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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.

During my second summer in Denali, it rained for 37 days straight. I learned you either go on with life and hike as planned, or you might as well stay home. (Indeed, a lot of unprepared backpackers abandon their permits when the forecast is horrible, opening up prime units for the ready and willing.) September is often drier than summer, but if you’re going to backpack in Denali, prepare for wild weather anytime. The right gear—bomber shell, tent with a big vestibule, waterproof boots and gaiters—is just the start. The key to really beating Denali’s legendary deluges? Attitude. Don’t hide out in your tent, which just makes the storm sound worse than it likely is. Gear up, and get out. And besides the usual, try these techniques:

Load up on socks and underwear.
Pack not two but three pairs of long underwear: one for daily wear, one for sleeping, and one double-bagged and marked “emergency.” Don’t pull that third pair out unless you absolutely need it. Just knowing it’s there will boost your confidence when your first two pairs get damp. For socks, pack three or even four pairs. Dry socks prevent blisters and athlete’s and trench foot, and keep you warmer at night. 

Wear a wide-brimmed, waterproof hat. Normal jacket hoods muffle sound, decrease visibility, and lead to feelings of claustrophobia, while a wide-brimmed waterproof hat, like the full-coverage Outdoor Research Force 9 Sombrero ($75,, acts like a small roof over your face, neck, and shoulders.

Keep your tent’s inner canopy dry. Set it up the second you get to camp (since air, however saturated, leads to some drying), and swab the ceiling, walls, and floor with a pack towel before laying out your sleeping pads. Have friends hold the fly over the inner tent while you pack it, so it stays as dry as possible.

Have fun. Chilled and need to warm up? Pull on your raingear and play hacky sack or tag. Hike to a vantage point, even if the view is diminished. Take photos with your waterproof camera (you packed one, right?). Whatever you do, don’t become tent-bound. Nothing kills a backpacking trip faster.

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