flying.230: North to Alaska
flying.230.0: "Bush" Battuello (bb) Wed 30 Aug 95 15:54
Wherein I attempt to translate my Alaska flight into ascii.
flying.230.1: "Bush" Battuello (bb) Wed 30 Aug 95 15:54
It was, of course, wonderful. We found ourselves making many decisions,
and without exception found ourselves where we should be.
I'm going to post a mixed lot of stuff, I have some statistics and lists
that I want to keep somewhere, might as well be here. I'll hide the more
boring ones. Will go into the planning a bit, and try to put in a few
stories, although hard to translate clouds and granite into words.
flying.230.2: "Bush" Battuello (bb) Wed 30 Aug 95 15:55
Unusual travel suggestions are dancing lessons from God - Kurt Vonnegut
In March, I flew over to London to meet my friend's parents. Her father
pours a good single-malt, and somewhere in the flying stories, Frances's
mother asked how far I could fly. We're not sure how the subject of
Alaska came up, but I remember saying that if she came over to America,
I'd fly her to Alaska. Then forgot all about it.
So two weeks after I returned, Rosemary called and asked when we were
going. I had no idea how far Alaska was, so I told her I'd get back to
her. I found a world map that put Anchorage roughly 1750 great circle
miles from SF, so figured probably about 25 hours via the Alaska highway.
Ouch. The longest trip I've ever done was 10 hours to Boulder, CO, in two
days. This would be 5 flying days in a row. I did some rough cost
estimates, and ran the numbers back to her. I figured 14-21 days,
depending on weather and sightseeing days. Discussions of vacation and
job status followed. For various reasons, time wasn't a problem for us,
and we worked it out so Frances could join us in Anchorage for the trip
back, if we made it that far.
flying.230.3: "Bush" Battuello (bb) Wed 30 Aug 95 15:55
Planning started about six weeks in advance. I decided to divide it up:
First things first - I called AOPA and mail-ordered their Alaska and
Canada kits. $11 brought an AOPA booklet on Alaska and Canada flying,
which gave a first peek at Canadian flight rules, and rough route maps.
Also included US and Canadian customs and immigration booklets and forms.
Next, off to the Nut Tree, where I picked up a thick book called the
Alaska Airmen's Association Logbook. While this was packed with info,
it wasn't in a very usable form. A much better book was Your Alaskan
Flight Plan, by Don and Julia Downie. Very well organized, and full of
photos and descriptions of routes, airports and communities. While at
the Nut Tree, I also picked up US World Air Charts for the route.
Read through the books, which gave me a pretty good idea about rules,
routes, weather, etc. The Downie book comes pretty close to capturing
Finally, AAA for road maps of the route, and the Western Canada/Alaska
tour book, which proved invaluable for locating motels and restaurants
along the way.
flying.230.4: "Bush" Battuello (bb) Wed 30 Aug 95 15:55
I took a layered approach to buying the charts, approach plates and
supplements (Canadian for Airport Facility Directory). First, I bought
the US World Air Charts for the entire route. Later, I found the Canadian
WAC's, which actually covered the route better and with more local detail.
Next came the US and Canadian sectionals, some delayed a few weeks because
of new issues coming out.
Canadian WACs and Sectionals are quite different than US, different colors,
airport info, etc. Biggest difference is that they are issued irregularly,
often years between. As a result, the airport info is often out of date,
so the Supplement ($28, good for two months only), is critical. Just before
I left, a new Vancouver sectional and terminal chart was issued, another $20.
Canadian charts are $12.95 for a sectional, $8.95 terminal.
I decided not to buy a Jeppesen trip kit, but picked up a fed Plate booklet
for the Pacific Northwest and for Alaska, and the fed charts for IFR. I
decided early on not to do any IFR in Canada, because of the high MEA's and
my unfamiliarity with the country and slightly different rules.
The WAC's turned out to be a good investment, because Frances and Rosemary
enjoyed following along, even when I needed my chart right in front of me.
I also purchased a Canadian "Alaska Highway" sectional, which covers most
of the highway from Fort St John to Northway. I ended up not caring much
for it. The topology used a different color and contour method than the
other sectionals, much harder to interpret. It tended to make passes look
easier than they were. I wouldn't recommend it.
I couldn't find a copy of the Milepost, the definitive Alaska Highway
tourbook in the US, but found one easily in Canada. Highly recommended.
Rosemary and Frances also brought their own tourbooks, and of course we
each brought a novel for bedtime reading.
