After three hours we arrived in Talkeetna, a small town of a couple hundred people. It was established during the Alaskan gold rush but now serves tourists and mountaineers. Small planes fly mountain climbers to the base camp, for the climb up Denali.
We have been traveling with our friends, George and Nancy. They lost their son, Brian, in an avalanche up on the mountain almost ten years ago. They wanted to take a ride in one of those small planes, and see the spot where searchers found his last foot prints. And they wanted us to join them on the flight.
Brian was a geologist, a licensed pilot, and a mountaineer. He trained people to mountain climb and was a careful, cautious climber. When he and a friend came to Denali, they delayed their climb up Barrell mountain by a few days because they were concerned about an avalanche. Sure enough, one did occur, as they expected, and then, after it was over, they started their ascent. Unfortunately, there was an unstable area that they couldn't see; it broke loose; and carried them both about 3,000 down the side of the rock, to their death. Our friends have pictures from Brian's camera, which was recovered with his body, but they wanted to see the mountain for themselves. Barrell is one of the many peaks jutting up around Denali.
We were fortunate to have an absolutely clear day, no clouds, and no wind. Denali is only visible 30% of the time; it is usually shrouded in clouds. George settled into the co-pilot seat, Nancy climbed in the back, and Brett and I settled in the middle. Our pilot pulled a sweatshirt over his head, started the prop engine, and took us up the mountain. He followed the path of the glaciers that flow from the snow covered crags, then turned up the steep granite canyons, their rugged sides topped with snow.
It felt like I could reach out and touch the side of the mountain as we banked and climbed. After circling Denali, we dropped down to Barrell. There we circled the peak twice, and the pilot tipped the wing so George could get an unobstructed picture of the mountain. Denali and its surrounding peaks were an awe inspiring mix of rock, whipped cream snow frosting above, blue glacial ice and tumbled piles of snow below. I could feel the power and pull of the mountain, and understood why it draws so many mountain climbers. I also felt awe, looking down into the deep fissures, and was thankful to be in a plane and not climbing below. Nancy was quiet behind me, while George peppered our pilot with questions.
George needed to know and understand; Nancy needed to quietly bear witness. And I sat between them, with tears in my eyes, thankful for God granting us a brilliant day and praying that it brought them some measure of peace and comfort.