Alaska & Canada to Wisconsin, July 2007, part 1

by Paul Mennen

I'd almost forgotten about how much more my brother sleeps than me since my last extended camping trip with Marty was in 1982 (a bicycle trip thru Europe). So I'm using some of the time he is sleeping to write this blog. (Did the same in '82, but back then we called it a journal.) The writing was mostly for my own entertainment, but perhaps you will enjoy looking at some of the pictures.

Friday 13-Jul

Left work early (on my 1st day as a Broadcom employee) so I could meet Marty at Palo Alto airport by 3:15. Half an hour later we had the Cessna 185 stuffed, preflighted and launched towards our first stop - Hood River, Oregon. Had plenty of fuel and daylight left, but we wanted to stay the night with James, our friend and airplane partner who lives there. James and Jennifer made us a delicious salmon and grilled corn dinner followed by a walk thru town and Mikes ice cream.

    Tach: 2.8     Hobbs: 3:06     Gallons: 49.8     Cost: $211.10     Track: (493.3 / 499 nm) PAO-4S2.kmz

    Notes: ----------------------------------------------
    Tach (tachometer hours) approximately tells you prop revolutions divided by 162,000 (60 x 2700)
    Hobbs refers to the time the master switch is on (essentially engine running time)
    Cost is mostly the fuel costs, but sometimes includes tiedown or other fees
    The 1st number in the parentheses after "Track:" is the point to point distance in nautical miles
    The 2nd number is the path length

Saturday 14-Jul

To the left are Marty and me ready to depart from Hood River. To the right are Marty and James as well as Jennifer's dog.

Click on any picture to see a larger image. Then click the back button to continue.

A later start than planned, with all the late night chatting and some in the morning as well. Filed my border crossing flight plan and notified customs on my cell on the way to the airport. Departed 4S2 at 9:30. The 2 hour notification was a nuisance causing us to throttle way back so we wouldn't bust our 11AM border crossing into Abbotsford BC. (Lost a little time, but at least saved on fuel.) Clearing Canadian customs was anti-climactic. Nobody was there. All I had to do was to call CANPASS on my cell and he cleared me to enter the country immediately.

After filling up with the expensive Canadian avgas, we departed for Smithers BC. The usual route deviates to the east (over Prince George) to give more bad weather options. However the weather seemed good enough that we chose a mostly direct path. These pictures were taken about 30 minutes after takeoff. This was our first taste of the remote and rugged terrain common north of the border. It made me glad I had just purchased a PLB (personal locator beacon).

We reached Smithers just as rain showers were starting to form. The weather was making our plan to push on to Whitehorse, Yukon for the night look iffy. After buying even more expensive Canadian gas, we headed for Dease Lake instead. I took this picture shortly before takeoff.

The weather was deteriorating, but with frequent dodges, pop overs and duck unders around the weather we managed. Dease Lake turned out to be a wise choice. It was a fine place to camp (being able to use the airport restroom was a plus) and later I learned that the gas was cheaper than Whitehorse who had perhaps the most expensive fuel in Canada. Rain interrupted our first two attempts to set up our tents, so we cooked dinner under the wing instead. (What do those low wing Piper pilots do in this situation??).

After dinner we got the tents up just before the next rain cloud moved in. At 10:30 Marty went to bed, but it was still light, so I put on my rain jacket and paced the long 6000 foot runway to get the flying kinks out. Then I started this blog. Of course I'm way off grid, so it may be a while before you will see this on my web site. I think it was 11:30 before it was dark enough that I needed a flashlight to read.

    Tach: 1.6     Hobbs: 1:51     Gallons: 14.68     Cost: $098.79     Track: (203.8 / 210 nm) 4S2-Abbotsford.kmz
    Tach: 2.3     Hobbs: 2:35     Gallons: 31.81     Cost: $241.05     Track: (390.8 / 401 nm) Abbotsford-Smithers.kmz
    Tach: 1.6     Hobbs: 1:47     Gallons: 19.47     Cost: $148.22     Track: (235.3 / 255 nm) Smithers-Dease.kmz

Sunday, 15-Jul

Whitehorse was directly under our straight path from Dease Lake to Northway, AK (our US airport of entry). Marty suggested landing at Whitehorse to "regroup", but he went along with my preference for pressing on. I think the constant meandering thru the weather was starting to wear on him. I thought that any delay would only make things more challenging, and besides Whitehorse was under heavy rain at the time.

Our Dease Lake departure was complicated by the fact that we needed to file a flight plan and notify US customs of our arrival with 15 minute accuracy. To make matters worse there is no cell phone service at Dease Lake. I tried to charge the call to US customs to my Visa, using the pay phone, but the operator said that was not possible. Marty came to the rescue. He had an AT&T international calling card. Without that we would have had to land at Whitehorse (which had terrible weather). We filed for 3 hours enroute which turned out to be exactly right, despite some more weaving dances to stay clear of clouds. A few times it looked doubtful to make Northway, but we always had an out so we pressed on.

