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I don’t like being cold. I was born and raised in Alaska, and that means I am smart enough to know how to stay warm. Thus, I thought a large tent with a wood stove would be the perfect solution for a backcountry base-camp for skiers. I have a Weather Port and it makes an excellent portable shelter that would be large enough to service a company of four skiers (10’x12′). I have been planning this for some time, and I loaded the plane on Friday with the Weather Port and appropriate gear. I also managed to squeeze in my VERY pregnant, and awesome wife, to help me set it up. Samantha loves getting outside even more than I do, so she is always happy to jump on-board.
We headed into the mountains and arrived at the spot that I had calculated most suitable for my operation. Much to my dismay there were all ready ski tracks all over the slope with several happy skiers cuttin’ freshies right before my eyes. I almost threw-up. I was bummed, actually, I was totally depressed. Samantha was very understanding, and helped me work through my ill-feelings as she explained to me that, “they weren’t bad people just because they took my ski spot”. I did not totally agree. I motored back towards the house with a super cub still heavily laden with my temporary shelter, an understanding wife, and a depressed pilot/skier.
I unloaded the Cub and went to work on my house, and tried not to think about it. There are lots of places to ski in the mountains surrounding us, but this place really was perfect, and I did not have the gas to go motoring around looking for new spots. Also, the Cub was heavily loaded, and in no configuration to go pioneering new spots. I almost gave the whole idea up as I pounded nails, cut boards, and penciled measurements. Then my buddy Rhett called and all the emotions came back and before I knew what was happening I was loading the Weather Port back into the Super Cub and we were headed for a new spot that had never seen a ski track.
We left early the next morning, and even before we took off I was leery about the winds aloft forecast, and the storm that was supposed to be moving in later in the day. I got a pi-rep from a Cessna 182 pilot who claimed calm air at 5000′, so I went for it. It was a smooth climb up to 7,000 feet, but as we approached the knife edge ridge I was going to land behind I saw snow ripping off the cornice as the wind pounded the ground below us. It was a no-brainer, easy decision, as I pointed the nose of the plane away from the granite and toward calmer air as a massive down-draft forced us to loose 800 feet. Doggone-it! Shot down AGAIN! I was running on minimum fuel to save weight, and we did not have enough for a plan “B”.
Then I remembered there was a spot in the Talkeetna Mountains that I had landed at earlier in the week and thought the skiing might be decent. So, I punched it into the GPS and it showed 18 minutes to destination. I triple checked our fuel and decided we had enough to make it there, and then home, with reserve. So, we flew directly to my old landing site. The sky was clear blue and the winds were less than 5 mph. We left the Weather Port in the plane and headed out for some fun.
We had landed at 6000′ and the conditions were actually really fun. It was an easy skin up, and only required boot packing in a few short spots. On top of the mountain the wind was blowing about 25 mph and it made me wonder what the winds were doing down at the plane. We made one run and decided it would be utter foolishness to turn around now so we skinned up for another. We made it back down to the plane at about 1430 and the winds were still calm there, so we headed out for another run. As we headed up on the 3rd run the sun went behind a high cloud layer and we started loosing our light. We enjoyed the view from the ridge for a few minutes and then headed for the plane. The wind was picking-up and it was evident that it was time to go home.
We took off still loaded with the Weather Port and gear and headed for the windy city. The winds at Palmer had shifted 90 degrees and were blowing out of 110 at 20 knots gusting 30 and it was a little turbulent on final. I dropped Rhett off in Palmer and then headed for my house with the plane. There was a weather advisory in affect for sever turbulence at low levels, and I’ll admit it was a bumpy 5 minute flight, and the landing at my house was … interesting.
I’m done with the Weather Port idea… for now. But I still think it would be a lot of fun and if anyone is interested let me know. I am going to spend as much time as I can working on my house as I eagerly anticipating meeting our first child. Samantha is due this week. Boy or Girl? What’s it gonna be? I change my mind everyday.
