Friday, January 11, 2013

Denali Discovery Hike with Ranger Bob

I'm taking you back to Alaska with me and we're going on a Disco Hike in Denali National Park and Preserve.
Disco is shorthand for Discovery Hike, a hike that is planned by a ranger, transects a selected area of the wilderness and is charted so that no more than two hikes can be made in that same area during a single summer season.
Ranger Bob (third from left) giving us some orientation comments before our hike. We arrived from the Toklat River Tent by shuttle bus and began our hike in the vicinity of the Eielson Visitor's Center, mile 66 on the Park Road.
Besides the goal of offering guided hikes to educate visitors, these hikes are designed to protect the integrity of the wilderness and create the least amount of impact to the plant and animal communities in the tundra.   There are a limited number of established trails in the park; the remainder of visitor hiking is done off trail in the wilderness by permit.
Red Bearberry leaves and white/gray Reindeer Lichen, a winter staple for caribou.

September is a beautiful time in Denali.  The tundra is vibrant with fall foliage, brilliant in color and ever changing  weather conditions and lighting.  Every step brings more breath-taking beauty and discovery, and it is especially exciting to experience some of the plants in the tundra up close.

Above and below you see "Dead Man's Fingers" reaching up among green crowberry leaves and bog blueberries.  The finger-like fungus sometimes exhibits a waving motion.
September 3rd was my second day in the park with Rangers Bob and Tina King as my host and hostess during my stay.  Our forecast for this hike was light rain, winds gusting to 60 mph and temps in the 40's F.  You can see we are bundled up, primarily to block the wind.  Fortunately, the rain remained misty, giving us very tolerable conditions.
We are headed for that distant shelf ridge you see in the above images, to rest for lunch along its edge and enjoy the view created by the glacial rivers.  Along the way we stopped to sample the wild bog blueberries.
The height of tundra vegetation is limited by the depth of the soil.  Below the soil  lies perma frost, a layer of ice that remains year around, partially melting during summer months and refreezing during the winter.  Growth height is also determined by genetic properties that keep the plant from growing high enough to be damaged by the winds that blow across the tundra.
I had the good fortune of not only sampling tundra blueberries  but also enjoying their tasty tartness over pound cake with fresh whipped cream at a cordial dinner in Fairbanks a few days earlier.  Yum!
Above, blueberry leaves among yellow willow and raindeer lichen.

We had a descent and a river to cross.  Thanks to the watchful eyes of our leader, we paused and got some good looks at willow ptarmigans foraging under the willow branches.
Next:  A closer look at Alaska's state bird.

Links and Resources:

Click this link to view all my posts on Denali National Park and Preserve.  To see all posts on my visit to Alaska in the fall of 2012, visit Alaska

Denali National Park and Preserve

Willow Ptarmigan
Alaska wild berries
bog blueberries


  1. What fun being with someone that knows what everything is. The tundra is an amazing place. To think that one can walk on tree tops. Such a fragile place.

  2. Super shots of the area and vegetation After 12 years of traveling the USA we still have not been to Alaska..something always gets in the way of our trip..

  3. what a great place to explore - looks fantastic!


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