You know, you would not be as handsome either after 3 weeks out on the glaciers. These guys had just walked up and over the Chugach mountain range, and this picture was taken in a really neat spot in the Chugach mountains not far from Valdez. I landed in the middle of the glacier and you can see that we are still very close to the vertical rock and ice. I have seen huge house sized chunks of ice laying half way down a snowy slope after breaking off and sliding. Mountaineers don’t usually set up camp right underneath an ice fall, so I certainly rely on them to pick a good safe location for me to land. In this picture none of us are on ropes because the entire area inside of their camp has been probed to determine that solid ice lay beneath the snow and not over top of a gaping crevasse. The short walk from the camp perimeter to the airplane is taken at my own risk. :o)
Strong winds and poor lighting are the two most common battles fought in a landing spot like this. In fact, I just remembered that the wind was blowing out of the South on this particular re-ration and I could not get over the pass to bring them the groceries. I was up at 8500′ and loaded with 350 lbs of food. The prevailing winds were smooth but firm. Under full power the airplane still could not out-power the down drafts over the pass so I headed down glacier several miles and came through an area that was slightly wider allowing a turn if the down draft mandated it. When those mountain pilot authors write about flying over ridges at a 45 degree angle they are not joking. I do this out of habit without even thinking about it, but I don’t think you should have to read about it. Flying straight at a ridge in windy conditions should give you the heeby-jeebies because it just feels and looks wrong. Flying in the mountains demands that you leave yourself numerous options because variables change fast. If you are going to lock yourself into one path ……. then you better be doggone sure it’s going to work.