The first glimpse of Mt McKinley was also the most deceiving. Yes, it looked big. Any mountain over 20,000ft will appear imposing and monumental, even from 50 miles away.
But our perspective was all wrong. We were only truly seeing the foreground, the collection of mountains that make up the ‘foothills’ of the Alaskan Range.
Then, to the left, Mount Hunter suddenly loomed into its proper viewpoint, all 14,573ft of it; almost immediately, Mount Foraker towered even more impressively, rising up a dizzying 17,400ft as our eyes slowly absorbed the awe-inspiring reality.
Finally, as if stepping from behind a suddenly-visible curtain of cloud, America’s tallest mountain made its magical presence felt – an utterly unfeasible accumulation of rock that appeared to radiate a monumental sense of impossibility and challenge. We were stunned.
About 20 minutes later, we got our breath back. But then, Alaska does that to you. Again and again. Mt McKinley (or Denali, as it should more properly be called) was just the crowning example of this region’s ability to awe and inspire you at the same time.
Pure theatre of the natural kind, and the kind of thing this state does effortlessly on a vast scale. No, it’s not the Himalayas or the Andes (the only two mountain ranges which can boast consistently higher peaks), but it is an equally unfathomable vista.
It is also home to amazing wildlife, indomitable people, incredible history and larger-than-life activities. It certainly deserves its tag as The Last Frontier and, in my humble opinion, it makes it the most compelling cruise destination on earth.
THE HERITAGE WAY
Having completed the typical sea-going part of our trip (from Vancouver to Seward, the port immediately to the south of principal city, Anchorage), we were keen to explore two essential areas of the ‘land’ portion, namely Kenai Fjords National Park, adjacent to Seward, and the ‘heart’ of Alaska, Denali State Park.
To achieve this, we wanted a real local specialist, someone who knew the region inside out and would ensure we got the utmost from our five-day expedition. As luck would have it, we found the best – ALASKA HERITAGE TOURS – and everything took shape from there. Their selection of excursion packages, from 2-10 days, covered everything we could think of, and more besides.
But that grand conclusion was still a long way off when we docked in Seward – a town heavily rebuilt since the violent earthquake of 1964 – and said farewell to Zaandam, our maritime home for the last week. With the help of Alaska Heritage Tours, we were booked for a two-day tour of the Kenai Fjords National Park, staying overnight on the tranquil hideaway of Fox Island.
And, as if this wilderness realm was welcoming us into its vast, rugged bosom, the weather changed dramatically from the heavy overcast we had experienced along much of the Inside Passage to breathtaking blue skies and bright sunshine (albeit, still only around 18