Alaska: Zone 11 – Stony Dome (Denali National Park)

I slept like complete crap last night.  I was freezing and shivering all night long – even bundled up and tucked inside the 15F rated sleeping bag.  I went to bed wearing long john pants, synthetic pants, wool socks, a tank top, a base layer long sleeve shirt, a tee shirt, my lightweight Northface fleece, gloves and a wool hat.  My feet never once got warm, and the only way I could manage to stay warm was snuggled up against K with my feet tucked under him.  Not a very comfortable way to sleep – and that only worked until one of us got too uncomfortable and hand to move, then it was back to shivering all over again.  Both of us were waking up every 20-30 minutes.

It actually pisses me off quite a bit that we paid a decent chunk of changes for this Big Agnes King Solomon double-wide, down, 15F rated bag to make sure we would have a light, packable and super warm bag.  There’s no way it was even below 30F last night, so there’s no reason we should have been so miserable.  Especially with all the layers we were wearing inside the bag.

Anyway.  I digress…

We woke at 6:00 to rain.  We were both still cold and exhausted from a restless night and decided to go back to sleep and catch a later bus.


We woke up again and got moving around 9:30.  We packed up a soaking wet tent, a damp sleeping bag and sleeping mats, covered our packs and walked over to the Riley Creek bus stop around 10:45.  Luckily we seemed to have found a lull in the rain as we packed up and walked over.  It was just misting as we got onto the bus.

We had a quirky older guy as our driver/pseudo-tour guide.  He was really good about pointing out where we were likely to see different animals as well as spouting off random facts about the park.  However, he was kind of douchey when talking with us about where in Zone 11 to drop us.  We’ve obviously never been here before (as we told him) and don’t know the best drop point, and he was pretty condescending and sarcastic rather than helpful.  Luckily we picked up another couple early in the trip who were going to Zone 31, north of Zone 11.  She was an off-duty ranger and gave us some good tips and let us know where to get off the bus – same spot as them.

We left Riley Creek and headed into the park around 11:00.  The weather remained extremely overcast with intermittent rain – some just light mist, some all-out rain.  The windows of the bus stayed fogged over making it impossible to get optimal views or photos, and it was still pretty cold even bundled up on the bus.  On the way out, we got cool views of the tundra and the changing colors, much the same as yesterday.  We weren’t far enough into the park to see Denali, though it was undoubtedly under a thick cloud cover today.  Near Sable Mountain, we saw two different groups of sows with their cubs, though they were so far away that without binoculars they just appeared to us as little dots romping around the hillside.  (I can’t believe we didn’t think to bring binoculars with us!  Duh.)

By the time we got to Stony Dome, it was pouring down rain.  We got all dressed in our rain gear and set out into our zone.  We had to be at least 1/2 mile from the road and out of sight of the road before we could set up camp.  On a nice day, this wouldn’t have been an issue, but in this rain all I wanted to do was set up camp and get inside where it was dry and warm.

We started out dropping down along the river and walking the gravel bar back away from the road – much easier than tromping through the thick, cushy tundra brush up above.  After about a mile, we realized it was going to be impossible to get out of sight down in the wide open area near the river, so we climbed up the bank into the brush on higher ground, hiked about a mile or so more, and tucked back in behind some of the rolling contours of the tundra to set up camp.  (That tiny green dot in the middle of the picture is our tent.)



We set up our campsite in the good ol’ triangle configuration – food at one corner, dump water at another, and cooking area at the third – then moved upwind to set up the tent.  We quickly set up the tent and sleeping bag and hopped inside – then realized we were both hungry and still had granola bars in my daypack in the tent with us.  So we geared back up, sprinted over to the bear canister/eating area, frantically crammed 5 granola bars down our throats and sprinted back to the tent.

We’re laying here now listening to the rain, hoping the inside of the tent stays dry.  I’m feeling sleepy and still hungry.  I think I’ll nap for a bit and hope the rain’s gone when I wake up so that we can get the stove lit, eat something and get some hiking in before dark…

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