Tallkeenta - headed toward Anchorage

Wasilla Travel Blog

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We spent most of our day enjoying Talkeenta:


National Parks Service (NPS) Ranger's Station

  • This is a gorgeous log lodge where the expedition hikers to Denali get briefed before their flight to the 7200’ base camp.  We saw the conference room that also included memorials to the NPS rangers who have died assisting hikers. 
  • They also showed a movie on climbing Denali (20,320 feet elevation to the North Peak- locals call it "Denali", an Athabascan word meaning "the great one").  NPS pays for the rescue of any hikers who need it on Federal Land. 
  • Also, the Rangers also provide a mountain burial of hikers who die on Denali if it is the family’s wishes or the NPS is unable to safely remove the body, as occurred just this July 4th, sadly.  I believe there are 38 people buried on the mountain to date.  One man’s body, which was buried under snow at 17,000 feet on the mountain had to be reburied due to exposure and so they lowered his body into a crevasse at 14,000 feet.  All of the hikers are off the mountain now as May and June are the best months for climbing and July’s warmth increases avalanche risk, so we didn’t get to see any real climbers enroute. 
  • Did you know that:  Only 50% of those who attempt the summit actually reach it due to the arctic conditions and variable weather. 
  • Due to winds up to 100 mph, some hikers have literally been blown off the mountain
  • One of the first known groups to climb the north slope of Denali did so after a bar room bet.  So they set off with a 14 FOOT SPRUCE POLE and climbed up, setting the pole with guylines, as they hoped they could see it from town.  They went up the final ascent and back down (to the camp) in 18 hours, which hikers now do in 5 days or so for to altitude conditioning.  Hilarious!
  • Hikers of Denali actually climb the mountain twice.  They carry 40 pounds in a back pack, 60 pounds on a sled behind them.  They go up with part of their gear, leave it and hike back down to sleep and altitude condition.  Then the next day they hike up past their previous gear drop, leave it, and come back down to their gear, etc. 
  • The NPS Ranger said that “everyone feels bad at the top” due to the thin air at 20,320.  At 10,000 feet in an airplane you’re supposed to have oxygen (at least at the time when I was a pilot years agp) so that is really difficult on people with headaches and cerebral edema
  • Before the advent of the 45 minute flight from Talkeenta to the 7200' base camp (landing on a glacier), the trip to the base of Denali took about 1.5 months over rough terrain. 

Talkeetna Historical Museum


This simple town museum was very interesting and we enjoyed 5 historical log cabins, which had been moved to town.  Each was themed and we most enjoyed the huge model of "Denali", complete with photos across the room of how the mountain looks from that viewpoint.  The tiny models of the Statue of Liberty near the mountain top give perspective for the immensity of the mountain.


Climber's Room- This was a fascinating room with info on the climbers, their gear, etc.  Remember Susan Becker, the famous dogsled musher, who won the Iditerod 4 times (we saw her place in Fairbanks on the Riverboat Discovery and she passed away at age 51 from Leukemia in 2006).  Well, she ALSO was part of the first team to take dogs to the top of Denali.  What an amazing person!  She lived more in her short life than 4 of us do in a long lifetime.


In yet another attempt to see Denali (Mt. McKinley), we walked out to the river (the confluence of 3 rivers actually) and enjoyed lovely sun for the afternoon.  Unfortunately, because of the air pressure and weather patterns around the mountain, the few clouds in the sky completely covered that area of the sky and we again did not see it. 


Hopefully we’ll see it later, but even if not, there are plenty of beautiful mountain views around to keep us happy.  We’re not going to go nuts if we never see it- that would be a skit in “RV2:  We’re Living It”:  Type-A Mountain Viewers run themselves ragged in crazed attempts to see Denali!  Good grief.  J


Climber's Memorial at Cemetery- this was our last stop out of town.  It’s in the Talkeetna Cemetery -we were alone as we read the years, names, and ages of the brave and young athletes who died on the area peaks.  Very sad and sobering.  They print one granite piece per year.  Two climbers died the week of July 4th this year, but the 2008 plaque was not up yet. 


The cemetary also had propellers as headstones for bush pilots who have died.  As we saw in the Aviation Museum in Fairbanks, air travel wasn't always as safe as it is today.


Then we headed out of Talkeenta.  Oh!  One more fact:  it's rumored that Talkeenta is the town for which "Northern Exposure" was based, although it was filmed elsewhere.  It is a quirky, spirited, delightful town  I imagine there are a few people each year who leave the "Outside" , as they call the lower 48 states and move to Talkeetna.  It can really catch in your heart.


As we headed back down the spur road, we had a decision to make at the Parks Highway.  I’d downloaded foodie's recommendations from Chowhound.com - Angela’s Heaven Pizza was so highly lauded that we drove 15 miles north (back up) the Parks Highway to get to Trapper Creek.  And they were not kidding!  We wholeheartedly agreed and Charles ranked Angela’s first in his quest for the world’s best pizza (to date).

While waiting for the pizza, I read the Milepost (an annual Alaska publication of available services and activities) and discovered that the Iditarod Dog Sled Race Headquarters were about 40 miles down the road.  So rather than go on to Anchorage, a spur-of-the-moment decision resulted in a side trip to Wasilla.  Now THAT is the beauty of RVing!

Iditarod Headquarters- was closing in 5 minutes, but we got info about dog sled rides in the morning.  The Iditerod is the famous dog sled race that starts the first Saturday in March near Anchorage (they have a “start” in Anchorage and then because of iffy snow and warmer winters, the next day they have a true beginning race “restart” a bit north in the town of Willow.  It is a several weeks’ trip over 1,000 miles then to Nome.  But headquarters in Wasilla, where we went, is where they have the race records, a wonderful movie, dog rides, puppies, and a gift shop.

Campground:  Thanks to the wonderful Church’s Alaska book (If I had to choose just one, I’d get this book over the Milepost- it is *that* good for RVing), we found a nearby municipal campground- beautiful campground - $10 dry camping.  It’s not listed on the combined agencies’ public lands campground map, although their newly printed map should show it.



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photo by: rotorhead85