Where have you been? What have you seen?
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By Katamarino
#1636424
Today was the day. Bears! We met Jay at the dock where Vertigo’s Beaver was moored, along with the other 2 passengers and the bear guide. Conditions were blustery, but Jay’s knowledge of the bay had us off with no fuss and we were soon winging south across Kodiak island.
Jay’s Beaver:
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Here we go!
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It’s Bear time!
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Yes, please keep walking that way…
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The bears gather here as the salmon slow down to take the fish ladder up the falls. Two interns live here full time and count the salmon, one by one, as they go past. This determines whether the fishery is opened.
From Kodiak we flew north, past Anchorage, destination Denali Park.
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Retracing our steps north of Kodiak:
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We landed at Talkeetna for fuel, marked online and in flight guides as 24 hour self serve (this has since been changed after I moaned on AirNav). It turns out, it was not self serve, and they were only open 9 – 5. The “after hours” number on the door produced no answer. Don’t bother landing there after hours if you need fuel. Luckily we had plenty to get where we were going, so we pressed on. Another airplane landed looking for fuel as we were leaving, having been misled the same way we were.
Out of Talkeetna, heading north:
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Highway and railroad:
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Through the gap towards Denali. Ominously the airport code is “PAIN”.
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Some mountain obscuration may be present.
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The strip at Denali:
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Cooking dinner at Denali:
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The campsite was about a 15 minute walk from the aircraft. Not horrible, but not ideal! The weather was miserable so we bought our tickets for activities the next day and settled down for the night.
Dave W, mick w, Adrian and 3 others liked this
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By Katamarino
#1636430
Waveflyer wrote:Kat,

Great story. How is the prop coping with the gravel?


The prop has coped great! I've been very careful to start at low power, give bursts of power to move away, not stay stationary, run-up while moving etc, and while it's picked up some roughness I have no appreciable dents of any kind.

The tail is another matter and I have beaten the Carp out of the elevator horns in particular, aargh!
User avatar
By Katamarino
#1636562
We took a day off from flying the next day to explore Denali a bit. The first order of business, after a shower and breakfast, was to visit the sled dog kennels and see their demonstration. Motorised transport is banned within the primary 2 million acres of Denali Park (with the buses an exception I think) so in the winter, sled dogs are the only way to patrol the park.

The walk from the campsite to the airfield and visitor center:
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Some relaxed sled dogs:
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Sled dog demonstration:
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The sled dog office:
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After the demonstration we returned to the visitor center to buy some books, always a must in a national park, and have some lunch before boarding our tour bus. Private vehicles can only drive about 12 miles along the 90+ mile park road; the rest is buses only. It reduces traffic, and also makes a huge amount of money for the operator who has a monopoly on the buses; tours are not at all cheap! Luckily, they did turn out to be very good quality with a fun and knowledgeable guide. As well as the beautiful scenery we saw 2 moose and even a large grizzly bear.

Park buses:
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One of the cabins originally built by the road construction crews to stop bears getting at the food, now used by the park service rangers for winter patrols:
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Denali river:
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That evening a pleasant guy from Brazil took the campsite next to us. He and I went for a walk to explore.

The very enthusiastic Vito:
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Standard cheesy US photo:
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We met a British lady leading a large tour group who press-ganged us into taking hundreds of group photos for them.
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That evening the weather was much better, allowing for a great evening around the campfire.

Juvy setting fire to her socks (apparently this was not the desired result).
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A visitor hoping to enjoy some marshmallows:
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Denali was a beautiful visit. I’d have loved to have had longer to explore and hike; although maybe not take the 12+ hour return bus ride to the other end of the park. That’s what ‘planes are for!
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By Katamarino
#1636676
The next day was an exciting day. Flying again! The super-cool Jay from Kodiak also owned a flight-seeing operation near Denali, with a landing on a glacier as part of the tour. He had hooked us up with a deal we couldn’t refuse. We packed up the tents and hauled everything back up the hill to the airfield before getting airborne and heading north, initially to Nenana for fuel. The beauty of the long range tanks paired with the Flint tip tanks was that this was the first time we’d had to refuel on the trip so far, and even now we still had a few hours in reserve. Nenana was a cool airport with a paved, grass, and water runway all parallel to each other!

