the young pilot
arriving at the airfield outside of Denali, we felt excitement and a bit of nervousness. what an adventure we were about to embark on, seeing the top of a mountain shrouded in clouds that supposedly only 20% of visitors got to see. it would be quite amazing. we were set to fly on a 8 seater plane (including the pilot's seat) and (as it luckily turned out) it would be just the 3 of us and the pilot - a nice YOUNG guy no more than 20. what?! he barely looked old enough to drive a car, much less fly a plane. but, he assured us, he had flown for years and in fact had done this flight many times. age aside, he seemed to know his stuff and after brief instructions about flying over a certain elevation in a plane that small (at some point we'll have to wear oxygen masks), we were soon in the air. being that this was my first time in a plane this small, i was not prepared for how much it bounced... or the mysterious popping noise. wait, popping noise? that can't be right, could it? as it turned out neither the shaking nor the popping noise were part of the usual take off procedure (doh), and the young pilot told us through our headphones that we would be re-landing after only minutes in the sky.
unfortunately, the 'technical difficulties' plane was the only one they had that was able to go to the elevation needed for the summit of Mt McKinley. so that put us without a ride. the plane tour company (wanting to try all means to avoid refund) offered to give us a free upgrade to a plane that landed on a glacier about halfway up the mountain. well, suffice to say, we were a bit leery of getting back on a plane right away and not to mention that the other plane (another 8 seater) already had 5 people flying. doubt still lingered. was the first plane grounding a sign? as we hemmed and hawed over whether or not to go, they upped their offer. our own plane with the pilot that taught the rest of them to fly. i think my exact words were "that sounds okay", and then they hurriedly prepped the plane before we could decide against it.
the experienced pilot
a bit white-knuckled after our first attempt, the experienced pilot told us all about the plane and explained things as he did them... before i knew it we were halfway there (it was an hour to the mountain). being the only ones on the plane had its advantages... for one, we spoke with the pilot the whole way there and he pointed out cool parts of the Alaska Range. another thing that he did was to ensure that i was getting all the photos i wanted by turning the plane this was and that, it endeared him to me especially. next came another new experience: landing on plane skies. you could feel the plane sliding and it was quite bouncy, and right when i thought that it was going to slide into a huge snow bank it stopped. whew.
the amazing view
standing on Ruth Glacier was unlike anything i have ever experienced. all around you are the tops of mountains and clouds at eye level.