Trip Number: 12028A
Staff: John Kolman
- Help build a new National Park trail
- Explore spectacular wilderness on days off
- See abundant wildlife
- All meals and snacks
- Instruction in a variety of trail-building skills
- Trip to Wonder Lake on the park bus
Photo: John Kolman
Home to the highest mountain in North America, Denali National Park comprises
a massive area of six million acres, slightly more than the entire state of
Massachusetts. Congress established the park in 1917 to protect its abundance
of large mammals, especially the Dall sheep. Originally named Mount McKinley
National Park, it was renamed to Denali National Park. In 1980 the park expanded
in size by four million acres as part of the Alaska National Interest Lands
Today it is common to see grizzly bears, caribou, Dall sheep, moose, and foxes
throughout the park. Less common, but still regularly seen, are the park's many
wolves. Black bears are also occasionally seen, and the very lucky visitor might
glimpse a wolverine or a lynx.
Our project will be in the Savage River area near the end of the paved and
publicly accessible portion of the Park Road. The National Park Service is building
a 4.5-mile trail that leaves from the Savage Campground and leads to a vista
where, if the weather cooperates, you can see Denali. The goal is to complete
the trail in 2012.
Our work will be mostly trail work: building turnpikes, water bars, drainage
work, and brushing. We will stay in the Savage River Group Campsite and walk
each morning to the worksite. This hike is 1.5 miles with a 1,000' elevation
On one workday we may take a bus two miles farther into the park and work on
the trail that runs along the Savage River. The Savage River is near our campsite
and is a known for good fly fishing for grayling.
We will be treated to fun, informative ranger talks every evening at our campground.
It is truly a great project in a wonderful area.
Photo: John Kolman
Day 1: We will meet at the Savage River Campground in
the afternoon. There is both regularly schedule bus and train service from Anchorage
and Fairbanks to Denali National Park. Park staff will pick up participants
at the train station or shuttle bus stop and take us to the campground.
We have the rest of the day to set up tents and get oriented. The campsite
has running water, toilet facilities, and bear-proof food storage facilities.
We will have a group dinner this evening when we can get to know each other
and get briefing on our project. Please plan on arriving at the park no later
than 4:00 pm.
Days 2-3: We will work on the trail these
Day 4: After spending the morning on the trail, you are free
to spend the afternoon as you like -- hiking, fishing or just relaxing.
Days 5-6: We will continue our trail work on these two
Day 7: We have the option of spending the whole day on
Saturday riding the park bus out to Wonder Lake (free). Wonder Lake provides
awesome views of Denali when the weather cooperates. The tremendous 18,000-foot
difference from the mountain's lowlands near Wonder Lake up to its peak is a
greater vertical relief than that of Mount Everest! Our route parallels the
Alaska Range and travels through low valleys and high mountain passes. It is
the only road in the park. Along its route, beautiful landscapes can be seen
at every turn, and there are many opportunities to view Denali's peaks -- if
the normally cloudy skies permit. You're likely to see wildlife, although we
can't guarantee it -- these are, after all, wild animals that follow their own
schedule! If you wish, you can camp one more night at Savage River.
There is regular park bus service from the campground to the visitor complex,
where you can catch your bus or train.
It is easiest to get to Denali from Anchorage. Anchorage is a major air transportation hub served by numerous airlines. To meet our schedule you will need to arrive the night before our trip leaves. From Anchorage there are many bus services that run directly to the Park as well as the Alaska Railroad Denali Star. You can also reach the Park from Fairbanks.
Accommodations and Food
Photo: John Kolman
We will use our own tents during the trip. A group campsite will be provided
by the National Park Service. All meals and plenty of snacks will be provided
as part of the trip cost. The menu will be mostly vegetarian. Trip participants
will take turns assisting the cook. Group water will be provided in camp for
camp use. We will have a canvas-covered cooking area nearby to store our kitchen,
food, and personal items during the night and times we are away from camp. If
you have special dietary concerns or food allergies, make sure that you include
this information on your trip application.
