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We had a really snowy fall/winter/spring in the Alaska Interior. It wasn’t record-breaking, but we had a few strong storms which dumped quite a bit of snow, followed by a long stretch of cold weather. While we didn’t set records overall, we had some record-breaking storms and even months of snowfall. In December, 74 inches fell in Denali National Park, most of it in the last few weeks.
So much snow followed by the cold setup conditions with a really cold snowpack that’s taken a lot longer to melt. It’s almost June, and I can still find plenty of snow in the woods, even at lower elevations. It doesn’t help that after the melt started, it took a pause on May 9-10 with another small snowstorm followed by cooler weather for a week.
Despite the snow, I’ve started getting out to hike and take some photos. I spent some time photographing the return of many of the birds to the area. Because of the snow there were definitely some late arrivals.
Once the snow melted enough, on May 17, I drove out Chena Hot Springs Road for a quick hike up Angel Rocks. It was partially just to get out and move my legs and partially to see how much snow was left at higher elevations. Turns out, there was a lot.
There was a bit of snow on the lower trail along the river, but once I started out on the hill, it was snow-free until nearing the top of the loop. I tried to continue a bit further along the Angel Rocks to Chena Hot Springs Trail, but turned around after about a quarter-mile when I found myself in waist deep snow.
A few days later I met some of our Team Ascension (competitive youth climbing team) kids and families out at the Tatlanika Boulders between Nenana and Healy. We had a warm day bouldering on some of the best Granite in this part of the state.
When they headed back north to town, I drove south into Denali National Park where I got a reality check into how much snow we got this winter. This year the Denali National Park Headquarters received 174 inches (14.5 feet) of snow! The average snowfall is 84 inches. The photo below was taken about 3 miles west of the Park Headquarters along the Park Road.
I hiked part of the Savage Alpine Trail from the Savage River rest area. The start of the trail involved some deep post-holing, but once up on the wind-scoured ridge, most of the walking was snow-free. I didn’t have the time to do the full loop (also, there was a lot more snow on the eastern side of the trail) so I backtracked back after exploring some boulders and cliffs a bit south of the trail.
A week later I was back out again for my first backpacking trip of the season. I took a few kids on the climbing team and parents up Granite Tors in an attempt to do the loop. Within a few hours it went from easy trail-walking, to bushwhacking, to off-trail adventure through deep snow and talus fields.
I was really proud that everyone stuck with it! There was more laughing along the way than I have heard in a long time. Good company definitely makes for a great trip even when the conditions are far from perfect.
Once we reached the first tors on the ridge, it was quickly apparent that hiking the loop was not going to be reasonable at all. We took over the flattest snow-free spot we could find next to one of the tors for our camp and found a great kitchen spot at the next rock over where we would eat and store our food for the night.
The next morning we ate breakfast and then let the kids (and coaches) play on the rocks for a while.
We scrambled up into a really cool cave, or rather a hole through the second tor. I think we may have regretted not bringing our climbing shoes and chalk bags at this point, because there is potential for some really good boulder problems up here.
I think the perfect weather and the company definitely made up for the poor trail conditions. We have a lot more team adventures planned for this summer, and hopefully, Cat’s ankle is healed enough that she can start joining us. I really can’t wait to have more trips like this!
May Birding 1
May Birding 2
May Birding 3 and Moose
Angel Rocks and Chena Hot Springs Road
Tatlanika Boulders and Denali National Park
Granite Tors Backpacking Day 1
Granite Tors Backpacking Day 2