The following day we headed back into the US for the last time along the Top of the World Highway. It was a nice drive, but the clouds had come in and limited visibility.
Our first stop once we went through the border crossing was Chicken, an old mining town of about a dozen people. The funny anecdote about the naming of the town came about as a disagreement about how to spell Ptarmigan (a local small game bird a bit similar in size to chickens).
After Chicken, we stopped at the North Pole to meet Santa!
We spent the night at the local Chena Hot Springs. To my memory, these were the warmest and nicest as it seemed more natural with rock walls rather then the standard concrete pool. Several of us also checked out the ice museum tour, which was pretty awesome. I skipped the fancy Appletini served in a custom carved ice glass, but the sculptures and lighting in the place was impressive.
Quick group photo before some people departed!
The following day was mostly travel with a supply stock-up in Fairbanks. We camped that evening near the entrance to Denali at a lovely campground. Even better, there was the awesome 49th State Brewery next door, which we took advantage of. The beer was tasty, the venue was awesome and the food enjoyable. But the highlight was probably a copy? of the infamous Magic Bus that Christopher McCandless met his untimely fate in. There were copies of his journal and some plaques outlining his voyage. Apparently the actual bus itself is only a few miles from that location!
Next morning, off to Denali! We experienced the full glory of the park which included not only views of the mountain every day (we were extremely lucky), but also enjoyed the chaos of attempting to get the correct shuttle tickets for everyone. It took several tries to coordinate everything correctly and the fact myself and one other had Wonder Lake reservations with several others just needing a ride apparently was hard to sort out.
I’ve never seen an angry pika before but perhaps this fella’s face is supposed to represent your mood while acquiring tickets for the shuttle…
The bus and majority of everyone camped at Savage River campground, which was quite nice overall. Many of us did the nearby Savage Alpine trail, which had a rough start with a big climb out of the gate but beautiful views on the ridge. We camped that night and about 8 of us took an early morning shuttle out to Wonder Lake. The ride was incredible.
After a few hours, we finally pulled in and setup camp, secured our belongings in the food storage room then hiked out to the lake proper and Reflection Pond. The views from there were awe-inspiring. We lucked out enough to still have a view of the mountain for the majority of the day, until some afternoon cumulus blew in.
I slept bravely as I did most nights, with the rainfly off to take in the views. It was an early night, but I happened to wake up around 4:30 and saw the most amazing sight… Denali baking in warm morning alpenglow. I woke up the crew for them to see and they were glad I did. One of them even had the stamina to run up to Reflection Pond to get a better view! I wasn’t up for a 4mi, 500′ gain hike that early plus the alpenglow would have disappeared by the time I arrived.
We grabbed the shuttle early again the next morning to head back. I was dozing off most of the ride, but woke up for one of the restroom stops. Somehow I managed to run into a former coworker I recognized wearing a LinkedIn-branded jacket! What are the odds??… We got back early enough to camp that I took a second shuttle to the WAC and main entrance to shower and do laundry. Getting back to camp mid-afternoon, a few brews, then dinner made me pass out at 7:30. I missed the party for our last night camping as a group, but glad I did because sleep evaded me the next few nights.
Leaving the following morning, we swung through Talkeetna for a quick stop and continued on to Anchorage. A few of the group had procured hostel reservations together but I had a 6am flight the following morning and didn’t bother to get any accommodations. My new friends Max, Jules and Maddie said I could stay at their place so I took them up on the offer. We headed over to the place, showered, then got some dinner. Plans were to meet up with everyone for a big goodbye celebration at Koot’s which was the perfect finale to an epic journey.
I bid farewell to my friends around 2a, then just decided to head to the airport rather then attempting sleep and taking a taxi later. I grabbed a few brief zzz’s before check-in opened, then slept a bit more on the rides over to Salt Lake City. Kimberly picked me up there the following afternoon and we started out adventure in Colorado!
What we spent a lot of time doing on the bus…
Till next time!