The next hidden post is a complete list of charts, plates and books.
flying.230.5: "Bush" Battuello (bb) Wed 30 Aug 95 15:55
flying.230.6: "Bush" Battuello (bb) Wed 30 Aug 95 15:58
Tomorrow - preparing the airplane, survival stuff and food. ^bb^
flying.230.7: Hoover Chan (hchan) Wed 30 Aug 95 21:25
Great stuff. Good to see you back.
flying.230.8: newfdog - used to be - - (harwell) Thu 31 Aug 95 08:34
bb - keep it up. This is like reading an old fashioned serial.
flying.230.9: "Bush" Battuello (bb) Thu 31 Aug 95 09:29
I own a pretty straightforward 1980 Cessna 172N, standard avionics
plus King DME, 40 gallon tanks, 105 knots for 4 hours at sea level,
5 at altitude (because of the lower engine power). I've been blessed
by having two operating partners, both United Airlines A&P's, who keep
the plane in superb shape.
The only problem was the engine, which had 1950 hours on it, and was
becoming a real oil-hog. When it started getting less than 2 hours
per quart, we decided to get into the shop and do the overhaul. Even with
swapping engines, we only got out of the shop about two weeks before
departure, and had to work hard to put 15 break-in hours in before a
complete pre-trip inspection and first oil change. Fortunately, nothing
went wrong, and the plane performed flawlessly.
The other major purchases were an upgrade (actually a downsize) from my
trusty ICOM A20 handheld to the new ICOM A22, with more features for half
the weight and two thirds the size. I was able to sell the A20 for a decent
price, and test the A22 several times before departure. The A22 features
much easier tuning, better headset adaption, and most useful, the marine
But most important, I finally sprung for a moving map GPS, the Garmin 90.
I can't say enough good about this box. I never relied on it completely,
but the trip would have been far, far harder and more stressful without
it. Once I figured out some strange quirks about airport naming, I found
I could put in an incredibly detailed route, and get more info about where
I was, what was around me, where I was going and when than any pilot has a
right to know.
Question for ICAO experts: I learned quickly that Canadian airports start
with C (and have lots of Y's and X's), and Alaska airports start with P,
but some Alaska airports seem to have two official names. The second name
starts with PA, followed by the first two letters of the FAA name. For
example, Merrill Field isn't PMRI, as charted, but PAMR. Northway is PAOR
instead of PORT. But Anchorage is PANC, just like the chart. Any ideas?
The GPS easily got 20 hours on four AA's in battery saver mode, which works
so well I never tried the regular mode. I would take it to the motel each
night and program in the details of the next days' flight, and when we had
to divert because of weather or fuel changes, it made enroute flight planning
a snap. I can't imagine how I flew 1000 hours without it.
The only problems are that about once a day it would suddenly lose signal,
and also separately, once a day it would mysteriously turn itself off.
In both cases, I could turn it back on and it would reaquire in seconds.
I think it turns itself off because of weird quirks in the software, the
thing is obviously doing some major numbercrunching all the time. The GPS
is also a major distraction in flight, it makes it even harder to keep
your eyes outside the cockpit. I won't let any of my flying students
use one until after their private exam.
Finally, picked up some spare ropes and chalks, which were useful in a
number of spots. The plane flew perfectly, and never caused any anxiety
flying.230.10: "Bush" Battuello (bb) Thu 31 Aug 95 09:31
Survival equipment and food
The next hidden post will have our complete inventory. Both Canada and
Alaska have laws requiring certain items when flying beyond 25 miles of
town. Talking to other pilots and looking into airplanes, the rules seem
to not be widely observed, but I took them seriously. Flying schools and
charter operations in Canada had small yellow boxes that claimed to hold
the minimum requirements (I didn't ask about guns), but didn't look like
they'd be very comfortable on a night in the woods. The Canadian flight
plan form has a box you check to verify you have the right stuff.
The Canadian list is:
Food with at least 10,000 calories per person
Stove and fuel
Axe of at least 2 1/2 pounds
Fishing equipment (rod and nets)
Mosquito nets and repellent
Tents, wing covers or orange signal panels
First aid kit
The US list is almost identical, plus a *required* rifle, shotgun or
pistol. Canada doesn't allow pistols (they are very strict about it), so I
arranged to borrow a shotgun and picked up five rounds of buckshot and
five so-called bear slugs. I received conflicting advice about the
advantages of rifles, shotguns and different types of ammo, fortunately
never had to test any of it.