The video from the day of skiing.
Yesterday all I could think about was skiing. I called my friends, but they were all busy. At 4 pm I could no longer make sense of my framing calculator so I dropped what I was doing, turned off the generator, and headed for the Super Cub. My runway is getting a little muddy in the afternoon as the ice melts, so it took a bit of thrash to get out of my parking spot.
I landed on the toe of a small glacier in the Talkeetna Mts. It was so steep that once I turned the Cub around I could not stop it from sliding. I will occasionally jump out and hang on a wing strut to stop the plane, but if it doesn’t work things get REALLY stressful. I did not want to shut the engine off because then I have little directional control. So I applied full power for take-off, and tried again. On the second landing I found a portion of glacier that was a bit flatter and parked sideways on it. I boot-packed it to the top of the glacier and realized how fat and out of shape I am. I was stuck boot-packing, because I forgot my skins in the truck. The snow was not the greatest, but it was still a lot of fun to get out and enjoy the wilderness all by myself. If you are interested in doing any backcountry skiing I recommend the Chugach because the Talkeetna’s are wind scoured. Here is a video of yesterday’s trip.
Landing on a glacier and experiencing this beauty makes me run around and frolic like a little kid. I landed on this steep glacier just to show a client what it’s like. Contrary to popular belief glaciers are not slippery. Well, that’s a bit of an overstatement … glaciers are not always slippery. It really depends on temperature, precipitation, steepness, rock content, texture, and recent snowfall. Glaciers never stop changing and from summer to summer the changes can be so significant that familiar areas become unrecognizable. Glaciers are often the easiest path through the mountains. Sometimes steep and creviced, but often there are large smooth portions that are excellent for walking on … even leaping like an idiot.
These are some of my video clips taken during August of 2009. I edited them randomly into this video.
I was flying home with an empty Super Cub when I flew by a mountain top that looked liked a possible landing spot. I had seen the potential several years earlier, but had never taken the time to work out a landing on it. The winds were calm and the air had not yet been disturbed with afternoon thermals so I decided to give it a couple of passes. It was plenty long enough, but I was surprised by how steep it was. It was one of those scenarios where it was too steep to drag downhill or uphill so all I could do was fly by at an angle looking out the side window. This makes it much more difficult to judge length and texture but it can still give you the overall perspective. There was a hump in the middle that I was trying to get a good look at to determine size. After several passes I decided the hump of concern would not be an issue because the steep terrain would decelerate me so quickly that by the time I reached it I would just roll over it. (A “bump” jars the aircraft, a “hump” launches the aircraft)
In the process of checking-out the strip I also detected a very slight tailwind, but since length was not really an issue I decided it was manageable. I flew by the airstrip one last time as I headed out for final approach. As I turned in toward the mountain top with my flaps fully extended I double checked my ground speed and found it acceptable. As I passed the point of no return I could feel the tail wind had increased. I tried to ease off the throttle and pitch the nose up to really slow it down, but could feel the airplane sag out from underneath me, so I came back in with a little bit of power and hit the ground “long and hot” (meaning I landed well beyond where I intended going faster than I desired). I nailed “the hump” and launched back into the air even though I was climbing a significant hill. One wheel came almost 2 feet off the ground, that is a massive bounce, and is unacceptable in this sort of flying.
We all botch landings once in awhile, and this was a perfect example. I should have moved-on as soon as I detected the tailwind. These sorts of landings don’t lend the luxury of a, “little tailwind”. I’ve noticed with pilots that nothing is ever their fault. It’s always the, “gust of wind” or “engine problems”. Truth is that gust of wind is still my fault because I should have accounted for the fact that there was adverse wind blowing… and then gone home! This landing was no big deal, and nothing of consequence happened. There were no passengers onboard and I was very light, but I remember this event because it surprised me, and I hate surprises in the pilot seat.
An embarrassing bounce.
