The pilot knows what he’s doing, I keep reminding myself. Sure, it may seem like we’re so close to the mountain that one big gust of wind would be enough to slam our tiny plane into the hillside, but I know that cannot really be true.
I’d gone flightseeing once before, in Alaska, and while that was fun, our views of Mt. McKinley and the other peaks in Denali National Park were from way, way above.
This time, we’re right in the heart of the mountain range. I’m here with two other travel writers in Kluane National Park, a massive park in southern Yukon that stretches all the way to the Alaska border. And the pilot is flying between the mountain peaks, giving us a chance to see them from very close range.
The aircraft has room for just the four of us, making it the smallest plane I’ve ever flown in. My mind is racing as we weave in and out of majestic, snow-covered peaks. I’m nervous about being in such a small plane, feeling the winds whip against the aircraft. I’m awestruck at the views and amazed that these mountaintops are the same elevation as our plane. And I feel fortunate that I’m getting to have the experience.
The first part of the flight with Kluane Glacier Air Tours takes us over hilly, grassy terrain along the river. During this part of the flight, we excitedly scan the ground below for any signs of bears or moose or other wildlife, but luck isn’t with us on this day.
Still, it’s cool that the pilot dips low to give us a close look at the interior of Kluane National Park, which most people don’t get to see since there aren’t that many roads or trails running through the place. If there were any bears playing along the water, we would surely see them.
Before long, a chill starts to creep in through the small gaps in the windows and frame of the plane, and the water below us starts to turn to ice. We pass a few glaciers, including some that are breaking off into the water. It’s not long before the entire horizon is white. Kluane has the largest ice fields in the world outside of the polar regions.
Just when I begin to think that we’re so far removed from civilization that humans would never make it out this far, I look down and spot three individuals dragging packs across the snowy ground. The truly adventurous can take helicopters or glacier-landing flights into the park and camp out here for several days if they wish. That’s apparently what these crazy brave folks are doing.
At least a quarter-mile separates the first two people from the one pulling up the rear. Either these three are having some sort of argument, or one of them is just really slow. “Come on Paul, stop slowing us down! You’re the one who dragged us out here in the middle of nowhere in the first place!”
After we observe that they aren’t in need of rescue, since they’re methodically hiking forward rather than frantically waving for help, we swing around to the right and begin the loop back to the airport. Once again, I get a little freaked out when it appears that we’re headed straight for a head-on collision with a mountain in front of us. Turn! Now! I think to myself as the pilot casually stares out the window in another direction.
Of course, he makes the turn in plenty of time, and we’re never in any danger of hitting the mountain. I suppose I just have serious depth issues when it comes to bush planes. That’s one of my major takeaways from this trip. Besides the fact that the views of Kluane from the plane are spectacular, I learn conclusively that I would not make a good pilot. The passenger seat is where I belong.
Note: My visit to Kluane National Park and flightseeing experience were provided by Tourism Yukon.