The moment I decided I was going to live in Alaska, I knew I will finally get the chance to visit Denali National Park and cross one more thing from my bucket list. I couldn’t wait to experience it’s diverse wildlife and to see the highest mountain of North America.
Some of you might know this area by the name of Mount McKinley National Park. The name was the subject to local criticism for decades. The word Denali means the high one in the native Athabaskan language and refers to the mountain itself (6,194 m).
So, why did I even put Denali on my list? To be absolutely honest, it was because of Christopher McCandless. He was an adventurer who wanted to live outside of society in the wilderness of Alaska, without any possessions. Chris is also known by his alias, Alexander Supertramp.
He hiked into the Denali wilderness in April 1992 with little food and equipment, hoping to survive alone. Almost four months later, his remains were found in the abandoned bus he called home during his isolation. He was 24 years old.
When I was on my way to Denali, I didn’t know what to expect. I knew it is a huge wild area of 24,500 km², filled with grizzlies, moose, black bears, wolves, coyotes, dall sheep – just to name a few. And I saw all of it.
Since I am not a good driver, I didn’t rent a car. Instead, I was in a van with couple of other people going deep inside the park. As we stepped into the tundra, we saw a large moose right next to the road.
Since I was living in Alaska for the previous couple of months, moose sighting was something I got used to. I was waiting for the bears.
Couple of minutes later, I saw the grizzlies eating blueberries and clumsily walking around their territory not paying attention to us at all.
Just couple of kilometers away, a black bear was teaching it’s cub how to hunt ground squirrels on a slope. It was an amazing thing to see.
Now, when I think of that day, I think of the three incredible sights I experienced.
1. A boyfriend and girlfriend were hiking around the park. They were prepared to stay away from the bears and wolves with their bear sprays and guns. They were cautious and sticking to the path. Yet they didn’t expect a wild coyote on the road.
We could see everything happening from our van. The coyote jumped in front of them and started sniffing them. It just stood there for a couple of minutes, until it decided they are not a good food. Soon, it ran away into the wilderness.
We approached the couple. They were in shock and shaking. The man asked us: “What happened? Was it real? I can’t believe we are alive!”
2. The sight of the mountain McKinley. I knew it was the highest mountain in the North America, but I couldn’t imagine how beautiful it will actually be. Covered in snow and at least twice taller than the other mountains that surrounded it. It left me breathless.
3. A wolf pack of about 13 wolves found our van extremely interesting. We could see them running towards us from far away. They ran next to the van and then decided to just walk in front of us – on the road.
We drove quietly behind them for 15 minutes. I watched how each wolf followed the pack leader. I was thinking how lucky I am to actually witness all those things I saw on National Geographic.
After all that excitement, I came back to a small Denali town where I was staying. I walked around the town and then I found a Magic Bus sign.
A nice woman told me that in a small town of Healey (close to Denali) is a bus used in Sean Penn’s movie Into the Wild based on the book about the Supertramp’s life.
I decided to go there as well. The bus was filled with props used in the movie and it nicely represented Chris’ life in Alaska.
I didn’t get the chance to see the actual bus where Supertramp lived and died – but I am not even sure that I would go there. In the end, it is a place where a young man’s dream to live outside of society was shattered to pieces when he died starving and alone.
The last thing Chris wrote before his death was: Happiness is only real, when shared. With that in mind, I left the bus behind and hurried back to Denali to meet my friends and tell them everything that happened to me on that unforgettable day.
Into the Wild: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0758758/