Into Denali


“We need the tonic of wildness … At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be indefinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable. We can never have enough of nature.”
– Henry David Thoreau

I finally made it to Denali National Park, a majestically beautiful 6-million-acre park that’s the home to the tallest mountain in North America, Mount McKinley. 

The size of the mountains and expanse of the vistas make a person feel Lilliputian.  And other than a very few scattered clusters of houses and stores, there is nothing but wilderness.

Today I also met Dan Woolf, a friend of Joni Berg (who I worked with at the Gainesville Sun).  Dan, from Jacksonville, is up here for a few months working in the McKinley Village Lodge.  He was nice enough to secure a room for me tonight and tomorrow night so I’ll have an actual mattress.

I’m looking forward to it already.  Sleeping in the trunk of a car can get old!

To date on this trip, it has seemed that those whims or spur-of-the-moment adventures are often the best.  Remember, for example, both Whitter and the trip to Hatcher Pass.

The next morning upon rising from a comfy lodge bed and getting in my car to find coffee, I had just pulled into a short line of gift shops, restaurants, cafes and the like when I saw a sign that proclaimed the best flights in Alaska.  I stepped inside the office to inquire and was told the next flight to Mount McKinley was leaving in 5 minutes.

It took about 60 seconds for me to decide to take it.

Myself, a pilot and two others were shuttled to a small Piper Navaho where we proceeded to belt ourselves in, put on headphones and take to the air.

The next 75 minutes or so were pure magic as we soared over a landscape so vast it was almost incomprehensible (the mountains encompass 6 million acres, a larger area than all of Massachusetts).

Soon we could see the snow-clad tip of McKinley (originally amed Denali or “The High One” by native Alaskans) poking from the clouds.  The double-peaked top of the mountain rises three miles above sea level and is the tallest in North America.  In fact, the only mountains taller are in the Himalayas and the Andes.

We flew within two miles of Wickersham Wall on McKinley, which drops a vertical 14,000 feet from the summit.

Alaska is a state of epic proportions and magical experiences.

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