A Window of Opportunity

Posted by on Jun 19, 2013 in Alaska 2013 | Comments Off on A Window of Opportunity

We departed Watson Lake mid morning headed for Skagway, Alaska. The original plan was to go to Northway then on to Fairbanks. If you check the map, this is much further north than what we have chosen to do. The weather has given us a rare opportunity with a forecast of several days of good VFR along the southern coastline. We plan to explore some of the small communities and islands as we make our way towards McCarthy. Mike was explaining how rare this weather window is, saying that in nine attempts, he has only been successful once. Generally, the remoteness of the region coupled with almost constant rain and low ceilings makes for very difficult flying.

Even with the good weather, we found ourselves cruising at the base of the overcast at 6000 feet with many of the mountain tops in the clouds. The temperature is right at freezing and a light mist is coating the windshield. Perfect conditions for carb ice or even airframe icing. Mike had a carb ice issue for awhile, but it cleared and we proceeded to Teslin for a quick break. Dawson and I empty some of our fuel bags into the main tanks in preparation for the flight to Skagway.

After departure, we fly through immense valleys and along mountain ranges filled with breathtaking views. With Mike and Lou scouting ahead, we feel our way along. We cross the U.S. border and make the turn to Skagway.

Skagway sits at sea level at the end of a fiord with high mountains all around. As we get within 10 miles or so, we begin a steep descent from 6000 feet down through the pass, with the incredible sight of the town and harbor in the distance. We dive down, twisting around the rock faces, past hanging glaciers to a landing. I wish I could convey the beauty and scale of this aerial sleigh ride. I have flown for a lot of hours and for many years, but almost nothing compares. Following three other aircraft with the camera rolling and trying to take pictures while holding the stick with my knees down, down into the fiord into Skagway is simply overwhelming.

After landing, we clear customs, find some lunch and some time to reflect on the flight. The shared joy and excitement makes for a rollicking hour as we laugh and giggle like youngsters at play. In large part, it is this sharing of experiences, both of the time we are together, as well as stories from our past, that make this such a unique time.

We find a hotel for the night, return to the airplanes to collect our gear and jump on the excursion train.

After the train ride we walk to the harbor where the cruise ships are preparing for departure, find the Harbor House restaurant and spend time eating and planning the next day’s travel. Then, back to the hotel and a quick call home before calling it a day.

I know it sounds a bit over the top, but each day builds on the ones before, ever more interesting, challenging and exciting. I keep thinking it just can’t get better than this but somehow it does. I hope you can gain some sense of what this amazing journey is like.





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