Denali's Medicine
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At first I didn't recognize the power of the medicine I had stepped into during my first journey to Denali.  I was too absorbed in photographing a she-wolf who approached my camp in the afternoon of the third day. I didn't notice the obvious medicine sign in her visit.  She closely circled my camp once counter- clockwise. Then approaching from where she began in the north to within three feet of where I squatted by the tent opening, she slowly bobbed her head and studied me through lightly falling snow.
Denali at sunset as seen from Half Dome, September 1990.
At the last click of my shutter, she nervously backed away, then ambled off, turning to show me her face one last time in the amber September afternoon light.  Not until that evening, when I discovered the film had failed to advance, did I wonder if other forces might have been at play.  Hindsight in these things is, of course, always 20-20.  I now accept that Denali herself had merely come as a four-legged to greet me, decide how much of herself to reveal and plant a seed.  The next afternoon I watched the sunset above caress her face and reveal a majesty, power and magic that haunts me to this day.  I ached to become a tundra willow rooted in that hilltop and never have to turn from her face.  I had come under Denali's spell and was loath to leave.

Looking north at Muldrow Glacier's lower moraine. June 1993.
Guiding in Denali
When I returned three years later I came guiding a group of 11 hikers from the Philadelphia area.  We had broke into four small groups and set out on the alpine tundra to explore. I had paired with a 20ish computer programmer who had betrayed an eagerness for a 'challenging' adventure.  I doubt he considered the possibility of a sentient Denali actually listening to his wishes.  He could have been more careful articulating what he wanted.  As it was, my partner and I rather ignorantly thrust ourselves, with full backpacks, into crossing three miles of some of the most challenging terrain Denali could offer: the Lower Muldrow Glacier Moraine.

The largest and longest glaciers tend to carry down massive amounts of boulders, rocks and gravel on their surface every year.  When a glacier reaches that area where it melts as fast as new ice arrives, the resulting 'traffic jam' can cause huge hills of rock and gravel to pile up (seen at left).  Some hills will still contain ice just below the surface, lending more hazard to traversing them.  It was into such challenge that my partner and I thrust ourselves at the unseemly hour of 9 pm one late June evening.  We reached the other side by 6 am the next morning; in nine hours of exhausting work we had only traveled three miles.

After a few hours of rest, we ventured out on an ascending hike south, parallel to the mighty Muldrow.  We followed a caribou migration path leading to a 5000' pass (below) that overlooks a westward hairpin turn in Muldrow's course.  From the top I turned and photographed my partner as he began his return descent.  A wind came up and low-lying clouds behind me began lifting.  I turned back south and watched as peaks a few miles away began unveiling themselves.  These peaks, climbing from Denali's eastern 'lap', commanded my gaze.  Again, I felt the spell that had compelled my return.  I experienced a momentary call to return to this place again, though I knew not how or when I might do so.  I have yet to return, though I remember the sensation, ten years later, as if it occurred only moments ago.

Looking south up the pass, 11 pm, June 1993.

The peaks reveal themselves to the south of the pass.