Sunday, December 27, 2009

Christmas Card Photo

I have been trying for several years now to get a decent Christmas card photo. For awhile there I sent out photos every year. Then, it got difficult to find someone to take our picture. One year I even sent out a photo of our cabin. But that was actually appropriate because it was fairly recently that we had embarked on our pioneering adventure of building our own home and living off the grid. Everyone knew what we looked like but the real curiosity was the end product of what seemed crazy to some: our quitting our jobs, selling our home in the big city and moving to our undeveloped property in the woods.

After several years without a photo, I tried to get our picture taken every summer in Alaska with no luck. Either no one was around to take it or, say when we asked total strangers, the pictures didn't come out well enough.

FINALLY, we got one this past summer. Here's the story.

From the quaint and tiny town of Talkeetna, we took a flight-seeing trip around Mt. McKinley, or Denali as is its original and locally popular name. We flew all around the many mountains surrounding Denali. It was the most spectacular thing I've ever done or seen.

I took a lot of pictures that intentionally included part of the aircraft in order to show the amazing view with perspective to how these huge and gorgeous mountains were so close out our windows.

The flight is supposed to land on Ruth Glacier but the folks at K2 Aviation asked us if we'd mind forgoing that landing in order to transport three Denali climbers to Base Camp where we would land on Kahiltna Glacier. We were told this was a rare treat and so it was.

As we came in for a landing, Base Camp came into view:

I was surprised at how many tents and people there were. Notice all the foot trails all over the place.

Once on the (I want to say "ground" but that's not right)...once on the glacier, it felt like we were on the ground. We were about 10,000 feet up but the mountains rose much higher. McKinley is 20,320 feet.

It was while we walked on a glacier that we had our pilot take our photo. We were pleased that it made the cut to become this year's Christmas card photo.

Base Camp was a little tent village. There was an HQ area complete with solar panels and communications antennae. The National Park office makes sure it keeps close tabs on every climber. They have to register with their names, departure date, chosen climbing route, and expected return date. Base Camp is communications HQ. Weather reports and climber status are conveyed over radios between mountain, air and ground.

Climbers build snow walls, igloo style, to shield their tents from the strong winds. The snow walls shown in this photo (at the back) must have been made by recently departed climbers.

Here are our climbers . I haven't a clue who they are or what their names are. But it was pretty impressive to get to see "real" Mt. McKinley climbers in the flesh. I prayed for their safety.

This is how much they carry on their backs. I waited with poised camera to take this photo; I wanted to document them with packs on.

When we took off to continue our flight, we could see Base Camp waaaaaaayyyy down there on the glacier. Click on the photo to enlarge it and look for the plane tracks that loop around at the top of the "runway".

And here it is again from even higher up. Pretty amazing. The runway loop is harder to see but it's there.

We took a right from the glacier and followed in the same direction toward McKinley that climbers do. Click on these photos and you'll see a tiny line running through the snow. This is evidence of climbers having passed through.

And here is another camp spot along the way. It's quite an awe-some thing, seeing the tiny-ness of man, his tracks and his shelters in the midst of all that vastness: miles of snow, the glacier, the mountains, the clouds and altitude.

Our pilot tried two or three times to get us close to Denali and to fly us around the summit as planned on our particular trip. But weather prevented him at every attempt. I sure didn't care; the whole trip was so spectacular. So we headed back "down" by way of a bunch of other mountains he knowledgeably described to us but which I didn't comprehend a word of. I was too awestruck to remember or understand what he was talking about.

We flew over this glacier and I managed to catch this photo behind us.

How's this for flying right past a mountain?

I admired this scene for miles as we approached it. I loved the craggy mountains with the glacier "road' curving right past them. I probably took a dozen photos of it as we flew closer and closer. You just have to shoot and shoot because you never know if the pilot's going to turn away from the scene or fly you right past it. I was thrilled when he flew us right on by this one.

So, that was our awesome, spectacular, amazing, gorgeous, stunning flight-seeing trip around Mt. McKinley. AND the excursion that finally brought us a Christmas card photo, thanks to our pilot who looked quite comfortable standing there on a glacier wearing a short sleeved Hawaiian shirt taking our picture.

1 comment:

  1. WOW!! What a fantastic, amazing adventure!!
    How wonderful that you got to experience such beauty, to witness such courage in the mountain climbers. WOW!
    Thank you so much for sharing this story with us Judi. Made the Christmas Card pic all the more special.
    What a blessing for you & Rusty to share that once-in-a-lifetime experience.