The next morning was just as dismal as the last, so I didn’t exactly rush to get out of camp. I had some coffee, did some reading, and generally lounged around under the dry trees. Despite being tiny, it was a well-equipped camp: the food caches were massive steel boxes that you usually see at construction sites and the pit toilets were entirely pleasant after the initial shock of a freezing cold seat. So I finally got out around 10am and, to my surprise, I only rode the bus a short ways in before I could see patches of blue sky and beaming sunshine. “Stop the bus” I hollered, ignoring the quizzical looks.
For day 2 I actually had great visibility in this one small section of the park that must develop slightly higher pressure. The sun broke through, warming everything up and making navigation quite easy since visibility was unlimited. And I was out in a t-shirt feeling like summer had returned. The goal was to ascend to a ridge, follow the ridge north for a few km, descend back through a valley, up the other side and come back south on a parallel ridge, cresting Polychrome summit on the way. Despite the longer distance, it didn’t feel like quite as much of an adventure as my previous hike, more like a casual saunter through alpine meadows. This route did, however, cross through a lot of prime bear and moose habitat and there was evidence everywhere, so I made lots of noise and kept a sharp eye out in the limited amounts of thick brush that I passed though. I also spotted some homo-sapiens in a distant valley, a creature even rarer than bears in the backcountry of Denali.
As I mentioned, the scale of my map was large, so details were a bit vague. Toward the end of the day I crested Polychrome Mountain and expected to see a long scree slope leading directly back to the road. I was getting short on time and energy and, to my dismay, the only thing in front of me was another steep ridge that wasn’t very clear on the map. It was a nice looking ridge with a group of Dall Sheep halfway up, but going over it was an uncertainty so I opted for the safer but less appealing route back through the valley. It was brushy and off-camber but I got to surf down a scree slope on the way.
When I finally reached the road, a tourist bus was just driving past, so I shook a bush knowing that someone would certainly see it and holler “STOP THE BUS.” And they did. I think they were a little disappointed when I came walking out of the bush. They were probably also a little disappointed when I took my boots off to dry my socks on the heater – it was pretty rank! I ran into an Aussie kid on the bus who had been camping further in the park – he had been tent-bound for 2 days and was coming to my campground to escape the rain.