thoughts come to mind when you hear that conditions during our flight to Lake Clark National Park included constant rain, fog and low-lying clouds, thus
preventing us from reaching our intended destination? A huge disappointment? A waste of money? Perhaps.
Magical might be the last word you would think of, but that’s exactly how
I would describe our experience. But
first, let me back up and provide a little context.
One of my
long-standing goals has been to visit every national park in the country, and
as many of the other units of the National Park Service as well. Alaska is home to eight national parks, as
well as eight other units. However, the
majority are extremely difficult to visit. Many are not on any road system and are
located in some of the most remote areas of the state. Even chartering a small plane can pose
problems since weather is a huge factor in reaching the parks.
|We've Already Visited (top to bottom) Glacier National Park,|
Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Kenai Fjords National Park
|We've Also Visited (top to bottom)|
Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park
and Sitka National Historical Park
Clark is one of these remote parks, but it’s just over an hour by air from
Homer, making a day trip doable. It’s relatively
easy to find a small plane that will take you there, that is, if you are
willing to fork over the big bucks. It’s
certainly not cheap to fly to Lake Clark.
But, it’s a place I’ve wanted to visit since learning more about it last
Clark was designated as a national park in 1980 to preserve the great geologic
diversity created by the forces of fire and ice. Most of the park is a vast wilderness area,
and the rugged Chigmit Mountains dominate the landscape. Here is where the Alaska and Aleutian Ranges
meet. Volcanos and glaciers are still at
work today, and the landscape is constantly evolving. Lake Clark, for which the park is named, is
more than 40 miles long and contains one of the largest sockeye salmon fishing
grounds in the world. The lake is a
centerpiece of the park.
|A Trip to Lake Clark Is Doable|
Clark National Park also has a cultural component. The Dena’ina people have lived here for at
least 900 years. In addition, individuals
seeking an independent and wilderness lifestyle built homes here in the recent
past. Richard Proenneke was one of these
men. Dick, as he was known, came to Twin
Lakes in 1967 and began constructing a cabin by hand. This would be his home for the next 30
years. The Proenneke cabin is the best
example of the many log cabins built in the Alaska wilderness over the last
century. His cabin is now a national
historic site and is a symbol of the national wilderness movement. Proenneke would go on to become an
influential voice in the push to preserve Alaska’s wilderness areas, and his name
is well known in environmental circles. You
can take a virtual tour of the cabin here.
|Dick Proenneke Cabin (NPS Photo/Kevyn Jalone)|
learned about Dick Proenneke from my friend who just passed away. Her aunt had spent many summers at Dick’s
cabin (he stayed at his friend Spike’s cabin a short distance away), and had
shared stories with my friend about this wild and beautiful place. Then, early this year I happened to see a
film that documented how Dick built his cabin, as well as how he survived the
Alaskan winters. I was hooked, and I
knew that if I ever made it to Alaska I wanted to visit the cabin and Twin
July 26, Tim and I boarded Adventure Airways’ four-seat floatplane for a day
trip to Lake Clark National Park. It was
a relatively clear day in Homer with just a few clouds, and our pilot Trent had
heard that conditions were pretty good where we were headed. As we flew across Cook Inlet, we were greeted
by clouds obscuring most of Mount Iliamna and Mount Redoubt, the two volcanoes
that frame the eastern side of the park.
|Trent Is Preparing for Us to Board His Floatplane in Homer|
|Heavy Clouds Greeted Us After Crossing Cook Inlet|
|A Pilot Needs All Types of Navigational Aids in Weather Like This|
days pilots fly high over the majestic peaks of the Alaska Range on the way to
Twin Lakes. This day, however, was
turning out to anything but clear. It
started to rain, and low clouds obscured much of the view. Have you ever tried to take photographs
through a windshield dotted with raindrops?
I quickly found out that there are no windshield wipers on a bush plane. I
was starting to get discouraged and feared that the flightseeing portion of the
trip would be washed out.
determined that he would have to fly low through Lake Clark Pass, the alternate
route into the park. Before we knew it,
we were treated to amazing views of steep mountainsides, expansive glaciers and
ribbon-like waterfalls as we flew through the pass and over Tlikakila
River. We could see why the Tlikakila
has been designated as a National Wild and Scenic River. The scenery was mesmerizing. The rain, clouds and fog seemed to add to the
atmosphere, not detract from it.
