The plan: June 10 – June 22nd
Flying trip through Northern BC, Alaska, & the Yukon Territory
We mapped a maximum itinerary based on perfect weather & no aircraft issues. The dream had some longer 6 air-hour days, especially the sprint to & from Cape Prince of Wales on Alaska’s Seward Pennisula and the trip home from Tuktoyaktuk, NWT. The weather mocked the maximum itinerary.
Cessna 172 (C-FMTF) with my buddy Terry. Cessnas are weight limited. With full fuel, mandatory equipment & to large men our luggage allowance was 8 lbs. I bought a titanium ax to get us to 8 lbs.
June 10 – Springbank (CYBW) to Prince George, BC (CYXS)
Rivers spring right from the glaciers in Alberta. Even in June many mountain lakes are still frozen.
Rain hits as we leave Jasper Nation Park to the Fraser Valley. Coming out of Jasper serious mountain rain flying. The whole trip over Moose Lake measuring visibility and altitude of the clouds. Edging to the valley right because I prefer steep left-turns and hoping I can see around the ridge. If the weather blocked us we’d backtrack.
Clear the rain as we enter Mt. Robson Park. No good view of Mt. Robson – low ceiling kept us from having a look at Floe Lake.
Break into the main Fraser Valley and stop for a breather at Valemount Airport, (CAH4). No gas.
Stop at McBride/Charlie Leake Field Aerodrome (CAV4) for gas. Availability of aviation gas is starting to impact route. Buying aviation gas at small stations is often an adventure. Locked door, unique pump start procedures, manual record keeping. I try and keep C-FMTF as full of gas as possible. We have enough to get to Prince George, but with questionable weather I want lots of options. Do not want to get stuck with a point of no return forcing us to go onwards.
Weather briefing warns of embedded thunderheads in the Fraser Valley. Embedded thunderheads are risky, you can’t see the towering cumulous. They have terrific down-drafts that can kill small planes.
Intend to get to Prince George (CYXS) for end-of-day. Weather is moving in from the north. If the weather gets bad we’ll turn back and spend the night at McBride.
Occasionally in Canadian Flight Services you are speaking to someone with local knowledge. We were told if the clouds drop so we lose sight of the snow line we are losing VFR on the ridges. I watch the snow line.
Fraser Valley near Valemount starts as mixed farm/ forest and turns into forest. Small plane pilots are taught to keep a working set of forced landing locations. Mountain flying makes this hard. As the Fraser turned into forest I started looking hard at the highway. Thinking about curves, hills and the forest on either side of us.
Closing on Prince George we fly by Purden Lake. Thoughts about flying over the lake make me nervous – knowing we are going to be flying over the ocean I edge out over the lake and bravely fly over the water. In retrospect: what a noob!
The rain stays with us. Aproaching Prince George (CYXS), the Tower tells us about the rain squall just north of the airport. I can see sunshine through it and we decide to come right in.
First time Terry is at a commercial airport. So far Terry & I have flown into SpringBank (CYBW), Valemount (CAH4), McBride (CAV4) and Cut Bank Montana(KCTB). All these are General Aviation airports with only small planes. At Valemount (CAH4), McBride (CAV4) and Cut Bank Montana(KCTB) we were the only planes moving. Prince George (CYXS) is a commercial airport with scheduled passenger service. Terry has heard Air Traffic at Calgary speaking with commercial planes. The idea we can share airports is surprising. He is amazed at a West Jet 737 taxing behind us. Later we’ll park next to the big guys.
June 11 – Prince (CYXS) George, BC to Ketchikan, AK (PASI)
- Early morning take-off to fly across British Columbia. Make my radio calls every 15 minutes and often hear others immediately identifying their location. We were flying up at 8,500 feet for the view and were broadcasting for a long-way.
- Lots of very attractive localized rain-storms
- Stop at Terrace CYXX for gas. A truly terrible landing. My first time on a multi-hundred foot wide 10,000’ runway. Every visual clue is off. Terry videos the landing.
