Into the Katmai & Southwest

Posted by on Jun 27, 2013 in Alaska 2013 | Comments Off on Into the Katmai & Southwest

We break camp at Picnic strip and set out to explore the area southwest of Anchorage, along the Katmai. We cross the Alaska Range through Merrill Pass. These mountains are not particularly tall, topping at 6000 to 8000 feet for the most part, but they come up almost from sea level and are steeply sloped, full of glaciers and waterfalls. The pass is narrow and as we get deeper into the range the visibility drops to around a mile due to smoke from the forest fires nearby. The smoke makes it difficult to see the terrain and I was having difficulty maintaining VFR conditions for the remainder of the transit through the pass. As we exit and approach Lake Clark, visibility begins to improve until we can descend into Port Alsworth for fuel. The runway is covered by a layer of fine dust that blows into enormous clouds whenever an airplane or any other vehicle goes by. Soon, we and our airplanes are coated. We visit with a pilot working on a beautiful Beaver. Turns out to be Jason Elam, who was the kicker for the Denver Broncos in the NFL. Jason has a summer cabin here and spends his time flying and doing missionary work to help the native villages with the rampant problems of alcohol, drugs, suicide and sexual abuse. It is a daunting challenge and it is delightful to visit with an athlete doing his best to make a positive difference. Samaritan’s Purse also operates a lodge for wounded warriors here along with a summer bible camp for village kids so the air was filled with laughter and excitement. Good works being done all around.

After refueling and an ice cream, we depart for Iliamna. Lake Iliamna is Alaska’s largest deepwater lake. It also has the only population of freshwater seals in the U.S. We check out the islands and finally Mike spots 30 seals hauled out on a gravel bar. Very cool!

We land at the Iliamna airport for a weather briefing from the friendly FSS specialist who provides a good report for the weather ahead. This is also the local headquarters for the Pebble Mine which is thought to contain one of the largest copper deposits in the world. It also is generating tremendous controversy among the fishermen, environmentalists and local Alaskans.

With all in order, we take off for Bristol Bay, King Salmon and points south. We decide to land for the night at Naknek village, which is a major salmon cannery and fishing center. The first cannery opened here in 1890 and it is the center of the commercial fishing operation in this area of Alaska. Only about 700 residents are here in the winter, but now, with the fishing fleet operating, the town has many more folks around. We decide to camp with the airplanes, so we throw up the tents and head into town to find something to eat and drink. We stop at the local watering hole, where the barmaid offers to call in an order of pizza to the hotel and restaurant across the street.

The outside of the bar is decorated with interesting and colorful murals. However the most interesting and colorful character is waiting for us inside. Dave is seated at the bar, and it is obvious he has been there awhile. Turns out, he is semi-famous as the guy on the popular show, Deadliest Catch, who severely injured his hand in a fireworks accident during filming of an episode last year. He regaled us with tales of his misadventure until we moved over to the restaurant. The pizza was wonderful and the shower we negotiated from the hotel staff was sorely needed. We waddled back to camp and turned in around 11 PM.




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