Savage Alpine Trail

May 31, 2015 | 1 comment

After having a lazy 3-day weekend of catching up on responsibilities and sitting in the sunshine, yesterday I decided it was time to kick myself back into gear by tackling the 4 mile strenuous-rated Savage Alpine Trail. 
The trip started off a little bit rocky. My hiking buddy and I were just headed to the bus stop to catch the shuttle out to Savage when we saw it roar by, too far away to catch up with. Determined to still make it out there, we hustled down the trail to the next bus stop, and just as we came out to the road we saw the bus about to turn and leave. Waving frantically, we chased it down and the driver was kind enough to wait for us, though I suspect the rest of the passengers headed to Savage got a good laugh out of it. 

Once I caught my breath on the 15 mile ride out to the trailhead, I was able to take in the gorgeous, warm, sunny day. Mt. McKinley was visible behind a slight haze in the distance without a single cloud obscuring it for once, and a couple caribou grazed in the distance across the river.
There are two ways to take the trail — one, from the Mountain Vista trailhead, which offers a gradual ascent to the Alpine Trail’s 1500′ ridgeline, or the other, from Savage River, which gets you up to elevation much faster with a gradual descent back down to Mountain Vista. We took the latter. 
Thank goodness I finally bought myself some hiking poles, because boy did that trail kick my butt! I am a firm believer in trekking poles now, at least for steep ascents like that. It was about a 25% grade, gaining almost 1,000 feet in elevation over the first mile. The views and the terrain were absolutely breathtaking though. The trail wound around the stunning geological features, cutting through slots in the rocks just wide enough to walk through single file. I definitely want to come back to this trail to explore more in-depth. 
So regal. So sheep.

We stopped for lunch after the first steep ascent, and just as we started to continue on to the second ascent that would get us up to the peak elevation, we encountered some other hikers who informed us of a herd of Dall sheep in the trail ahead. It was about another 1/2 mile before we saw them, but sure enough, a bachelor herd of rams were lazing right above the trail. Most hikers gave them the proper distance, by hiking downhill around them, as did we. Although Dall sheep seem pretty harmless, they have been known to charge at people if they feel threatened or harassed.

I can’t get over their chewing faces.

What not to do around wildlife
After we’d passed the sheep and hiked about another 10th of a mile or so, I looked back to see a family getting WAY too close. Nothing we could do about it, but I did snap a picture for posterity’s sake as an example of what NOT to do around wildlife. 
At Denali, the rule is to stay 25 yards (75 feet) away from wildlife, which is about the length of two school buses. You certainly can’t always stay that far away from squirrels as you’ll see from my photos in just a moment, but for larger wildlife this is a good guideline. In the photo above, the solo hiker on the left side of the photo is a much more appropriate distance away. 
Flying squirrel!

As I just mentioned though, smaller mammals are a bit harder to keep a proper distance from, especially when they run across your feet out of nowhere to defend their burrows! I am endlessly entertained by the Arctic ground squirrels here. Their intensity is just hilarious.

Curious little guy
View from the ridge (Mt. McKinley back left)
Savage Alpine Trail is definitely one of my favorite hikes, even though I’m quite sore and sunburned now a day later! Though it was only 4 miles, it felt really long and took us about 2 1/2 hours at a fairly slow pace. The view from the ridge was spectacular, and as the trail dropped back down to the road elevation, the habitats were incredibly varied and scenic. We sighted a moose from far away, tons of squirrels, some warblers, and even a wolf track on the river bar when we got to Mountain Vista to wait for the bus!

My love for the Savage River area continues to grow. 🙂

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