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Putting the passengers to work at Nenana:
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A C54-G was parked up at Nenana looking slightly the worse for wear. Apparently it had suffered an engine failure in 2007 when carrying 3000 gallons of heating fuel to a mine. Being on fire with 3000 gallons of fuel in the cabin presumably demanded swift action, and they landed gear up in the closest available location without injuries.
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Replete with fuel, we departed south back to Healy River. Poor fuel availability in Alaska meant that we’d had to overfly it and now retrace our steps; but it made sense to use the time now while waiting for the glacier flight instead of later. The great folk at Fly Denali gave us a lift to a local bar and grill, which rather irritatingly was serving only German food to celebrate “Aug-tober” fest; none of us were big German food fans!

Oddly, the bus from the film version of “Into the Wild” was parked at the restaurant. The events of the famous book and movie had played out just miles away, not nearly as far from civilization as I’d supposed. If he’d just walked along the river a few miles in either direction he’d have come across people and been fine.
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Back at the airport, we were loaded into the turbine Beaver and off we went! Conditions were great; smooth, without too much cloud. Just a few days earlier a similar airplane from another operator had slammed into a ridge ultimately killing all on board. We tried not to think about that.

The interior of the mighty Beaver:
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The Alaska range!
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Denali, here we come:
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More glaciers? Why yes.
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Significant vertical terrain:
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Final approach!
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Parked on the glacier:
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The view on the glacier:
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This particular section of glacier was called “Mountain Home”. There’s actually a hotel up here, built onto a rock outcropping, accessible only by air and quite pricey.

Hotel, clinging to the rocks:
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Lift-off from the glacier:
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Back at Healy River, we swapped airplanes and headed out northwest to Chena Hot Spring resort. This resort has its own beautifully groomed gravel strip, hot springs (obviously), sled dog kennels, geothermal power plant, camp site, all kinds of other outdoor activities. Also, bizarrely, a museum of ice.

Parked at Chena; campsite only 20m away!
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Hanging out by the airplane after landing, I heard some people walking out of the campsite and turned to greet them. Turns out, not people:
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The activity that evening was obvious; hot springs!
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mick w, Dave W, nallen and 2 others liked this
#1637188
The night at Chena was relaxed and comfortable. We woke refreshed and ready to check out the resort. After breakfast we took a walk down to the sled dog kennels. It was an order of magnitude bigger than those in Denali! Guests could take trail rides on dog carts, although we elected not to partake this time.

Party airplane?
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Next on the agenda was a visit to the ice museum! Completed in 2005, all the ice melted in the first summer. A rethink of the cooling system led to a successful re-opening, and now it stays at -7 Celsius all year round. Of course in the winter in Alaska, one could step inside to get warm. The musuam is full of ice sculptures designed and carved by Steve and Heather Brice, multiple times world champion ice carvers. Appletinis are available in carved ice glasses at an ice bar inside, and you can even take your glass home with you…

The Aurora ice museum. Airplane-on-a-stick to be discussed later.
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The ice bar:
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Jousters:
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You can get married here:
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The igloo:
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Ice peculiarities:
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If you like, you can pay an exorbitant sum of money and stay the night here! Polar bear bed is one option.
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The resort was purchased from the government who were running it as a loss and is now a showpiece for renewable and other green technology. We took a tour of the geothermal plant and greenhouse.

Retired vehicles:
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The resort was gifted 6 reindeer, with a promise that they’d return more (I think 20?) years down the road. Right now they have 5, not quite going to plan.
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The geothermal plant doesn’t have the heat to boil water; so they use a refrigerant instead with a lower boiling point.
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Hydroponic cabbages in the greenhouse.
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The previously mentioned plane-on-a-stick. It flew in some time back and was now being mounted for no clear reason.
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The engines were just being prepared for mounting:
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The plan for that night was to camp at Fairbanks; but, we wanted to be able to say we’d set foot in the arctic circle so we decided on a little detour to Fort Yukon.
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Headed for Fort Yukon:
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Inside the arctic circle!
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My favourite airport sign to date:
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We explored the town a little before heading south again.

Airport fuel truck?
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“I don’t call 911. Nothing here worth your life”
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Our unofficial guide from the airport:
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Off to Fairbanks:
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The Fairbanks airport campsite is incredible. Toilet and shower blocks with hot water and power, firewood, pavilions, and special airplane parking areas in each camping spot! That evening we ordered Domino’s pizza for delivery to the campsite. Luxury!

