The sun comes up these days while I am on the way to work and its pretty good daylight just a little after 8AM in Anchorage. When you talk about longer or shorter days of sunlight, the key thing to remember is it’s all about angles. The Earth rotates at the same rate, the Sun stays where it’s at, so for a day to be longer or shorter our angle to the sun changes. It’s a greater influence up north in Alaska because the further north you are the more drastic change in angles. There’s a point to this, so stay with me.
I had an 8am meeting “The Boardroom” of the BP Tower, the main executive conference room in the building located on the north end on the top floor (13th to be exact). Where I typically work on the 8th floor, I can turn around and look out the same direction and get nearly the same view, but up there it just seems you have a clearer vision for a longer way. While I did focus on the meeting, something cool was happening out the window that kept pulling me back.
On a clear day, you can see Denali from Anchorage. Mount McKinley (or Denali, its original name & the common name used around these parts) is the tallest mountain in North America towering 20,320 feet (6,194 meters). It is 240 miles (390 km) by car from Anchorage to Denali National Park where the mountain is. Most parts of town, any unobstructed view can give you at least the peak of the mountain on a clear day – though the peak is usually covered with clouds. From my 8th floor desk, I can see a fair bit of the mountain on a clear day as well; but since I face away from the window its something I don’t stare at for any given period of time.
Today was different. Right around 8:20 something red started appearing out the boardroom window. While the sun was up over Anchorage, at that point of time the sun started hitting the peak of Denali. The whole of the mountain is snow covered, and ridges jut to the south giving contrast to it’s shape. Slowly as more of the mountain saw the light of the sun, the red dawn moved down the slopes and started illuminating the whole of the old girl. By 8:40 it was in full color, reds to pinks, best reflecting the sunrise. Denali loomed high over the horizon and majestic as any rocky peak has ever seen. There are other peaks to the north, and other ranges to the east, but none stand out and dominates like Denali when it glows in the natural light of dawn.
Denali has that strange way of surprising you every time you look at it. Between here and there, weather can change pretty dramatically, meaning different hazes or wind blown things can change how well we can see it. Weather changes going above us in all directions, so the light reaching the mountain could have nothing to do with what it’s like in Anchorage. Because the east rising sun plays over the ridges of Denali differently than the west setting sun, you can have the same day give you completely different views of the same mountain.
I still remember when I came to Anchorage the first time, someone mentioning to me that on a clear day you could see Denali from here. While I didn’t believe them then, I think they were hiding really what you could see a clear day, and how incredible it could be.