Wednesday, August 6, 2008


We woke up, for the first time in the RV. It was cold inside, the RV does not have heat insulation. Roy was happy and warm, Lior seemed to had problems at night and Yael complained of freezing. We turned on the heater to warm up everyone (the heater can work when connected to electricity or an hour or so from battery power. Both kids had runny nose and sneezing, and so we gave them anti-cold medicine.

We rearranged the RV for day use (mainly setting back the table and benches) and had breakfast. By the time we finished cleaning up the RV it was almost 10:30. We packed up our day gear and walked to town. The sky was clear and blue with few white clouds in the distance. At the town we said hello to the person at the air tour company, went and got a coffee, and then a ride to the airport. We met our pilot, and after paying outrageous sum, we set off on our adventure.

The plane is a small one, with seats for five (one next to the pilot, two in the middle, and one in the rear.) The pilot said that the rear seat has the best view, and Roy volunteered to have it. I sat next to the pilot, and the girls sat in the middle row. Everything inside was small and a bit cramped. I had to make sure that I don't touch any of the controls by mistake. The front of the plane is mostly made up of controls, and the front window is very high, and so initially when on the ground I couldn't see much forward. We all got seat belts (the type that go over your shoulders and mid-section - like child seats), and headset (earphones + microphone).

Getting ready to fly

Once we were set, we went to business, we got in line for take off, and while driving to the end of the runway the pilot went through the check list checking the controls and various dials (I was impressed that he did that very carefully). We got all clear to take off, and started driving down the airway, and in no time were in the air. We started going up in a beautiful sunny day with impressive patches of clouds. We saw the town from above and the three rivers that converge to one upstream of the town. The rivers looked very muddy, this was due to large amount of glacier silt that washes with them. We continued north over wide areas of green grasses and forests that were dotted with lakes and streams.

In the plane

From afar we saw the mountain range, and then suddenly the pilot said that we can see "The Mountain", referring to mount McKennely also know as Denali which supposedly means "the big one" in the native language. This mountain is approximately 6.5KM high, the highest peak in North America. It is almost twice as high as the peaks of the surrounding mountain range. The way it seemed to us is that there is a mountain range, and above it clouds, and then at some point we see a white peak above these clouds.... The pilot showed us a rainbow, and then another one. Turns out that by playing with the cloud and the orientation of the sun he can "engineer" rainbows of impressive locations, including ones that run 360 degrees around the airplane.

First peek at Denali

Closing in on the mountains

Below us the ground slowly turned from tundra to mountains. Slowly the trees gave way to grass, and that to ice and glaciers. The whole area is sculptured by glaciers and so the valleys are deep with impressive cliffs of granite. As we got higher we started going next to clouds that were at our level. We went over small glaciers and ice "falls" into a deep ravine where the main glacier south of the mountain runs through. This is an impressively large glacier that dug a very steep canyon (hundreds of meters deep). At its beginning it looked like semi-liquid substance, with streams of ice and debris running along it. Up close we could see the enormous cliffside made of ice. We followed the glacier toward its source, a big amphitheater on the side of the mountain, that feeds off the ice from multiple directions. We could see the peak now and then, and the big field of ice below us. Here the ice was covered with snow, with cracks that reveled emerald colored ice from below (The pilot said that the field of ice is called Star Wars because pilots who are brave enough landed on them and said they look like a scene from Star Wars).

Glaciers up close

Glacier flow

Denali peeking above the clouds

More glaciers

At this point we turned and started going back along the other side of the glacier. We saw side valleys dug by smaller glaciers that melt higher on the mountain leading to streams that merge into the big glacier and then get lost inside crevices. As we got down further down along the glacier it was covered by more and more debris. Some of it was pushed into a ridge in the middle of the glacier, and other forming dunes at various points. As we got toward the end of the glacier we could see grass and trees growing on the top soil above the ice. At various point melting water dug out under the trees creating sink holes. From afar we could see the clouds getting thicker, and at various places rain --- the local rain looked as though the clouds were trying to reach down at various points.

The big glacier


Going back to the tundra

After an hour of flight we landed. The landing looked pretty dramatic from the front of the plane, but the pilot put us down expertly. We took memorial pictures and then returned to town.

We made it back!

After some debate, we decided to have lunch later on the road. We took off and started going north toward Denali National Park. Both kids were not looking that well, their stuffy noises caused ear problems on the return part of the flight, and now they were a bit quech.

View of the mountain (its behind the clouds)

What it should look like

On the way they both fell a sleep, and so we continued without stopping. At some point we got to a place where the road was resurfaced, and had to wait half an hour until we could go through.

We were driving with high mountain ranges on both sides, crossing over deep creeks. This strip of road had few signs of people and it felt that we are starting to get a sense of the alaska wilderness.

Typical road view

We reached an intersection of the highway with the "Denali highway" that cuts horizontally across toward Canada. At the intersection there is a small town with two gas stations. We filled up the tank, and discovered that RV is an expensive way of traveling....

Big sky

At last we got to the Denali National Park. We went to register. Turns out that RV sites for tonight were already taken, so we reserved sites for the next two nights, and also a guided 8 hour tour for the next day. The sky was turning gray and we needed to find a place to spend the night. The book mentioned few RV campsites north of the park, and so we went searching for a place to spend the night. The commercial parks are mostly crowded, and the park we found is a flat parking lot like area above the river. There was a row of big RV (each like a bus) parked next to each other door to door. We found a spot with more space further on. This is the first time we are parking in place with water and electricity hookup. It takes us a while to find a site that we can connect to in terms of the location of the ports on the RV. The good side of the hookup is that we can charge appliances and turn on the heating without worrying about the battery. Out side it is raining, and so we sit inside. Lior and Yael are doing craft activities, Roy is going crazy, and I am writing reports....

It continued raining through the evening and night, and so we stayed in and had a pasta dinner in our little cozy "house".


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