Sunday, August 8

Members of the 70 Percent Club

We’re slowly making our way south as tomorrow we'll finally depart Alaska. Tonight we’ve based ourselves at the Mt KcKinley Princess Wilderness Lodge on the southern boundary of Denali State Park, about 200 kilometres north of Anchorage. On a clear day the lodge offers unrivalled views of Mt McKinley, less than 65kms away. Sadly, the view is currently blocked by the same low cloud that’s dogged most of our trip into the interior.

We’ve seen signs everywhere reassuring us that less than a third of visitors ever see the perpetually cloud-shrouded peak. They call those that miss out members of the “70 Percent Club.” Our hotel has blessed members with a large display photo of the stunning mountain vista we're meant to see rather than the drab grey cloud visible from the main balcony. Can you spot the difference above?

We’ve had to satisfy ourselves instead with expansive wilderness views as we travel south. Perhaps the most spectacular of these were those we experienced on the Park Road, west of Glitter Gulch. Private cars are permitted on the first 15 miles of the Denali National Park’s only roadway, before the route is restricted to a carefully managed shuttle bus service. We decided to drive as could and we could, before stopping briefly to enjoy scenic tundra views at Savage Creek, the turning point for private cars.

I continue to be fascinated by the boreal forests in this part of the world. These hardy pine forests encircle the entire northern hemisphere at this latitude, accounting for almost one third of the planet's entire forest area. The harsh tundra conditions and short growing season result in a landscape dominated by scrawny, adult pine trees. These trees look more like tatty pipe-cleaners, rather than the classic conical shape typically associated with fir trees. We saw a documentary earlier in the week that noted trees in these parts take a decade to grow less than 30 centimetres. This means that the tallest, battered three-metre specimens we’ve seen are at least a hundred years old.

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