The fantastic airport campsite in Fairbanks:
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Waveflyer, mick w, Dave W and 2 others liked this
#1637673
Today was the final day of the “vacation” segment of the trip; tomorrow, the “expedition” phase would begin! Today’s job was just to get the girls down to Anchorage to catch their flights home, and collect my backwoods West Virginia buddy who was flying in with his rifle to join me on the push into the arctic.

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The weather had turned somewhat. I had two choices for the flight; low level VFR and hope that the pass through Denali Park was clear, or file IFR and hope that the freezing level isn’t too low. A call to the briefer in the morning prompted me to choose the latter option; freezing levels looked like they’d be at least a couple of thousand feet above the MEAs and no icing was forecast below that. If I encountered any I’d have an out of descending or turning back.

Fairbanks issued us our clearance and we were off with no delay, and climbing over the airport before proceeding south.

Our night camping spot, Fairbanks, on the climb out:
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Before long we were over the higher ground, and cloud was rising to meet us. A strong headwind had my groundspeed in the 50s at times!
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Further along the route we started to pick up some icing. I requested, and was given, a lower altitude and things became no worse. By now we had passed the high ground and could descend to much warmer temperatures if necessary.
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We cancelled IFR about 15 miles from Anchorage and were given a straight in approach to the Lake Hood strip. Before long we were on the ground and unpacking the airplane! The girls checked in and headed through security to catch the same plane back to the lower 48 that my friend James was arriving on.

We grabbed a bite to eat and set out to find a camp site. Merrill Field’s camping was closed for the season so we headed 20nm south east across the Turnagain Arm to Hope, a little grass strip nestled in a side valley. There was a 50kt wind blowing down the arm that led to some violent turbulence as we turned into the site valley. Happily, the valley was sheltered; we made a low pass to assess what the wind was doing, and then came in for an uneventful landing.

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Departing Lake Hood:
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Up the Turnagain Arm:
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Before long a pick-up truck rolled over to greet us. Johnny was a local pilot who welcomed visitors (apparently a number of other locals were not so friendly); he’d gone so far as to install a latrine for visiting pilots, and paint out the “No” on the “No Camping” sign. We set up camp by the airplane! Johnny disappeared for a while and returned with a large jug of beer which he shared around, and a pleasant night was had by all.

The very friendly Johnny, with James:
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Parked up for the night:
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PaulSS, Dave W liked this
#1638176
When we awoke it was still blowing hard in the arm. We had breakfast at a local coffee and kayaking establishment (an interesting combination), and then took off; we headed north, skirting the east side of the Anchorage airspace, to land at Birchwood.

Here we dropped into Airframes Alaska to purchase four 5-gallon flexible fuel containers, which would be an essential took once up in northern Canada. They’d take our “maximum fuel on board” to just over 130 gallons.

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We hopped down from Birchwood to Merrill field to fill up on reasonably priced gas, and then departed west and flew down the western shore of the Cook Inlet.

Departing from Merril Field:
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There had been rather a lot of rain along the shores of the Cook Inlet:
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From listening in to other pilots on the general frequency, we elected to have a go at making our way through the Lake Clark pass.

Low, scattered cloud as we approach the Lake Clark Pass:
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Into the pass, between the layers:
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Mini glacier:
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We were quickly over the highest point of the pass and following the river down towards Lake Clark:
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We skimmed up the lake at a few hundred feet, passing a float plane heading in the other direction, and stopped off in Nondalton to stretch our legs.

Parked up in beautiful weather at Nondalton:
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Walking into town to visit the store. This seemed to be the school:
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From Nondalton it was a couple of hundred miles across low marshy terrain to Dillingham, where we stopped for fuel. We still had hours of gas on board, but in Alaska it seemed wise to fill up at any opportunity. The weather was getting windier as we went, primarily a headwind, but ceilings remained manageable with the low terrain.

On the way to Dillingham:
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Fall colours already?
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From Dillingham we elected to set off on one more leg and find somewhere to camp out for the night. We followed the coast before cutting inland a little to get to the village of Goodnews. The wind was 40-50kts by now, straight down the runway.

Along the coast to Goodnews:
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Sheltered behind the snow-plough building at Goodnews, trying to hide from the 40+ kt winds. We cooked a dinner of hot dogs over our little gas stove, in the airplane (standing outside with the door open of course, but it was the only place we could stop it from blowing out!
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The view from James’ tent:
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