Soaring through the air, I felt wraithlike, fighting feelings of disbelief. The forest passes by underneath with subtle but obvious speed. Braided rivers, now forest, now white capped mountains, now glaciers… Winding our way up a pathway of ice, we approach, closer and closer, touch down. We exit the plane into an icescape of sheer ruggedness; the south face of Denali can be seen just 15 miles away. Am I dreaming? How did I get here? In utter incredulity I retrace my steps in my head to be sure this is actually real.
I’m back at the lodge, thinking about my post-season plans. Here, it’s uncommon to meet a guest that hasn’t been, or isn’t going to Denali on their Alaskan tour. As I worked through the summer at the lodge I heard so many stories of people’s experiences or of their plans to go in the coming days, many included a fly over such as the one I just described. Very, very patiently I waited for my turn, and as my four-month commitment came to an end I had one goal in mind: Get to Denali. So I found a travel buddy and headed north. What a perfect trip it turned out to be.
Right off the boat we headed to the Northern end of the Kenai, camping in Hope for a little bluegrass boot kicking to start our tour off right. Next to Anchorage, a rental car pick up and a lazy drive over Hatcher Pass. Autumn is evident in the air, in the vegetation and in the sky. We put more miles underneath us and found a riverside camp near the turnoff to Talkeetna.
The next morning we hatched our plan: head to the Talkeetna landing strip, post up for the afternoon and try to get on a flight. You see our company works closely with an aviation center here and employees can fly stand-by for a reduced price. We were prepared to wait all day if need be, but when we arrived we were asked “Would you like to do a glacial landing?” The answer was obvious, “Okay then, get ready there’s a flight in just twenty minutes.” Bingo! Jackpot! Calakazooo! Followed by other incomprehensible exclamations then a leaping heel kicked off the front deck.
Security briefing. Seatbelts fastened. Take off.
Our pilot guided us above the landscape as it changed underneath: the Susitna River: silty and braided, the Boreal Forest that blankets this region, hunters’ cabins dotted below. As the mountains themselves drew nearer with looming peaks and colossal glaciers I was stunned into this somehow familiar feeling of disbelief. We flew through a slot, cliffs plummeting a thousand feet seemingly just beyond the wing. Our descent is steady but sudden until large rubber tires and skies made contact with the ice. As I step out of the airplane and on to the ice disbelief turns to enchantment as I look around.
I snapped a few photos but mainly just squinted into the intense reflection of pure sun on snow on this perfect cloudless day. Let’s review: Glacial ice, mountain rock, blue sky sunshine, windless calm, airplanes flying, soaring heights. Do you believe me? I’m still not quite sure I even do.