The following looks like a lot of stuff, but fit neatly in one small
cardboard box and a plastic bin (except for the gun, fishing rod, tent and
sleeping bags). The bin was packed in the plane so it could be quickly
pulled out in an emergency. We made the decision to provide for
comfortable camping, with good sleeping bags and a good tent, although we
didn't end up doing any camping.
Total weight of all charts, books, survival stuff and food was about 200
pounds, which put us right at gross. All airports had long runways, were
below 2000' (except one 3000'), and we had cool days, so no problem with
flying.230.11: "Bush" Battuello (bb) Thu 31 Aug 95 09:31
flying.230.12: "Bush" Battuello (bb) Thu 31 Aug 95 09:32
Not a lot to do, had to finish up one student at my flight school and get
another one to a good stopping place. Got in for a long overdue visit to
the dentist and got a haircut. Prepaid some bills, and put $200 advance
on the phone bill, cause I knew I'd need it. Picked up $300 Canadian for
a measly $220 US. Made hotel reservations for the first night out and in
Anchorage, at a place that allowed same-day cancels. Then off to SFO to
pick up Rosemary.
Tomorrow - the plan (hehehe!)
flying.230.13: "Bush" Battuello (bb) Thu 31 Aug 95 22:41
In Canada and Alaska, good airports with fuel are almost always 2 to 2.5
hours apart. In between are usually several fields without fuel, either
associated with a lodge, or else emergency strips. I looked at the 25 hours
to get to Anchorage, and decided to try for 5 flying days, mostly with two
legs. Although we knew it would be subject to change, my initial plan was
Fort St. John
For a total of 5 flying days. I immediately added in 2 weather days, so
made reservations in Anchorage for a week after we left.
The route above follows good highways, including the Alaska Highway, the
entire route. There are two major shortcuts available. First, you can go
up the coast, via Prince Rupert and Juneau. I ruled this out because
there are several long over-water sections where the fuel point of no
return is right at half way. The other option is a line called "The
Trench", which runs perfectly straight from Prince George to Watson Lake.
This is a tempting option, because it saves 240 flying miles, and saves
crossing the Rockies twice. But it is 350 miles with no fuel, no road,
and no weather reporting except at the beginning and at the end. The
Trench is very tempting, because it is a perfectly straight shot, with low
altitudes and easy navigation. But there is no turning back, and very few
places to put an airplane. I decided that flying the Alaska Highway, with
the towns, scenery and history along the route, would be the safest choice.
flying.230.14: "Bush" Battuello (bb) Thu 31 Aug 95 22:42
Rosemary arrived on a Friday afternoon. We bought the foodstuffs that
evening, and spent Saturday packing the supplies and driving down to load
the plane. The materials fit perfectly. I had an idea of what I would
leave if I had to, but everything fit.
Sunday morning we left the house at 8am, and were off. Weather forecasts
for the first day were excellent, and we had an easy run up the coast to
Arcata. At Arcata, we had our first adventure, when the very nice fuel guy
put .5 gallons into our wings, hissed, spit, and went dry. Empty. Kaput.
I briefly considered continuing on to Crescent City, but if there were any
problems, we would have been in trouble, so we backtracked 10 miles to
Murray Field, Eureka (after phoning back to make sure they had fuel).
Bonus stop, then back up the coast, opening our flight plan as we flew
over Arcata again, and on to North Bend, then inland to Salem. I don't
need to describe to California pilots the beauty of the North Coast.
Late lunch in Salem, refuel, then a tour up the river to Portland, right
over Portland International, and then up to 10,500 for a spectacular fly-
by of Mt. St. Helens. Back on the power, glide down the 40 miles to
Olympia, home of Olympia beer, State Capitol, southernmost point of the
We picked Gower Air Services at random, and got excellent fuel and tie-
down service, and a quick cab ride into town, to the Westwater Inn, on a
plateau overlooking the Sound. Walked the mile into town for dinner, a
perfect end to a perfect first day of flying. We toasted the beginning of
our great adventure.
flying.230.15: "Bush" Battuello (bb) Thu 31 Aug 95 22:43
Coming tomorrow - What Airshow? and Why is that canyon full of clouds?
flying.230.16: Richard Buckberg (buck) Fri 1 Sep 95 09:27
These are great stories. Thansk for writing them up.