Overall this trip is considered strenuous work. Participants should have had
some past experience in hiking, camping, and backpacking. and be in relatively
good physical shape. Beginners who have had some backpacking experience are
Equipment and Clothing
In addition to your camping gear, bring your favorite work gloves (if not,
the trail crew will have extra to share). It's Alaska so any given day can be
snow or sun. Bring the right clothes for working in cold, driving rain -- if
it's sunny, that's a bonus! Bring a day pack to carry lunch, extra clothes,
water, work gloves, raingear, sunscreen, and other personal items to the work
site. Be sure to bring mosquito repellent and possibly a head-net for use at
Wonder Lake. Food and cooking equipment are provided as well as a first-aid
kit for emergencies. There will be water available for camp and commissary use,
but bring a water bottle for extra water when away from camp. A final detailed
equipment list will be provided to you at a later time.
- Trails Illustrated map of Denali National Park. It is waterproof and costs around $14.95 from Amazon.com and many local outdoor stores.
- The Denali Park web site has a comprehensive list of books (including one
Harlequin romance): http://www.nps.gov/dena/upload/Booklistfor90thAnniversary.pdf
- Capps, Kirs, The Denali Road Guide. The classic guide to Denali
Park Road's sights and experiences. Valuable if you are taking the bus to
Wonder Lake on the last day.
Photo: John Kolman
You would think that the size and remoteness of Denali National Park would
make it immune from conservation issues. Unfortunately this is not true. Alaska
and its national parks are feeling dramatic effects from our changing climate.
Denali provides a special opportunity to study a large, intact, and naturally
functioning ecosystem. Researchers can monitor climate change in Denali and
contribute to larger-scale climate monitoring and management efforts.
Within the park there are still issues with ATV use, Park Road use, and stream
heavy metal contamination due to historical and continued mining in the areas
adjacent to the designated wilderness. Participants have conservation stories
from home and will be invited to share hometown issues with the group.
Travel in Alaska and the Arctic
Sierra Club outings in Alaska and Arctic Canada are special experiences in true wilderness, but they also carry an element of risk. Trip locales are often remote, away from the amenities of civilization, including sophisticated medical care and immediate evacuation possibilities. Many of our Alaska and Arctic Canada trips now carry satellite phones, but even with this technology, communication with the outside world can be difficult and emergency assistance can be days away. Weather in Alaska and Arctic Canada is unpredictable, and inclement weather can be severe. Among other hazards are cold river and stream crossings, tidal activity, calving glaciers, the psychological effects of remoteness, and the presence of large wild animals. You're in good hands, though, so don't worry: Your trip leaders have vast experience in the Last Frontier, and they'll provide all the guidance you need.
See the How to Apply for an Outing section for more details on registering for this trip and details
about our Reservation and Cancellation Policy.
The payment of a deposit does not confirm you as a member on the trip. Participants must be approved by the trip leader. After signing up for this trip, you will be sent a confirmation packet containing approval materials (Participant Approval Questionnaire, Medical Form, Liability Release Form). Each applicant (including those on the waitlist) must fill out these forms and promptly mail them to the trip leader. The leader will review the approval materials and notify you of your acceptance in a timely manner.
John Kolman has been backpacking Alaska and the west for more than 30 years, including four recent Sierra Club Alaska outings. He is an avid runner and has completed over 20 marathons and is active in many Chicago area runners' groups. He feels that running though a Chicago winter is a great preparation for any weather Alaska can throw at you. Besides running, his hobbies include photography and cooking. Currently, John works as a software engineer for a Swiss-based company.
Elizabeth Taylor, also known as "ET," considers cooking for Service Trips the ideal blending of her two passions: being in the wilderness and making great things to eat. She has cooked on many service trips and, during the off-season, often cooks at the homeless shelter or for varsity sports teams in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, where she lives. Meals will be mostly vegetarian with Asian and Mediterranean flavors, but expect a bit of Southern cooking and yummy desserts.
General Notes About Sierra Club Trips