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The Denali Debate Known To Cruisers

Denali

We’ve been lucky enough to visit Alaska twice, in 2009 and earlier this year, both times while cruising on Princess ships, first the Coral Princess and then the Star Princess

On both occasions, we heard the tale of the Mount McKinley versus Denali name debate, which was new to us. On both occasions, we concluded that the vast majority of the people of Alaska thought the mountain should be called Denali, its native and original name. And on both occasions, we came away thinking the stalemate was such that it wouldn’t happen in our lifetime.

Last week, in case you hadn’t heard, it happened.

Denali it is.

As another Alaska cruise season concludes this month, passengers currently extending their time on land tours are the first to see Denali with its “new” name.

This has been a never-ending political debate. McKinley was a Republican U.S. President who never visited Alaska but who had the misfortune of being assassinated 114 years ago. Alaskans started trying to re-instate Denali — “The Big One” to the Athabaskan people — 40 years ago, when the name of the national park became Denali. Through various means, mostly technicalities, it was blocked by a congressman (Ralph Regula) from Ohio, President McKinley’s home state.

In layman’s terms, the statute of limitations ran out on the stalemate, and last week President Obama instructed Interior Secretary Sally Jewell to change the name to Denali. Yet the political debate never dies. Yesterday on CNN, there was former Alaska governor Sarah Palin, dismissing (or dissing) the loss of the McKinley name.

Palin is, of course, Republican.

Cruise passengers who get to see “The Big One” in person and who listen to guides and Alaskans alike know that last week’s decision was not so much political as it was the will of the people.

They’ve known the mountain as Denali for a long, long time.

In the news…

• Norwegian Epic's winter home to be Fort Lauderdale, not Miami
• Puerto Rico Quality Service Program to enhance tourism service
• Royal Caribbean President's Cruise set back a week to Sept. 18, 2016

Today at portsandbows.com: All the latest cruise news


Holland America Zuiderdam
17 nights
December 11, 2015
Fort Lauderdale (return): Half Moon Cay, Aruba, Bonaire, Panama Canal, Colon, Puerto Limon, Fort Lauderdale, Half Moon Cay, Falmouth, Grand Cayman, Cozumel
Inside: $1,360
Cost per day: $80
www.hollandamerica.com

Alaska Adventure A Lesson For Fear

ATV-1ALASKA — As she climbed onto the ATV, she wondered if her arthritic hands would allow her to complete an hour-long trip through the bush without crashing, or at least without more than the usual pain. She’d experienced this type of fear before, like being afraid of heights and climbing into a helicopter to see the Norwegian fjords and later a fixed-wing aircraft to land on North America’s highest peak, Mount McKinley. Being unable to swim, she jumped on and off a a 27-foot boat that had to be tied to the bollards while she and her husband — the boat’s only occupants — negotiated 64 locks on the Midi Canal, in southern France.

Fear was not new to her. Only its type.

“I don’t even drive to the grocery store,” she told the guide, whose name was Terry. “How can I drive an ATV?”

Terry was re-assuring.

“You’ll do fine,” he said. “We’ve had lots worse than you.”

To err on the safe side, Brian put her second in the line of six vehicles on the Black Bear ATV Adventure for passengers of the Star Princess. If she was at the back, he explained, we might lose her. Better she set the pace, even if it was slower than that of her colleagues.

The ride from the McKinley Princess Lodge to the “bush” and the preparatory and necessary orientation did little to re-assure her. Nothing would, until she started guiding “her” ATV along narrow paths, over exposed roots and between trees which looked doorways that were too tight.

But she did it.

It was a terrific shore excursion, she said. There were no black bears, except what was left of one on Terry’s ATV, a prop he happily needed to justify the name of the event. There ATV-4was a loaded gun on his belt, in case an unfriendly black bear showed up, but in the four years he’d been doing this he’d never had to draw it, let alone pull the trigger.

There was lots to see in the wilderness. 

