The colors were amazing, brilliant oranges and yellows, worthy of a painting but instead only captured by cameras. It was with that brilliant light that I fell in love with the wilderness. This was my first time truly outside. Not just in the woods, or a few miles from a road. I’d been backpacking in West Virginia and North Carolina before this, but never had I stepped foot in true wilderness.
When we saw a few small shelters and signs, we knew we had reached the end of the trail. This was the observation point for the Ice Field. The view from this area was… other-worldly. The way the pure ice and snow stretched out before us. Three hundred square miles of ice. That’s about a quarter of the size of Rhode Island, and we stood there in awe of this. Formations like this once covered much of North America.
The map of the area is wrong. The trail on the map continues due west from the pass, then descends a steep embankment down to Boulder Creek. In reality, the trail turns south and follows a sharp ridgeline gradually to the water. This way down to the creek was stunning. When I reached that ridge, I stopped and stood there in total awe of the valley unfolding before me.
There are far too many food options for the field for me to mention all of them here, but needless to say, I’m a big fan of oat meal and quinoa. For lunch, I’ll typically just snack along the trail instead of actually stopping. Granola, almonds, peanuts, cashews, even chocolate.
As river crossings go it was fairly safe, but the cold made it rough. Just to our south, we could see the glacier that fed the lake at the head of the river. This water had been ice not too long before. That crossing was at mile twelve of the day. Thirteen more to go and we would be done.
Officially, Denali National Park claims to have no trails in the wilderness. There are official, marked trails in some places, notably the park entrance and Eielson, but when asked, Rangers will never mention other trails. But there is a trail beside the Savage. It begins about half a mile south of the camp, when an unmissable bluff rises on the west side of the river. It’s a flat, smooth game trail which continues up to the point where the river enters the mountains.
Don’t mess with the wildlife and the wildlife won’t mess with you. I have never had a single bad run in with a bear, though I have been very close to them. Never once have I felt threatened, because I use proper precautions. I’ve never surprised a bear, never stored food in my tent. And, unlike some tourists in videos gone viral, I don’t feed the wildlife. Bear safety begins with respect for nature and some simple skills to help keep you safe.
There was still plenty of snow, not enough to be trouble, but more than enough to be beautiful. The wind was strong and it howled its way through the valley. The tundra was still a deep brown color, as winter had not yet truly ended, and the overcast skies gave the place a beautifully desolate feel. Naturally, we were the only ones there and we took our time on the way down. There was no reason to rush.
The cockpit, indeed the entire front half of the plane was gone, ripped from the rest of the plane. What seemed to be the front half was separate, crushed on the ice quite far from the rear of the plane. The most recognizable pieces were the tail section, the four gigantic engines, the unused landing gear. One of the wings lay separate from the rest, ripped from its body. The bomber glacier hike has so much in store, read on to learn more!
The rain was falling lightly, enough to ensure that I had the entire trail to myself. About half a mile in, the trail seemed to fall away at a bluff. I stood there in silence, looking out over a medium-sized lake framed by mountains, with a few tiny cabins in the distance. Join me on my journey as I Hike Horseshoe Lake of Denali National Park get lost in its quiet beauty.