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Published: December 28th 2015
The ultimate Alaskan experience is seeing Denali, Mount McKinley, the highest peak in North American. Surprisingly, there is only a 20% chance of seeing the magnificent mountain clear of clouds. We booked 5 nights in Wonder Lake to help us beat the odds. It is the furthest park campground in, only 31 miles from the Southern edge of Denali, and offers an unforgettably close view of the mountain and range.
To get into Denali and any of its campgrounds, visitors must obtain bus and camping passes, ideally booked in advance, from the Wilderness Access Center. We had made the reservations months earlier but we still had to go in person to the center to receive our tickets. Our transportation would be one of the green camper buses which have room for backpacks and gear in the back.
We boarded the early camper bus after spending the night at Riley Campground at the entrance of the park. Our bus driver was a fun earthy woman in a tie-dyed headband that gave a very friendly running commentary over the 86 mile trip. After mile 15, no private vehicles are allowed.
To our delight, Denali was perfectly clear from the moment
we rounded the corner for the first view of the stunning peak just before the Eilson Visitor Center (mile 66). It remained clear throughout the next 2 days.
When we arrived at the Wonder Lake Campground (mile 85), our luck continued. Not only was the mountain perfectly clear, THERE WERE NO MOSQUITOS! This is in caps because it’s unheard of in the interior of Alaska, particularly the low wetland around Wonder Lake. Due to the warmer than normal weather in 2015, we experienced the amazing condition of none of the legendary maddening swarms of mosquitos at Wonder Lake.
Our reservation did not include a specific campsite so there was a scramble to find the best remaining available spot on arrival. I ran ahead while Terry helped unload gear. The most desirable sites were blocked by long-term campers. Ultimately, I still found a great location and avoided the small number of sites that did not have a view of the mountain.
We had a spectacular unbroken view of the range. It was absolutely enchanting and I set my alarm for every 2 hours over the first night and snapped photos. The gorgeous alpenglow was in full display in
the late evening and early morning. I found the pink light around 5am the most ideal. Every time the alarm woke me and I rolled over to look out the tent flap, Denali took my breath away. Details about Denali – the High One It is astounding in person because it is just such an imposing mass, with the highest base-to-summit vertical rise in the world to reach its height of 20,320 ft. For an understanding of this, see the attached diagram pulled from the web at http://www.robertdangerbyrd.com/highpoints/alaska-denali/, that shows that although Mt. Everest is the highest overall, its base is at 17,000 feet so its vertical rise is only 12,000 ft vs. Denali’s 18,000. This makes it the most difficult but compelling climb for mountaineers, who are at the mercy of weather and must wait at each stage for the right conditions.
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