Thursday, August 16, 2007

Camping in Denali National Park, Alaska

Early July.

After photographing bears along the Katmai Coast, my next destination was Denali National Park, located in the interior of Alaska. Denali NP is famous for the highest peak in North America - Mount McKinley ("Denali" in the native language), and its abundance of wildlife: grizzly, caribou, moose, Dall's sheep, lynx and many small animals.

After 6 years, I was back in Denali again. During the summer of 2001, I worked at a hotel at the entrance area of the park. Since then, I have been in love with Alaskan wilderness. My main purpose for going back to Denali was photographing Mt. McKinley and its reflection on Wonder Lake during sunset and sunrise time with "magic purple light." So we stayed at the deep end of the Parkroad at Wonder Lake Campground.

A huge cow moose greeted us before getting on the camper shuttle bus by the Visitor Center. Everyone grabbed cameras! She likes to hang out in the area because the predators will most likely stay away from busy tourist areas. Since she came too close to people, the park management put a collar on her in order to track her.

It was lightly raining when we got on the shuttle. I was hoping it would clear up later. The mountain was hiding behind the clouds most of the time; only 1/3 of visitor ever get to see part of the mountain during their trip! Only lucky visitors ever seen a whole mountain. The French photographers in Katmai told us that they couldn't see the mountain at all for 3 days.

Unlike my expectations, I didn't see so much wildlife from the bus on the way. I only saw several white dots (supposed to be Dall's sheep) and a few gray dots supposed to be caribou. and one more, a moose far behind of bushes. Where were the bears? At that point, my closest wildlife sighting was the collared moose at the Visitor Center. After a quiet 6 hours, the shuttle arrived to Mile 85, Wonder Lake Campground.

The rain stopped, but the mountain was far behind heavy clouds. The campground was luxurious for that remote wilderness area. We picked a nice site where there is supposed to be a Mt. McKinley view. There was a food cache house with covered cooking/ eating area nearby, and flush toilets and running water. The whole area was an open view with alpine tundra - vivid green! It was also peak season for the wildflowers blooming! Only problem was mosquitoes... a lot! There were crowds of them following whenever I go. We had to wear head nets!

Although it was overcast, the sun didn't set until 2 a.m or so, and without getting real dark, the sun rose again a few hours later. Denali NP is located in the far north.

Next morning, the mountain only showed its middle part - a long strip line between the clouds - then, it hid behind of the clouds again, all day.

The clouds got lighter at night, I was hoping it would clear up in the middle of the night, so I set the alarm clock every one hour and checked if the mountain was showing up. It would be my last opportunity to photograph the mountain with purple light. I periodically checked outside every one hour until 5 a.m when finally the bottom part of the mountain was visible.

Around 6 a.m, most of the mountain was shown up! It had already passed the magic hour time, but I was very excited to see the entire mountain. The sky cleared up while we were having breakfast. I photographed the mountain and reflection on the pond. However, when I was rush walking to the point where I can look down Wonder Lake, small clouds forming around the mountain. The clouds grew so fast! when I finally got to the hill, most of the mountain was hidden behind clouds even though other parts of the sky were still clear! I was glad to see the entire mountain for a while. We packed our camp down, and rode an afternoon shuttle out the park.