Backpacking in Denali (4): BEARS

By September 20, 2011No Comments

Day Two: Bears

Coming into the glacier path, it wasn’t long before we met up with the East Fork of the Toklat river again.  This meant that we would need to do some crossings where the river threaded most thinly.

Here is where knee-length or thigh-length gaiters and neoprene socks would have been worth the money.  But since we didn’t have those, we had to change into sandals.  I had brought both my Vibram Five Fingers and my Columbia sandals, and after trying each of them in turn, I decided to wear them at the same time.

Even so, the water was sooooo cold!

A recurring theme of the trip was that we would overestimate how far we had gone and underestimate how far away the next goal was.  On a normal hike, you would stop around dinner time.  But in Alaska, it doesn’t get dark until around 11:00.  So after our dinner (freeze-dried lasagna), we decided to walk up Cabin Creek to a ridge that seemed maybe a mile or two away. (Ha!)

This started with a pretty treacherous river fording, and then we walked up the river bed.  It was beautiful, but it was also the coldest my feet have ever been. I went as long as I could before changing back into my boots.  This meant water in my boots and wet socks, but it was a small price to pay to keep my toes.

And here, in the midst of a supposed mile hike that turned into a four mile hike, was where we suddenly began seeing signs of bears everywhere. Most disturbing was a fresh claw print side-by-side with a bootprint.

The print was going the opposite direction, so we cautiously continued for about twenty feet, until I noticed that the bushes just ahead of us were moving.

“There’s definitely something over there,” Ben said.

It was about 30 feet away.  (No pictures. Are you crazy?)

We could see the shape of the bear, presumably much more interested in berries than in us, but we didn’t want to take any time to find out. We backtracked and raced upstream to get to higher elevation.  This was scary and frustrating.

We climbed up about 1000 feet until we came to a ridge.  The climb was reminiscent of the stairs of Machu Picchu, and the only way I made it was by using a Tabata-inspired climbing strategy.  I counted out 20 steps, then rested for 10 seconds, then took 20 more steps, until we reached the top.

Upon arriving at the ridge, we set up camp as the sun set over the hills.  We had gone about 12 miles in 11 hours.  We were exhausted, but exhilarated.

One of the last things I wrote in my journal for the day was this: “The bears are out there, but hopefully they stay away.”

Next: Day Three (in which we make the same mistake again…)

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