Before arriving in Alaska May of last year, we discovered the movie “Into the Wild” based on the travels of Christopher McCandless and his need for adventure; which landed him in Alaska and to his death on Bus 142 off Stampede Trail. Ironically before we left for our adventure to Alaska we landed jobs at Denali Tundra Tours which do Argo tours down Stampede trail about 7 miles, the same trail where he met his untimely death out in the backcountry.
Working on Stampede trail during the summer we met dozens of hikers from around the world who came to Alaska soley to make the trek out to the Magic Bus (one of the many names given to it throughout the years.) If you google how to make it out to the bus you will find that frankly there is not a lot of information out there on making a trip to the bus. No website on trail conditions or river depths and on the physical trail you will find little to no trail markers. But with time and diligence you can find coordinates, information on crossing the rivers and typical trail conditions in summer and winter seasons. Yes it takes time to do research and make a plan but its a dangerous and intense hike (40 miles round trip crossing two major rivers) so throughly planning your route is a must!
One of the most common issues from the individuals that would stop and ask about the trail was their lack of research. Most of them would pull up in rental cars or motorhomes and assumed you could drive straight to the bus, which is not the case at all. Another common misconception was that they were not aware of how dangerous the Teklanika River crossing really was in the summer time due to the glacial melt off. From our experience this summer we decided to plan our hike to Bus 142 during the winter months since both rivers usually freeze over and it would make the crossings much safer.
Prior to making the drive to Healy this winter, we spent a few weeks planning out our hike in detail.We wanted to make sure we had all the appropriate gear necessary to make the trip safely and comfortably.
Our initial plan:
-Stay the night at the trailhead and wake up at 5am and make the 20 mile hike to the bus
-Stay one night at the bus
-Wake up early and hike the 20 miles back out
Our plan “worked” for us but if we had to do it all over again our plan would look more like this:
-Stay the night at the trailhead and wake up early to start the hike
-Hike to the Teklanika river which is halfway (10 miles) and set up camp
-Wake up early the next morning and finish the last 10 miles to the bus
-Stay the night at the bus
-Wake up at early and hike to the Teklanika and set up camp
-Wake up early and hike out to the truck
This just goes to show that even doing research, you still need to accept that things might not go as planned. For us 20 miles sounded like no biggie because we are used to hiking but it was exhausting and we totally should have broken it down into multiple days. Carrying almost 40 pounds of winter gear weighed us down and made the hike slower than anticipated. Other issues that came up for us is that winter boots SUCK for hiking! They are not made to hike 20 miles in a day so needless to say our feet were very sore. Make sure you have good rubber on your feet. Another problem we faced was that batteries tend to not want to work in single digit temps. (Gps, steripen, flashlights, camera etc.) We fixed this by keeping the batteries to these items close to our body which worked. We also brought a solar lantern, manual compass, and other water sources that did not need batteries to sterilize water just in case. Also water freezes so you must insulate your water bottles while hiking and while you sleep (we put our water bottles in clean wool socks while hiking and at night we stuck them in our sleeping bags with us so our body heat would keep them from freezing.)
Overall trail conditions were great, both rivers were crossable (the Savage was not fully frozen but we found a safe place to cross, and the Teklanika was frozen over enough to get there and back safely.) After we crossed the Tek we were greeted by a beautiful red fox which let us observe him and he even showed off a little bit by stretching and yawning as we took pictures of him. We were both in awe of how calm he was and amazed that he did not scurry away. As the night closed in on us we finally made it to the bus, which was such an amazing sight as we both were ready to be off our feet. We cranked up a fire in the wood stove that was still in the bus and we made us some Mountain House dinners! Which after such a long hike, tasted like a gourmet dinner! The rest of the night we read through the journals on the bus of other travelers and their adventure out there and how the hike and inspiration of Christopher McCandless changed their aspect on life. We made our mark among the rest of the messages people leave on the bus walls. We are now one of the many explorers that found our way to Bus 142, although we probably all had different reasons of making the trip, we all leave with the same sense of fulfillment just as Christopher did once long ago.