Although there were features that remained hidden behind the clouds, it
didn’t seem to matter. Tim and I were
both enthralled with the view. Had the
weather not been iffy, we would have flown high and missed our up close and
personal experience with the park.
|We Saw Glaciers|
|And More Glaciers|
|As We Flew Over the Tlikakila River|
such conditions do not lend themselves to good photographs. The weather conditions, plus the smudged
windows, were less than ideal, and I was hesitant to post the few photographs
that were somewhat decent. But I decided
to go ahead and include them. They’re
not great, but they will help me remember a special day. I’m just not sure you will get a good picture
of what we saw.
|We Looked through the Raindrops at the Tlikakila River|
approached the pass that would lead to Twin Lakes, all we could see was a wall
of clouds. Trent nosed his way in a bit,
looking for an opening, but one was not to be found. We were not surprised when he informed us
that we would not be going to the Proenneke cabin today. Yes, this was a disappointment, but we
regrouped and decided that we would fly to the National Park visitor center in
Port Alsworth instead. We were happy
just to be in the park, plus we would get to fly over Lake Clark itself.
|Our First View of Lake Clark Was through the Mist|
|But Lake Clark Was Beautiful to Look at in any Weather|
visitor center is small, but we enjoyed chatting with Ranger Lucas and watching
the film. We didn’t stay long and soon re-boarded
our plane for the return flight. Trent
had hoped to take a different route back to Homer, but the weather dictated
that we return through Lake Clark Pass.
Tim and I didn’t mind. The views always
seem different when going in the opposite direction.
|We Really Made it to Lake Clark National Park|
|We Were Greeted by the Welcoming Committee at Port Alsworth|
|We then Made Our Way to the Visitor Center|
|But Soon We Were Ready for the Return Flight|
sky appeared to be a tiny bit clearer on the return flight, and I gave Tim the co-pilot’s
seat so I could take photographs from both sides of the plane. We seemed to be just as enamored of our
close-up view of the mountainsides on the return as we were coming in. Glaciers and more glaciers seemed to pop up
every few minutes.
|We Saw Interesting Patterns in the River|
|And Ribbons of Water Cascading Down the Mountains|
|We Followed the Tlikakali River Once Again|
|And Saw Streams of Water Flowing from Glaciers|
|There Were Lots of Glaciers to Admire|
|We Could Follow the Path of Many of Them|
|We Flew Very Close to Some of Them|
|And to Others|
|We Marveled at Such a Wild and Wonderful Wilderness|
|And the Deep Green of the Mountainsides|
|We Followed a Twisting Path|
|And Emerged from Lake Clark Pass to a Braided River|
returned safely to Homer and couldn’t stop talking about our amazing experience. Words like beautiful, awesome, breathtaking, jaw
dropping and incredible don’t seem sufficient to describe our day. The country we flew over was so wild and
rugged. It was a true wilderness, and we
feel very fortunate to have seen it.
While I’m sad that we could not see Twin Lakes and the cabin, I am
grateful for what we did get to see.
Maybe I can start saving for another flight to Lake Clark in case we
return to Alaska.
Wow! Sorry the weather wasn't great, but as you said, it led to super close ups of this beautiful area. I loved seeing the blue glacier ice up close:) The rivers are crazy and all over the place. Thanks for the arial tour!ReplyDelete
You are welcome! This day was a big WOW for sure. Flying so close to the glaciers and seeing them from the air was a special treat. The rivers are definitely wild up here.Delete
In spite of the weather and even with the spotty windshield, your pictures are great. This is the one side trip I regret not making. Thanks for the information about Proenneke - an interesting man I need to learn more about.ReplyDelete
Thank you so much. I am very glad we were able to make this trip happen. Dick Proenneke was such an interesting man. There are several films and books about his life.Delete
Ah yes; Alaska's infamously fickle weather dictates where flightseeing trips can and cannot go. When we did our trip in 2001 out of Anchorage, we were hoping to head north ... hah! Ended up heading towards Seward and loved every minute of it. Sometimes you just click the shutter for memory shots ... those images will jog your memory in later year and that's all we sometimes need to remember a special moment in time.ReplyDelete
Fickle weather is most certainly a fact of life up here. It's so important to build in a few extra days to allow for delays. And, at some point, there were certainly be delays or cancellations. You just have to be ready to go with the flow, so to speak.Delete