Denali is Swell

Let me introduce my little friend Stephanie. She likes to carry around a harmonica even though she can’t really play it; she’s a self-proclaimed freestyle rapper; her prolific use of the superlative is astounding (everything she comes in contact with is the biggest and best in the world); and, indeed, she makes up for her diminutive 4′ 11″ stature by possessing one of the biggest and best personalities I’ve ever had the pleasure of encountering. Alaska is pretty much the only state big enough to contain so much awesomeness. Enjoy her tales of mountainbeering in Denali National Park:

By Stephanie Olson:

A lot of folks (like parents), are generally under the impression that women should not hike, or drink beer, alone. I tend to disagree with such notions. When the opportunity to hike mountains arises, you take it friend-filled or friendless, and you take a beer with you.

I have seen a lot of Alaska but had not yet seen the grandeur of Denali National Park and was pretty excited about testing the waters. I had a feeling the hike was going to be deserving of a grandiose beer, so I opted for the Midnight Sun Arctic Rhino Porter (based out of Anchorage).

I headed up from the liquor store after having hitched a ride to the park on a Princess cruise transporter bus. After about 3 miles through town, to the park welcome center and through the entrance, I finally made it to the trailhead, Mt. Healy as my destination. Within the first mile I had already had to cross two snowy rivers. If you have ever hiked with me, you would know that I hate crossing rivers. But, with the beer bouncing along in my backpack as bait, I forded the river without any mishaps and continued along the way, happy and solitary as a clam.

When you hike alone in Alaska, there is always ample evidence to remind you that you are not truly alone. Bear clawed trees, moose droppings, scat with tuffs of hair, and the occasional snowshoe hare bounding out of sight are friendly reminders that there are many critters chillin’ around the trail.

Moose poop or milk duds?

I climbed through the Taiga (or Boreal) forest, singing obnoxiosly to warn these critters of my presence and noting that as I got higher, I also got taller because the trees get smaller. It is a wonderful feeling to see over tree tops. Getting above the tree line that far north is relatively simple. Climb about a thousand feet and only shrubs and lichen brave the landscape. Climb a thousand feet more and you could care less about the ground beneath you anymore because you can’t stop looking at the mountains in front, behind and to the side of you stretching as far as the eye can see.

I made it to the end of the maintained trail but could not resist the temptation of going higher. If the views from this point were so good, a mile further along the hogsback had to be even more spectacular. I could make out a slight definition of a trail and continued up until the gale force winds threatened to throw me down from the precipice upon which I barely had hold.

The view did indeed get better and better. With every hundred feet I climbed it seemed there was another range past the one I could already see. I took a deep breath and commended myself for choosing such an awe striking state to live in. I said hello to the hearty arctic ground squirrels that call this barren exposed mountaintop their home and decided it was time for the beering.

It’s always nice to have a friend to drink with.

All these panoramic vistas and the steps it took to get there made me pretty thirsty, so I found a nice spot a little out of the wind and cracked open my Arctic Rhino, a welcomed high calorie beverage with a deep and robust flavor – a mountain beer if there ever was one. Mmm, mmmm porter! I hadn’t brought any snacks so it was necessary to finish all 22 oz. before I had the strength to head back down the mountain. I ran into some folks on the way down that were impressed with my multitasking and invited me back to their place for another beer. Success! I didn’t get eaten, the hike was epic, the beer was great, and I still had another day to repeat the process!

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