Snowy Spring Hikes and More

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Snowy Spring Hikes and More
Looking over the snowy Savage River Valley at Double Mountain (left) and Denali (right) in Denali National Park in mid-May

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.

May snow on the trees in Fairbanks, Alaska
Our snowy backyard forest on May 9, 2022

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.

A trumpeter swan in the sky over Creamer's Field in Fairbanks, Alaska
A trumpeter swan in the sky over Creamer’s Field in Fairbanks, Alaska
Swans and geese take flight at Creamer's Field
Swans and geese take flight at Creamer’s Field
Sandhill cranes at Creamer's Field
Sandhill cranes at Creamer’s Field
Horned grebes near Smith Lake in Fairbanks
Horned grebes near Smith Lake in Fairbanks
Great horned owl in our yard
White-crowned sparrow at Creamer's Field
White-crowned sparrow at Creamer’s Field

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.


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Reflections along Chena Hot Springs Road
Reflections along Chena Hot Springs Road
One of the large granite outcroppings at Angel Rocks
One of the large granite outcroppings at Angel Rocks

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 visitor in the yard greeting me when I returned home from work
A visitor in the yard greeting me when I returned home from work

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.


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Celestina working the opening moves of Darth Maul at the Tatlanika Boulders
Celestina working the opening moves of Darth Maul at the Tatlanika Boulders
Greg on Split Digit at the Tatlanika Boulders
Greg on Split Digit at the Tatlanika Boulders
The pasqueflower was the first wildflower I observed this season (at the Tatlanika Boulders)
The pasqueflower was the first wildflower I observed this season (at the Tatlanika Boulders)

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.

Snowy Alaska Range landscape in Denali National Park on May 21, 2022
Snowy Alaska Range landscape in Denali National Park on May 21, 2022

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.

Looking north along the Savage River from the Alpine Trail
Looking north along the Savage River from the Alpine Trail
Mt. Margaret from the Savage Alpine Trail
Mt. Margaret from the Savage Alpine Trail
Really cool patterns on schist boulders near the Savage Alpine Trail
Really cool patterns on schist boulders near the Savage Alpine Trail
Moose with an older calf near the Park Road in Denali National Park
Moose with an older calf near the Park Road in Denali National Park

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.

On the boardwalk on the lower section of the Granite Tors Trail. Perfect conditions for the first few miles!
On the boardwalk on the lower section of the Granite Tors Trail. Perfect conditions for the first few miles!
snowy spring hikes at granite tors
Things started getting more interesting on the last climb to the top!
hiking up to the ridge at Granite Tors
Gorgeous views of the Chena River Valley on the ascent!
We persevered even through waist deep, wet snow.

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.

Rock towers at Granite Tors
Finally made it to the entrance tors!

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.

kids on a boulder
After-dinner portrait
campsite at granite tors
Camp at the tors
sunset at granite tors
Spectacular sunset view from my tent – taken at 11:06 pm

The next morning we ate breakfast and then let the kids (and coaches) play on the rocks for a while.

kids playing on rocks
Tanner and Rory
The Granite Tors rock outcroppings are incredibly cool formations, and really fun for climbers to play on
The Granite Tors rock outcroppings are incredibly cool formations, and really fun for climbers to play on

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.

Bouldering at Granite Tors
Coach Emily finds a perfect knee-bar in the cave
Bouldering at Granite Tors
Finding holds and trying to pull moves in hiking boots
Bouldering at Granite Tors
Bouldering at Granite Tors
One more portrait before heading back out on the trail
You can tell kids about the risks of Giardia. Turns out, the desire to make snowcones with snow and last year’s cranberries takes precedent.
Granite Tors
Saying goodbye to the Tors
Hikers at Granite Tors
Back on the “trail.” It was about 3-miles of deciding between bushwhacking or postholing.
Hiking through snow at Granite Tors
My dream of all the snow melting overnight did not come true
On the Trail at the Granite Tors
Finally back on the trail
The after photo

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!

More photos:
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

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