Our flight tour of Mt McKinley was scheduled to depart at 12 noon. We were to check in 30 minutes before takeoff. We called the tour operator about 10 am, as instructed, to check on status as the clouds were still heavy, though the forecast was for clearing. We were told to wait 45 minutes before starting our trip to the airport (a distance of about 25 miles). The 1st flight of the day had just departed. The news was good though, as the pilot reported that the mountains were visible above the clouds.
We arrived at the airport about noon, to find that there had been another delay of about 2 hours. So we went into the village of Talkeetna and had lunch. We visited the local visitor center of Denali National Park and returned to the airport about 2:30 and our flight departed at 3:50, delayed because the last two passengers were late.
It was a marvelous experience. Maryann and I had taken a similar flight tour in 2002. We were lucky to have a "severe clear" day on that flight so we covered some parts of the mountains that were not visible to us on this flight. I've included several pictures from the 2002 flight. One of the more interesting is the Grand Gorge. It is 9000 ft deep and a mile wide. The "U" shape reveals it glacial origin and the bottom is covered by Ruth Glacier which is about 3800 ft thick.
We crossed the Susitna River, which drains the entire surrounding area south of the Alaska Range into the Cook Inlet across from Anchorage. It is a major salmon fishing river along with its tributaries. It also exhibits the braiding common to northern rivers and is filled with glacial silt. As a clue to which way the river flows in the picture, we are flying west and the picture is taken from a window on the left of the aircraft (looking south toward Anchorage).
Shortly after crossing the river the pilot found and flew up through a hole in the cloud layer. The base of the cloud layer was about 3800 ft; the top was between 9000 and 11000.
We could see the three high peaks in the distance and we had glimpses of the foothills through the cloud layer along our flight path.
We crossed the mountain range between Mts Hunter and McKinley and it was a rough crossing in both directions, with some very strong up and down drafts. On the north side we could see the interior of Alaska to the horizon. The north side is in the rain shadow and is much drier. The area near the mountains contains the heart of Denali National Park with most of the animals and the road into the park, which we will travel when we get to our next stop.
When we came back over the pass to the south side, the clouds were lifting and our pilot was able fly around some of the glaciers and lesser peaks, called the "Little Alps" that are popular with mountain climbers.
There are 6 glaciers in Denali NP that are over 25 miles long. Our return flight paralled Kahiltna, the longest at about 43 miles. (In 2002 we saw the Ruth Glacier which is the 3rd longest at 35 miles). The 2nd longest, at 40 miles, is Muldrow Glacier, on the north side which we hope will be visible to us on our trip into the park. Kahiltna and Muldrow are the main routes for climbers attempting to reach the summit of Mt McKinley.
Flying around the mountains and over glaciers revealed many interesting features that are not visible from the ground. We have attempted to reveal some of the wonder, intrigue, and awe we experienced during our flights.