UNIT 22, 69
These two backcountry units alone are bigger than many national parks in the Lower 48. They offer a bit of everything for a remote extended trip in interior Alaska. Five large glacial rivers and a dozen other major streams flow across these units from south to north. This creates a continuous pattern of high ridges and deep valleys that extend across the area. The northern two-thirds of this unit are lowland spruce forest interspersed with bogs. There is some dry tundra on the tops of the higher ridges at the extreme southern end of the unit, but even in these foothills the valley bottoms and lower hillsides can have tussocks and be quite brushy.
The snowy peaks and views of the Alaska Range from this area are spectacular. This is one of the most remote and pristine portions of the park. It is difficult to reach and travel across due to the vegetation patterns in the area, large rivers and the extreme topography. It requires two full days of difficult hiking and major river crossings just to reach either the eastern or western end of Unit 22. Travel across it requires another 3-5 days
Access to this unit from the east is covered in the descriptions for units 20 and 21. Trips from the west end of this unit typically start at the Purkey Pile airstrip, located just outside of the Wilderness boundary on the west side of the Swift Fork River. Any commercial air-taxi can drop you off and/or pick you up from this airstrip, but commercial air services are not allowed to land inside Unit 22. Only authorized air taxis can land within Unit 69, so contact the park’s commercial services division before agreeing to a flight to this area.
A brief and in-depth description of this area is impossible due to its overwhelming size and variety of terrain. The unique feature of this area, more than any other unit in the Denali Wilderness, is remoteness. One can hike through this area for weeks and see no signs of human passage. For true adventurers, who have both time and experience, getting into this part of Denali National Park is a trip of a lifetime.
A traverse from Purkey Pile airstrip to Wonder Lake Campground can be done if you have 9 or more nights and are properly prepared for the terrain and river crossings. The most challenging part of this trip is between the Purkey Pile airstrip and the Straightaway Glacier due to the rivers, terrain, thick brush and mosquitoes. Once you pass the Straightaway Glacier going east, you can stay in the high tundra plateaus and out of most of the brush until the Muddy River.
The only reasonable travel route across this unit, even for shorter trips into just the eastern end, is along the foothills at the southern edge of the unit. However, because of the numerous south to north flowing rivers, substantial up and down hiking and river crossings are required to move even short distances into the unit.
The large glacial rivers that must be crossed (from west to east) in these units are: the Swift Fork, Herron and the east and west branches of the Foraker. All of these come out of the high peaks of the Alaska Range and one or more may be more difficult to cross then the McKinley River. It is recommended that you bring a pack raft for trips in this area to cross the major rivers.
Hikers considering a trip into or across this area should contact the Backcountry Information Center for further guidance on route suggestions and logistics. Always bring extra food with you when you attempt a trip on the south side of the McKinley River in case you need to wait a few days for the river to recede. Travel onto the various glaciers requires previous glacier crossing experience and is not recommended. Be prepared to rescue yourself; you will not run into other parties and there is little air traffic in this area.
Last updated: April 14, 2015