Denali NP, Teklanika and Sanctuary Rivers


Sep 12, 2014
There are a lot of pictures in this post, especially for a short three day trip, but frankly, this is probably the most beautiful place i've ever been.

The route was very straight forward. Up one river, over a pass, and down an other river. I brought my packraft for the second river
Click here to view on CalTopo
Denali National Park has a single road that runs the North side of the Alaska Range, with a bus system that will drop you off and pick you up where ever you want to go.

Here is a picture of the Teklanika River viewed from a stop the buses make along the road.

And here is a zoomed in shot of the bridge over the Teklanika River farther up stream, viewed from the same place.
On the right is the edge of Cathedral Mountain. I took the bus to the far end of Cathedral Mountain, and hiked through a very low pass to the Teklanika River farther up to save some miles.DSCF2329.JPG

Here is Cathedral Mountain, viewed from the road. It's very colorful. But a lot of the Alaska Range is.

Looking back on Cathedral Mountain from the 'pass'. On the left half of the photo you can see the cut of the road.

Cathedral Mountain and the pass.

Looking across the depression of the Teklanika River valley.



And Cathedral Mountain again.

The Teklanika River, looking East. I'll drop down to the river bars to walk, and head South toward the darker, more ominous looking area on the right of the frame. This pictures captures what would be a trend of this trip, where looking one direction was a very nice lovely day, and looking the other direction was an unpleasant looking storm. Fortunately the storms were never sustained, just came and went.

Nearer the river.


Looking back to the North. A few ponds.

A couple more.

Some baby birds, making noise in a tree.

On the river bar, looking up stream. The route ahead. There would be a couple places that i would have to go up above the river through some brush to bypass some cut banks from the river's changing course.

Zoomed in. Clouds spilling over the Alaska Divide.

Above one of those cut banks.

Looking back. You can see where i passed above here., in the midground.

Looking back.

Across the river. There are several braided channels, and more water than this view makes it appear.

Zoomed in, but getting closer to the head of the valley.

That same mountain East across the river.

Head of the valley.

Looking back down stream at Cathedral Mountain.

I came by these three bears. They were on the far side of the valley, doing their thing.

One of the bears walked a different direction from the other two. In this image you can see a crazy craibou on the left that was hopping around haphazardly.

Two of the bears took a course that was going to intersect my path, so i just walked back a ways, and waited for them to get where they were going. They never paid me any mind.



They both crossed the valley, went up into these bushes, and left me to go on up the river, looking back over my should for a while.

An other view across the river.




Going up above the banks again.

Down stream.


Here you can see the changing nature of the river. It's course has altered, apparently since the previous year, now flowing through bushes that previously would have been dry. In a couple days i'd end up floating the raft through some thing like that on the Sanctuary. Very interesting.


Head walls.

I'd drop my pack before getting to the point left of center and spend an hour exploring the short drainage to the right. The next day i would be heading the other direction, farther to the left.



A tiny canyon, colorful rocks.

Looking East, at the head of the drainage. Tomorrow i'd head that direction, but cut left of the higher peaks.




Here you can the full head of the Teklanika drainage. On the right is a spur i went and explored this evening. Just left of center is the true head of the river. Far left is the branch that leads to the pass to the Sanctuary River that i would take the next day.

Looking up the right (West) branch


East, tomorrow's direction.

Northeast, slightly down stream.


South, the Alaska Divide.

The ridge back to the East as i start walking up the West drainage.

Up the West. DSCF2594.JPG

Near the head. DSCF2598.JPG

Proper mountains. DSCF2599.JPG

As i started to head back East to set up camp for the night, the ridges started to catch some late light, around eleven pm.DSCF2607.JPG

Late light back on the West drainage.


And to the South and East. DSCF2617.JPG

I decided to ford a main branch of the river this evening so my shoes might have some chance to dry a little over night. The water was incredibly cold. My ankles were full numb by the time i made it across, it was painful, made my legs cold even where they hadn't gotten wet.DSCF2620.JPG

I missed some of the best light screwing around fording the stream, and only ended up with this. It was even better just moments before.

The sun set in the North, looking back down stream, all the way over Cathedral Mountain. DSCF2626.JPG



I set up the tent.

The clouds got some real neon to them, so i took some more pictures.

The next morning started out gorgeous. No thing to do but cross a pass.

And may be ten minutes into walking, it started pouring rain. I tented back up for a little while and waited it out.

