Only in Alaska: Flight-seeing Mt. McKinley

Yesterday we wrote about the tallest mountain in the world: Mt. McKinley (better known as “Denali”). Now, how to view this mighty peak? If you want to see the summit, you have two options: One, you could climb the mountain. But if the training and heights and gear and time are a bit too much for you, then consider a second option: a flight tour.

In both Denali Park (the village just outside the national park that houses all the visitor services) and the small town of Talkeetna, which serves as the base for all climbers making summit attempts, flight tour operators abound. You’ll have several options to choose from when deciding on a tour. Some will not only buzz the summit, but also land on one of the mountain’s many glaciers. If you want to get really adventurous, you could try a helicopter tour; many of these also include glacier landings.

On my recent tour of Alaska, I signed up for a basic summit viewing flight tour through Denali Air. The ten-seater propeller Piper was much, much smaller than any plane I’ve ever been on, and the turbulence on take-off and landing was palpable. We all wore headsets with microphones, and, once we hit 12,000 feet, oxygen masks. The unpressurized cabin also required heat, and the pilot cranked it up (the temperature outside was around 25F below zero).


The pilot flew us within a mile or two of the summit, though we felt like we were only a few hundred feet away. Besides pointing out the West Buttress and the Wickersham Wall, he also showed us the 14,000ft base camp – a minuscule smattering of several dozen tents.

A flight tour of Denali doesn’t come cheap, but it’s hard to put a price on circling the summit of the world’s tallest mountain. You can expect to pay several hundred dollars for a two-hour tour, and even more for options like a glacier landing. It doesn’t matter whether you fly out of the park or Talkeetna; the summit looks the same no matter which direction you fly in from. Pop a Dramamine if you suffer from motion sickness, and don’t forget your camera!

My trip through Alaska was sponsored by Princess Cruises, but the ideas and opinions expressed in this article are all my own.

Mush a dog team to Chris McCandless’s bus on the Stampede Trail

By now most of us are familiar with Chris McCandless and his Alaska tragedy, due to Jon Krakauer’s book “Into the Wild,” and Sean Penn’s screen adaptation of the text. It’s not that uncommon for folks to come to Alaska in search of something whether it be nature, an authentic experience, adventure,or some solitude. For folks seeking all four, McCandless has become somewhat of a role model. Martha already wrote about the the bus where McCandless died as a potentially popular destination, and the debate between locals about whether or not to remove it. It seems “wayward travelers” have been living out their Alaskan fantasies and using the bus as a sort of pilgrimage.

But now you can visit the bus by dog team in the middle of winter. What’s more, you can learn to mush your own team there. Can you think of anything more “authentically” Alaskan?

Chris McCandless’ Bus an unlikely tourist attraction

Chris McCandless, the famous vagabond and subject of Sean Penn’s new film, Into the Wild, is perhaps best known for living out of an abandoned bus in the Alaskan Wilderness in the early 90s. He hiked to the middle of nowhere of his own accord, despite warnings from concerned locals, and lived off the land for a number of months. On September 6, 1992, two hikers found the bus, and on the outside, a note that read:

SOS. I need your help. I am injured, near death, and too weak to hike out of here. I am all alone, this is no joke. In the name of God, please remain to save me. I am out collecting berries close by and shall return this evening. Thank you, Chris McCandless. August?

Unfortunately they were too late. McCandless had been dead for two weeks.

The bus was strategically placed on the Stampede Trail to provide refuge for hunters better equipped for the Alaskan wilderness than McCandless. But since the publication of the book the movie was based on, Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer, wayward travellers, mostly young men, have been romanticizing McCandless’ story and re-enacting his journey. And now, amidst worries that even more fans will flock to the site, located about 25 miles from the town of Healy, locals are considering moving it.

Moving it is a problem of it’s own, since they can’t just drive it out of there. And it’s a shame to take away a refuge for legitimate hunters who are equipped for the wilderness, just because some lost souls have a morbid curiosity to see the deathbed of their ill-placed hero. Thoughts?