Susan C. Anthony

Mt. McKinleyFlight around Mt. McKinley

June 17, 2005

It was a perfect day to fly – cool, calm, and spectacularly clear. We decided to have lunch in Talkeetna, a quaint little town south of Denali National Park that reminds us of Cicely in the TV sit-com Northern Exposure.

The air taxi operators did a bustling business that day flying tourists to the mountain. Too often, weather won't permit flying near the mountain at all, let alone in comfort! I'd dreamed of flying around the massive peak for decades. This day, pilots said conditions were perfect, clear and calm. Dennis was reluctant but I pushed for us to circle the mountain. There would never be a better day. Finding another day this good would be unlikely.

He was less than enthused about the idea, but conditions were so perfect that I insisted we should at least take a charter flight. Upon learning what that would cost for two of us, we talked to the FAA guys, who encouraged us, then ufilled the tanks and took off.

We climbed up over the Kahiltna Glacier and looked down on the base camp for climbers ascending the mountain. You can see the camp and the trail up the mountain briefly in the video if you watch closely. In rarefied air, we had to circle and circle to gain enough altitude to clear Kahiltna Pass to the north slope of the mountain, at which point we had to change radio frequencies and continue broadcasting our location. Both pilots and passengers tend to be entranced by the mountain views and less attentive than they should be to air traffic, so planes are required to broadcast frequently and keep a sharp watch for each other.

Just after we crested the pass, another plane announced it was at the pass. We searched the air frantically. It had to be close. The other pilot looked for us, too. At one point, he said, "I see you now. You're ahead of me. Look up!" We looked up and he zoomed overhead in a twin engine plane. You can see the plane against the mountain briefly in the video. Airplanes look like mosquitoes in the vicinity of Mt. McKinley, which is the highest from base to peak in the world. Taller mountains generally rise from high plateaus.

We climbed up to 12,400', possibly higher than that airplane had ever flown before. At that elevation, we were just midway up the side of the mountain outside the window. We gradually descended Ruth Glacier as clouds began to gather over the peaks.

Pachelbel's Canon in D seemed the only music that could properly accompany the iMovie I made from photos we took that day. The music was purchased from the Square Peach Music site and is royalty free. 

I checked one more item off my Bucket List and still bask in memories of that incredible day. We camped that night on a remote airstrip near Knik Glacier and the weather soured. The next morning we clawed our way through wind and storm a few miles back to our home airstrip and were glad to be safely out of the sky and headed home to warmth. Nobody would be flight-seeing around Mt. McKinley that day!

Go on to read Hubbard Glacier
Source:, ©Susan C. Anthony