May be an hour later it was nice out again. DSCF2668.JPG

Heading up this drainage. I'll cut left into one of the hidden valleys, an easy pass. DSCF2672.JPG


The way i'm not going. DSCF2678.JPG


I climbed loose rocks on the cliffs left of the stream here rather than fording again. Mostly i didn't care to get my feet wet, but also the water was pretty swift, and i couldn't even see an inch into it. DSCF2682.JPG

Up we go. DSCF2683.JPG

And up some more. DSCF2684.JPG


Looking down, water like liquid concrete. DSCF2687.JPG


Looking at what i'd come down. DSCF2694.JPG

Here is where i break left from the main East drainage. DSCF2695.JPG

Up this one. The pass is left of the center peak here. DSCF2697.JPG

More colorful rocks, an other side draw .DSCF2700.JPG

Making progress. DSCF2710.JPG


An ice bridge. The pass almost in sight. DSCF2728.JPG

There. DSCF2731.JPG

Looking over the other side, East, to Refuge Valley. DSCF2737.JPG

Zoomed. DSCF2739.JPG

Looking back West at the peaks i'd left behind. DSCF2746.JPG

You can see some of the route up. DSCF2748.JPG

A ridge North from the pass. I liked this place so much i stopped here to make lunch. DSCF2752.JPG


Naturally, before i'd even finished eating some more rain moved in. 045.JPG



I hustled up the tent again and waited it out. It only lasted some minutes. DSCF2757.JPG

But it really came down. It's not fog obscuring the lower view, just rain. DSCF2758.JPG

I was glad i'd stayed there when it was over. DSCF2767.JPG

West. DSCF2768.JPG

East. DSCF2769.JPG

North. DSCF2770.JPG

Starting down. DSCF2780.JPG

Looking back you can see the tracks of every one who uses the pass. I was glad i was going down this side rather than up. DSCF2787.JPG

I angled to benches above the drainage bottom. This proved to be the right thing to do. DSCF2796.JPG


A tiny hanging valley on the one i was making my way down. A small herd of caribou ran below here. DSCF2830.JPG

Dall sheep horn. DSCF2833.JPG

Angled light. It got late before i was ready for it to, but i had waited out two storms in a tent this day. Not a real problem, it doesn't ever actually get dark.DSCF2838.JPG




A falls in the bed of the canyon i was glad i wasn't walking the bottom of. DSCF2878.JPG


The head wall of Refuge Valley begins to come in to view. DSCF2882.JPG





Looking down in to the canyon of the stream that began at the pass i crossed. DSCF2900.JPG

Here it opens to Refuge Valley. DSCF2901.JPG



On the valley floor, looking at the head of the drainage. I ate dinner and went to bed.DSCF2919.JPG

Beautiful day the next morning. The low point is the pass i walked the day before. DSCF2932.JPG

I spent the morning walking up to the head of Refuge Valley. All i had to do was float out to the road today. DSCF2934.JPG

The pass left of center, the canyon that drains it center. Those orange walls are actually almost 200' high. DSCF2938.JPG

Up the valley. DSCF2940.JPG

Looking down stream from farther up. DSCF2941.JPG

Crags along the way. DSCF2959.JPG

Milky white stream empties in to the clearer water. DSCF2964.JPG

Braided channels. DSCF2967.JPG

Lots of flowers. DSCF2970.JPG

You can see moraines. DSCF2973.JPG

Opening up at the head wall. 062.JPG

East. DSCF2981.JPG

West. DSCF2983.JPG

Farther West. There were peaks every where.DSCF2988.JPG



Back down the drainage. 066.JPG

More views of the crags. DSCF3003.JPG






An other horn. DSCF3023.JPG

Near camp again, looking back. The head wall center, the pass on right. DSCF3028.JPG



Down stream. I walked a ways till i came to a place where the flow looked sufficient to put in.

This would work. An other major branch enters not far down stream, you can see it heading there in this image.


