Here is part two. It's shorter than part one because I've decided to let the pictures do most of the talking.
On Sunday morning we headed out into the last frontier. We passed through Wasilla (Hi Sarah Palin) our destination was the tiny town of Talkeetna, whose mayor is a cat named Stubbs. We were booked on the Summit flight with Talkeetna Aero, an excellent company which provides flights around and on Mt. Mckinley.
About 1/3 of the visitors to this part of the state get to see the Summit of Mt. McKinley because the mountain creates its own weather patterns and that is usually clouds. B”H we were blessed with clear skies.
At about halfway to Talkeetna we crested a hill and suddenly there it was. The mountain loomed over everything. Enormous, you could barely make out where it ended and the sky began. It was definitely a sight to see. Roughly the height of 15 Empire State Buildings stacked on top of each other, I’ve never seen anything that tall in my life.
Mountains on top of mountains
By the way, bugs are everywhere in Alaska. Here is our very own bug cemetery - and this is with cleaning several times. I guess you never know what you are going to find because I found three chips in the windshield that I'm pretty sure I didn't cause. Thank G-d they didn't charge me for it.
The highway north from Anchorage is a two lane highway and with no warning at all, traffic was completely halted for road construction about an hour from our destination. We sat there for a half hour and were definitely going to miss the flight. So I called Talkeetna Aero and they were absolutely amazing. They immediately reserved the last two seats on the next flight and even offered to put us on a different style flight with a glacier landing instead of the summit flyover.
We opted for the summit flight and took off with our pilot Charlie in a tiny, cramped oxygen equipped, ten seat prop plane. I immediately felt sick although my wife had a great time. We strapped on flimsy oxygen masks at 12,000 ft and headed up to around 23,000 ft with the enormous mountain surrounded by glaciers, smaller peaks and canyons below. The mountains are all in a relatively small area so it is somewhat shocking to take off on a flat plain and be in the midst of an enormous mountain range 20 minutes later.
Mt mcKinley up close and personal:
Look close and you can see a plane on the glacier. We opted out of that tour.
This is the enormous Ruth Glacier. It actually has a forest growing on it.
The pilot was very informative but one story stood out. Apparently one climber made it to the top, chucked his backpack over the mountain face and skied straight down. Looking at the sheer cliff rising through the mists, the absolute insanity of doing that boggles the mind. However, he did survive and it’s a feat that's never been replicated.
After landing (and bentching Gomel), we headed to Talkeetna and hung around the general store for a bit before heading out on the two hour drive to our lodgings, the Denali Mountain Morning Hostel, a fantastic little place with a bunch of cabins surrounding a big cozy central cabin. This place was so cool I wish I could have stayed more than one night. The central area has a kitchen – obviously not kosher, with lots of couches, guest books, tons of photo albums with pictures that I guess were taken by guests, free wifi and more. Lots of people were there and the atmosphere was very friendly and inviting.
We paid app $110 for the night.
Denali Mountain Morning Hostel:
We arrived there after twelve and fired up the burner for a hot meal of meatballs and rice before conking out. The alarm rang at 5:30 so we could catch the 7:20 Denali Shuttle to Wonder Lake inside Denali National Park. We ended up missing the bus by seconds and they were unfriendly if not downright hostile about that but grudgingly put us on the next bus. It worked out great though, because our bus driver Jerome was fantastic. His dry sense of humor kept us entertained and distracted while the green school bus made terrifying hairpin turns on the narrow gravel road overlooking 1000 foot cliffs.
The park inside is beautiful. Here are some pictures to get an idea:
And of course:
From outside the park
We saw several grizzly bears, caribou, ptarmigans and others and of course got close up views of the mountain on this spotless day.
Moose (right outside the park)
We ended up taking the bus all the way in and after 11 1/2 hours of driving we started the 4.5 hour drive back to the Sheraton in Anchorage so we could head out early the next day to Matanuska Glacier, a 2 hour drive from Anchorage. Needless to say at this point we were utterly exhausted from the endless driving and lack of sleep. I'm sure we would not have been able to do it, if not for the eternal sunlight which seriously messed with our internal clock. Somehow we made it back to the hotel though I had to practically hold my eyes open when it was my turn to drive.
The long drive home
Early the next morning we headed out west. This drive was stunning, easily on par with the Seward highway and empty as anything. There was barely anyone on the road. Just empty highways and drop dead vistas.
We were going ice climbing.
We arrived at our destination MICA guides where we strapped on crampons - spiky shoes- and gear and headed down on a nauseatingly bumpy ride to the massive gorgeous glacier. Our two guides showed us how to carefully wedge our spikes into the ice and swing the ice tools into the ice, carefully kicking our way up the walls of ice. I don't care how it looks, when you are 20 feet up an ice wall, you don't feel secure at all. I couldn't shake the feeling that the ice would just give under my crampons and several times it did - luckily I was harnessed and our guides had the job of catching us if we fell, by hanging on the rope that was secured into the ice on the other side of the wall.
It was very scary but thrilling when it was over and you were safe on the floor having made it to the top. This is what the guides called type two fun.
After trying several different (and harder) ice walls we headed for a short tour on the glacier before heading back and then to Anchorage.
After showering and eating we headed to the Airport for the flight to Seattle and then to Philly. And that was the end of our Alaska adventure.
We can't wait to go back.
Tiny people on the glacier
Climbing the cliffs
200 year old meltwater. I drank some (from a cleaner spot) SF- it was delicious!
The mailbox situation
And that's all!
Hope you enjoyed reading this!