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Intrepid Touring

Today's Travelers are Facing Rigor, Danger and Dread--and Loving It
Kevin F. McMurray
From the Print Edition:
J.P. Morgan, Mar/Apr 00

(continued from page 2)

If you've ever imagined what it would be like running a dog sled in the Iditarod, you can get a taste of it at the Denali West Lodge in Lake Minchumina, Alaska. Jack and Sherri Hayden built their lodge--literally carving it out of the wilderness--on this remote lake on the northwest corner of Denali National Park. Jack is a two-time veteran of the Yukon Quest, an Iditarod-like 1,000-mile mushing race considered to be the most difficult in the world.  

Trips can be easy, such as 40-mile jaunts into Denali. But if you have six to nine days to spare, you might want to sign on for a full-scale mushing expedition. Dashing off on a trail to the distant Athabaskan Indian village of Nikolai is one possibility. Approximately 100 miles from the lodge to the village of 150 people, you will discover an unspoiled wilderness at which Jack London would have marveled. In a land populated by more moose, caribou, wolves and beavers than people, you will endure the numbing cold of sub-zero temperatures while careening across trails through northern arboreal forests, frozen lakes and rivers shadowed by the towering Denali (20,320 feet) and Mt. Foraker (17,400 feet), some of the tallest peaks in North America.  

Clients get immersed in mushing from day one, when they are met at the bush airstrip by teams of dogs. All mushers are responsible for their own sleds and teams. Harnessing the dogs to the gang lines, breaking the teams down, feeding the animals, and preparing their bedding is all part of the gratifying experience.  

Another mushing expedition worth considering is a trek through the wilderness area of Denali National Park to the face of the Straightaway Glacier, a river of ice that cuts a huge swath between Denali and Foraker. The nearest road is 100 miles away. The 160-mile round trip undulates through dense forests and across the Foraker River, where the trail has to be partially cut out and broken by snowshoe. Sleeping after 12 hours on the trail is never a problem--unless the howling of wolves keeps you up at night. Six- or nine-day mushing adventures run $2,860 and $5,280 a person. Call or fax the Denali West Lodge at 907-674-3112 or visit its Web site at www.alaskan.com/denaliwest.    

CLIMBING THE WORLD'S MOST MASSIVE MOUNTAIN  

If warmer climates are where you like to pursue your dreams, the 50th state has just as much to offer as the 49th. On the Big Island of Hawaii, the volcanic mountain of Mauna Loa towers 13,677 feet above Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Mauna Loa, Hawaiian for "Large Mountain," is the most massive mountain in the world. The lava that formed it could cover the earth to a depth of four feet; it is a hundred times the size of Washington's Mt. St. Helens.

If you were to measure the height of a mountain from where it raises from the depths of the Pacific, Mauna Loa would beat Everest by a good thousand feet. Climbing Mauna Loa, however, is not as difficult as its distant and dangerous Asian relative. The well-marked trail to the summit is 18 miles long over a difficult but not technical route (no ropes or hardware are needed).  

Most climbers make their first stop 7.5 miles from the trailhead at the Pu'u'Ula'ula (Red Hill) cabin, at the 10,035-foot elevation mark. A cozy but spartan cabin complete with eight bunks awaits weary trekkers. For those not intimidated, the last 11 miles to the summit cabin is doable. But if you are like me and want to explore the eerie moon-like landscape of swirling lava formations, belching thermal vents and spatter cones, you can find shelter for the night in one of the many extinct lava tubes that course through the mountain between Pu'u'Ula'ula and the summit. Bring your woolies because altitude snow, ice and freezing temperatures are common here, even in the dead of summer.  

Plan to spend an evening in the thin air at the summit cabin. While there, wander about in the ruins of the 1840 Wilkes Expedition and ponder the 3-by-1.5-mile-wide, steam-venting caldera on whose edge the summit cabin sits. Before turning in for the evening prepare yourself for one of the most spectacular sunsets anywhere, when Mauna Loa casts its vast shadow over the eastern horizon and the sun drops into the western Pacific beyond Maui and its Haleakala Volcano. You will never forget it.  

You need to be in good physical condition to climb Mauna Loa. You'll also need a good pair of hiking boots, camping gear and provisions for the four days you should allot for the climb. Check in at park headquarters to let them know you will be on the mountain in case it blows its stack. For more information call the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park during business hours at 808-985-6000. 24 hour fax: 808-967-8186. On the Web: www.nps.gov/havo.    


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