flying.230.17: George Madsen (gpm) Fri 1 Sep 95 16:08
I love it, i've been dreaming of doing this for years, Please, keep writing.
flying.230.18: "Bush" Battuello (bb) Fri 1 Sep 95 23:55
A brief delay while I do a two day boat race. Back Sunday! ^bb^
flying.230.19: "Bush" Battuello (bb) Mon 4 Sep 95 09:56
We had no trouble with Customs, US or Canadian, but there was no other
subject (except perhaps mosquitos) with more warnings, cautions and advice
in the books and materials from AOPA. Apparently if things go ok, no
problem, but if things go wrong, there can be big problems, including
$10,000 fines and confiscation of aircraft. The rules are pretty clear,
pick an airport of entry, find the hours and phone number, call them
during business hours and make a reservation at least one hour ahead of
time, and they'll be there. Nominal overtime charge if you arrive after
normal hours. You can make the call directly and/or use the ADCUS box
on your flight plan.
We did both, although when I called Canadian Customs in Abbotsford,
they said I didn't need a reservation, they much prefered the ADCUS
system. The Canadians did say they didn't trust ADCUS going into the
US, and each time we entered the US, we did get a US reservation by
Both Canadian Customs were extremely quick, efficient and pleasant. They
glanced at our passports, stamped Rosemary's UK passport, and gave us a
little slip of paper to keep the airplane in the country 6 months. US
Customs was more paperwork, more simple questions, and they literally
glanced inside the plane. No problems at all, but find out the rules and
follow them, don't enter the US without a reservation you personally
obtain, and when you arrive, don't leave the airplane until the agent
appears. FSS can help if you need directions to the parking area or if
the agent is delayed.
flying.230.20: "Bush" Battuello (bb) Mon 4 Sep 95 09:57
We left Olympia under medium-high clouds, which got quickly worse as
we headed north past the Olympics, the San Juan Islands, over Whidbey
Island and one mile north of the border to Abbotsford. Abbotsford's
class D airspace actually extends into the US, and they were very
polite in talking us in. Unlike the US, with "approach" and "tower"
frequencies, they use an "outer" and "inner" tower frequency.
When we briefed in Olympia, FSS told us we'd just missed the Abbotsford
International Airshow that weekend, but there were still hundreds of
planes on the ground. Most of the display aircraft hadn't left yet, so we
could see several large C-5 style transports, many fighters including a
Stealth, and many older transports, including dozens of DC-3's.
We cleared Customs in a light but building rain, fueled, and ran over
to the FSS in the tower. More rain coming from everywhere. They had
a really nifty set of remote cameras set up in the canyons east and
north, along our flight, that showed many layers of clouds right down
to the deck. The worst spot was at Hope, where a dozen aircraft were
stuck on the ground, only 30 minutes from Abbotsford. We could see the
pilots on the TV, staring forlornly at the clouds.
So we sat in the lounge, running out every 15 minutes to see another
interesting aircraft taxi by or do a low pass after take-off. Got a
picture of my plane with the Stealth taxiing by. Once an hour, we'd
check the weather which was gradually improving. 3pm was our go-or-
stay point, because I didn't want to get too tired for the 4 hours to
Prince George, so at 3 we decided to take a "look-see". We filed and
launched up into the Hope Canyon, and got about 15 miles up before the
clouds just got too bad. Did a classic canyon 180 and headed back.
This was Rosemary's introduction to mountain flying, and she took it
very well, although I did have to explain why I had to fly so close
to the right wall.
We tied down in a quaint grass overnight transient area, refueled,
and a local flight school recommended a moderate motel and gave us
a ride into town.
flying.230.21: "Bush" Battuello (bb) Mon 4 Sep 95 10:40
The next morning it was still lightly drizzling, but the clouds were
higher and thinner. The initial camera views weren't encouraging, but
they started lifting, and we filed and flew at noon. The Hope canyon was
tight, but flyable. We saw that the spot we turned around was only a
mile from Hope, but no regrets.
Another plane tagged along behind, and we passed along hints of the best
side to pass clouds and where we'd found turbulence. A Russian 12 seater
had left about 45 minutes ahead of us, and we had some concerns when we
saw it heading back, but Flight Service said they couldn't get a pilot
report out of them, and didn't know why they turned around. We were
mostly about 1000 feet above the river, with canyon walls up to about
6,000. The overcast covered the rim, and we had to dodge occasional
puffs, but not bad going. We had to follow two tight Z shaped turns in
the canyon, one called "Hell's Gate".
