Happy Summer Solstice! The longest day of the year. The day with the most potential to do everything you ever wanted to do with your life. Ok, so maybe it's just another day. But it is a great day to hike and camp. Every year at this time I think about how I spent my solstice during the summer of 2009, in Alaska.
The sun didn't set at all. I got off work at around 1 p.m. and I had been working since 4 a.m. Craig and his dad (he was visiting) picked me up at the lodge and Craig had kindly packed my stuff into my pack (this was before we were dating).
When we arrived at the bus stop we consulted our favorite bus driver, Gary. We knew we wanted to cover section 29 and 6, the first up in the mountains to the north of the road and the second towards the Alaska range near the Talkeetna River. Gary confirmed this would in fact be an awesome trip.
Out in 29 Craig, Mr. K, and I hiked over the spongy, wet tundra. It had begun to mist on us and soon it was just plain raining. I was always in awe of the grand magnificence of DNP, but even more so now because it was still the beginning of the summer and everything was fresh and new still. We had just arrived in the park a week and half before and although we had already hiked Mt. Healy, this was our first backcountry trip. I was taking hundreds of photos, trying to keep my camera dry, and attempting to move at the same pace as the guys. We made our way up through a drainage and with all the rain we decided to camp on the tundra right before the pass we wanted to take over the mountains the next day. Dinner was enjoyed around a little portable gas stove (you are not allowed to build a fire in the park) and all three of us snuggled in side by side into Craig's two man tent.
We woke up early and made our way up the pass. The elevation in this area was not was intense as you would think. Most of the peaks hang out around 4,000 ft. They pale in comparison to Denali looming in the distance. But the climb was exhausting. There are no trails in DNP, so you forge your own way. And you have to do it over scree slopes, brush, and boggy tundra.
Once we reached the top we noticed it was very steep on the other side and almost entirely scree. So naturally Craig and I act like it's a slide and go barreling down, covered in dirt and mud when we stand up. Mr. K opted for the slightly safely albeit more boring and slower route of simply climbing down backwards. We descend a ways and begin to head south as it starts to mist on us again. Our view looked about like this...
We continued to descend and finally came upon the squishy tundra again. We intersected the park road and Mr. K decided to take the bus back to the lodge. He wanted to dry off and sleep in a bed.
Craig and I headed into Section 6 towards the Alaska Range, one of the most magnificent looking mountain ranges in the world. We hiked southeast and I looked at Craig and said, "I want a five star view tonight." So we didn't stop until we found a five star view, near the Talkeetna River with the AK Range spread out in front of us. I woke up in the middle of the night, and although it was difficult to get up off the oh-so-comfortable tundra mattress, I stepped outside. I yelled at Craig and he stuck his head out to see what all the commotion was about. There was part of a rainbow, in the middle of the night, in front of the AK Range. It looked about like this...
This was the first trip in a summer that would find us waking up with bears outside our tent, being charged by caribou, stumbling upon bright blue glacial lakes, staring up the the aurora borealis in awe, and hiking on the Muldrow Glacier at the base of Denali. A fairly memorable solstice I you ask me. And in case you were wondering, our first kiss did not happen on this trip, though it would have been appropriate. It took place a few days later while watching Airplane. So romantic :).
Kat Carney is an outdoor adventure photographer. She loves surfing, climbing, canyoneering, and mountaineering, and can often be found wandering around both the east and west coasts in her built out suburban. See her adventure wedding portfolio at www.swellandstone.com.