Alaska Memories – Denali – The flight in to the glacier! One shot Pass!

The Aptly namned "One Shot Pass"

The Aptly namned “One Shot Pass”

Alaska Air Taxis Heavy and Martin

I had an interesting trip to Alaska in 1996 – previous trips by other friends had showed blue skies and great weather, incredible peaks and unlimited sun light!  Unfortunately our trip was not like this at all. The long trip to Anchorage was fine and the drive to Talkeetna was fascinating where you await for the weather as you fly into Denali, landing on a glacier at 7200 feet!   Most people may be are aware that I hate flying and flying in a little Cessna and landing on a Glacier was something I was not looking forward to at all.  To get to the mountain you have to fly from Talkeetna a wonderful wild west town where you wait for the weather to allow you to fly in to the mountain. Packing and unpacking weighing gear, for a month on the hill taking stuff out, what an epic and the weight is incredible.  After 4 days waiting for the weather we were off, the weather cleared  and we got the message in the pub, that never closed. When the aircraft left Talkeetna is was packed with gear and had an epic taking off we had 3 on board and food and gear for a month. All this to be dragged by you on your sledge, there are no Sherpas in Alaska. In addition we had skis, yes skis for me as well but that was the plan. The flight in to the Base Camp takes about an hour is an incredible journey, mountains everywhere and the huge bulk of Denali just looks so massive and imposing. The flight takes you over high mountain passes and the famous “One shot Pass” is exciting as you pass the huge cliffs, Cornices and a wee gap in a ridge.

Not every landing is as expected landing on a glacier!

Base Camp Alaska - this was the plane before us that crashed on the Glacier - All walked out okay!

Base Camp Alaska – this was the plane before us that crashed on the Glacier – All walked out okay!

People  I naively asked why they call it “One Shot Pass” and got a laugh in response. It’s the best shot you have for flying a direct route to Kahiltna Base Camp. Our plane lifted up out of the cloud layer, and the three great peaks of the Alaska Range I saw them for the first time these amazing peaks of Foraker, Hunter, and Denali rose above the glacier in full view.

11 denali park map


Our pilot Paul  skirted over One Shot Pass, giving me a non stop update of how close we were and we had got friendly over the days of waiting to go. He was bringing the plane in low over the crevasse fields of the Kahiltna, the longest glacier in the Alaska Range. The plan in front bumped along the glacier and then crashed, we flew over, they all got out, gave the thumbs up and we flew back to Talkeetna. It was to windy to land and Paul did not want to risk it, I was terrified and agreed with him. We went back and a few hours later the aircraft had been moved and the wind had died down we were off.   We landed on skis in the white powder snow and came to a stop before a snow hill cluttered with tents. Most climbers are on their way up the mountain; the others have returned from their attempts. So far this year, only 18 percent of Denali’s 600 climbers have made it to the summit, a very low number for a mountain that boasts a 50 percent chance of success.  We had landed and soon we were on the glacier and the wee plane lightened now took off over the glacier and was soon lost in the great peaks. The Plane does not hang about and is gone as soon as we were off, now on the glacier a jumble of tents and gear and the Base Camp Annie met us and gave us a quick brief. Everything is carried with you and each night you break camp and move on or stay and move gear up. It was a wonderful place to be and soon the tent was up and we got organised.

It was going to be an interesting trip!


About heavywhalley.MBE

Mountain Rescue Specialist. Environmentalist. Spent 37 years with RAF Mountain Rescue and 3 years with a civilian Team . Still an active Mountaineer when body slows, loves the wild places.
This entry was posted in Aircraft incidents, Articles, Enviroment, Equipment, Expeditions - Alaska - Himalayas etc, Friends, Gear, Mountaineering. Bookmark the permalink.

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