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alaska | Denali Dazzled by Denali Exploring the high slopes and lowland trails of Alaska’s premier mountain park By Nicholas O’Connell T he Cessna 185 speeds down the runway, heading for the top of North America. Jok Bondurant pulls on the stick, and the plane soars into the air. We’re heading for Mount McKinley, at 20,320 feet, the tallest mountain on the continent and the crown jewel of Denali National Park, one of the most pristine places on the planet. Bondurant, a pilot with Sheldon Air Ser- vice in Talkeetna, Alaska, and passengers Calle Hedberg, Tom and Jean Coghill, and I cruise above the wide, braided channels of the massive Susitna River. Climbing higher, we near the foothills of the Alaska Range, a jagged array of icy peaks evoking the man- dible of a fierce prehistoric beast. “Granite erodes slower than other rock,” LEFT: MICHAEL F. JONES; RIGHT: Tom Coghill Bondurant says, pointing toward the gra- Alaska Airlines Magazine AAM 02.14 akDenali.indd 77 February 2014 nitic peaks of the Alaska Range: Foraker, Hunter and McKinley. “That’s why these peaks are higher.” Left: Wonder Lake reflects Mount McKinley in one of the iconic views of Alaska. Above: Author Nicholas O’Connell stands in the ski trail of his sightseeing plane after landing in the Don Sheldon Amphitheater on McKinley. 77 1/16/14 5:05 PM