The Alaska adventure continues! After leaving Toolik I spent 2 days in Fairbanks. First I hiked to the U of Alaska’s Large Anima Research Station and then, after picking up Tanya at the airport, we went to the World Eskimo Indian Olympics at the Carlson Center on the banks of the Chena River. The WEIO has been taking place every year for over 50 years, featuring native athletes from the US, Canada and Greenland competing in traditional events. We saw the ceremonial costume exhibition and the Ear Pull competition.

    Costume exhibition at the World Eskimo Indian Olympics
    Costume exhibition at the World Eskimo Indian Olympics

    In the ear pull, contestants sit facing each other with their legs crossed, and a loop of sinew is threaded around their ears. The goal is to pull the loop off your opponent’s ear -- like tug-of-war. Best of three wins.

    Ear pull competition at WEIO
    Ear pull competition at WEIO

    While most of the events at WEIO are based on strength, skill and endurance, the ear pull is just about pain. The winner was a 46-year old heavy-equipment operator from Katkovik, on the Arctic Ocean, who works outside all year round without a hat. That’s tough.

    On Saturday we took the Alaska Railroad to Denali National Park and Preserve. The scenery was beautiful on the 4-hour ride.

    Alaska RR
    Alaska Railroad

    We spent 3 days in Denali, with rare great weather. We took a 9-mile hike on the Triple Lakes Trail where we saw a beaver lodge and a three-toed woodpecker.

    Tanya at the beaver lodge
    Tanya at the beaver lodge

    Three-toed woodpecker
    Three-toed woodpecker

    You can’t drive into Denali, but shuttle buses run on the 90-mile road and you can jump on and off wherever you like and hike anywhere – there are no trails so you just go off on the tundra. We rode 66 miles out to the Eielson Visitor Center where we had spectacular, crystal clear views of Mt. McKinley. We got really lucky, because 2 out of 3 days it’s cloudy and you can’t even see the mountain.

    Mt. McKinley from Eielson

    b & t mckinley

    We also got lucky with wildlife sightings. We saw a caribou on a ridge and in a stream.



    We saw a big, blonde grizzly munching on blueberries.


    On the way back we got off the bus at Polychrome Pass and walked for miles. A little ways down from the pass, we looked up and saw a grizzly checking us out from behind a ridge, less than 50 yards a way.

    Denali grizzly

    I snapped a picture as we backed away slowly. About a quarter mile down the road we saw another bear come into the picture, and then watched the two bears play for about 15 minutes.

    grizz play 1

    grizz play 2

    grizz play 3

    It was an all-time wildlife viewing experience. We also saw a family of Willow ptarmigin.

    Willow ptarmigin

    After our trip into the interior of the Park, we hiked along the Mt. Healy trail with great views of the Nenana River valley and the Alaska Range.