After our break at Willow Creek, we continued the longest day of our lives and headed north-east to Talkeetna. As we got closer to the turn for the Talkeetna Spur, Denali’s peak came into view and held our attention for most of the drive. Everyone talks about how the Rockies make the Appalachians look so small, but the Alaska Range absolutely dwarfed the Rockies, with Denali featuring prominently in the middle. All 20,310 feet stood out as clear as could be on this gorgeous evening. Not a single cloud or strip of haze marred the absolutely perfect sight.
Along the Spur, we encountered our first moose sighting. We excitedly turned around for a second view, thinking we were really seeing something. By the end of our trip, we decided that Alaskans see more moose than Tennesseans see white-tailed deer. Along with our moose sighting, we found a road side viewing area that provided an absolutely perfect angle of Denali. We stopped for a while, shot a few pictures, then headed on to K2 Aviation.
I don’t think we could have selected a more impressive company to take us out for an aerial tour. K2 Aviation maintained a beautiful facility full of flowers with seats and a small playground, while providing guests with drinks. They suited us up with galoshes type boots to pull on over our shoes to keep our feet dry during our adventure, then they matched us up with Daniel, our pilot for the evening. Daniel led us out to our 1965 model plane which would provide transport for the evening, and helped us settle in to our seats and headsets, then we were off!
Our tour flew within 6 miles from Denali’s summit, then took us down into the Ruth Amphitheater and Great Gorge. We viewed the Tokositna and Ruth Glaciers, the ridges of Mount Huntington, hanging glaciers on Mount Hunter, and the famous Moose’s Tooth. Our guide pointed out many different features:
- South Face of Denali
- Don Sheldon Amphitheater
- The Sheldon Mountain House
- The Great Gorge
- Moose’s Tooth, Broken Tooth
- Mount Dickey
- Ruth Icefall
- Mount Hunter
- Mount Huntington
- Susitna Valley
We probably have pictures of each of these, but honestly, I couldn’t tell you which was which.
I cannot even begin to formulate a way to describe our views. To say they were breathtaking or fabulous is the worst under statement. I love science. In fact, Geology was probably my most favorite college course I enrolled in. Seeing the geological formations and understanding the geological forces that created all of this was an absolute geek-out experience for me, but ultimately, taking all that in really changes your perception. You don’t have to agree with me, but I just don’t see how anyone could experience such a landscape and question a greater power. It seems all too evident that none of this was a mistake. Obviously a great divinity intentionally put into motion all the tectonic forces which formed this wondrous terrain. Truly, we took part in a religious experience. Sometimes you have to leave church to find God.
In the middle of our flight, Daniel brought our plane in for a landing on the 1,000 year old Ruth Glacier. Ian and I were pretty excited about landing on a surface that required skis, and it didn’t disappoint. We had our smoothest landing of all 5 of the aircraft we traveled in for this trip. Once our plane was parked, Daniel helped us all tumble out into the snow to play.
I know you hear that “everything’s bigger in Texas.” The King Ranch, birthplace of TX ranching is bigger than Rhode Island. I’m sorry, Texas, but I believe Alaska has you firmly beat. Denali National Park contains over 6 million acres. That’s bigger than Vermont, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode Island or Delaware! Granite peaks surrounded us on every side as we faced Denali’s south face. The slopes rising up in front of us looked just feet away, but Daniel warned us not to stray far, because those hills could actually be thousands of feet from us. We asked if we could walk to the stunning blue glacial pools we could see just below us, and he had to explain that those were actually several miles away, and he couldn’t guarantee the snow pack or depth of ice outside of the area we were parked.
Our flight included quite a few children, so we had an exciting stop on the glacier, including a giant snowball fight. Ian did get in trouble for hitting the plane. Daniel called him out and set him straight that the plane is the one target off-limits. Brinn could hardly stand himself as he took in all the possible ski trails and started calculating the negotiations that would be required to convince a pilot to leave him out there with skiing equipment for a few hours. Brinn and Ian both hit the ground to make snow angels and to slide down the hills. They were both far more active than me. Even my dad spent most of the stop taking as many pictures as possible. I just walked in circles in a daze while trying to drink it all in. If I close my eyes, I can see Denali looming over and beckoning climbers to come tempt its routes. I can still hear the rushing of water all around us, and even flowing beneath the ice that we stood over. I remember the hot sensation in my fingers of holding giant handfuls of fresh snow. It tasted so clean. An above all, the absence of smells will stay with me forever. No exhaust, or chemical scent anywhere around us. No plants or animals came close enough to this elevation to leave behind any odor. No one brought food for the short journey. Everything simply smelled fresh. I think it may be the first time in my life to truly experience “clean.”
The privately owned lodge with its own helicopter pad caught our interest, so Daniel spoke to that during our stop. The Sheldon Chalet has 5 luxury rooms available for guests to reserve, but with the price per night in the thousands, it’s not likely that I’ll have the opportunity to indulge in this particular tourist attraction.
Unfortunately our time on the glacier came to a close, and Daniel loaded us all back into his plane to resume our aerial tour before delivering us back at K2 Aviation. It was somewhere near 9:30 PM at this point, and we still felt like it may be 4:00 in the afternoon. This sunlight was unreal. Reluctantly we left our beloved glacier behind to head on to our next adventure of enjoying Denali from the water. Stay tuned as the longest day of our lives in land of the midnight sun still continued for another five hours…