Dogsleds and Helicopters

Talkeetna Travel Blog

 › entry 14 of 19 › view all entries

We had a wakeup call for 7:00 and woke to a crystal clear day. When I check in to the office, my assistant told me of a helicopter crash in Juneau. At the lodge, we picked up a copy of the Anchorage Times and read the front page story of an Aerospatiale AStar helicopter that crashed on Herbert Glacier killing the pilot plus 4 from the Ryndam and 2 from the Sea Princess.

Had pretty decent eggs benedict in the Mt. View Dining Room, then boarded a van for the Iditarod Kennel Tour. We rode about 45 minutes, (including a stop an the driver's Mom's house to pick up coffee!) to the kennels of Bill Hall, an Iditarod race competitor. As we approached Hall's house, we overtook him on the road.

He was on a 3-wheel ATV pulled by a team of 7 dogs. Bill was very personable and seemed to genuinely care for each one of the 50 dogs. He gave an interesting and informative presentation for about an hour, then pulled out 5 puppies for people to hold. Of Bill's 50 dogs, 10 are special retired dogs, 10 are too young to race and 30 are his race dogs. Linda's the dog nut in the family so this was her trip but I enjoyed the visit, too.

Back at the lodge, I called my folks and our kids to tell them we were not involved in the disaster in Juneau. Notwithstanding the crash, I signed up for a helicopter tour of Denali. Frank had strongly recommended it last night and I seriously considered it when I saw the clear morning skies but dismissed the idea when I read the paper.

I figured Lin would be upset if I even mentioned it but she was OK with it. After a lunch on the deck, I boarded a 2:30 van for the helicopter ride. We only had to ride a few miles to the heliport, a small clearing next to a trailer. This was the local base of operations of ERA Helicopter. The chopper arrived after we did; a beautiful Aerospatiale AStar. This was identical to the one that went down in Juneau and holds a pilot plus 6 passengers. We had an empty seat and I was in the back with two other folks.Each of us was fitted with headsets but there was no vox. We had to press a button in the ceiling to talk. A bit primitive and two of the women could not understand the program! The flight was absolutely perfect in every respect. The weather was still crystal clear with absolutely no turbulence.
The pilot, Glen Ballard, started out at about 1000 above ground level over the lowlands giving an almost continuous narrative in a very soft, deep, almost poetic manner. His narrative added a lot to the beauty of the flight. Glen showed a deep love for the environment, not only my his words, but also by actions as he carefully avoided spooking the wildlife. We saw a moose and two trumpeter swans. We went up and down various valleys. At one point, we were facing a huge headwall with higher peaks on each side. He very slowly ascended and suddenly the peak of Denali was in front of us. Spectacular!! We were quite close to the mountains at times and we went so close to one glacier, it seemed as if we could touch it. Then he flew very slowly over the glacier's top so we could get a good look at the huge crevasses.
As we approached one ridge, Glen said he'd seen bear tracks an hour earlier. As we crossed it, he saw a new set so we looked for the bear and found a mother grizzly and two cubs on a steep hillside. Too soon (after about 45 minutes of flight time) we returned. Frank was right; it was a fantastic experience.

I picked up Lin at the room and we went to the deck for the ranger talk. Then we took a short walk and a nap and dressed for dinner in the Mt. View. This time they hadn't held the requested window table so we waited about 30 minutes in the great room until they buzzed the pager they gave us. Dinner for me was Albacore; for Linda halibut. Not bad. Went to bed around 10:30; we're running out of gas. Woke around 2:30 and, because it was so bright, I considered dressing and taking a picture of the mountain but didn't have the energy.

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photo by: schochon