Our first glimpses of “The High One” came as we passed through Montana (the town, not the state) and over Honolulu (the creek, not the city). It loomed enormously over the road even at 100 miles away.
Inside the national park, we were treated to an amazing landscape during the peak of fall colors. We rode a bus 66 miles from the Wilderness Access Center to Eielson Visitor Center (the latter boasts a LEED-certified, off-the-grid facility). Dozens of mountains surrounded us and often blocked sight-lines to Denali, but their variations of shape, color and patterns were nonetheless fascinating. Animal sightings were equally impressive. Whenever North America’s tallest peak did come into view, however, all else paled in comparison.
During the ride back, evening’s amber light further stretched the spectrum of colors in places with names like Polychrome Pass. When I asked old-timers for advice about the best places for short backpacking trips in Denali, I was told, “You really cannot go wrong here.” Yet one area in particular charmed me, and I was lucky enough to get a permit to hike and camp around Cathedral Mountain.
It was cloudier during the next two days, which made the fall colors pop and gave the scenery even more texture than the day before. Denali was completely hidden behind weather of its own making, which is far more common than bright sunny days. I’m grateful to have seen it both ways.