Day 14: November 1
by Richard Truesdell
Friday morning dawned bright, brilliant blue and unbelievable clear and offered us the opportunity to avail ourselves of the services of K2 Aviation. The Rust family well known in Anchorage aviation circles with Rust Flying service purchased K2 from well known Alaskan aviator Jim Okonek in May 1996. He still takes part in K2’s transition, serving as a consultant. Jim took over K2 from Kitty Banner and Kimball Forrest after establishing K2 in 1981. K2 is the best known air service in the greater Talkeetna area. Suzanne and Todd Rust oversee the day to day management of the K2 operation.
The quality of life in Talkeetna offers a wonderfully simple but fulfilling lifestyle. Sandra White, K2’s Office Manager, said that it is safe to say that there is no other place on earth that she¹d rather live. K2 is probably the best known air taxi service in this part of Alaska. We took the Grand Tour, a flight completly around Mt. McKinley ($125 without a landing, $155 with a glacier landing) which flies competlely around the mountain. K2 offers a number of adventure tours throughout the Denali area ($80 – $200) that offer landings on one of the area¹s many glaciers. If you have time for a longer stay, K2 also offers a number of overnight packages ranging in price from $330 to $840 per person. These include the flight, overnights in back country cabin or lodge as well as all meals and several different activities such as gold panning, mountain biking, fishing (all the fishing gears included) and climbing.
While we were conducting this interview, Sue and Sandra designed a long weekend package as an example of what is available. The Anchorage/Talkeetna package is described in detail at the K2 Aviation details and information.
Sandra suggests that those interested in a real adventure should consider chartering a plane ($2000 per day, a Cessna 185, or a Piper Cherokee seating up to 5) for a trip to parts of Alaska that are only accessible by air. These Statewide Air Expeditions, custom designed by Sandra, offer each visitor a unique Alaska experience. She plans a specific itinerary and the fee includes a pilot who is experienced as a guide, with Sandra matching a pilot specifically to the areas that you wish to visit. This process can take some time to plan and she feels that the best time of the year to make such an expedition is either May or September. This is because these are visual flights and those months have the tendency to not be flooded with tourists; this will tend to be a more hard core adventure.
Our pilot for our mid-day trip around Mt. McKinley was John (J.P.) Pafford. Taking off from the adjacent airstrip, it took less than twenty minutes to reach the point where Mt. McKinley fills up the windscreen of our Cessna 185. John is an old hand (5 years) at these flights and is exceptionally well versed on both the mountain and all of the activities that it offers, pointing out the various climbing camps, huts and routes up the mountain. Flying over various glaciers, you can get the feel, traveling at about 140 MPH, that you can almost touch the face of the mountain. Photos and videos do not do justice to the experience of flying through. Such is the scope and majesty of North America’s highest peek.
The best example of what experienced pilots like John can add to the flight is when he took us down about 500 feet above the terrain, flying us through the Star Wars chasm. The experience, from the seat of my pants in the co-pilots seat, is beyond my ability to describe with mere words. J.P. will be happy to recreate the Star Wars Death Star experience for any and all comers. The sides of the chasm completely envelope the plane, placing it completely with the shadows of the early November, noon time sun.
As a remembrances of the experience, K2 now offers a complete line of imprinted and silk screened sportswear, depicting a number of Alaska air activities. In addition they now offer several publications and videos that can be invaluable in helping to plan an Alaskan air adventure with backcountry activities like climbing.