Chaga, widely and wildly rumored to be a cure for cancers, growing out of the birchbark on many trees. The Susitna River, peacefully flowing through its sandy banks in a land where ATV-5nature is often not peaceful. Nuggets on the river beds, ranging from sandstones to jade…real jade, Terry said. Rougher roads than we’d ever seen, almost impossible to drive anything on — “almost” being the operative word.

ATV-3In the end, it was another “overcoming fear” moment. Another one she could share with her granddaughter, who had to write a paper at school about overcoming her own fears, which were far different, yet much the same. She told her grandmother’s story — not the ATV one, the McKinley one — as an example of how it’s okay to be afraid, and oh-so-satisfying to beat it.

Overcoming fear.

That’s what going to Alaska can do for you. If you’re on a Princess cruise that includes land tours before this summer season ends, do it. Ask for Terry.

And what’s next for this woman of adventure? Would you believe tunnels once used by the Viet Cong, near Saigon?

There’s no stopping her now.

In the news…

• Enhanced Internet, social media packages fleet-wide for Carnival
• Crystal Cruises to launch two 70-suite river yachts in March 2017
• Carnival donation of $2.5 million to preserve coral reefs in Caribbean

Today at portsandbows.com: AmaSerena officially joins AmaWaterways fleet

Norwegian Dawn
7 nights
January 24, 2016
New Orleans (return): Cozumel, Roatan, Belize, Costa Maya
Inside: $499
Cost per day: $71
www.ncl.com

Friday File: Mount McKinley From The Air

DENALI, ALASKA — The best way to Alaska’s biggest — physically, for sure — tourist attraction is up close. Unless you think 40 miles is “close enough” that means hopping on a fixed-wing plane or a helicopter that will take you to the base or higher of mighty Mount McKinley, the tallest mountain in North America. So yesterday, we did, as part of a Princess Cruises Cruisetour…

Denali

North America’s most-photographed mountain, distinctive and recognizable even from 60 miles away when you're in the air.

PlaneBuilt in Canada, the de Havilland Beaver is one sturdy, safe and successful aircraft — delightfully slow by modern standards.

Pilot

Pilot Chris Palm’s grandfather taught him to fly when he was 15 — now ever since he has logged time flying all over the 49th state.

Glaciers-run

Glaciers run (literally) from head to toe (literally), constantly moving to create fields of ice, moraines and silt.

Gorge

This wall is part of the world’s deepest gorge: 5,000 feet above the glacier and 4,000 feet of ice below the surface.

Glaciers-blue

Often under glaciers there are rivers, and the sun’s reflections makes parts of the glacier appear blue, as with swimming pools.

Glacier-camps

Tourists/climbers regularly land on Ruth Glacier, set up camps and perhaps plan to reach the summit, or maybe just try.

Scenery

Jaw-dropping scenery is everywhere out the windows of aircraft and it leaves passengers stunned and speechless.

Snow

Even this month, there’s no shortage of snow on McKinley and its partners mountaintops — in fact, it snows there in June.

In the news…

• Carnival video a chance to watching the building of new ship Vista
• Holland America, again, wins Port of Vancouver Blue Circle Award
• Silversea passengers latest to get free WiFi for everybody

Today at portsandbows.com: Cunard's 175th anniversary cruise

Carnival Fascination
4 nights
October 1, 2015
Jacksonville (return): Freeport, Nassau
Inside: $239
Cost per day: $59
www.carnival.com

Loss of Words on Glacier Landing

DENALI, Alaska — It’s true that landing on a glacier that’s part of North America’s highest mountain leaves you speechless. Finding the words to describe it is just as difficult so if this is the shortest blog you’ve ever seen on this site, you’ll know why.

Actually, the pictures do tell the story.

The eight passengers that Captain Matt took halfway up Mount McKinley to land on the Eldridge Glacier had little to say on the way up, and less on the way down. For his co-pilot, who goes by Nancy, it was her first ride in a single-engine DeHavilland Beaver. It was her first ride in a single-engine anything that didn’t have four wheels rolling on terra firma.

