Wrangell Mountain Air
Flying in a single-engine airplane over the Wrangell Mountains wasn’t on our agenda when we arrived in Chitina, but our good friends at the Chitina House convinced us that it would be the best decision we’d ever make. We were a bit hesitant about the price at first, and some of us (Laura) were concerned that we wouldn’t make it back alive, but ultimately we decided to go for it. Wrangell Mountain Air had an available flight from the Chitina Airport to McCarthy, inside Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, so we booked a one-way flight (not because we doubted that we’d survive; rather, the rest of our group was meeting us inside the park with a car).
Those of us (Laura) who were nervous about the flight, weren’t exactly set at ease when we first laid eyes on the tomato can with wings that would be carrying us over the 10,000+ foot mountains; however, once we talked to the pilot and got situated inside the Cessna, it didn’t take long to realize that this wasn’t his first rodeo and that he would get us to McCarthy safely. While it looked small from the outside, the plane comfortably held five people including the pilot. We were each provided with a headset so we could communicate during the flight, but really it was so that we could look cool in photos.
Once the plane was off the ground, we were greeted with some of the most insane mountain views we’d ever seen, and they didn’t stop until the flight ended. Wrangell St. Elias National Park, the largest national park in the country, also has the highest concentration of peaks over 14,000 feet in North America. Since it was such a clear day (rare for these parts), the views were entirely unobstructed; so in addition to seeing the summits of Mt. Blackburn (16,390) and Mt. Sanford (16,237) we also were able to see the tallest peak in Canada, Mt. Logan (19,541), off in the distance. We’re talking about massive mountains. We spotted some Dall sheep and mountain goats grazing on the mountainside as we flew overhead. The park is also home to the nation’s largest glacial system, so we had more than our fair share of aerial views of impressive glaciers.
All in all, the flight was only 30 minutes long, but those 30 minutes included a lifetime supply of mountains and glaciers. Wrangell-St. Elias is a gorgeous national park even when you’re on the ground, but seeing it from the air gives an entirely different perspective. In our case, we spent the afternoon in Kennicott and hiking in the park before driving back to Chitina later in the day; however, there are also round-trip flights available as well as various day trips that include guided tours and hikes. For anyone who has any trepidation when it comes to these types of flights, you can rest assured that you’ll be in good hands with Wrangell Mountain Air. They were extremely professional and helped ensure that our flight was an unforgettable experience.