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.
SWITCH TO DENALI TIME
With all due respect, I don’t care how many trail miles you’ve hiked. Forget everything you’ve done before when it comes to planning a Denali itinerary. The golden rule here? Assume you’ll hike at best one mile per hour. With no trails, you’ll find no easy path across glaciers, over scree fields, or through forests. Mile-wide rivers flow directly from glaciers, fanning into quicksilver braids that slow your pace to a crawl.
Examine the map. Green on a Denali quad often means thick, scratchy willow and alder that put the brakes on backcountry travel. Option one: Do everything in your power to avoid it. Option two (often the only option): Put on a long-sleeved shirt, use trekking poles to help create a “tunnel” in front of you, and yell like crazy, because bears like to nap in these shady briars.
Budget time for rivers. Don’t let your “schedule” force you into attempting an unsafe river crossing, where the current is too swift or too deep. Both rain and warm temps can cause river levels to rise. Allow an extra hour or more to scout the safest place to cross, or to change your route if necessary.