“I’m speechless,” she said.

It was rampant.

Ours was one of the three Beavers that flew, in tandem, to land on McKinley. On the way, we caught a glimpse of the mountain peak in all its majesty. The reality is you don’t ever know you’ll see it until you get there. You also don’t ever know if the glacier landing will take place until you get there. But the clouds parted enough for us to do both, and the glacier landing was smoother than just about any tarmac landing, which probably doesn’t surprise anyone who is accustomed to landing on snow in an airplane wearing skis.

In Alaska, you dress in layers to deal with changing weather. It’s been that way throughout a series of Princess CruiseTours as we make our way to the Coral Princess, down south in Whittier, to cruise the Inside Passage. As it turned out, most of the passengers who went “flightseeing” on the Three Beavers were peeling layers off on the glacier, where it was pleasant enough to have some idea why there were campers up there for a night, or two.

When you fly in and out of mountain peaks that look closer than they are, it’s easier to understand why the only safety issues are mechanical ones, and this company’s been flying aircraft like this one for 30 years. The peaceful passage of upper mountain valleys delivers spectacular scenery that gives newcomers that never-thought-I’d-ever-see-this feeling. That’s certainly true when it comes to landing on Mount McKinley, which at 20,320 feet looks down on all of North America.

Captain Matt said he’s made this flight a couple of hundred times before (whew!) and the only thing that bores him about it is listening to his own voice.

In this setting, it’s usually the only one to be heard.

For a different look at our Alaska trip, check Ports and Bows.

McKinley: The Mountain Comes Out

ALASKA — It’s been sitting there for 4,000 years or so, since the last Ice Age. It doesn’t move, except for a jiggle here and there from the 800 or so earthquakes there are in Alaska every year. At 20,320 feet, it is the highest mountain in North America.

Yet Mount McKinley is treated as something that lives and breathes.

“We’re 40 miles from the mountain,” said the bus driver taking us from one strategically situated Princess Wilderness Lodge (McKinley) to another (Denali). “Hopefully, it’s out.”

And if it’s not, then is the mountain in? The references to the “coming out” of the mountain are constant in exchanges between tour guides and tourists. Since there’s no closet that big, we surmise that it “comes out” of the clouds. Yet it’s as if the mountain is moving, not the clouds.

On a lucky day, like the day we landed in Alaska to begin a two-week adventure ending with a cruise on the Coral Princess, it can be seen from Anchorage, more than 300 miles away. If you arrive on one of the 360 days a year when that doesn’t happen, you can see it from the Denali State Park, or the Denali National Park, or somewhere in between, or not at all. Even going “flightseeing” doesn’t guarantee anything more than a glimpse of the summit.

Yet apparently it’s not the clouds that make the decision, it’s the mountain. Or as another bus driver put it: “It’s not where we are, it’s what the mountain is doing.”

Nobody knows when or for how long the mountain will come out to play, or to be the most-photographed item in Alaska. In the heart of the 600-mile-long Alaska Range that slices across the state, east to west, Mount McKinley is as close to the sub-Arctic as most of us ever want to be. Despite its peak-a-boo nature, it is hard to miss entirely — the base is five miles wide.

It is a mountain of at least two names. More than a century ago, a gold prospector named it to recognize U.S. President William McKinley, allegedly when he was still just a candidate who supported the gold community. McKinley was assassinated in 2001 and didn’t see Alaska, never mind his mountain, and attempts to restore its original name — Denali — have been blocked in Congress by delegations from Ohio, McKinley’s home state.

That notwithstanding, while people in the lower 48 and Hawaii may know it as Mount McKinley, to Alaskans it is simply Denali. A word that is native Athabaskan, it has been translated into several names that mean the same. The Big One. The Tall One. Big Guy. The High One. The Great One.

Or just…The Mountain.

The one that “comes out.”

Tomorrow: Landing on Mount McKinley…and for more on our trip to Alaska, see Phil Reimer’s blog at Ports and Bows.

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