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

On the ride out, the morning sun shines down brilliantly. According to Becky, who lives in nearby Cantwell, it’s been raining all summer—typical for Denali. But the forecast for the next five days is sunny with a chance of sunnier. Out the bus window, the Teklanika River rolls by, followed by the sweeping, red- and yellow-painted Plains of Murie. We disembark as planned, at the East Fork of the Toklat. Gold light spills over the rocks as my friends and I angle toward an arrow of raised tundra. Wolf tracks the size of my palm fan away in all directions.

At the end of the first day, it all seems too good to be true. It is. Over breakfast on day two, Kevyn reveals angry blisters on both of her heels. Though she’s the only one of us who continued her career as a ranger, she does “bear patrols” in Lake Clark National Park. Her patrol area is tiny, which means she doesn’t actually hike much. And she made a classic mistake common to backpackers who are experienced but, um, out of practice. She’s hiking in boots she hasn’t used in years—about 15, to be precise.

But Kevyn pushes on (“I don’t want to be the crybaby in your story,” she says), and we hike up the East Fork to a small drainage that curves toward the unnamed, headwalled entrance to our promised land—Refuge Valley. In the distance, the sun gleams off of snow-covered summits.

A few hours later, we find ourselves boxed into a draw by a 20-foot-high, gushing waterfall. I’ve never seen a cascade like this in Denali, and the sight makes me want to tear off my clothes and take a wilderness shower. But I’m diverted by Kevyn’s blisters, which have progressed from painful nuisance to first-aid crisis. “Well what did you expect?” Becky says half-jokingly. “You knew we were going to be hiking!” Which makes Kevyn’s premonition come true. As Becky charges ahead, Kevyn drops farther and farther behind. I turn around, and see my brown-eyed friend crumpled on the tundra, crying.

It’s a rough moment, but it reminds us of a truth we once knew but had somehow forgotten: No one, not even a ranger, is immune to Denali’s uniquely punishing conditions. I recall a time when I nearly drowned when I was swept away while crossing the melt-swollen McKinley River, the result of inexperience and over-ambition. So instead of guilting Kevyn into hiking through her pain, like some “friends” might do when they think everything is riding on one trip, we stop for the night, fluff our sleeping bags atop the memory-foam tundra, and sleep beneath bright green, buzzing northern lights.



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

Rocky Mountains
Trip report and thanks!
Posted On: Aug 27, 2014
Submitted By: grizzled
Health and Fitness
Back Pain
Posted On: Aug 27, 2014
Submitted By: ol-zeke
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