After about 90 minutes of canyon flying, we broke out into a broader
plain, and followed a river and an NDB to Williams Lake, landing in
light rain. Another beautiful Canadian airport, very polite and helpful
FSS people. They said it generally improved to the north, although with
a strong low and thunderstorm over Fort Saint John. We filed for Prince
George, but decided to extend through the Rockies to the east if the
The next two hours were probably the easiest on the trip north, gentle
valleys, moderately high clouds. We passed Pr. George and continued. The
thunderstorm was still over John, but we had a good alternative at Dawson
Creek. We entered the Peace river canyon at MacKenzie, a 60 mile shot
east to Chetwynd, then plains to John. As we entered the canyon, the
winds and turbulence increased, and the GPS started showing more and more
tailwind. By the time we reached Chetwynd, we were clocking 140s and low
150's over the ground, aimed just north of a huge black cloud headed south
from John toward Dawson. The FSS at John said it was clearing but windy,
come on in. We did the last 60 miles in about 20 minutes, did a 180, and
landed almost stopped on 20.
I taxi'd into the first FBO I saw, tied down, and was very glad to be on
the ground. Quite a day of mountain flying. The FBO (Frontier ESSO),
couldn't have been nicer, suggesting a hotel and loaning us their grey
bomber courtesy car for the night. I was ready for a rest.
flying.230.22: "Bush" Battuello (bb) Mon 4 Sep 95 10:40
Tomorrow - I get a rest or How to Spend Four Days in Fort St. John.
flying.230.23: "Bush" Battuello (bb) Mon 4 Sep 95 23:06
The next morning woke up raining hard. We had to return the Grey Bomber
to the FBO, so checked out of the hotel, placed a 6pm hold on another room,
and headed out to the airport. The Bomber, a massive Lincoln Continental
Towncar, circa 1973, was used mostly by the crews from two Mitsubishi MU-2's
that flew the Fedex and Purolator loads from Vancouver each day. We got to
know them pretty well, they arrived each day at 10am and left around 5pm.
Weather guy said to forget it for the day, so we rented a car and drove up
to Hudson's Hope, a small trading post 90 km west of St. John. Nice drive
through the rain, and we got to see a lot of the beautiful Peace River
valley. Another dinner, another night in St. John.
Next day, same thing. We decided to keep the car another day, and drove
down the Alaska Highway to Dawson Creek, to see the Milepost 1. It was
good to drive on a little of the Alaska Highway we would follow for so long.
They have a 10 km stretch of the old road (most has been straightened and
paved) as a historic feature, including a most beautiful old wood bridge.
We easily spent the day in museums in Dawson, and doing our laundry. And
another dinner and another night.
It had cleared a bit in the afternoon, so the next day we decided to stick
it out at the airport and at least try to make Fort Nelson, 2 hours up the
line. We had fallen in with a group of three aircraft also headed north,
two Tri-Pacers and a Grumman Tiger. There was much discussion of routes,
and we decided to try the railroad route to Nelson, which was much lower
and flatter. They decided to try the highway, and we all set off about the
We flew north for about an hour, but the clouds got lower and lower over
the railroad, until we were at 500 agl and no horizon ahead. Another 180,
and back to Fort St. John. No sign of the other three folks, we hoped they
got through to Nelson via the highway.
At this point, my mood was pretty low. It was our fourth night in John,
we'd pretty much done the sights, and I really missed Frances. I was
wondering if we would ever leave St. John. I asked the FBO guy what the
old record was, and he said one guy was stuck there 9 days till he had
to leave his airplane for the winter and fly home commercially. The
Mitsubishi guys were really sympathetic.
Every day we watched the commercial flights into St. John unload passengers,
and I suggested to Frances that she fly up the next day and join us there.
But flights from San Francisco were surprisingly complicated (stopovers in
Seattle and Vancouver) and expensive. We decided to give it one more day,
and see if we could get out. And another dinner, and another night.
flying.230.24: "Bush" Battuello (bb) Mon 4 Sep 95 23:08
Tomorrow - On the Road Again or Do the Airplanes In That Field Look
flying.230.25: Out of the Blue of the Western Sky comes (pk) Tue 5 Sep 95 00:54
What's the limiting factor on IFR flight in those conditions? Is it the
absence of airport electronic approach aids, or routing services, or what?
