Alaska trip -- Summer 2008 travel blog

The tour airplane was a DeHaviland Otter

We crossed the Susitna River shortly after takeoff - which was is...

The three highest peaks from left: Foraker, Hunter and McKinley

The elevation of Mt Foraker is 17400 ft

The elevation of Mt Hunter is 14573 ft

The elevation of Mt McKinley is 20320 ft

An eastern view of Mt McKinley taken during 2002 flight

The north wall of Mt McKinley, one of the longest vertical cliffs...

A closer view of the snow and ice on the "wall"

Snow blowing from shoulder of Mt McKinley

We flew up through the clouds

And saw sections of the mountains

Which were very spectacular

We could see details in the faces of the cliffs

There was evidence of snow slides and snow on the crest of...

How does snow and ice hold to the vertical cliffs?

The ice and snow appears to form falls

A pair of glacial falls

The higher peaks are surrounded by "foothills" and glaciers

The Great Gorge and Ruth Glacier extend toward the south east from...

Kahiltna Glacier is one of the routes used by climbers to approach...

A group of "foothills" to the south are called the "Little Alps"

The foothills to the north are much drier due to the rain...

The heart of Denali National Park is north of the mountains

Looking down on a glacier flowing north

Many smaller glaciers flow into the larger ones.

the boundary between two merging glacier forms a medial moraine

The surface of Kahiltna Glacier shows many medial moraines

Ruth Glacier also has many medial moraines (2002 picture)

There are many interesting features on the surface of the glaciers

This "pond" is composed of some water and also reveals the blue...

Some details of a medial moraine in Kahiltna

The rock carried by Kahiltna glacier has been deposited at the toe...

The rock from the glacier covers the ice in the terminal moraine...

The surfaces of the glaciers exhibit many interesting patterns

A similar pattern

Snow covering the surface of a glacier also reveals fascinating shapes

The surface of hardened snow is shaped by the wind

We were able to fly under the clouds on the return trip...


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.

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