road Lottery (September 17 this year), a courtesy shuttle runs to Savage River Campground at mile 15. Experienced, well-prepared backpackers can take the last hiker bus deep into the park, hike east through some of Denali’s most sought-after units, and end at the Savage River Campground—in time for the final shuttle back to the park entrance, at 3:30 p.m., weather willing. 

I never dreamed I’d need to beat the system when I worked as a backcountry ranger in Denali during the summers of 1997 and 1998. My co-rangers, Kevyn and Becky, and I alternated 10-day shifts at the visitor center with patrols in the wild, and of course we had an all-access pass for any unit we wanted, at any time. Sure, we had to do the grunt work—lecturing campers about bear safety ad nauseam, and placating more than a few hyperventilating permit seekers. But we knew we’d landed one of the best jobs in the outdoors. We were transformed by our time in the backcountry. We saw wolf pups crying in front of their dens. We awoke to Mt. McKinley bathed in pink light. We swam in kettleponds sunk into the tundra. Those summers cracked open our souls and changed the trajectory of our lives.

Fifteen years later, the three of us plan a reunion. In Denali, naturally. In the best units, of course. There’s just one little problem. Technically, we have to line up for permits just like anyone else, since our gleaming ranger badges—Denali’s backstage passes—have long since expired. But we don’t need them. We know the secret is just a matter of timing. We’ll take the last bus.

When we board the iconic green shuttle, it’s as empty as we’d imagined: just one other hiker. Our plan is to ride the bus to the East Fork of the Toklat River (mile 43), unload, and hike 40 miles over three passes to the Refuge Valley. In this former ranger’s opinion, it’s the single best spot in all of Denali because it’s so remote and wild, like holy ground. Then we’ll bushwhack down the Savage River to the road. 



Subscribe to Backpacker magazine
Sign up for our free weekly e-newsletter
Name:
Address 1:
Address 2:
City:
State:
Zip:
Email (req):

Reader Rating: -

ADD A COMMENT

Your rating:
Your Name:

Comment:

My Profile Join Now

Most recent threads

Trailhead Register
Stop me if you've heard this...
Posted On: Jul 25, 2014
Submitted By: desert dweller
Gear
Do you use a PLB?
Posted On: Jul 25, 2014
Submitted By: High_Sierra_Fan
Go
View all Gear
Find a retailer

Special sections - Expert handbooks for key trails, techniques and gear

Check out Montana in Warren Miller's Ticket to Ride
Warren Miller athletes charge hard and reflect on Big Sky country, their love for this space and the immense energy allotted to the people who reside in Montana.

Boost Your Apps
Add powerful tools and exclusive maps to your BACKPACKER apps through our partnership with Trimble Outdoors.

Carry the Best Maps
With BACKPACKER PRO Maps, get life-list destinations and local trips on adventure-ready waterproof myTopo paper.

FREE Rocky Mountain Trip Planner
Sign up for a free Rocky Mountain National Park trip planning kit from our sister site MyRockyMountainPark.com.

Follow BackpackerMag on Twitter Follow Backpacker on Facebook
Get 2 FREE Trial Issues and 3 FREE GIFTS
Survival Skills 101 • Eat Better
The Best Trails in America
YES! Please send me my FREE trial issues of Backpacker
and my 3 FREE downloadable booklets.
Full Name:
City:
Address 1:
Zip Code:
State:
Address 2:
Email (required):
Free trial offer valid for US subscribers only. Canadian subscriptions | International subscriptions