Seems like the terrain is low enough to fly over. Isn't IFR supposed to
make you less dependant on clear skies?
flying.230.26: Richard Buckberg (buck) Tue 5 Sep 95 07:22
I missed soemthing - where was Frances?
flying.230.27: "Bush" Battuello (bb) Tue 5 Sep 95 08:16
Frances was still in San Francisco. She couldn't take the entire 2 to 3
weeks off work, so we'd planned for her to join us in Anchorage if we made
it that far, and she'd fly up to Fairbanks and then home with us. The
first week was no problem, because she was at a conference in Kansas City
(talk about different worlds!) but now she was back and had to decide
whether to go back to work or wait for us.
Good question. We probably could have flown to Nelson IFR, but I had
brought no Canadian charts or plates. The FSS had a set I could have
photocopied, but the MEA for that leg was 8,000 with the freezing level
at 7,000. Also, the only alternate I could have filed would be St. John,
and at 4 hours round trip I would have been on fumes coming back.
Fuel was an issue on almost all legs. At the low altitudes (and full
throttle), we only had a little over 4 hours of range, and airports with
fuel were over two hours apart. So once we passed much beyond the half
way point, we either had to continue to our destination or stop somewhere
and wait for the weather to clear. Returning wasn't possible, and if we
continued, couldn't land, and had to return to an emergency strip, we
might not have enough fuel to make another try.
And speaking of which, gotta run now, but we haven't seen the last of
flying.230.28: "Bush" Battuello (bb) Wed 6 Sep 95 21:41
And on the fifth morning, we flew again. The forecast wasn't particularly
encouraging, Fort Nelson was reporting 800 overcast, but the temp/dewpoint
spread was increasing, and several planes had gotten through.
We tried the railroad route again, and ran into low clouds at almost
exactly the same place. But it looked lighter to the west, so rather
than giving up, we headed west to the Highway, then north. We had to
pick our way through some passes, and Fort Nelson was holding at 800.
We broke out of the high country, over a long flat river. Just to our
left was Prophet "Field", a dirt strip carved out of the trees for
emergency use. And on the field, we could see four airplanes, our two
Tripacers, the Grumman and one more. We also saw a number of tents and a
small fire. We waggled our wings and continued.
As advertised, the clouds were much lower over Nelson, but airplanes were
landing with special VFR clearances. While Nelson didn't have a tower, it
had a charted class D airspace and a combined weather observer/radio
person. Unlike in the US, she was apparently allowed to suggest SVFR (an
approved exception to the VFR 1000' ceiling rule), and we had no trouble
skimming in at 500 agl. Although we were tracking a good NDB, the GPS was
great for maintaining situational awareness, right up to runway diagrams
on the map 5 miles out. We reported spotting the other aircraft, and the
operator confirmed receiving a phone close from them the night before.
Apparently they had gotten close to Nelson, but couldn't get in, and
found the way back through the pass blocked, so had to spend the night
on the dirt strip. We spent about two hours on the ground at Nelson,
but then it started clearing to the west, so we decided to try the next
pass. Just before we took off, the four aircraft showed up, and they
decided to wait and see if we made it before they launched again.
The next pass, over the highway, was completly socked in, but a local
had suggested a short detour around it, following two rivers. We tried
it, checking our escape route back, and were successful. The next two
passes were a bit lower, and we squeeked through. The ceilings finally
started lifting as we approached Watson Lake.
flying.230.29: "Bush" Battuello (bb) Wed 6 Sep 95 21:44
Watson Lake is a beautiful airport, in a large flat area surrounded by
hills. The airport is right on the lake. We fueled and briefed and
swatted mosquitos. It was already 6:30, but ceilings were generally okay
toward Whitehorse, so we decided to press on. Daylight lasted till almost
10pm, and we only had two more hours to go. The fuel guy was just about
to go home, but we suggested he wait around another half hour, in case the
caravan showed up. Sure enough, we heard them on approach as we departed.
No real problems for the next two hours, just some heavy rain in late
afternoon showers. Clouds were still everywhere, as always, but no
evidence of low stratus. The mountains were incredible in the late sun.
90 minutes into the leg, we came out into another relatively flat valley,
and coasted into Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, in only a light drizzle. We
saw a number of floatplanes on the ground and flying the valley in the
last 50 miles. The tower (our first real tower since Abbotsford) split up
the float and land planes, and got us to our respective runways.
