Tuesday August 22: Anchorage to Talkeetna
High Point of Trip
This was a very nice day. It might very well end up being the literal and figurative high point of the trip.
We all slept well. Despite the time zone difference, I didn’t wake up at 4am and be unable to fall back asleep. I did get up around 7am or a bit afterwards and take a shower. Then we were all up for 7:30 for breakfast.
Breakfast was very nice. They had scrambled eggs with a few add-ins, so it was rather tasty. They had some sausage, which might have contained a little reindeer meat. There was fruit, cereal, breads, and other stuff. It was definitely a rather nice B&B.
We got two recommendations for places to visit on our way north. First, we stopped at Thunder Bird Falls state park. This was a short (1-mile) hike on a good path to an overlook of a waterfall. The falls weren’t the greatest, but they were OK. Sam and I took a short side hike down to the creek. We hoped we could get up to a decent view of the falls, but we could only see the very bottom of them.
After that, a bit further up the highway (just before Wasilla) we took a side road up into the mountains to the Hatcher mine site. At the lower parking lot, Sam decided we should hike across some (picked out) blueberry meadows and on up to a small ridge. We were in the Alpine or sub-Alpine zone, which we really like. The views were wonderful. On the way down from the ridge, Sam gave us our first official marmot sighting/picture.
Then we drove up to the mine ruins. We hoped to get lunch there, but the “snack bar” it turns out only sold snacks (e.g. popcorn, chips, and things like that). Sam got the first of several stuffed bears. We wandered around a little, and I took a small loop trail. Someone told me about a lot of pikas there. I heard them but never saw one.
We were really glad that we had stopped there, and we just wished we had had more time to explore the area. It was not something that we would have found on our own.
We could have spent a lot more time hiking around there, but it was getting late (maybe around 2), we had a plane to catch, and we were getting rather hungry.
We drove back to the main road and proceeded in to Wasilla. Sam found a place to eat on his phone—the Krazy Moose subs. Sam got a sub, but I got a burger (served on sourdough bread, sort of like a grilled cheese sandwich. Amy got a grilled ham and turkey sandwich.
After our late lunch, we visited a Target and got a cheap (relatively speaking) cooler and some breakfast supplies. They were not currently carrying ice, so we had to drive to a nearby Fred Meyer’s to get ice. Then we started zooming northward to catch our Denali flight.
About an hour outside of Talkeetna, we got a text from the flight place saying that our originally scheduled flight could not be flown, and that we should call their number. We were rather surprised, as the day had become mostly sunny without a lot of clouds. I called their number, and we found out that the flight was still on, but instead of flying over the mountain, we would be doing a lower circuit/tour of the mountain (e.g. at around 11-13,000 feet instead of 20-21,000 feet.
We “checked in” at our B&B (a definite step down from the first place), which consisted of driving in, getting our key off of a rack, and then heading to the flight place (next to the airport). We got there slightly early, so we had a bit of a wait for our flight.
There were maybe a half dozen planes going out on various trips. The pilot would come out, read off a bunch of names, and then walk with them over to the plane. The group of passengers got smaller and smaller, until there was just 10 of us left. Finally, our pilot came out and we were called. But then he went back in, and we had more wait time. Finally, he came out and took us to our plane. It was a DeHavilland Turbo Otter. We had assigned seats due to weight balance, and I ended up in the very back of the plane. It was a mixed location. On the plus side, I could see out either side of the plane instead of just out one side. On the other hand, I was a bit further away from the windows (sitting in the middle of the plane), so I had a harder time looking downward. On the third hand, being that far back, it was easier for me than for Amy, for example, to take pictures without the wing or the wing brace getting in the way.
Two lucky passengers got to ride in the copilot’s seat (one on the way out, and one on the way back). I would have loved to have done that, but several other people were keen on it, and I didn’t want to complicate things. It would have been interesting to watch him fly the plane where I would be able to see everything he did.
We really lucked out with the weather. It was pretty clear around the mountain. The pilot said that it was the first time in about a week-and-a-half that he’s seen the mountain. (The next day, the mountain was mostly covered with clouds again.)
I was worried about being cold, but that wasn’t an issue. On the first half I was almost too warm with just my fleece shirt. We flew around the mountain a bit. We got really good views of the lower peaks. We were tooling around at 10 to12 thousand feet. It meant that we had to look up to the summit, but it gave us much better views of the lower stuff. I was amazed at how many very tall vertical or near vertical faces there were. Of course, everything that wasn’t too steep was covered with a glacier.
I was amazed when we flew to the west side of Denali. Below us, there was a solid cloud deck. It was sort of like they came from the west, hit a wall (the mountains), and just got stuck there. The views from the ground to the west would have been non-existent, but from the east, where we were, the skies were very clear.
After the initial sightseeing, we descended and landed on the Ruth Glacier. I trusted the pilot, but he came in towards a snow field that was rising, and from the back of the plane, I could look forward through the cockpit window and just see snow in front of us. I was thinking that a landing was by definition “controlled flight into terrain”.
After a bumpy landing, he slewed the plane around, and it seemed to slide sideways. Sam really liked that part. He turned the plane around so that it was facing downhill, stopped it, we put on our coats, and got out onto the glacier. Of course, it was essentially just standing in some slightly slushy snow.
There was a big rock outcropping that was privately owned. You could rent it for up to 10 people for 3 nights for only $80,000 per night (or maybe for all 3?).That included the helicopter ride in and out, and the private chef that was stationed there for your stay.
After a bit, we got back in the plane. It seemed a bit cooler, so I left my fleece jacket on. We flew over a pass and down a valley on our way out.
Interestingly, towards the bottom of the glacier, the dirt on top was deep enough that trees grew there, but under the dirt was ice. In one place, an underground (under ice?) stream came bubbling to the surface, sort of like a backwards whirlpool.
We got back around 9 or 9:30, so an obvious question we asked our guide/pilot was “where can we get dinner that would still be open?” He suggested a place that I think was called something like the Denali Brew Pub.
Amy and I got the pulled pork plate with coleslaw and beans, while Sam got a burger with curly fries. Part of our motivation was that the pulled pork was among the cheapest dinners they had. When we got served, we were amazed at the huge mound of meat on each plate. Had we known that, we would have gotten one plate and shared it. The coleslaw was pretty good. The pork had no BBQ sauce on it, but it was still very tasty, and not at all dried out or over-cooked.
We went back to the B&B and then spent a short while wandering around until we found our room. Sam took a shower and went to bed. I started writing up the day’s events, but eventually put it aside and went to bed, both because I was disturbing the others, but also because I was very tired.