By Joan Larsen
“We travel, initially, to lose ourselves, and we travel, next, to find ourselves. We travel to open our hearts and eyes. And we travel, in essence, to become young again—to slow time down and fall in love with life once more.”
— Pico Iver
Once in a while in our travels, we fall in love with a place — knowing before we ever leave that we are destined to return again. Something within us is already seen to be calling us back. Why? We have felt a “connection” to the beauty of the place, the wonders of nature that left us with a spiritual feeling so seldom felt. The few people we met in our journeys there were open in their own feelings toward a place, mirroring our own. In a short time, we knew them as we had known few others.
Few places in our world have had a seemingly magnetic hold on us that the beautiful, yet isolated North Face Lodge and Camp Denali exerted. Small, charming, alone in its sublime view of America’s highest peak, Mount McKinley, reflected in that small and beautiful lake below the peak, a lake we often canoed on in the waning light of the evening, could not be equalled.
There was nothing that we wished to do by day that was not offered, miraculously surprising us with secret places — and even more. Oh, I cannot fail to mention that you will wish you could serve included meals this appealing. You’ll see.
With our world in turmoil, our personal finances up in the air, never before have we had to give such pause to our choices. But we live but once. We sorely need changes from our ordinary lives, changes that will lift our spirits to the heavens, making us believe there still is a place of memories of the forever kind.
We returned to Alaska by air last summer — and from then on, without another worry to be had, we were given a large slice of paradise in this place at Denali National Park. Since our second visit, the two of us have coasted through a bad weather winter, still smiling, floating on last summer’s days and long evenings far from crowds — well, except for the abundance of wildlife that would pose for our cameras in the most idyllic locations.
The seasons to come this year are sending out their invitations for you to join us in this one special place in Denali — a place that exerts a magic spell to those who make this journey. The way the two of us feel, if you follow our lead in this story, your memories will be able to be pulled up forever and the world will always seem fresh. Could any of us want more?
After exploring Alaska in every way possible (yes, dog sled, too~), Denali (meaning the Great One) National Park was due for a relaxed up-close-and-personal second look. To those of us who weren’t born yesterday, it is our tallest peak, Mount McKinley. . . and it is just plain gorgeous. “Did you get to see McKinley?” is the number one question of those who spend overnight outside the park. The peaks are so often cloud-covered that the answer is “no”. Go all that way and not see it? There is another far more delightful way I promise you.
Because our group was so small, we were able to spend 4 days at a very special inn 90 miles into the park at the end of a gravel road (one that takes 5 1/2 hours to drive.) NORTH FACE LODGE was one of the “major finds” of any of our trips, ever. This north country inn was situated – you guessed it – at McKinley’s north face with spectacular views from any of the 15 well-appointed rooms in the glass-fronted ‘touch of Scandinavia’ that was the lodge itself. And the peaks graced us with their presence most of the time!!
Denali seemed ours alone. The stay was all-inclusive and its offerings beyond extensive. Round-trip transportation was provided between our Lodge and the train station – with a surprise stop for a most elaborate dinner outdoors practically at Denali’s base. Naturalist guides would come along daily with us on a leisurely naturalist forays if we so chose, moderate hikes, or – indeed if you were up to it – strenuous hikes.
One day we climbed the small mountain behind us, spread out at the top for the lunch provided – taking it in very slowly, and from the heights saw moose, caribou, and a grizzly as well, who were also exploring their own home here. Forget some equipment needed on a hike? A well-stocked room at the lodge had everything we had missed. Each evening after dinner before a roaring fire, programs were featured to enrich our knowledge of Denali and Alaska itself. The library was to kill for! The other visitors – well – our kind of folk!
Really late night activities? Wonder Lake is a mile and a half away. The reflection of Denali plays on its surface day and night. What better time than midnight to grab our paddles and head down to the lake for some canoeing in its calm waters? Except for the moose having a drink and the beaver swimming faster than we could paddle, we felt we had this beautiful world all to ourselves. Enticing? Oh, yes. We spent more than one late evening at Wonder Lake. Unforgettable.
Not wanting to miss a single thing this time, the thought of landing on a glacier high on the side of Denali, next to the greatest vertical relief on the planet, was a “given”. Our lodge made all the arrangements to get us to Talkeetna Air Taxi. We had the jacket, Gore-tex boots to keep our feet dry, sunglasses, and long pants. Hopping on a six-seat Cessna, we were off, flying what seemed to be only inches above the slope of 20,300-foot-high Mount McKinley. The pilot picks the most favorable glacier to land on, depending on conditions. The “rush” the passengers get, walking on the side of the highest mountain on our continent, cannot be measured. Nor will it ever be forgotten. The experience: unbelievable.
And we were able to glimpse those brave souls actually climbing the mountain or bivouacked in the deep snow on its sides. THEY are another breed entirely. Up close and personal in the air beside them and we know this would be something we would always leave to others far more brave than we were! However, we somehow felt we were there!
For those who want to see this park in depth, this is the way to go. If there is a money consideration, the family who owns North Face Lodge where we stayed also owns the wonderful Camp Denali right above us – with amenities provided also but no indoor running water. Everyone there seemed to be having a ball and Camp Denali is beautiful!
The “travel secrets” along the way in my years of travel have made all the difference in making what seems a really good trip become absolutely spectacular. Making the gorgeous welcoming North Face Lodge our destination at Denali was its greatest reward. Perfection.
Writer Joan Larsen has spent a lifetime searching for the most remote places on Earth. But it is the polar regions of our world that she has been drawn back to again and again. She has done research in these lands of ice, and considers Antarctica to be her “other home.”