Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Alaska: Day 3 (Denali)

Another day, another early bus. We caught the 6:30am hiker shuttle on our second day, too:

Our driver, Ray, was very friendly but not very good at spotting wildlife. We did see a few bears and more Dall sheep but from pretty far off. This is the best sighting from the morning bus ride:

We were somewhat tired from the previous day's hike so we decided to do a shorter hike that day. We got off just before Toklat, at around Mile 51. There, we followed a stream down to the east branch of the Toklat River.

It was pretty, but despite seeing tons of animal scat and pawprints, we didn't see any wildlife.

After an hour or so we decided to head back, so we retraced our path back up to the road. As we were waiting there for the next shuttle bus, we saw a fox!

That fox encounter made us feel a lot better about having stopped to hike in the Toklat area. Also, soon after we got on that bus, we had a pretty good bear sighting:

Despite that, we thought we could find a better bus (the driver was okay but the other passengers were not very social and not that helpful for spotting), so we rode all the way to Eielson again, where we got a slightly better view of Denali (aka Mount McKinley). Unfortunately most of my photos of the mountain itself were oversaturated, so I haven't posted any here.

We asked the dispatcher at Eielson when either Wendy or Tim were scheduled to depart, and he said Wendy had already left and Tim wasn't leaving until nearly 5pm. That was too late for us, so we decided to try our luck with the bus that had left the WAC at 6:45am, but had gone past Eielson all the way to Wonder Lake. We figured that the early bus drivers were likely to be better, since the hikers were probably more hard core about photography.

Well, that was either a good guess, or we were very lucky, because our new bus driver Mike found us several bears that came almost scarily close to the bus:

We also had several caribou encounters which were all pretty good, but right near the end they were all trumped by this sighting of a herd of six caribou foraging through some gorgeous autumn foliage:

One more shot of just the amazing scenery...

Overall, we were quite happy with our two days in Denali National Park. We were lucky with both weather and wildlife; originally the forecast had called for rain on the first day and showers on the second, but we only encountered clouds and fog, and even that let up a bit on day two. We had our fingers crossed that our luck would hold for the next few days!

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