Finally Seeing the Light on Denali

What can I tell you about “the mountain” that you don’t already know? You know it’s the tallest mountain on Earth as measured from base to top. You know the absurd controversy about its name. Maybe you don’t know what it’s like to finally see it after you’ve been a curmudgeon about Denali National Park for several days inside. I can tell you that that moment of seeing Denali is an epiphany.

Since we’ve been hiking and biking in the park, Tracy and I have been glancing around, noticing certain mountain peaks in Denali’s direction, wondering if they could be “the mountain.” Tracy would check topo maps and I would take a bunch of photos and then compare them to pics of Denali online. Nope.

You think, “Well, this one can’t be Denali because I hear it’s covered in snow.” “This one isn’t Denali because it’s supposed to be larger than the others.”

And then I saw it, and all that namby-pamby guessing was over.

Denali’s Size

When Denali is revealed from its shroud of clouds, it towers over the Alaska range like a giant grizzly momma surrounded by cubs. There is no mistaking it for any other mountain on Earth, much less the mountains below it.

The peak to the left may be Mt Morrow? I took it thinking it might be Denali, before I saw the real deal. Seriously, I took the one to the right of Denali the day after. Same mountain range, roughly the same distance. There is no comparison.

Denali’s Force

Once you see Denali, you never stop looking for it. Tracy and I went on a breathtaking hike the day the clouds opened occasionally, and 90% of my photos are of this one mountain. They’re not even good photos.

I would stop and take photos of Denali, then hike across amazing views, then think, “Maybe the light’s different on Denali,” and stop and take more photos, then hike on and think, “Maybe my view’s different,” and take more photos. I could not stop taking photos of Denali.

We’d pass people on the trail who, even as they’re carefully sliding down loose rocks with hiking poles in hand, would glance quickly toward Denali mid-step.

Once you see it, it’s suddenly the center of your universe.

Alpine Trail

What we hiked that day was the Savage River Alpine Trail, which is absurdly gorgeous, but also crowded with tourists (I timed these shots carefully).

I won’t dwell on the terrible trail etiquette or the badly behaved teenagers, but I will lament that I didn’t take more pictures of Things That Are Not Denali. Because that’s the delineation from here on.

Steps from the Campsite

These are views from wandering away from the campground. Entirely lovely. Entirely Not Denali.

Not every gorgeous view in the park is vast.

But it’s hard to look down when you might see the mountain by looking up.

Today it’s raining again and so overcast that we can’t see the trees around the campground, much less the tree line a bit farther or even a single mountain range. Who the heck cares, though. Denali is out there. I can’t help looking up.

4 thoughts to “Finally Seeing the Light on Denali”

  1. Wow! I had no idea how amazing Denali is (amazing is a stupid word to describe it because its so much more). I also LOVE the shot of the baby mountains with the purple flowers. stunning.

    1. I’m running out of superlatives – as well as expletives – for
      when I see these views.