Playing the Weather Game

I’ve been doing a lot of weather searches on my phone recently, so now the majority of my Google News Feed is dominated by articles about the unpredictable weather in Alaska and need to be flexible when visiting. The nice thing about having three months in Alaska is the ability to make last minute changes to our plans and take a day off if the weather is poor. However, this also means that it is easy to spend too much time analyzing the weather and trying to make the best choices about where to go when. So sometimes we throw all forecasts and worries about threatening clouds aside and go for it. We got lucky this time at Hatchers Pass, where we managed two hikes with only a few drops of rain.

After our luck at Hatchers Pass, we made a somewhat spontaneous decision to hightail it to Denali, hoping to capitalize on a break in the rainy weather. Again, we got very lucky, squeezing our three-day backpacking trip on K’esugi Ridge between two large rainstorms. While Denali stayed relatively hidden in the clouds, we got a few breaks our second day on the ridge. Fortunately we managed to make it out with only a few mosquito bites, but this backpacking trip was pretty trying for a few other reasons:

  • Caterpillars: the first day of the trip we noticed a few caterpillars on the ground while hiking. We tried to avoid them and a couple times noted how cute they looked inching along over rocks and leaves. Early on the second day of the hike, we noticed a sharp increase in the number of caterpillars, especially on the top of piles of rocks or small trees. At this time, our feelings towards the caterpillars was still relatively positive. However, as the caterpillar numbers dramatically increased and their aggressiveness in attaching to our clothing became hard to keep up with, we started to go a bit crazy. David became especially focused on monitoring the caterpillars on his shoes and pants and periodically removing them. When we stopped for dinner, our bags were covered in caterpillars within minutes of putting them on the ground. The trees on this part of the trail were encased in dead caterpillars and a goo substance hung from the trees, which was often hard to avoid on the trail. Thanks to our tireless efforts, I think we managed to only transfer a few caterpillars to the van. I had to force David to take these photos (my phone was buried in my bag) as David thought they were too gross to capture.
  • Brush: the middle section of this hike was extremely overgrown. None of the trail reviews mentioned this, so we think it might just be par for the course in Alaska. My coworker from Alaska warned us that some overgrown trails might include plants that can give you a rash, but unfortunately we didn’t note the type of plant or heed his warning. We now know that cow parsnip will give you a nasty rash, especially if you get it on your neck (David) and ankles (Kelly). The photo below doesn’t capture the worst part of the trial, during which we were too frustrated to take any pictures.
  • Steep trails: switchbacks don’t seem to really be a thing in Alaska, with most trails going straight up or down. While I like to get an uphill over with fast, it is extremely hard to manage a big pack on a steep downhill, especially without rocks or roots to step on. I took at least a few slides down areas of loose dirt or mud.

After completing a particularly steep, brushy section, David declared this backpacking trip no more than 3 out of 5 stars. However, he upped his rating to 4.5 stars the second evening as we enjoyed a prime camp spot on the ridge with partial views of Denali. On the upside, we didn’t get rained on (as we expected to), the mosquitos were mostly absent, and it only took about 20 minutes to get a ride back to our van at the end of the trip (this was a point to point hike). The couple that picked us up were on their honeymoon in Alaska and coincidentally are interested in getting a van, so we had lots to chat about. Now that I sit in a comfortable chair in the Anchorage library a week later, I’d say this was a great trip!

Our weather luck was a bit fleeting, as our first night in Denali National Park it rained over an inch! Given the cloud cover, we kept our time in the park pretty brief. We plan to return in August to see the fall colors and hope for some better weather. We did do a couple shorter hikes and paid a visit to the Denali Sled Dog Kennels. You can pet the dogs, although you have to stay behind a rope that encircles all the dogs. You are encouraged to use all the slack in the rope to get closer to the dogs, which I took full advantage of!

We ended our time in the Denali area with a two-day drive on the Denali Highway. The Denali Highway was the original route for accessing Denali National Park, before the Parks Highway was completed in the 1970s. The majority of the 135 miles is unpaved, although in relatively good condition. While we hoped to see some wildlife, our only encounter was with a squirrel on the road. However, the views didn’t disappoint and we enjoyed a great camp spot for the night.

After finishing the Denali Highway, we made our way back to Anchorage, where we are now awaiting the arrival of our friend Lucas who will be traveling with us for the next week. Library or coffee shop visits are the main time I can get good enough internet to update the blog, so blog entries are likely going to be a bit sporadic and when they do come a huge jumble of the things we’ve done. The last thing I’ll mention is the hike we did on the way back to Anchorage, as it really goes with the weather theme of this entry. We camped for the night near Glacier View, which, as the name implies, provides views of the Matanuska Glacier. The only way to walk on the glacier is through a guided tour, so we opted to do a few mile hike that would (ideally) give us a better view of the glacier. It rained steadily the night before and was cloudy and misty in the morning, but I was undeterred, hoping for some miraculous break in the clouds. Such a break did not come and instead we ended the hike wet and muddy. Sometimes the weather doesn’t work out and I end up frustrated about the views we miss out on, but I try my best to enjoy it regardless. After all, years of rainy hikes in Portland have taught me a hike in the rain is better than no hike!

4 thoughts on “Playing the Weather Game

  1. Travis Wittwer

    Thank you so much for the continued tales. I enjoy seeing the area through your travels and, perhaps most importantly, seeing what is possible as I would also like to get a van and travel a few years down the road. — Cheers!

    Liked by 1 person

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