Mt. Denali

By Gary Every Special to the Crier

What is the biggest mountain in the world? Depends on how you measure it.

Mt. Everest is the tallest mountain in the world, reaching an elevation attained nowhere else but Everest starts way high in the sky and is not actually that big of a mountain. For example, Mt. Lemmon in the Santa Catalinas is actually bigger from top to bottom. The biggest mountain in the world from base to summit is Mt. McKinley in Alaska or Denali as it is known to the Native Americans.

Of course, Denali is considered the highest mountain in the world only because we humans have a sea level bias. From the bottom of the ocean to its volcanic top, Hawaii is actually the biggest mountain in the world.

Or is it?

Again depends on how you measure it. Who says mountains have to go up? In the heart of the Pacific Ocean, the Marinas Trench is big enough to swallow Everest, Denali, Hawaii, and still have room for some of the Andes. So the Marinas Trench is the biggest mountain in the worldHowever I have never been to the Marinas Trench or Hawaii (or Everest) so this is a story about Denali.

There is a bus that rolls through Denali National Park and then drops you off wherever your permit says you can hike. Ranger Roy and I got off the bus and were dropped off on a small hill beside a dirt road. First thing I saw was a grizzly bear on the next hill about a half mile away. Not a regular bear but a grizzly!

I have probably seen about fifty black bears during my life but this is the only grizzly I have ever seen in the wild. Luckily, it did not come any closer.

We started to hike in a soft rain. I was to learn that it rains almost every day in Alaska, it rains at least a little and some days it rains a lot. You get used to it but the problem with the rain this day was that the clouds covered all the magnificent mountains including Denali, which might be the biggest mountain in the world (depending on how you measure it).

The other problem was that I had discovered a shortcut on the map, it took us right through an area called “marsh.” A marsh in Arizona is no big deal, it means that the ground is a little soggy.

In Alaska, it meant the water was about eight feet deep and the only way we could travel was to leap with full backpacks from bush to bush grabbing at the branches and standing on the trunk.

The bushes were covered with thorns. It was one of the most bloody, cold wet and miserable hikes I have ever been on and then I looked down and realized that the thorny bushes held wild roses.

We were traveling through a thicket of wild roses, thousands and tens of thousands of little rust red roses spreading outward in every direction for miles.

The next morning I woke up to a crisp new day without a cloud in the sky so I could see all the magnificent mountains except for Denali that wore a single giant cloud, the only cloud in the entire sky like a lumpy shroud.

You could see everything except Denali and you couldn’t see Denali at all. At least we were out of the marsh and hiked on dry ground. That night we set up camp on a bluff above a river.

I awoke the morning of the third day and there was a herd of caribou grazing along the river. There were about sixty caribou just below the bluff. I love caribou, both the males and females wear horns. Plus they are so warm and fuzzy looking that if Jim Henson made deer they would look just like caribou. Then I turned around and there, snow covered white and glistening, was Denali in all her glory.

Wow! I knew from the moment I saw Denali that my heart would beat a little faster forevermore and my soul was just a tad bit bigger.

I raised both arms above my head and shouted in exultation. From the river, a lonely bachelor caribou answered, tilting back his head and bugling. I stood there and stared at magnificent Denali and could have stared forever but alas, eventually, I needed to journey back to civilization.

Now decades later visions of the magnificence of Denali pop into my mind at unexpected moments and remind me to keep my soul large even amidst the drudgery of day-to-day modern existence.

Sometimes I wonder if on beautiful sunny days along a riverbank in Alaska, there isn’t still a lovesick caribou that tilts back his head and calls my name into the wind. Al least I hope there is.

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