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I had been enjoying the solitude and tranquility of the snowy mountains and alpine tundra in Denali National Park for a couple of days. I had to pinch myself a few times because I almost couldn’t believe I had finally made it. Hiking the Mount Denali Taiga was the stuff of dreams. It towered and ruled over the park like nothing I had ever seen. I wanted to visit the amazing region since childhood, and couldn’t be happier.

The Savage Alpine Trail

On that beautiful September morning, I decided I would spend my day trekking along a fairly easy and safe trail that was recently completed – the Savage Alpine Trail. A couple I was camping near recommended it to me the day before and told me if I made it all the way up to Denali, there was no way I could pass up this trail. I set out to start the 4-mile Savage Alpine Trail about mid-morning. I made sure I didn’t forget to pack a hearty lunch, and more importantly, my camera. When I arrived at the Savage River I pulled into the small parking lot. This is as far as you can drive into the park in a privately-owned vehicle. I felt like I was really about to step into some stunning wilderness – a place not many people get to see.

The Savage River cuts through the beautiful Savage River canyon over a breathtaking rocky tundra landscape. Right when I stepped out of my truck, I could immediately smell the river fed by fresh spring water. It was crisp but earthy, almost like sandalwood. It was nothing short of breathtaking.

The trail started out pretty steep and took me up the side of the rocky canyon. It was recently completed and I loved the nice walking path and steps that were constructed. I immediately started to get some great views of the river, the outcrops and the surrounding mountains that seemed to go on forever. I could even see Mount Denali off in the distance.

It was hard to not stop every few minutes to look down at the tundra floor. The diversity of plants, flowers, and insects that make up the amazing alpine ecosystem are hard to pass. Everything is so tiny and colorful, a wonderful spectrum. As much as I want to step off the trail and wander, I kept myself on the path to avoid crushing the delicate plant life.

I made my way up to the sharp protruding Savage Rock outcrop and kept climbing up the trail. I turned around to look down at Savage Rock and the valley below me. I had really gained some evaluation at that point and the views just keep getting better. I was feeling the momentum at the point so I keep going up towards Healy Ridge, my next destination.

My heart rate was pumping and my lungs were filled to the brim with cool clean Alaskan air. I couldn’t imagine a better way to spend a day.

I realized I’d been so engrossed in my hike I hadn’t taken even one picture. So I stop and pull out my camera to snap a few landscape shots before I reach the top. I attached my macro lens to capture a few shots of the amazingly tiny plants that make up the precious alpine tundra. The sky was so blue up there, with a few white clouds dancing around the horizon. The valleys were so green and capped with brownish gray outcrops. Those are some of the oldest rocks in North America. I tried to wrap by brain around how long 2 billion years actually is, but I quickly give up and decide to keep enjoying the current moment.

When I reached the top of the Ridge, I was elated. It was so windy up there, but I appreciated it because I got a little hot climbing in the sun. I had just ascended 1,250 ft. and the view from the top was nothing short of amazing. I opened my pack and found a thermos of cider I had packed but completely forgot about. What a treat. I opened it and inhaled the warm spicy aroma that really complemented the balsam fir needle aroma of the ridge. Right away it reminded me of my Denali candle I burned home while dreaming of one day being here. That day was finally upon me.

The trail continued another 2.5 miles to the Mountain Vista Rest stop, but I decided I didn’t need to go there. I wanted to stay where I was to soak it in from the top where I felt like I could see forever. This was it! There I was, in Alaska! The kid inside of me was elated, and the adult that I was felt accomplished.

I was sad to have to wrap up that trip. But happy to know my I could always light up my Denali Candle and be transformed right back to Alaska, the place of my childhood dreams.

J. Schuler

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