For mountaineers and adventurers, there’s a rich history of exploration in and around Alaska’s Denali National Park. And although the park is mostly known for the hordes of people who attempt to climb Denali each season – few have ever thought about circumnavigating the Denali, Foraker (Sultana) and Hunter (Begguya) massifs – let alone in winter.
The first circumnavigation-like explorations, of non-indiginous people, came around the turn of the century, around the 1900’s. These trips were fueled mostly by the hunt for scientific knowledge or, of course, gold.
In 1899, the first non-native overland traverse of the Alaska Range was made by 1st Lt. Joseph Herron’s Army expedition. They took a route via the Yetna and Kichatna Rivers.
In 1902, USGS geologist Alfred Brooks first explored the southern aspect of the area on a mapping expedition, traveling through and eventually naming Rainy Pass.
Then, in 1903, a 6-member expedition led by Dr. Frederick Cook attempted Denali’s Northwest Buttress, reaching an elevation just under 11,000 feet. Starting in the small village of Tyonek, the team completed the expedition by circumnavigating, possibly unintentionally, the Denali-Foraker massifs.
In the ensuing years, most of the exploration focus in and around Denali National Park was on mountaineering.
Then, in 1978, the first circumnavigation on skis of Denali was made from April 7-28 by Ned Gillette, Galen Rowell, Alan Bard and Doug Weins via Kahiltna Pass, Peter’s Glacier, Muldrow Glacier, Traleika Glacier and Ruth Glacier.
But it wasn’t until 1995, that a complete circumnavigation of the Denali-Foraker massifs – in winter – would be made.
On February 17 of that year, Daryl Miller and his partner, Mark Stasik, embarked on a journey that would last 45 days, and traverse 350 miles. The route, which started in Talkeetna, followed the winding Chulitna River, to the massive Muldrow Glacier, to an area north of the Wickersham Wall known as little Siberia, across the Yetna, Lacuna and Kahiltna Glaciers, on and around toward the Peters Hills and finally back home to Talkeetna. The duo would endure bone-chilling temperatures and relentless wind, waist deep sugar snow and terrifying glacier terrain, as well as unrelenting hunger.
But when it was all said and done, the journey would become an Alaskan classic that is yet to be repeated.
Here’s Daryl Miller’s retelling of this amazing story.
Map Artwork by Mike Clelland
Special Thanks to Daryl Miller