How to Avoid Becoming Grizzly Man Sequel
May 17, 2015 1:34 PM   Subscribe

Is backcountry camping for a novice solo backpacker a bad idea in Denali? Details inside.

I will be in Denali National Park in late August two 3 days and 2 nights. I will be by myself and most likely without a car. I am trying to decide whether to camp inside the park or stay in a hostel nearby. I really want to do more backpacking in general but I am very new at it and have never camped in the backcountry by myself before. And having never overnighted in a place with bear activity before, I may have a irrational concern about becoming grizzly food. So I thought about camping in the official camp grounds, but it seems like the most of the reservable camp grounds are already filled up for the dates when I will be there. There are some first come first serve camping places in the park, but what are the chances I can get a spot in late August? And my main question is, should I even think about solo backcountry camping here since I am novice at it?
posted by Pantalaimon to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (10 answers total)
I think the question is, how solo is this going to be? Are you by yourself, but others are in the same area? I would suggest really remote camping is best after you have had a few hikes by yourself. If you are two days away from civilization and have a bum ankle, that is a bad situation. But for day trips from a camp site, and so long as you pace yourself comfortably to travel, don't set unrealistic goals, certainly not out of line.

I would call the ranger station and ask them for advice on bear procedures, I bet they even have a nice brochure online. So long as you follow recommendations (don't sleep with your food packed next to you), it should be a wonderful experience in feeding the mosquitoes.
posted by nickggully at 1:48 PM on May 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I volunteered in Denali for a whole season a few years ago and camped at the Wonder Lake campground in late August.

It was a life-changing experience for me to take the camper bus out (it takes 9 hours each way, leaving early!) and to fall asleep with a view of McKinley. You have to go waaaay into the park to be able to see the mountain. Most nights are still open in August. If you are going to reserve, reserve NOW. It fills up for August by end of May.

Link to camping reservations page. You will also need to reserve room on the hiker bus I believe. (The hiker bus is way more fun than the regular tour buses. All are run by the park's concessionaire, Aramark.)

The bears are really hungry in late August because fall is closing in fast. Even with bear cans and vigilance and the familiarity I had with park wildlife after being there a whole season, I wouldn't risk soloing during that part of the season. (The year I was there was the first hiker fatality in the park.)

The welcome center has videos and bear cans for use in the park and everyone's VERY helpful. Please feel free to email me if I can help with what to do and where to go. The whole park is lovely and the campsites are nice throughout the park, but Wonder Lake is an extraordinary experience if you can camp there.
posted by mochapickle at 2:40 PM on May 17, 2015 [6 favorites]

Also, the no-car thing will not be an issue. They don't allow personal vehicles past Savage River 12 miles in. There are frequent hiker buses to all points within the park.
posted by mochapickle at 2:45 PM on May 17, 2015

Be prepared for foul weather. Late August is edging into winter. There can be days of pouring rain, wind and cold, possibly some snow.
posted by JackFlash at 2:57 PM on May 17, 2015

Yes! My friends from Texas had a snowball fight at Eielson and our hiker bus was the last one to go up the mountain before they closed the road due to the storm. It was well below freezing both nights at Wonder Lake and I woke up with ice covering my tent. This was maybe around the 24th or so of August.

But no mosquitoes, so!
posted by mochapickle at 3:07 PM on May 17, 2015

Response by poster: Alas, I really want to camp in Wonder Lake but the dates I will be there the place is fully booked. Thanks for the suggestions!

I want to ask a follow up question, since sounds like late August is getting cold. I have a REI Lumen sleeping bag that's suppose to keep me warm at 25 degree Fahrenheit. Should I invest in something warmer? The only semi-cold weather experience I had with this bag was in Arizona winter time in the desert setting, and it was mildly uncomfortably cold.
posted by Pantalaimon at 3:19 PM on May 17, 2015

I would go for something that would handle colder temps. I had a bag with the same rating and I had to layer it with a down quilt(!) when I camped near the park entrance, up at Wonder Lake, and then down in Seward in late August/early Sept.

The year I was there was one of the coldest on record.
posted by mochapickle at 3:31 PM on May 17, 2015

I live in Alaska and have spent a lot of time in Denali in the backcountry. I would not recommend that a novice backcountry camper camp or hike by themselves simply because there are no trails, at all, no really, and I'd be concerned about a novice's route-finding and problem-solving abilities. I generally haven't had issues finding walk-in spots at Igloo or Sanctuary, although there are no guarantees, and there are at least bear boxes for your food (and other "smellies" like deodorant and toothpaste) there.

If you are going to backpack, look at the weather and ask the rangers at the Backcountry Access Center to look over your route. Some of the easiest backcountry routes are hikes up braided riverbeds, but those rivers change fast if there is rain and you can get yourself in trouble pretty quickly if you don't know what you are doing.
posted by charmedimsure at 3:36 PM on May 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

Oh, and a late edit to my comment above: The place that can help you is the Wilderness Access Center, which is a little deeper into the park than the Visitor's Center. People call it the WAC (whack!). Super helpful people.
posted by mochapickle at 9:02 AM on May 18, 2015

I am trying to decide whether to camp inside the park or stay in a hostel nearby

If you are doing backcountry hiking and planning to go back to the hostel to sleep, you are going to be facing many of the same risks as you would with backcountry camping.

Even if you aren't camping make sure you are adequately prepared and carry appropriate emergency and survival supplies.
posted by yohko at 10:55 AM on May 18, 2015

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