Kittehs are a bit tangential here, but so be it. A while back I was invited to Anchorage to address, strangely enough, the Alaska Bar Association. They were interested in the evolution/intelligent design “controversy,” and brought me up north to talk and debate the notorious creationist Hugh Ross. Alaska was one of the two remaining states I hadn’t visited (North Dakota’s the other, still unsullied by my footsteps), and I eagerly accepted.
Besides footing the expenses, they paid me something like a thousand bucks, which I vowed to apply toward seeing as much of the state as I could in five or six days after the conference. One thing I was determined to do was fly to Mount McKinley, also called “Denali.” It’s the highest mountain in North America, rising 20,320 feet (6,194 m) above sea level. I love mountains and never miss a chance to see the biggest ones. (I’ve hiked to Mount Everest twice and the Annapurnas once).
Seeing McKinley is best done by flying over it in a very small bush plane; these run out of the tiny town of Talkeetna. Many climbers take the planes to base camp, while tourists like me simply want to fly over the mountain. It’s dicey, since the weather doesn’t always cooperate, but I was in luck. The weather was perfect and—double luck—some climbers were going to the mountain, and had to be dropped off on a glacier. I gladly plonked down some bucks to go on that flight, as landing on a glacier is a rare experience.
Before the flight, I checked out the airport. And I found the airport mascot, a small fluffy tabby whose name I’ve forgotten (click to enlarge all photos):
UPDATE: An alert reader informs me that his name is Beaver, and his official title is “Hangar Cat.” He’s still on the job.
We made friends (I didn’t have any cat food). I was told that this kitteh was known to sneak into bush planes before takeoff, hitching rides over and to the mountains.
The plane was small (the legendary de Havilland Canada DHC-2 Beaver, from whence the cat got his name), the pilot—a woman—was amiable but all business. They’re brave, these bush pilots, but not foolish. She took a long time loading the plane, making sure the weight was distributed correctly.
The flight, sans cat, was stupendous. There’s a certain feeling of insecurity flying in those tiny, bumpy planes, as if the only thing between you and death is a half inch of metal under your feet, but the views more than compensate. I rode shotgun to the pilot, and this is what you see approaching McKinley (it’s the biggest peak in the photo):
This is the glacier on which we landed:
After depositing our climbers, we found that the snow was too deep to take off. This, of course, caused a moment of panic. But no problem for the pilot: she simply plowed a runway by driving back and forth several times across the glacier:
Made it, thanks to good luck kitteh!