South. 070.JPG

North. 071.JPG

The river moved quickly enough. It took me may be 3 hours to do may be 17 miles, some thing that would have taken the entirety of a day to do on foot. The biggest difficulty was staying in the right channel, not getting graveled out. Closer to the take out there were more trees leaning out over fast moving bends in the river. My ipod died before i was half way down the river, and i had the real camera put way in a bag. 072.JPG






A storm moved in down river from me. I pulled off to wait and watch it for a moment, but it seemed to just sit there, so eventually i just went ahead. 079.JPG

It poured on me for a while, longer than i'd've liked. I just ran it and got it over with. 084.JPG

Looking back up river. 085.JPG

And down at the rain. 086.JPG

Still pretty nice out where i'd come from. 088.JPG

Once i made it in to the rain it kept up to some extent until i pulled out at the bridge. I kept warm while in the raft, hunkering, and paddling enough. I got out and stripped out of the wet suit shivering pretty good. Fortunately i still had dry clothes. Walked a couple hundred feet to the road and caught the bus back. The day soon turned nice again.

video of three bears

two of the bears. more walking time.

some caribou
Last edited:
You are correct, that is a beautiful place! I love the shots up on the pass especially! You captured it well.

  • Like
Reactions: Ben
This is my favorite set of pictures from your summer that you've posted so far Ben! Epic country and the weather really made the lighting spectacular.
  • Like
Reactions: Ben
Incredible. Thanks for sharing all these photos and stories. What an incredible trip.

I'm no ornithologist, but those baby birds you took a picture of kind of look like eaglets.
  • Like
Reactions: Ben
Best part of your summer adventure for me as a viewer. Loved the view down Refuge Valley from the pass. Nicely done and thanks for sharing, Ben.
  • Like
Reactions: Ben
Awesome! I think I get why that's one of your favorite ranges. I can almost feel that feeling just from looking at all the pictures, without ever even being there.

So those mountains are in the 7,000 ft range? Do they block the view of Denali? That's a huge park.
Wow Ben. That looks like a spectacular area. Way to get out there and enjoy this far away range.
Awesome! I think I get why that's one of your favorite ranges. I can almost feel that feeling just from looking at all the pictures, without ever even being there.

So those mountains are in the 7,000 ft range? Do they block the view of Denali? That's a huge park.

the feeling there is really just some thing that you can't get in the contiguous states. the wilderness doesn't end at some other road, it just expands on to places that people only access by plane. i didn't see a single person from the time i left the road till the time i got back. there aren't even any trails to be off trail from, true wilderness. it's like you talk about the Maze in Canyonlands, one giant play ground.

you wouldn't be able to see Denali from within the valleys, the walls are really quite high. there might have been a line of sight from the pass i was on. i would be very very surprised if the view was blocked from there. how ever, both trips i've done in the park, Denali was not visible at all on account of clouds. i believe this is the norm. how ever, one day when we were in Anchorage, we were able to see the peak from there, two hundred miles away.
Last edited:
Well I have to chew on this one... But in the meantime.. you just keep on posting pics brother. I love 'em and so does my ISP - he tells me every month when sending my bill :rolleyes: Just kiddin' of course....
Very very nice Ben. Great pictures. All in all, it looks like you had good weather. In what month did you make this hike?
Yahoo! Great read and great photos Benito! I really enjoyed your matter-of-fact description of what is really an epic trip since you had never been there and were going solo. Well done. "Oh just a quick pic of some grizzly bears. They didn't pay me no mind." I am sure @scatman is proud. :scatman:
  • Like
Reactions: Ben
How was the bushwacking part? I have spent a lot of my time while thrashing in the Alaska Range trying to get up and out of the 10' high willows and scrub, stepping over bear scat the whole while. At least you weren't in the Devil's club bush you get in more coastal regions. And it is great that the treeline is so low over the whole state - you climb up a few hundred feet and you are walking on alpine tundra - easy walking and blueberry bushes :)
Once again Ben an amazing trip. Those pics were beautiful and you captured it well.
How was the bushwacking part? I have spent a lot of my time while thrashing in the Alaska Range trying to get up and out of the 10' high willows and scrub, stepping over bear scat the whole while. At least you weren't in the Devil's club bush you get in more coastal regions. And it is great that the treeline is so low over the whole state - you climb up a few hundred feet and you are walking on alpine tundra - easy walking and blueberry bushes :)

the bushwhacking was rather easy. i've had it bad some other places, but it didn't really bother me this trip. the only places that i really had to deal with it was the couple places along the Teklanika that i had to bypass where the river was cutting away the bank. these stretches were short, and not unmanageable. aside from that i was almost entirely on gravel.

Ben, I can't tell you how much I love reading these reports. Amazing stuff.

thanks John.

Similar threads