We fueled and got a quick outlook briefing, where they told us not to get
up early in the morning. We walked over to the terminal building, but it
was locked up tight, not a phone or cab in sight. Walking back to the
FBO, we saw a van pull out, and hitched a ride. Turned out to be Fred,
the controller that had talked us in. He gave us a lot of local info on
our way into town, and got us safely into a hotel, the Gold Rush Inn.
It was almost 10 when we hit the bar, and had only gotten half way through
our first beer when the door swung open and the caravan walked through.
Of course, we all started buying beers and they told us the details of
their night on the emergency strip. The guys had done the tent thing, but
the two women and one guy hitchhiked the highway into Nelson.
We tried to find a restaurant that could take the lot of us, but the town
apparently rolled up tight at 10pm. We ended up ordering a load of pizzas
with the blessing of the bartend, who was doing pretty well on beer sales.
The ten of us drank til 11:30, when I left to call Frances. We decided
she would go ahead and leave the next day for Anchorage, hopefully to join
us the next day. I crashed after that, but Rosemary helped the gang close
the place down. A wonderful night of camraderie with shared adventurers.
flying.230.30: "Bush" Battuello (bb) Wed 6 Sep 95 21:45
Tomorrow - We Reach Alaska or How Many Planes Can Merrill Field Hold?
flying.230.31: newfdog - used to be - - (harwell) Thu 7 Sep 95 07:22
keep up the good stuff!
flying.230.32: Armchair Stick & Rudder Guy (kerry) Thu 7 Sep 95 09:00
Great stuff, Brian!
flying.230.33: "Bush" Battuello (bb) Thu 7 Sep 95 17:05
We slept in the next morning, had a leisurely breakfast, and walked
around Whitehorse. I think of all the place on our trip, this was my
favorite. The reason isn't obvious, the downtown is very typical of
other Canadian cities with tourists, but there was something about the
character of the place that made it special. The airport is on a
plateau overlooking the city, and the east side is restricted by the
Yukon river, rapidly flowing north to Dawson, then west to Nome and
the sea. They have a beautifully restored riverboat, the Klondike.
Everyone we met was very friendly and helpful. As Fred put it the
night before, "In a territory (state) with only 32,000 people, you
don't stand people up on dates".
At 11 we took a cab up to the airport, but the weather was still iffy
for Northway, Alaska. We spent an hour in the excellent transportation
museum near the airport, then briefed again and went for it.
Yet another day of canyon flying, more clouds, getting slowly higher
but still peeking through canyons at 800 feet off the ground. Once
again broadening out as we crossed the border, and down over 10,000
lakes into Northway. Customs was straightforward, grabbed a cup of
coffee and filed for Anchorage. It would be a close race to get to
Anchorage before Frances, including a one hour time change.
Fairly easy flying, still weather of course, but high ceilings.
Headwinds. We flew by several small glaciers, hints of more to come.
And another broadening and the GPS said we were 40 miles out and
we rounded a corner and the sky was clear and there was Anchorage.
I won't describe the insanity of Anchorage flying in detail, but
I was glad I'd briefed the route and called ATC 30 miles out and
used the magic "Unfamiliar" word. Suddenly there were airplanes
everywhere. 12 minutes later, we were just east of Merrill, and
number 4 to land straight-in. I'd spotted the sign for the Merrill
Field Inn on final, taxi'd to a likely looking transient spot, and
shut down. We'd made it.
flying.230.34: "Bush" Battuello (bb) Sun 10 Sep 95 15:50
I'm going to stop the day-to-day narration at this point, but hit some of
the highlights of our Anchorage visit, the trip north past Denali to
Fairbanks, and the trip home. Much more flying, seeing things again from
the other direction, sharing with Frances, etc. We only had one more day
when we couldn't fly, in Fairbanks. Once we started south, we covered the
distance in 5 straight days of flying, some 6 hour days and one 3 hour day.
flying.230.35: "Bush" Battuello (bb) Sun 10 Sep 95 15:52
We actually landed within 10 minutes of Frances's flight (different
airports), so met up at the motel. The next morning we put the plane into
Vern's Air Service for a 50-hour inspection and oil change. No problems.
We spent two days in Anchorage, renting a car and seeing the Turnagain
Arm, a huge tidal bay with 30+ foot tides, the Alyeska Ski Resort, great
scenery with a hideous hotel, and the highlight, taking a glacier boat
tour out of Whittier. The tour was fantastic, $120 per person for six
hours, and well worth it. 29 glaciers, at least 4 almost within touching
range. Many opportunities to see chunks "calving" off.