When we got to Northway, another C185 was sitting at the pumps also waiting for the customs agent. This turned out to be Nick Sealage. We recognized each other's names from the Skywagon Discussion List. One of Nick's suggestions sounded interesting (flying from Anchorage, up Clark pass and Lake Clark and landing at Iliamna). I hope we have the time to do that.

When the customs agent looked at Marty's passport he said "This photo REALLY does not look like you (He also made a crack about gender reassignment surgery). Marty had accidently picked up his wife's passport. We were lucky to have found the rare customs agent with a sense of humor. He didn't give us any problem re-entering the country.

Shortly after that, a 3rd skywagon showed up - piloted by Merill- field-based Kimball Forest (another name I recognized from the list.) We all ate lunch at the airport cafe and swapped flying stories and other half truths. Kimball was incredibly helpful with many Alaska flying suggestions. He also gave me some charts he thought I should have. One of his best suggestions was McCarthy, which we decided to take on the spot.

Flight service didn't have any weather information on McCarthy, so we decided to have a look. We could tell that the clouds were too low to make it over any of the passes thru the Wrangell Mountains so we deviated west to Gulkana and then up the pass to McCarthy.

Turned out the weather was fine and we couldn't have asked for a better spot for our first time camping in Alaska. Beautiful views of mountains all around. And one can pitch a tent just about anywhere.

We didn't set up camp right away since Kimball had mentioned that there were some neat mines to see in Kennecott, a 5 mile shuttle ride to the north. So we grabbed some water and gorp and found the shuttle. It was clear to the driver that we didn't know that it was a hike to see the mines. She said it was a 2000 ft climb. Darn, should have brought my hiking boots, thick socks, bandaids, and ibuprofin. But even without my usual hiking stuff I thought I could handle 2000 feet ok.

On the way up the road to the trail we got a trail map and bought an extra bottle of water. The map said the round trip time to the Jumbo mine was 6 to 8 hours and that the elevation gain was not 2000 ft but 3800! It was now 4pm giving us 4.5 hours until the last bus left for the airport, but I was still thinking the trail might be doable in that time. (The map estimates are calibrated to the beer gut couch potatoes.) Marty had enough after climbing the first 800 feet and headed back down the hill. Soon after I ditched the pack (containing much useless stuff) took out a 12 oz water bottle and bolted uphill as fast as I could. At the top, I realized I was alone. All the people I had met were going downhill. Scary thought of getting stuck up here (in shorts and a light T shirt). It was a well marked trail, but if there was a way to go wrong I usually am able to find it. The footing wasn't particularly good either. So a few quick pictures of the mines and the scenery and I skidaddled. Here are four pictures I took at the top.

My descent was slowed however by sections too steep to run and my "Oh wow"s that came out voiced even though there was nobody else to hear it. (That's when I knew I had to stop to take a picture - 7 of which are above.) Still, I managed the round trip in 3 hours and 12 minutes, so was able to take the 7:30 bus back to the airport. Took me a few days to completely recover, but it was worth it. I figured I wouldn't get another chance at that trail anytime soon. I also figured that back at the plane I could shower by dumping water over my head. However no water was available at the airport. We had plenty to drink, but not enough to waste.

Meanwhile Marty did a side trip into the town of McCarthy so we made it back to the plane at about the same time. We set up our tents and made dinner using one of our dehydrated backpacking dinners. The one we had the previous night was quite tasty so we were disappointed to find this one inedibly salty. I ate some anyway only because by this time I was HUNGRY. I thought it was a manufacturing defect until I read the label. "1790 mg sodium PER SERVING". What were they thinking??? That will teach me to read the labels first.

In the evening we talked quite a bit with a couple camped near us, who flew all the way from southern Illinois (picture on the left). One of the camping spot suggestions they made was "Lake Minchumina". That turned out to be a fruitful conversation.

It's now 15 minutes past midnight and just starting to get a bit difficult to write without a flashlight. So I'll sign off for today. Actually I think it should be 1:15 if we were in the rightful time zone. (Eastern and western AK both shift by an hour so they can use the same time zone as central Alaska).

    Tach: 2.7     Hobbs: 3:02     Gallons: 43.5     Cost: $247.52     Track: (441.9 / 461 nm) Dease-Northway.kmz
    Tach: 1.3     Hobbs: 1:26     Gallons: 00.0     Cost: $000.00     Track: (095.4 / 177 nm) Northway-McCarthy.kmz

Click here to continue to part 2 (Monday, 16-Jul).

Click here to skip ahead to part 3 (Saturday, 21-Jul).

Click here to skip ahead to part 4 (Wednesday, 25-Jul).

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