6.27 – 7.4.08 Donnelly to McKinley Village

Dylan Kentch and I decided to complete one of the old Alaska Wilderness Classic routes from Donnelly to McKinley Village.
Our route (click to see a larger view)
We left late on Friday night and crossed the Delta River in the rain, then walked upstream to an unnamed creek N of Pilsbury Mtn.
Walking up the Delta River
Saturday included a ridge traverse of Pilsbury, followed by a descent to McGinnis Creek and crossing of the “creek” at the toe of the McGinnis Glacier.
Heading up Pilsbury Mountain

Walking the ridgeline


Heading over the saddle to mellower terrain


Dylan heading down to McGinnis Creek


Me heading up the large boulder field caused by a landslide after an earthquake around 1995 (I think) . . . pretty arduous travel conditions. I was not a fan of the shaky boulders!


Sunday, we travelled up the McGinnis Glacier east fork and then over a few passes until we dropped down to the Trident Glacier. We crossed the Trident and then traveled about 2 miles down glacier to a fabulously flat, open, and beautiful creek bed where we camped. This was a pretty big day full of changing terrain, but incredible and vast country. We started out bluebird, but the rain rolled in late afternoon. Thankfully it was dry during our boulder-hopping times!


We awoke to bluebird, and started boulder walking up the McGinnis Glacier


The scenery did not suck


View from the pass above the glacier, looking toward the more direct route from Donnelly and the rolling terrain into the interior


Caribou on the rolling terrain leading to the Trident – they were super curious and scared at once.


Looking up the Trident Glacier to Mt. Moffit and Mt. Shand


Crossing the Trident


The picture doesn’t do it justice, but this was an amazing campsite after a day without much flat terrain!

Monday, we hiked up a drainage and over to the Hayes Glacier. We crossed the west fork of the Hayes, then climbed up and over some fabulous tussocks and brush to drop down to the east fork and descend East Hayes Creek to the Little Delta River. The descent wasn’t too bad due to some fabulous game trails, an easily crossable creek, and ATV trails for the last mile on the flats. I would have to say that this was the most arduous day for me though, especially cuz we made a few small navegational errors that added a bit to the day. I also started to develop some pretty painful tendonitis/bursitis on my left foot that made walking not so fun. Such is life though, and part of the adventure, I suppose.

We headed up the drainage on the right side of this picture, and then crossed over to the west fork of the Hayes Glacier . . . it was a rainy morning, but such is life . . .

Dropping down to the Hayes . . . it was hard to see the glacier in the fog, but we got there! About a mile before this, we saw a sow and 3 cubs, but she had seen us first and was in retreat.


Tuesday, we walked up the East Fork Little Delta River to the toe of the Gillam Glacier and over to Buchanan Creek. The sun came out at the Gillam and we were overwhelmed by the scale, beauty, and uniqueness of the area. I think this was one of my favorite places on the trip!

Dylan headed up the East Fork Little Delta
Nearing the toe of the Gillam


Crossing the toe of the Gillam through what felt like a lunar landscape


The upper Gillam

Heading from the Gillam to Buchanan Creek

Wednesday, we hiked to the top of Buchanan Creek and over the pass to descend an unnamed creek that we named “Pretty Nice Creek.” From there, we walked up the West Fork Little Delta and up another amazing unnamed drainage. Again, we camped right at the headwaters of the creek and base of the pass in another incredible valley . . .

Heading to the top of Buchanan Creek and over the pass to what we named “pretty nice creek” since the travelling was, well, pretty nice 🙂


Heading up the West Fork Little Delta to the unnamed drainage int the sun . . . again, amazing country! I could have stayed here for a few days to explore!

Holy beautiful ski lines!!!

Thursday, we descended yet another great creek to the Wood River where we were able to float for about 6 miles. We also found some great trails on the way to the Wood that made travel super easy and fun. It was an incredibly beautiful day as well, that made napping a great idea!!! From the Wood, we followed a series of amazing game trails up Big Grizzley Creek before camping in the upper vally just below the pass.

Dylan on the way down the next unnamed creek . . .

At the base of the creek as we’re about to float the Wood River – with the amazingly warm sunshine, napping became my new favorite hobby.

Floating the Wood River – so nice to be off our feet, and an incredibly beautiful day!

Welcome to bliss!


Repacking gear, thankful for the sunshine to dry wet things out!!


We saw a lot of wolf sign, but no wolves. This was one of the larger tracks we saw.


Then we headed up Big Grizzley Creek where we were greeted with more amazing mountains with insane ski terrain 🙂

We also found some amazing animal trails that made travel pretty efficient. This could have been significantly less pleasant!!!

Upper Grizzley Creek did not disappoint . . .

Friday we hiked over the pass to Edgar Creek, crossed a huge valley and dropped down through the brush to the Yanert River. We floated about 25 miles in the Yanert in ~4 hours, and took out just downstream of Moose Creek. From there, we walked 8ish miles on ATV trail to the airstrip in McKinley Village and a 4th of July bonfire 🙂

Hiking out of Big Grizzley Creek

Dropping into Edgar Creek with our caribou friends

Dylan in the amazing place that is upper Edgar Creek

Unreal country

Me with the Yanert Valley in the background . . . what a way to end the trip!

Finally at the Yanert after about 2 hours of brushy travel – not too bad, all things considering! Getting in the river under bright sunshine was so amazing! We got some rain on the float, but nothing to complain about!

Unfortunately, it had poured in Cantwell/McKinley Village area causing some insane mosquito action, but the hike out the ATV trail was still amazingly beautiful!

It’s great to know people throughout Alaska to help with trip logistics and provide a smiling face at the end of a trip. My coworker Bob happens to be one of those amazing people, so he picked us up at about midnight and took us back to civilization 🙂 The next morning we had a huge breakfast and used his place to sort and dry gear before completing the second highway-to-highway by riding the Denali Highway from Cantwell to Paxson over the following two days . . . stay tuned for that story . . .


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  1. Nice work, you like to suffer don’t ya?

  2. Eric says:

    Totally freaking wildly awesome Kellie! that photo of dylan with the hair is my fav’

    I want to do this trip!

  3. rob says:

    like the write up, helpful hoping to do the trip next year

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  7. czKlondike says:

    Great documentation of your & Dylan's trip. I did not appreciate your enjoying such great weather.

    I dunno if his mother saw these or not; but a great series..

    bill sigler

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