After several days of exploring the majestic domains of Prince William Sound, we left Valdez.
We begin a long, pseudo-night drive north along the Richardson Highway, the first of Alaska's great highways.
Successive freezes and thaws and the discontinuity of the permafrost underneath made it more wavy than would be desirable. Accordingly, we proceeded at moderate speed, at a pace also suitable for enjoying the towering forms of the Chugach Mountains and the northern tundra.
But not only. The wandering allows us to avoid foxes, weasels, squirrels, porcupines, moose and even a glutton that, along the XNUMX kilometers crossing – or in the case of the fussy moose, occupy – the asphalt.
We arrived in Fairbanks in the middle of the night, but we never noticed a dawn worthy of the name. The sun simply recovered from its short whisper over the horizon and returned to those boreal parts the intense and full luminosity it owed them until the end of the short summer.
We confirm the fame of Alaska's second city. Secluded in the confines of almost nothing arctic, Fairbanks has developed her own life on the fringes and never bothered to attract visitors.
As you'd expect, most don't fall in love with her at first sight. Not even the next one. We understand them. The city seemed to us as improvised and busy as it was worn out by the austere climate.
In any case, these are the great scenarios that stand out the most in the 49th US state and, a few additional hours to the south, the high point of the itinerary awaited us, the one that had justified the long journey from Valdez.
High point, we might as well say.
Detached from the sub-Arctic wilderness, Denali Park was established around the highest elevation in North America, a prehistoric mountain measuring 6.196 meters, surrounded by other, less imposing peaks.
The Discovery of American Settlers and McKinley's Political Baptism
In the late XNUMXth century, a gold prospector named him McKinley, in political support of an Ohio-born US presidential candidate of the same name, and was later assassinated during his second term by Leon Czolgosz, an anarchist of Polish descent.
We reach the park via the George Parks Highway that connects the far-flung and iconic cities of Anchorage and Fairbanks, making it one of Alaska's most important thoroughfares.
As soon as we veer off onto Park Road, we begin to see why professional photographers refer to Denali's animals as approximate animal life.
Hunting has been banned for a long time, so fauna runs less from people and vehicles.
In a few kilometers, we pass a family of moose and foxes that wander right along the side of the road.
There are those who are lucky or unlucky - depending on the perspective and the occasion - to come across bears grizzlies, with caribou and wolves on the park's many walking and mountain bike trails.
We advance to Wonder Lake. The day turns out to be anything but favorable for contemplating Mount Denali.
On clear days, the mountain tends to captivate visitors with fabulous symmetrical images: the real one and the one of its reflection in the still waters of the lake.
However, to compensate, we confirm the possibility of participating in a scenic flight above the summit and around it. Aware that at more than 6000 meters of altitude the weather should be different, we got excited. We hope for the best.
We slept in a camp named Greezly near the Nenana River. Despite the name, none of the great Alaskan bears torment our sleep.
The Glorious Panoramic Flight around Mount Denali
We woke to a glorious morning. At eight, we were already parked at the local aerodrome, looking forward to the departure.
“It's quite windy. The plane is going to rattle a bit.
In addition, we are going to fly at an altitude that requires oxygen” the pilot warns us with the ease of those who have been conducting those aerial excursions for centuries. “But these are details. What matters is that they will have the privilege of admiring the best views in the Americas, without any dispute!” adds.
We took off to the blue sky. In a flash, we flew over the great green taiga of Denali. We see rivers and lakes that the reflection of the sun turns silver.
Onwards, the green vegetation becomes dry due to the higher altitude and the cold.
Enter the first arms of ice, and then the overpowering frigid whites of the great ice fields of the Alaska Range.
We continue to gain altitude over deep gorges through which long glaciers slide, some with whimsical meanders or graceful bifurcations. We see huge granite pillars carved by erosion and subsumed in mist.
At a certain height, between bumps and small jumps, we came across a mountain.
In fact, we have the feeling that we are going to collide with it. "Why, here he is!" communicates the American pilot bragging to passengers with undisguised enthusiasm: “Mount McKinley or Denali, whichever you prefer.
A lot of people have already died for this bastard. If it's up to me, we won't be part of the statistics, don't worry! Let's take it three little walks and then come back the opposite way from where we came, OK?"
The mountain looms prominently above low clouds, crowned by a white top of permanent ice, or gold of the most polished granite to which the ice has not yet managed to attach itself.
Denali or Mount McKinley: The Conquest of the Great Mountain of North America
Its seat, dark, is as wide as that of few other mountains.
At 5.500 m, the ascent from base to peak is considered the highest of any mountain situated entirely above sea level.
From the turn of the 1910th century onwards, the pioneering nature of its conquest aroused the greed of countless climbers. The first confirmed ascent took place in XNUMX, by a group of four residents of the region who became known by the Sourdough Expedition (yeast).
Despite the absolute lack of mountaineering experience, they spent about three months on the mountain. Your summit day will have lasted eighteen hours and been impressive.
Armed with a bag of donuts each, a thermos of hot chocolate, and a four-metre spruce stick, two of them reached the northern peak, the lower of the two summits.
They raised the stick near the top.
Most Successive Record Ascensions
The first ascent to the highest peak – the official conquest of the mountain – was given three years later by Walter Harper, an Alaskan native. Robert Tatum, his partner, also reached the main summit.
This group confirmed the fir testimony left by the Sourdough expedition in 1910.
Since then, numerous records have been broken, several of the expeditions starting in the picturesque village of Talkeetna: the first woman, the first climber to climb it twice, the first conquests by new routes, the first conquest in winter (1967), the first solo climb (1970)
the first climb by an all-female team (1970), the first descent of the Cassin slope by Sylvain Saudan “Eskiador do Impossível” (1972),
the first ascent by a pack of Eskimo dogs (1979), a new attempt at solo ascent by the Japanese Naomi Uemura, now in winter (1984), failed, a feat that would be achieved four years later.
During this time, and as the pilot on board had told us, more than a hundred people sacrificed their lives in honor of the great Denali.
The Treacherous Mount Meteorology the Natives Restricted to Denali
The mountain is so vast that it creates its own completely unpredictable weather. Suddenly, the stable atmosphere can degenerate into raging storms.
In December 2003, -59.7ºC were recorded. On a day of similar temperature and with a wind of almost 30 km/h, Mount Denali produced a North American absolute cold record of – 83.4°C.
Given these and other meteorological, topographical and geographic figures, we understand why the Athabascan natives and others struggled for so long for the roof of North America to come to be called just Denali.
Why they demanded the removal of the name of the president who never visited him and had little or nothing to do with those Alaskan parts.
This whim was satisfied by the President Baraka Obaka, despite opposition from the state of Ohio and annoyance from the Republican Party the day before his Aug. 30, 2015 visit, and sought to sensitize Americans to the drama of climate change.
We also understand why the natives have so much respect for the majestic mountain at the heart of their vast territory.
By the way, whatWhen we land safe and sound at the aerodrome of Denali, that same respect still grips our hearts.