Journey to Denali

Apr 27, 2015 | 1 comment

OH my goodness it has been a long 4 days, and quite the adventure so far at that! Let’s just jump right in!

Thursday night I flew across the country to Fairbanks on two long flights where I didn’t get any sleep really to speak of. The second flight was the real kicker though: I had just started to doze off when I had a sudden vivid dream about the northern lights. I woke up with a start and peered out my window, and right there, a pale swath of the aurora was smeared across the sky above the clouds! It was extremely faint and grey, but it had enough of its own luminescence and the classic slow-moving waviness that there was no question what it could be. Such an incredible sight!

It was 2am by the time I got off the plane and somehow muscled my giant bags of gear outside and into a taxi, totally exhausted. Then I somehow mustered up more strength and muscled said gear up a flight of stairs and into my hostel, unrolled my sleeping bag onto the available top bunk, and managed to get maybe 3 hours of sleep before I was wide awake again with the early morning sun.

Once I got up, some of the people in the hostel were kind enough to help orient me to Fairbanks and the bus schedule, and after a breakfast of airplane snacks and a granola bar, I took the bus to the UAF campus to check out the Museum of the North.

I was amazed at how friendly everyone was in Fairbanks. At the museum, on the bus, around campus, people were so open and kind and chatty. The museum was quite impressive as well; although small, they made great use of their space and had a ton of displays and artwork focused on, well, the north.

Snowy Granite Tors trail

The next day, I met up with my friend and former coworker from my days in Nome, who now works in Fairbanks. After a delicious brunch at a little diner, we drove out to the Granite Tors trail where we hoped to see the granite tors of its namesake, but soon found the trail was still extremely snowed in and we were not at all prepared for the slippery, icy, wet hike. We eventually turned around and came back so I could do my groceries and supply shopping, which ended up working out perfectly. It was still super fun.

Grocery shopping for a month’s supply, however, is not super fun. I don’t know how much I eat! I guess I’ll soon find out. I ended up filling up a 22 gallon tote bin with as much compact, nonperishable food as I could, about 50lbs worth. It was for sure the most food I’ve ever bought for myself at one time, a slightly horrific feat, but at least it didn’t cost as much as I’d anticipated. Nonetheless, when I got back to the hostel, this guy from China looked down at the bin as I pushed it into a corner, and remarked “That will get you through, maybe, 2 weeks!” Oh good… I hope he’s wrong.

The next day (this morning!), I woke up at another ungodly hour with very little sleep, hauled my monstrous gear load back downstairs, and took a cab to the train station. While there, I met another girl who I’m going to be working with this summer, and as we were chatting in the station waiting to board, a man and a woman walked up to us and said, “We were told you two are going to Denali. Can we film you on the train?”


It turned out they were filming the Discovery Channel show Railroad Alaska; after talking to them a little more about the show and what they were doing, we agreed to be filmed a bit during the trip. It was a fascinating process, and I really enjoyed talking to the camerman about cameras and filmmaking and such. He told me that he rides trains all over Alaska — even the freight trains — to film for the show and gets to talk to so many interesting people who use the railroad system. I think I have a backup career in mind if NPS doesn’t work out.. 😛 Just kidding. Anyways, apparently you might glimpse me on season 3 of the show whenever it airs, which probably won’t be for a long time, which is good.

Mile 455

Fortunately, the train ride was 4 hours long so there was plenty of time to enjoy the experience. On the train, we met another ranger who we’ll be working with, so the 3 of us hung out the whole time and chatted about the park and life and other such things in the dining car.

In the vestibule

Between the passenger car and the baggage car was an open area called the vestibule where you could stand and kind of be outside. It was my favorite spot on the whole train because the views were just gorgeous, and none of the other passengers really went out there.

One of 5 moose spotted from the train!

People would wave at us as we pulled through towns

Along the way, we passed 5 moose, 2 Dall’s sheep, and a smattering of tiny towns. At several of these people would wave as we passed by, the train whistle blowing cheerily. At one place, we even stopped where there was no town to pick up some folks who just seemed to be waiting in the middle of nowhere for us.

View from the dining car

An abandoned fur trapper cabin

Getting close to Denali

Those mountains…

Gorgeous views

The other two soon-to-be-rangers and I were the only ones getting off in Denali; everyone else on the train was continuing on another 8 hours to Anchorage. As we disembarked, the conductors and train attendants offloaded our luggage, and several Denali staff members were there to meet us and take us to camp, a short drive up the road.

I will post photos of C-Camp later, which is the seasonal housing complex. It’s basically a little collection of nearly-identical 20×20 wooden cabins situated around a central rec hall and bath house. Each cabin has its own kitchen, but no bathroom, and no running water for the next month; two private bedrooms; and a living room area. It’s surprisingly roomy for two people. Fortunately, I already know my roommate too, since we happened to work together last summer in Sitka!

Once I got moved in, we met up with a handful of other staff and walked down to the kennels, where Denali keeps its working sled dog teams. It was a gorgeous facility, and the dogs were super friendly and happy, all excited to come greet anyone who was willing to pet them.

The kennel

Nuna, one of my favorites 🙂

At any rate, that was pretty much the extent of my day. Once we got back to the cabin, my roommate and I made dinner after hauling a pot of water from the bathhouse to cook with, and I’ve just been enjoying the quiet solitude of being here tonight after the chaos of the last 3 days.

Tomorrow we start training, so I’m expecting a busy week of learning the ropes and getting to know this incredible park where I’ll be working for the next 5 months. Wish me luck!

1 Comment

  1. Chuck Stephens

    Wow! I am so jealous stuck back here in Florida. Have fun!

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