We saw about 4/5's of Denali on our trip north, the very top was enclosed
in clouds, but the glaciers were spectacular.
In Fairbanks, we stumbled into a bed and breakfast on the Chena river, run
by two enthusiastic pilots. Spent two days there, seeing the gold country,
and the University where my grandfather was a professor, department head
and aurora researcher for many years.
Once we headed south, we made good time, stopping again in Whitehorse and
Fort St. John, to introduce Frances to a few of the sights and the Grey
Bomber. Everyone at the FBO gave us a warm welcome back.
We then changed the itinerary a bit, stopping at Williams Lake, a quiet
logging and tourist community in southern BC. The next day, we flew through
the Hope canyon with only high clouds. For about 10 miles, we flew down
at 500 agl, just for old time's sake, and I had time to admire the shear
walls of the canyon. We continued nonstop across the border, cleared US
Customs in Bellingham, then a low-level flight over the San Juans back to
our first road stop, Olympia and the Westwater Inn.
Finally, under high clouds over Portland to Salem, IFR to punch through
lower clouds to the coast, a quick stop at Gold Beach just because, fuel
at Arcata (yes, they had it), and home.
flying.230.36: "Bush" Battuello (bb) Sun 10 Sep 95 15:53
Tomorrow, the full itinerary, a few statistics, and some closing thoughts.
flying.230.37: "Bush" Battuello (bb) Mon 11 Sep 95 10:35
Following hidden post is the complete itinerary and some really boring
statistics. Read at your own risk. :-)
flying.230.38: "Bush" Battuello (bb) Mon 11 Sep 95 10:35
flying.230.39: "Bush" Battuello (bb) Mon 11 Sep 95 11:33
When I was standing in the hotel room the first night in St. John,
watching the rain pound against the window, I thought to myself that a
trip like this changes a man. We'd just done two difficult passes, we
were over a thousand miles from home, and much more than a thousand to go.
I'm not sure how to describe it, mostly that we all do so much less than
we are capable of, and this was just a glimpse of what was possible.
I don't know if the trip was that much more difficult than just renting a
Winnebago and heading up the highway, both require the vision to imagine
yourself a long way from where you are. My greatest phobia was Customs,
having had some bad experiences with them in a past life, but was of
course easy. I had no fear of mechanical problems, and just about the
right healthy respect for the weather and the terrain.
Travelling north made an impression on me, I could understand how the
pioneers must have felt headed west. Olympians are proud of their green
country, the Abbottsford people enjoyed their northern farmland outside of
Vancouver. The folks in Fort Saint John told us much about their oil-
rich province, and their ecological discussions and trade-offs with the
"southern" folk in Vancouver. And of course Whitehorse, with 24,000 of
the 32,000 people in a territory similar to California, not yet a province
Alaska was an exception to the northerly rule. While furthest north, it
was clearly grown with its umbilical firmly attached to the lower 48. The
same flight rules, same automated FSS's, pretty much the same as Portland
or any other interesting US city. But with an edge, the winters, the long
separation, the strength needed to make it through the winter.
I don't know how to describe Fairbanks. It is a small town trying hard to
be American, standard airport, standard University, standard slightly seedy
downtown. But the tundra is only a mile away, and there is nothing north.
Its heart is still like Nome, or Barrow, or Fort Yukon.
Planning the trip was clearly a major part of the fun. If you ever get
such an opportunity, get the maps, read the books, and spend hours thinking
about the survival stuff. The shotgun alone, borrowing it (thanks Buck and
David), and all the discussions about the right ammunition for shooting
bears set the stage wonderfully.
While we had full camping equipment, I chose not to rough it. The flying
days were long and often stressful, and I enjoyed the luxuries of staying
in the better hotels. I respect very much living under the wing, but that
will be another trip.
I wouldn't have changed a day of the weather. The trip home was
relatively easy (except for one thunderstorm), and it made me appreciate
how the day-to-day battle to get north increased the value of the trip.
We had some very serious doubts if we would get there, which made it much
Hundreds of people were *without exception* friendly, helpful and interested
in our trip. I hope I can treat visitors here half as well.
Many thanks, of course, to Rosemary for the idea and substantial financial
help. And Frances for her patience in the planning process, using her
living room as an expedition staging area, listening to our frustrations
almost every night on the phone, and coming to join us. She is a superb
co-pilot, good both with maps and the yoke.
If you ever get the chance...