There is a long story behind this picture, and it is not a good memory. Mike and I had a group of 4 mountaineers that we had landed at 8500′ elevation at the base of Mt. Marcus Baker. They were on a 7 day expedition in mid-May attempting to climb the tallest peak in the Chugach Mts. Before we departed we left explicit instructions as to landing strip preparation in the event fresh snow fell or winter winds blew. These four mountaineers were in over their head on this mountain so when a big storm rolled in from Prince William Sound they used their satellite phone to harass us continuously, as if there were something we could do. I would have had better luck trying to fly to the moon than attempting a pick-up in the prevailing conditions.
When the storm passed 7 feet of fresh snow had fallen. I was backed-up with flights, but because of their incessant whining agreed to pick them up a day early. I arrived over their camp at 5 pm and was very disappointed to see that there had been no airstrip preparation as I had instructed. With 7 feet of fresh snow I was reluctant to land, but since there were several men on the ground to dig me out I did it. I landed on the steep slope and managed to turn around and get the nose pointed down hill. The snow was really deep so I cold just barely keep moving. If I had not had gravity on my side take-off would have been impossible. I decided to pack the area down a bit by taking off and landing several times. When I applied power and started sliding down-hill the snow was so deep that it was flying up and over the front of the wings, and over the windshield. The poor old-bird barely accelerated and would occasionally bog down as I slowly gained more speed. It was taking me nearly a half a mile to get airborne because of all the snow I was plowing. I finally packed it down enough to take-off loaded, but opted to leave the heavy gear behind because I needed all the help I could get to get airborne. I got done really late that night and was planning on picking up the gear the following day.
When I returned the following day the wind was blowing really hard. I landed but immediately regretted this decision. I got VERY stuck and the wind velocity was increasing all the time. I was all alone at 8500′ on a glacier, in snow boots and carharts, in a 40 mph wind, in the face of another Spring storm, with a very stuck Super Cub. I was NOT having fun anymore. I will not go into all the details because I would rather not post them here, but ask me sometime and I will tell you the full story. I eventually got dug out and was deciding how I was going to get out of there. I could not take-off uphill and into the wind because it was far to steep, and ended abruptly into the mountain pictured above. I had two options: #1) take-off with a 40 mph tail wind #2) spend the night at 8500′ in a storm. I did not like either option, but opted for #1. To give myself the best chance I dug a big hole and set the tail of the airplane into it so that the wind blowing down glacier would blow over my tail rather than getting underneath and tipping me up on my nose. Then I got out the snow shoes and stomped out a runway to improve my initial acceleration. I needed a windsock so that I could judge when there was a lull in the wind. This is a common practice when using a one-way strip. Surveyors tape (the most common windsock) is worthless when the wind is blowing this hard because it just sticks straight out all the time, so I used a piece of 1/4″ nylon rope about 8 feet long. I tied it to a probe and then crawled into the Cub and started the engine. I left all the gear behind once again as I did not dare add any extra weight. I sat with engine running for several minutes waiting for the nylon rope to sag, I waited and waited, and when it drooped I applied full power and started down the glacier. Normally I lift off at a ground speed of about 35-40 mph. My GPS showed over a 100 mph before the wings created enough lift to carry me off the ground. It felt so good to be back in the air and off that stupid mountain.
The above picture shows the climbing gear when I finally retrieved it in August. Almost 100 days it sat on the side of that mountain. Not because I forgot about it, but because that wind storm buried the 6′ probe and flag so thoroughly that there was no trace of it for months. I occasionally flew over the area looking for some sign of the gear but it was gone. I did not think I would ever find it. Until this one beautiful day in August I decided to give it one last look. I took a very good GPS location and flew straight home to put my wheel skis on. When I finally landed along side the gear, I was thrilled. The snow was set up like concrete and it took me nearly an hour to dig it out and load it into the Super Cub. What a goat-rope, I worked my buns off for these guys and made 3 trips on my own nickel to retrieve this gear. I did not make any money, but I got this picture … so enjoy it … it cost me ;o)