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Why Are There So Many Rivers in Denali National Park?
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The Very Braided East Fork River


We wake up at daybreak to find a thick coating of ice still on the tent where the rain had frozen during the night.  The first thing that we hear is the roar of the Toklat River.  This is the river that we'll be hiking near all day today. 

Are you are wondering why there are so many rivers in Denali?  

I do, too.  Today, we explore and try to find out the answer to this question. 

 

 


Breaking Camp on a 
Cold Denali Morning.

 

 Getting Ready

We crack the tent door and find that it is still cold outside, below freezing.   While grabbing a quick bite of breakfast, we decide that to get warm we should start hiking right away.  Later, we can heat up water and have a hot breakfast.

 

Pick Your Path

As we scope out our path, our eyes are drawn to the wide, flat riverbed in front of us.  The millions of rocks, glacial till, that have been swept down from a glacier upstream form a wide riverbed.  Out on that riverbed there are no willow shrubs to tangle our feet, no swampy wet tundra to bog us down, and no uneven frost heaves to trip us up.   The flat riverbed is great for hiking on. 

 

 

 


As the glacier melts, a river is formed.

   
Wide River Beds 
 

 

   
River Braid

 

Braided Rivers

The glacial till caught in the river's current eventually drops to the river bed.  When enough of these rocks drop in one place, the river's direction is changed or the river is split into two parts. Glacial rivers split and change direction over and over and over until a braided mess is formed.  

 

A River Crossing

Soon, we realize that we are going to have to cross the river because it bends in close to a cliff and there is no other way over or around it.  

Our Arctic Guide Book states that mornings are great times to cross rivers because the glacier does not melt as fast during the cool night. During the day the warm sun melts the glacier more quickly, 

 

 


Getting Ready to Cross One
 Braid of the River

making the river run higher and faster. We decide that we have to cross before the river gets even higher with the day's melting glacier ice.  The problem is that this morning the river is already flowing fast.  It is swollen from last night's rains.  And it is very cold.   Its gray, silted water flows directly from a nearby glacier and is still close to freezing.  
 


A cold, cold river crossing.

 

We also read in our guidebook that soon, the cold, sunless winter will dry this river's flow from the glacier down to a trickle.  It will dry up until next summer when the sun gets warm enough to melt the glacier's ice again.  That does not help us now, though.

We have to cross before it gets even higher this morning.  I change into my Tevas and get ready to cross over first. It is flowing so fast and gets up to my knees on the first braid of the river and up to my thighs on the second braid. It was mind-numbingly cold and my feet have an odd combination of numbness and pain.  This crossing was dangerous because the 

river was flowing so fast. It almost knocked me over. It was cold! So cold that I was completely numb and not thinking too well.  I was near hypothermia. 

You're next!!!  

 

So, You Want To Learn More About Alaska's Glacial Rivers?

River Crossings
http://www.dnr.state.ak.us/parks/safety/rivcross.htm

Crossing a River Without a Bridge
http://classic.mountainzone.com/nationalparks/dena/rivercrs.html

Denali's Surface Waters
http://www.nps.gov/dena/pphtml/subnaturalfeatures19.html

 

 



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