I haven’t been one to make a big fuss over birthdays in quite some time. Over the past few years, I have voluntarily celebrated my birthday at a friend’s birthday party and at a another friend’s bachelorette party, amongst other things. But sometimes you just have to let yourself be the center of the party. This year, it felt like a good time to celebrate my birthday by doing something special. I wanted to do something bucket list worthy. So, when I realized that my dad and I would be in Alaska visiting my cousin and his family for my birthday, I started brainstorming. What can be more bucket list worthy than flying into Denali National Park and landing on a glacier at the base of Mt. McKinley (North America’s highest peak)? Not much. Not much more than blowing out birthday candles on said glacier…on cupcakes…while being sung the Happy Birthday song…and following it up by throwing a snowball at my dad in the middle of summer! Ha ha! And, that, folks, is what we made happen.
Up at the wee hour of the morn, we were into the car, had stopped at the grocery store for cupcakes, and soon road tripping to Healy, where we’d catch our flight into the park. There is nothing that says, “It’s my birthday, and I hope you treat me special,” like walking up to a pilot of a small charter plane with a tray of cupcakes and saying, “Hey! It’s my birthday, and I really hope we can bring these so that my dad can sing me Happy Birthday up on that glacier.” Subtlety is not my strong suit. So, guess who got to fly co-pilot? Yeap. That’s me. Co-pilot Kara.
There was quite a bit of turbulence up there in that cloudy sky amongst all those high peaks and enormous valleys. Initially, the pilot was uncertain if he’d be able to get us down on the glacier due to weather. But, after circling a few times, things opened up…and we got our landing.
Glacier Ruth. Set in one of the deepest gorges in the world. This place is massive. So much more massive than can be appreciated, because nothing from land or air can keep it in perspective. Everything around here is massive. And, when everything is big, nothing stands out as particularly enormous. Thus, understanding the scale is very difficult. Think about this – combined, the depth of the glacier and the height of the surrounding cliffs create a gorge that is deeper than the Grand Canyon. I’d say that that is pretty big.
After taking off out of the Gorge of Ruth Glacier, our pilot flew us around the park for quite some time. We were able to see the transition from this barren landscape of granite and ice to the more hospitable environments with forest, meadow, streams…and actual animals.
After 100 + minutes of exploring Denali National Park by air, our pilot safely brought us back to Healy. Beaming, we all collected our stuff and said our goodbyes and well wishes….and Pops and I set out looking for food. A few stops and misses later, we found Alaska Fish & Chips…and this…
Feeling appropriately fueled, we decided to try to squeeze in a bit of exploring by land. There were no 4×4 tours or anything of the like that sounded even remotely interesting or were even available. So, we decided to just take it on by car. In Denali N.P, you can only go so far into the park by private car. And, because we were tired, we chose to skip the school bus shuttle and settle for the “short” 15 mile route that was the farthest we could go in our car. The route was beautiful…but the mosquitos were wicked, keeping us in our car the entire time…except for quick jumps out for photos.
Due to the time of day, we did not see a ton of wildlife or any views of Mt. McKinley (you need to go farther on the road for that). But, we saw some moose and a lot of pretty vistas. With a 2 hour drive back to North Pole, we called it a day, grabbed some snacks, and headed home….with more moose sightings and beautiful scenery in store for the drive. No road trip in Alaska can be called boring.
And, that, my friends, was not a birthday that was just another day.