Backpacking in Denali (1): Bring a Map, Water and Bear Mace

[I have decided to start posting edited excerpts from my journals while in Denali National Park, along with pictures or videos to make it all more real.  Enjoy!]

Journal Excerpt: Day One

Today we woke up early and took the 7:00 a.m. bus to Wonder Lake.  Wonder Lake is almost at the end of the 92 mile road that splits the middle of the Denali National Park wilderness.  The park is 6 million acres, which is larger than the state of Massachusetts.  (Locals like to joke that they have parks bigger than our states). Wonder Lake is only around 90 miles away, but the buses go slow and it takes 5 hours to make the trip.

When we arrived at Wonder Lake, we set up camp and ate lunch.  Then we decided to go out on a jaunt that would be one of the most memorable I’ve been on.

Lesson one: don’t try to hammer tent spikes in with a Nalgene bottle.  It’s a good way to lose all the water.  I thought it was unbreakable, but I suppose that if you repeatedly strike it with a spike at a single point that eventually gives way.  This could have been bad if I hadn’t packed an extra water bottle at the last minute.

Lesson two: when going on a day hike in the wilderness, bring a compass and a map.  Hills and forests tend to look the same in the wilderness, and things are further away than they appear.

Lesson three: bring bear mace, when you are in bear country.  It may not actually stop the bear if you see one, but it is a huge security blanket when going through thick brush.

We hadn’t learned any of these lessons yet when we set out on our day hike.

Accordingly, we went with no map, water or bear spray.  We did try to stay in clear areas, speaking loudly to alert bears to our presence (the worst thing you can do is surprise a bear).  It was all going swimmingly, until we decided to hike to a “pavilion” that we saw high on a hill.  We ended up getting lost and trekking through some pretty thick brush with plenty of evidence of bears.  You could see the impressions from where they were lying down, fresh skat (rich with berries).

It was terrifying, like a horror movie that messes with you by never showing you the monster.

We didn’t see any bears, and that was fine with us.  We knew they were close.

After three hours, with waterlogged boots, we made it back.  Quite an adventure, and a preview of things to come!

I am still afraid of bears, and for that matter, of dying.  But it is healthy for me to face my fears and to press forward into the uncomfortable and the unknown.  Tomorrow we hike through the Polychrome mountains, a place where we saw a bear on the bus ride.  I am anxious and excited – and thankful for a chance to walk through the wild places of the world.

The world is not safe or cute but beautiful and dangerous – not to be taken lightly but inviting us into adventure… just like the God who made it.

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