The dinner bell summoned us to breakfast. The food was wonderful. Each morning there was a warm cereal (different each morning), cold cereal, and a plated breakfast. The staff took real pride in each meal and explained what we were being served as the food was brought out. After breakfast, the day’s field trip options were described, and we had to select from the Strenuous, Moderate or "Naturalist Foray" options. The Strenuous option was described as "destination oriented," presumably meaning that come hell or high water you were going to get there. At the other end of the spectrum, was the Naturalist Foray, which was described as a "vehicle-based excursion." Having said that, the naturalist foray was a great opportunity for people with HUGE cameras who wanted to spend a lot of time setting up tripods and taking serious photos.
Richard took the strenuous option and climbed to the top of the ridge behind the lodge and the sister property "Camp Denali". The guide, Matt, was knowledgeable about the animal and plant life and the local history. Matt pointed out a large dug out area likely caused by a frenetic bear digging for a bear burrito. We don’t know if it got it. There were nice views of the Alaska Range and the valley north of the ridge. The group ate lunch at the top of the ridge and watched the clouds move past McKinley.
Laura opted out of the options. She stayed in the room and read, relaxing and enjoying the peace and quiet. Laura’s parents took the Naturalist Foray and reported back that they learned all about the local vegetation, about the differences between dry and wet tundra, and about the geology of the area. They were extremely impressed with the knowledge of their guide.
Dinner was fabulous – fresh salmon. Each meal also had a vegetarian option. Salad greens came from their hot house garden on site, and all of the food was extremely fresh. It was an amazing feat for being so far removed from civilization.
After dinner, Richard and Laura walked down to Wonder Lake again – through the clouds of mosquitoes – and saw scoters and other waterfowl on the lake. We also saw ptarmigan chicks along the side of the road. We went to bed late again after another long, but enjoyable day.
Dinner bell for breakfast again. Wonderful breakfast again. Pick a trip again. Richard did the strenuous hike, again. The big difference was the weather. The bright, warm, sunny days were gone. It was cold and rainy. The excursions went much farther into the park than the previous day’s. The strenuous hike walked along the Toklat River and then turned up a valley and climbed on game trails up to a pass. The weather became increasingly worse during the climb. As we climbed higher, the wind picked up, it got colder, and the rain changed to sleet. "I had never hiked in sleet in July before." At times, the wind was strong enough that we had to walk backwards. Drew did a great job of keeping everyone together in low visibility and helping out when people had trouble due to the weather. As we descended down the other side of the ridge, the weather improved, the rain lessened, and it returned to being cool and overcast. The landscape was interesting in that there were no signs of civilization – not even a trail. Hiking in Denali is a very different experience from most National Parks. Elsewhere, you are not supposed to go off the trail. In Denali, there are no trails. Drew explained the geology of the area and identified plant life. We learned at the evening wrap up, that we were the only group not to see any wildlife.
Laura and her parents took the naturalist foray. We saw Dall sheep and lots of grizzlies. The weather was awful, though, and it was difficult to get pictures without getting the camera wet – even with a dry bag. It was cold and very windy at each stop. We also stopped at the Eielson Visitor Center, which features bull antlers locked together. (The moose died stuck together.)
Another good dinner. It was pork – not my favorite – but it was prepared well. I was wishing I had taken the vegetarian option – gnocchi. Another recount of the days’ experiences, instruction on the following day’s check-out procedures, and we headed to the room to start packing.