denali outerrange

Denali’s Trailless Wilderness

Hiking the Backcountry

denali outerrangeLess than a half-mile from the Denali park road and only ten minutes into our three-night backpacking trip, Dan Hall and I come to a sudden, unplanned stop. Seventy-five feet upstream, a brownish form moves among a clump of creek-bed willows. Then, sensing us, it too becomes still. The bus driver had cautioned us that this valley is prime grizzly habitat and”BEAR” is the first thought to run through my mind. But within moments my imagined grizzly is transformed into a small, rusty brown critter with a long bushy tail: An adult red fox steps slowly out of the willows, a limp ground squirrel clutched in its jaws. Instant relief, tinged with embarrassment. How could I mistake a fox for a bear?

The fox stares at us a few seconds, as though judging our intent. Then, keeping a safe distance, it scurries downstream and quickly disappears around a bend, headed home with breakfast for its litter of kits.