For the last two weeks I have been working on my Super Cub. I did the annual inspection, and welded in a third seat conversion, which was no small job. I replaced all the plexiglass, added a map pocket, replaced all my skat tubing under the dash, and several other minor modifications. So this morning I took a little RTS (return to service) flight and decided to land by this glacier in order to shoot an intro video for my new website (coming very soon). I thought the “Blue Ice” was appropriate for a backdrop. While I was on the ground I could hear the glacier creeping forward. A continuous series of snaps, crackles and pops, encouraging my not to get too close. A beautiful spot, and I thoroughly enjoyed spending a few minutes enjoying another piece of God’s creation.
Short video clip of landing in the gorge.
When we took off out of Palmer this morning it was 10 degrees. Fortunately Todd was prepared for this because when he left Australia a few weeks ago they were in the middle of a cold snap … it was only 90. January is not the optimal time for a glacial tour, but if you don’t mind bundling up it’s well worth it.
Todd and I went on a little flight from Palmer out into the Chugach Mts. and landed at 7000′ on a small glacier. The wind was blowing hard up at elevation, but the area I chose was protected by the surrounding mountains. You can see in the video that the light was pretty flat, but there was just enough of it to find the ground. Sometimes the lighting changes depending on the given angle you are looking at the snow, so it is important to evaluate the ground closely to determine which angle the lighting is the best. After stomping around on the glacier for a few minutes we flew over to the Knik Glacier and took some pictures of the ice. The blues in the glacier were absolutely brilliant today. We tried to land down in the gorge, but I didn’t trust the thickness of the ice on the lake. It was a good flight this morning, but from the looks of those clouds and the feel of the afternoon winds … something nasty is out there.
This is the video from today’s flight into the Chugach.
This was a new spot for us and it worked really well. A bit rough but other than that very usable. You can see it is fairly steep because I am only a couple hundred feet from the plane and the picture reveals how quickly it is dropping.
What I am about to describe will get flight instructors everywhere disagreeing with me, but thats ok. When the terrain gets really steep its best to use the altimeter to judge the elevation of your desired touch down spot. Usually this requires a fly-by of sorts. Sometimes its so steep you can’t fly down the strip so you just fly by it, and look out your side window. Once you have the elevation determined fly out-bound and descend about 150-200 feet below your desired touch down spot, before turning in towards the mountain. Once you are on final approach fly straight and level into the mountain until you are a couple hundred feet out, then start adding power and climbing up the mountain until your tires hit. I know, I know, thats not the way I was taught either, but this works well. It’s also safer than flying a descent into rising terrain because it forces you to climb to your spot rather than risking a steep approach on a one way strip that will force you to flare like a maniac, and possibly hit really hard after floating well beyond your touch down spot. The angle between the air strip and your approach path is much less than if you were to descend to your point.
I realize that is pretty special application flying, but we use the technique all the time. I will often hit the ground with the throttle wide open. It requires knowing your airplane and your loaded condition very well. This past summer I was flying into a very steep glacier with a bit of wind blowing and I got into a downdraft that would not allow me to climb. I was totally empty, and it got my attention, I was preparing to land short when the down draft let me go and it was fine. That is why we do not fly into marginal strips when the wind is blowing. I would not have damaged the cub in that scenario, but it would have been a different touchdown point than I had planned and I HATE surprises in the air. So this technique has its limits for sure, but it is a more consistent, safer option than the alternative.
The spot pictured above is not all that steep, but it still required some special attention. In fact I just remembered that on my initial approach to land I lost sight of my touch down spot. You will see in the video that the clients had marked the ice with their towels and I thought the markers would show up really well on final, but when I turned inbound I could not spot them so I bailed off the approach before I was committed and re-memorized my touchdown point. ( I edited that out) The video is an old one and has been on Youtube for several months already but I like it. The footage for the video was taken on the same day that I took this picture and it shows the landing to this strip. I must have been feeling very uncreative, because the name is pretty weak, “Glacier Landing 1” … wow ….. gripping.