Friday, May 23, 2008

Denali Denied

As I write this it is a little after 6 in the morning and the sun has been up for two hours. Sunlight leaked into our room past the curtains until after midnight last night. The last time I experienced such lattitudinal effects on sunlight was in Norway in 1987. But, that time, as several previous trips to Norway's arctic, was in late winter, and the sun made a rather brief appearance on the horizon each day--the rest of our training day was conducted in twighlight or darkness lit only by the aurora borealis. This is the first time I've experienced more than 20 hours of sunlight and it is a bit disconcerting.

Out the window this morning Denali's peak is shrouded in cloud. It made a brilliant, snow-capped appearance yesterday evening after dinner, but the weather failed us earlier in the day.

We rode the Alaskan Railroad from Anchorage to the thriving metropolis of Talkeetna yesterday morning. Actually, Talkeetna makes my adpoted hometown, Abbeville, Mississippi, look like a bustling example of modernity. And, Abbeville ain't big enough for a traffic light. Upon our arrival in Talkeetna, we checked into the tourist lodge and caught their shuttle into "town." After seeing the sights for all of 15 minutes, we walked over to the bush pilot airfield and waited for our prearranged flight over the Alaskan Range.

The six of us strapped into the antique aircraft, a De Havilland DHC-2 "Beaver," while the pilot went over the location of survival gear and safety features of the aircraft. He actually managed to do so while not acting bored to tears. He later told us he averages 4 flights a day and has been doing this for nearly 30 years.

Our flight lasted an hour, but seemed to go by much quicker than that. We flew up to the base of the range and worked our way up through passes leading toward Mt. McKinnley's peak--looking for a break in the cloud to allow us a circling view. No break. However, the view on the way up was spectacular. We flew alongside towering rock walls and over gleaming white high altitude snow fields. The second leg of the flight took us back down over the massive glacier that flows from McKinnley to the river below. Still mostly covered in snow, small bright icey-blue pools of meltwater, looking like saphires at a lady's throat, opened tiny portals of light by which we stole a glimpse into the soul of the thousand foot thick frozen river.

Later this morning we catch the train on up to Fairbanks. Hope Miss Brenda gets those pictures of the moose and grizzly bears she wants. I just hope the coffee is hot and plentiful.
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