I don’t remember where I was going, or what I was doing in this image, but when I look at this picture I can feel that knot in my gut. I just know from looking at this picture that I was processing what I was seeing out the window and trying to make a decision. More than likely I was headed up onto the glacier to drop off supplies. Conditions like this are tough because it’s not a no-brainer choice. The light is flat, but not totally flat, and I can see the wind blowing. I am sure I was trying to do some wheel-ski work and somebody was probably waiting for the food and fuel stacked high behind my seat. It’s easier to turn-around and head for nachos and coffee-time early-on so that you don’t have to go through the difficult work of making a decision. On the other hand, you never know until you go and look at the spot in the prevailing conditions. Many times I have proceeded to a landing spot, even though things were looking very grim, and have been pleasantly surprised.
When pilots fly instrument approaches in gnarly weather they have black and white, cut and dried rules that determine whether or not to proceed. I don’t have that luxury. Dozens of factors weigh into a marginal conditions landing: How bad is the lighting, how sloped is it, how much gas do I have, what’s the forecast, have I landed here before, how am I loaded, how urgent is this operation, what’s the elevation, what is the snow like, am I flying out empty or full, do I have other options, am I pushing this, what are the consequences, how confident do I “feel”, is the runway marked, are there obstacles that could be hidden, how much time do I have, how big are the crevasses in this area, do I trust the folks on the ground to pick a good spot, will I be able to take off into the wind, If I get stuck in the snow is the weather stable, am I 100% confident of success, on and on the questions can go.
I ask my-self lots of questions when it gets nitty gritty because it is absolutely necessary that I am totally comfortable with the scenario. Most of them are easily answered yes or no, but others provide the gray area. I quickly become uncomfortable if I am making rash decisions so that I don’t have to do the hard work of processing all the factors. I realize that comfort is a suggestive factor, but if you know yourself well, it is one heck of a tool. If I am not comfortable with a situation I fly like a 12 year old driving a stick shift Volvo. Ultimately, at the end of the day, this job is about making good decisions. I’ve also learned to block issues motivated by the elusive green-back. I just remind myself to balance the cost of my airplane and insurance against the possible revenue gain … i.e. “If I land successfully I make $100 If I land unsuccessfully I spend $75,000” … that’s what I call a NO-BRAINER ! No “ifs” allowed.
On another totally separate note, you will be happy to know that it was not an alien found on the glacier or even a mini t-rex, but rather a cat of some sort. Probably a lynx. Fish and Game emailed me back along with numerous other opinions and they all agreed it is a cat, and it is very old. I thought an alien would be more news worthy. For those of you that don’t have a freaking clue what I am talking about check out the posts from Feb 24th and Jan 8th.