We’ve just returned from Alaska, on a trip organized with the help of our friends at Abercrombie & Kent. Some time ago, we took a cruise to this immense state, but it was time to dive more deeply into the heart and soul of our 49th state.
The State and this story is so immense that anything we could write falls short of capturing its breadth and overwhelming beauty. When first approaching Anchorage by air, you get a sense of what lies ahead, as you fly over seemingly endless mountains and fjords of the State’s southernmost expanse.
Again, we were privileged to travel with our good friends Mike and Katie, who—like us—are willing to occasionally push the boundaries a bit. Our travels in Alaska over two weeks’ time provided a glimpse into why this has become a favored destination for those fortunate to travel here.
Much of what we experienced can only be done with a considerable amount of logistical coordination (Thanks, A&K!); because most of our destinations within Alaska were quite remote, we relied on of bush planes, ski planes, float planes, and helicopters. We traveled by aircraft nearly 20 times to reach lodges, lakes, glaciers and mountaintops. Each of our days in Alaska left us in amazement at what we had experienced. And we’re serious about this—the cumulative impact of immense beauty, wildlife, and the ruggedness of it all consistently left us wondering how the next day could be any better. And yet, each day brought new delights.
The Shadows of Giants
We stand in awe of giants. And sometimes we are privileged to meet them face to face.
Of our Earth’s giants, Denali is arguably the greatest, rising 20,310 feet, three and a half miles from base to summit. Compared to the world’s tallest mountain, Denali beats Mount Everest by over a mile when measured from base to summit.
We first encountered Denali on our ski plane excursion from Talkeetna, Alaska, a flight that took us near the mountain, landing on the Ruth Glacier, an immense ice field within Denali National Park and Reserve. While The Great One was partially shrouded by clouds on the day of our first encounter, the mountain and those surrounding were impressively tall and rugged.
Giants come in human form, too. Over the years we’ve had the good fortune to meet a few. One of Alaska’s giants, Don Sheldon, was the moving force behind what is arguably the most remote and unique luxury property on Earth, Sheldon Chalet.
We’ll get to the details below, but Don Sheldon, one of Alaska’s most famous aviators, is the man who first envisioned this unforgettable chalet (https://sheldonchalet.com/legacy/).
His story is told in Wager With The Wind ( https://a.co/d/dPIYlzl). A legendary Alaskan, Don was responsible, along with Brad Washburn, for surveying Denali and the surrounding mountain range. Of equal importance, his stature as a bush pilot was unrivaled, and his exploits included countless rescues of climbers and downed air crews.
Don and his wife Roberta, with whom he built a successful air charter company, had a dream that was not realized in their lifetimes. But, some time later, when the family was in the course of sorting through family belongings, his son Robert and Marne, Don’s daughter-in-law, came across the blueprints for what is now known as Sheldon Chalet, a guest house design that Don had hoped to build on the nunatak. Those blueprints ignited the imagination of the Sheldon family, thus beginning a quest to bring Don’s dream to fruition. The subsequent years brought revisions to the original plans, and the edifice was built by the family in what is certainly the most improbable place on Earth, a mountaintop standing in the middle of a vast Glacier in the shadow of Denali. It would not be an exaggeration to call it the most remote luxury lodge that exists.
We had to visit.
Our time in Alaska up to this point had been wondrous, but nothing prepares you for the voyage to Sheldon Chalet. We were picked up in Anchorage and whisked to Talkeetna in an A-Star AS350 helicopter. Upon landing at the Talkeetna Airfield we were met by Robert and Marne Sheldon, and their son Ryan. Shortly after, Marne flew on to the Chalet. Ryan babysat us until it was our time to join Marne. While we were waiting, the weather moved in…steady, at times torrential, rain. The prospects for getting to the Chalet seemed to be fading. Our departure was pushed back. Then the rain slackened a bit, and it was back to the helicopter.
It took two attempts to get to the Chalet, as our initial approach was met with a wall of clouds. But, no worries…our pilot turned back towards Talkeetna and landed in a remote area, while back in Talkeetna close attention was being paid to radar and satellite imagery by Robert, who was in radio contact with our pilot. His observation of what was happening in the mountains revealed a brief break in the weather. After waiting a few minutes, on we went, navigating through the impossibly steep canyons that form the shoulders of the Ruth Glacier. And then it popped into view…Sheldon Chalet! As impressive as the photos and videos may be, the sight of the Chalet brought tingles to our spines…while it’s a formidable structure, the Chalet is dwarfed by the setting, an immense expanse of ice surrounded by mountains, including the Giant, Denali.
Walking into the Chalet is another feast for the senses. We were each met with a glass of Champagne while we took in the beauty of the Chalet and a view that only a select few will ever be able to experience. Our concierge ushered us to the dining table, where Chef Dave (an alum of the Culinary Institute of America and Le Cordon Bleu) had prepared a sumptuous presentation of local and international delicacies.
Marne introduced us to our two backcountry guides, who over the next two days would lead members of our entourage on glacier snowshoe treks, mountain skiing adventures, and sledding on the slopes. And, of course, in this respect, no detail is left to chance. Each guest is asked to fill out a questionnaire before arrival, and in each of our rooms we found a large duffel of Black Diamond gear—everything from sun shirts to waterproof overpants—that met our every need for outdoor equipment.
While it seems it would be impossible in this extremely remote location, the level of luxury within the Chalet was palpable in everything we saw, tasted, or touched—beautiful and comfortable furnishings, heavenly beds, and gourmet foods, wines, and cocktails are all part of the experience. Our days at Sheldon Chalet were filled with activity, but also with ample time to relax in ultimate comfort, surrounded by nature’s most inspiring landscape. For a more detailed description, check out https://sheldonchalet.com/.
Each season here brings its own wonders. During our June visit, we enjoyed nearly 22 hours of daylight. In midwinter, darkness prevails, along with the possibility of seeing the Northern Lights in a setting unmarked by artificial light. When outdoors, regardless of the season, the quiet peacefulness of the place is always present, punctuated occasionally by the muffled roar of a distant avalanche.
Here, unlike any other place you will ever visit, you find yourself in the shadows of giants.
The details: Sheldon Chalet is available only on an exclusive buyout basis, and is accessible only by helicopters operating under a contractual arrangement with the owners. The Chalet can accommodate a party of up to 10, with a required minimum stay of three nights. The cost—available upon inquiry—includes the flights to and from Anchorage and/or Talkeetna, accommodations, food and beverages, use of the provided specialty apparel and gear, and expert guides with experience in a range of mountain/backcountry activities. There is no phone service, cellular coverage, or internet coverage at the Chalet, though the staff has satellite-based communication capabilities for the purpose of coordinating flights and obtaining emergency assistance should that ever prove necessary. We urge planning for your visit to Sheldon Chalet as far in advance as possible, as availability is extremely limited.
For more information on availability and booking, contact us at email@example.com or by phoning 630.420.3538.