Alaska Day 6

May 25, 2004 - 1:53 am Comments Off on Alaska Day 6

Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought I would go to base camp at Mt. McKinley.

The morning dawned dry and clearing, and we woke to the sounds of planes flying out of the Talkeetna airport every few minutes. I looked out the windows and saw mountains. It was shaping up to be a nice day, and I called Talkeetna Air Taxi to make reservations for us to do McKinley flightseeing. (Note: I’m calling it McKinley because that’s what everyone’s familiar with. Apparently there is some movement to get the name changed back to the original “Denali”, but although I was being politically sensitive and calling it Denali, everyone I ran across said McKinley.) They had an opening for a 1.5 hour tour and a glacier landing at 2:30, so I booked it and we spent the time waiting by walking around the hotel grounds and grabbing some lunch. I amused myself taking pictures of the Alaska version of bluebonnet, a lupin which is purple and bigger than the bluebonnet is. I doped hub up to get him on the plane, so he was pretty calm about it once it took effect. We got to the airport and waited.. and waited.. and waited.. all the while watching the mountain climbers around us making final preparations for going up the mountain. There were two groups near us – one Japanese and one Czech(?). One of the Czech guys had a big box of powdered milk and was drinking from it. Getting up his energy? I dunno.

Finally at 2:30 the pilot came over and got us and we headed for the little Cessna. There was a group of 6 of us. Hub and I took the middle seats under the wings because they were supposed to move the least. We buttoned up and started off, with our GPS to mark our route. We headed towards the mountains and saw all sorts of glaciers with deep blue pools on top and huge crevasses leading down into the interior. Eventually we got to McKinley and flew over the base camp on the glacier at 7200 feet where the climbers are set down to start out the trek to the 20,000 foot summit. It was a tiny town of tents, little specks of people, and an airplane, all set on the blinding snow of the glacier. The pilot learned that the point where we were going to land had some weather moving in, so he told us he was going to do something a little unusual and land us at base camp. He set down the skis on the plane with two thunks and we started a sharp descent into the narrow valley. The landing was like a rollercoaster; it wasn’t a smooth, flat, paved surface but a patch of snow, and we felt it. We got out and looked around at all the flurry of activity around us – mountaineers scurrying around everywhere. I overheard one of them say, “Um, why do those people from the plane have no gear?” (“Cause we’re sane, dude, and aren’t going to climb up this monster on foot.”)

I found it highly ironic that one group had brought up some stuff in a box labeled “Iceberg lettuce”.

After tromping around on the snow for about 20 minutes, we got back in and took off. Hub fell asleep. I dunno how. As we were on the way back, we saw the weather rolling in from the southeast. The pilot said we got really lucky and made it just in time. I think they stopped doing the trips for the day right after ours. It was a little bumpy, but I’ve been in worse turbulence on a big passenger plane.

The GPS said we got up to around 12,000 feet and were going around 120-130 MPH.

When we got back, we headed into town and did some shopping, then came back to the hotel while I was on hold with the ISP for 1.5 hours because the login stopped working, then headed down to the hotel restaurant for our anniversary dinner. Which was really uninspired. And overpriced.

So tomorrow we may go to Fairbanks, or brave the Denali highway, a 130 mile stretch of unpaved road that’s just opened back up for the summer. Either way it’s bound to be a good bit of driving.

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