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An Unforgettable Flight: Landing on Ruth Glacier

by Phillip Manning ~ July 24th, 2014

by:  Alberto Garcia, KTNA

This summer, one of KTNA’s interns, Alberto Garcia, has been taking a look at the Upper Valley from the perspective of someone from Outside.  Alberto’s time with KTNA will be over soon, but he did have one uniquely Alaskan adventure before leaving, a flightseeing trip and glacier landing.  He took a recorder along, and has this report:

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I ride into Downtown Talkeetna on my bicycle the morning of July 21st and as Mt. McKinley comes into view, I stop for a second to admire the splendor of mountain scenery. I didn’t know at the time that in just a couple of hours I’d actually be standing closer to Denali than most people ever will.

I arrived at the KTNA studio that morning, my mind still in awe from how beautiful the mountain looked that morning. Most days the weather is not favorable and the mountain hides behind gray skies and rainclouds.

I had wanted to take a flight to the Alaska Range since early on in my internship at KTNA. When I was told that Talkeetna Air Taxi would fly me up to the glacier at 11am, I could barely contain my excitement.

At 10:30am, I pedaled over to East Talkeetna, checked myself into the flight and waited patiently for my name to be called. I slipped some covers over my boots and the staff there handed me some sunglasses. I didn’t pay much attention to these details but they would come to make sense once I was in the air and on the glacier.

Once my name was called, a family of 7, a couple from Utah, and I proceeded to board a plane that the young pilot, Alex Land, referred to as an “Otter.” The Otter is the biggest plane Talkeetna Air Taxi flies, with enough capacity for ten people and the pilot.

Before boarding, Alex asked if somebody would like to ride in the co-pilot seat. My hand shot straight up right after he asked.

“We do have rows of seats along each wall, next to the windows.  We also have one co-pilot seat available.  Does anyone particularly want to sit there?”

I made my way up to the seat, buckled up and put the headphones on. The feeling was beyond surreal.

A knot tied in my stomach as my excitement turned into a bit of nervousness. The plane made its way to the runway and in less than thirty seconds we were airborne.

The view out the window was incredible. Everything I saw below me seemed significantly smaller. The rivers, trees, houses roads and railroad appeared to be model replicas of some kind of environmental exhibit. Bright sunlight shone through the plane windows so wearing sunglasses was a must.

Ahead of me, the mountains grew bigger. The glaciers were covered in thick layers of snow and royal blue water seeped through cracked ice.

As the plane flew around the mountain, my view from the co-pilot seat was like something out of an action movie. The mountains appeared to shift left and right and I felt adventurous and rather childish, pretending I was a fighter pilot shooting down invading alien spaceships.

The plane began to descend on a clearing on Ruth Glacier. We landed and exited the plane. The moment my feet touched the ground and I took my first steps, I realized why I needed to wear the boot covers. I was walking on snow!

Never in my life had I seen so much of it, having grown up in South Texas. I grabbed a fistful in my hand, made my first snowball and tossed it several feet away. As I tossed it, my view shifted from the snow to mountains that surrounded me, all in their majestic glory. Mt. Foraker, Mt. Hunter, and “The Great One” were all staring me down as I gazed on and I felt insignificant standing below them.

I was entranced so much by all the beauty of the nature that surrounded me that I forgot I had a camera on me. I was in the moment, embracing a sight so unbelievably breathtaking and I was filled with joy, excitement and euphoric emotions all around.

After walking around some more and taking pictures and videos, I decided to ask pilot Alex Land a little bit about where we were exactly.

“Where we’re at right now is called the Mountain House, it’s part of the Ruth Glacier. We’ve got Don Sheldon’s cabin on the little ridge there, and we got the Great Gorge around the corner there looking up to Denali on the left.”

After talking to the pilot I spoke to Ray Harding who was visiting Talkeetna all the way from Utah with his wife and who flew to the glacier on the Otter with me. He shared some thoughts about his experience on the glacier.

“It’s much more inspiring than I thought it would be. The grandeur of the peaks are much more visible from the glacier than they are from the distances where you normally view. It’s very inspiring. it’s got this spiritual feel to it because of the closest to nature that you feel here. Very nice.”

As we all began to board the plane to fly back to Talkeetna, I took one last look around and I felt truly humbled. It was a view that i’d only seen in dreams and now it was a real memory; a memory that I will forever hold dearly in my heart. The plane took off and I waived goodbye to the mountains, knowing that one day I’d return to re-live the most wonderful experience of my life.

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