- Long flight down the Skeena river. My first nearly over-water flying following the river — very nerve-wracking. The regular looking for a forced-landing location has me thinking about the Highway winding along the river. That really stupid choice kept seeming like the best choice.
- Call USCIS at Ketchikan to confirm everything for landing & border crossing.
- Started icing. The regular rain would bead on the wing-brace and I noticed that it was no longer rippling. After a few moments wondering why: Ice. Crap, I’m icing and was just thinking there is no forced-landing option. Quick descent and the ice goes away.
- At Prince Rupert we cut the corner going North. First water-water-through a mountain pass flying. Get right-up to the cloud layer to get ahold of Prince Rupert CYXX – we were going to cross the border and I wanted a location check for search & rescue.
- Worst section of flying
- First section of near-over-water flying
- Rules are clear — without a raft I have to be able to glide to the nearest land. Flying through the island chain becomes a simple exercise of finding crossing points and staying close to the shore.
- Fretting about forced-landing sites, fretting about water
- Border-crossing rules. Formally you cannot enter the US without clearance from ATC. Clearance requires being close enought to Ketchikan to speak with them on radio
- Call Ketchikan for permission to enter. Obtain squawk code – your identifier to air-traffic control
- Call Ketchikan right back and ask permission to enter control zone
- We all ignore the last hour of my flight
Land at Ketchikan PASI. Cool airport built on the side of a hill. Runaway has a ramp going gown to the ramp, and a ramp going down to long-term parking.
Need to get used to rain-showers on final. Really need to stop landing to the right of centre-line.
You can see the rain squall at the end of the runway. Then through the rain. The very steep angles are not the flying, Terry was moving the camera around.
- Clear customs. Refuel. Customs officer provides a restaraunt recommendation in Craig, AK (Prince of XYZ Island)
- First major water crossing & island spine crossing
- Land at PAWK. First landing on downward runway.
- Restaurant closed. Stay in a very nice B&B
June 12 – Rained in at Craig
- Spend the day exploring. Walk a beach that I had though was a possible forced-landing option
June 13 – Rained in at Craig
- Try to get out of Craig. We have weather hovering on the spine. Option to fly north and edge-out over the water. Think through the implications and choices.
- See a pod of Humpbacks. Fixation on weather has me orbit to the left without gving Terry a view.
- No joy getting around the point. Pop-out to some westward islands to see if we can get a view around the corner. Inadvertent flight into a cloud as I’m turning back. GPS, clock and heading — out in seconds. Think for a long-time about invisible cloud.
June 14 – Escape to Ketchikan for gas
- Efforts to get off Craig have the gas coming down. With legal safety margin we have gas, just gas we won’t use on purpose. The Alaskan Islands are like mountain flying with lots of rain.
- Try one path on advice of air-taxi and then another path over the spine. Following the road through the pass I miss the left and have to double back.
- Lovely dinner in Ketchikan.
June 15 – Up to Sitka
- We decide to try another Alaskan Island. Sitka on Prince of Whales Island
- Near-over water flying is getting normal.
- Largest water crossing. Have to climb-up to be legal for the glide. Line-up with a valley that cuts through Prince of Whales Island
- Sitka Airport’s briefing notes
June 16 – Kayaking on Sitka Bay
June 17 – Stop at Haines for lunch and off to Whitehorse
June 18 – Up to Dawson, YT
June 19 – Up to the Tombstones
- Still chased by thunderheads, but back to Whitehorse
June 20 – Alaska Highway down is blocked by thunderheads
- Weather coming in from behind. Whitehorse Flight Services outlines route to Dease Lake and the visual clues we’ll be socked in.
- Longest Day. Whitehorse, YT to Dease Lake, BC for gas
- Dease Lake, BC to Terrace, BC for gas
- Terrace to Prince George, BC
June 21 – Fly down the west side of Rockies to Golden for gas
- Land at home (CYBW)