OK – this is the wilderness, but I was kidding about the accommodation. We were in the Denali Backcountry Lodge, which has warm rooms, comfortable beds and hot showers. Thank goodness, because it is cold now. There was a frost this morning. The bit about the key was true though – it still feels odd to leave your room unlocked all day – even out here!
Breakfast is served from 6 here, hikes depart at 8. Hors d’oeuvres are at 5 and dinner is at 6. This is not a stay up or sleep late place!
With some trepidation, we signed up for a guided hike to Wonder Lake today. I love hiking, but this is cold and unfamiliar territory. I don’t usually hike armed with pepper spray! We had to sign a waiver saying we understood the dangers of hiking in this place – which could result in death. Oh great! It turned out to be a fabulous hike though.
The sun came up and we were soon warm walking, Forget the wildlife, I was most interested to see the mountain tundra. Reindeer lichen, blueberries, mushrooms and alpines which caught the early morning dew in their bright red leaves. I can see why they get up so early here now! We passed a number of very small trees – the short Summer season here means that the trees take many years to grow. The tiny tree in the photograph would probably be 50 years or so old.
We hiked with a guide (Jill) and Beth and Jeff, from Philadelphia and made friends very easily with them as we “trod lightly” through the rich hues of Autumn (fall) colour on the mountain side. The mountain tundra felt comfortably spongy underfoot and with the warmth of the sun on our backs, it seemed that this was wilderness land was capable of being very hospitable indeed. Overall though, I think this is a landscape that should be treated with the greatest of respect. Whilst it may feel welcoming on a sunny morning walk, it could easily become anything but. This land really belongs to the wild animals that inhabit it naturally. Humans are there by its grace and favour only and it may decide at any moment to throw them back where they came from and reclaim its peace and stillness.
We chatted to a couple over lunch who ran a gift shop in a small town back towards the Park entrance. They had come down on the bone shaker bus for a day trip – a 13 hour round ride – for lunch? In 2 weeks, they leave for their Winter job at Disney World. They run a gift shop there too, but describe their job as “sprinkling pixie dust and spreading the magic”. Disney has obviously trained them very well!
We paid a quick visit to Fanny Quigley’s cabin in the afternoon. She gardened in this harsh landscape, growing cabbage rhubarb, potatoes and berries – scratching a living entirely off the land with one trip a yea to town for flour and sugar. She was one tough woman.
By 8.30, I was fast asleep!