Unit 5: Upper Sanctuary River
Tips and Special Features
Two passes on the west side of Refuge Valley lead over to the Teklanika River (Unit 6). Both are difficult due to their elevation gain, rocky terrain, and steep scree. Snow is also present on these passes until mid summer. If you follow the drainage leading towards the headwaters of Calico Creek (Unit 6), do not follow the creek bottom. There are several dangerous waterfalls that have been the site of multiple hiker injuries. Instead, use the tundra hillsides north and south of this creek.
Another pass in the Sanctuary River headwaters leads east to the Riley Creek (Unit 2) and Windy Creek (Unit 16) drainages. This pass is divided into nearby north and south routes. The northern route is moderate, with more vegetated slopes and shorter sections of lower angle scree. There are steeper sections of scree on the south route. This pass provides a route via Windy Creek to Cantwell on the south side of the Alaska Range. A fourth major pass leads into the headwaters of the Savage River (Unit 4). It is easy to moderate with some sections of brush on the Sanctuary side. It is best to travel on ridges as opposed to the small drainages to avoid the heavy brush.
Did You Know?
Recent climate warming has affected Denali in ways that are readily apparent, such as reduced spring snowfall, earlier snowmelt, earlier green-up and thawing of permanent snowfields. Subarctic ecosystems, like Denali, are extremely sensitive to climate variability and change.