The question of the day: Will we see it?
If it got to be our last morning in Denali National Park and we still no had sight of Mt. McKinley, (or any mountains for that matter) we had a Plan B. Of course there was no guarantee, even from the air, and if we didn't see The Mountain we could live with that. A lot of people who come to Denali to see The Mountain, don't.
Although our plan was to take a flight-seeing trip from Kantishna back to the park entrance, we had to be ready to take the bus in case the weather was so ugly that the flight would be cancelled. The bus shuttle back to the park entrance left Kantishna at about 6am so our bags had to be on our cabin porch at 5:20. (No luggage on the tiny plane.) So we got our bags out, wandered bleary eyed over to the lodge and discovered that the flight was a GO!
A couple of hours later and we were ready to roll down the dirt runway.
Did I mention it was a tiny plane? Although it held five passengers, plus the pilot, the inside felt smaller than my old VW bug. It was tight. Rick got the co-pilot seat and he was pretty happy about being able to see all the gear up there. I was right behind him. We all had headphones so that we could hear the pilot and talk too if we wanted to.
(BTW, all the photos in this post were taken by Rick, so many thanks to him. I lost my whole series of the flight seeing trip and the following day at Talkeetna. Oh well, it happens. Thankfully Rick and I often take pictures of the same things.)
First we flew over the McKinley River. Just as we were taking off I spotted a black bear along the river…See it down there? : )
Although it was a clear day, there was a layer of smoke at about 16,000 feet. Look at the first picture in this post and you''ll see it. The pilot didn't know where it was coming from - somewhere far away, maybe Siberia, he said. He felt confident that he would get us up over it for a good look at Denali.
We followed the river to the Muldrow Glacier. I'm going to get this wrong, but I think I recall that the formation in the next photo is the remains of a dam created by a glacier as it receded, and then the dam burst and deposited the minerals as the water flowed away. Don't quote me on that, but it was interesting.
I think it might be Red Mountain. The name fits, 'cause nothing else around is red.
We basically followed Muldrow Glacier up through the mountains. There are glaciers between the various mountains, and the pilot was identifying them, and the various peaks for us, but there was no way I could keep them all straight. We were just busy being awestruck and trying to take it all in. Here we're approaching the smoke layer.
Denali has two peaks, the north and the south. I don't know which one this is, but this is about as close as we got to either of the peaks, and the best shot we had of The Mountain. Yes, it was massive. Majestic. Spectacularly enormous. And we were right up there.
The pilot flew us around the peaks a bit so that both sides of the plane got as good a view as possible. As you can see there were some wispy clouds and/or smoke obscuring some of the peaks.
From that point on we followed the Alaska Range northeast to the park entrance. Under the snow the mountains look like shear black rock.
We flew by glacier...
We simply tried to see as much as we could and take pictures of features that were interesting or unique. Believe me we were snapping away as much as we could while still trying to just experience the awesome feeling of being up there looking down at all these beautiful, pristine mountains. It's so different from "real life" that it's hard to know what to feel.
I'm just going to throw a few more of these Alaska Range pictures at you to give a sense of how it felt to be bombarded with this scenery. Try to imagine moving over and being surrounded by it all.
The snow began to thin as we descended. At this elevation the mountains look like they're made of dirt and gravel under all that snow.
The vegetation began to cover the bare earth, and we followed another one of the hundreds of glacial rivers to the airstrip six miles south of the park entrance.
What can I say?
Although we were back on the ground, Rick and I were still totally elated for hours. It was a serious splurge, as far as the expense, but completely worth it. We were so fortunate to have the whole experience, plus a clear view of The Mountain and the rest of the Alaska Range. It really helped us understand the immensity and grandeur of Alaska.