A Family Adventure


Tyson, Emilie & Isaac

First day at Johnson Creek, ID

June 17, 2019
Emilie Phillips

This is the 10th day of our flying tour to Utah and Idaho.

Without Idaho guidebooks, we were limited to FAA listed airstrips, trails on open street maps, and beta from the other pilots at Johnson Creek. We decided to fly out of the mountains to McCall’s flight school in the morning to see if they had more information and to see if I could sign up for flight instruction. We reserved the afternoon for a hike.

Breakfast at the picnic table

Our morning routine was quite different from Utah. For one thing, it was colder, 40F. We heated our morning granola over the camp stove and put our spare jackets on. For another thing, we had a picnic table, a stream next door, potable water at the far end of the runway, pit toilets, and wifi. Tyson spent a few minutes talking to the other pilots, but most of the other families left at 6:30AM for full service breakfast at a ranch.

Morning flight

It was my turn to fly this morning. After breakfast, Johnson Creek was so busy that I had to wait for four planes to land before I could depart.

Reed Airstrip

Along the way to McCall I stopped at Reed Ranch. The runway is 1,000ft shorter than Johnson Creek, but the downwind leg was easier because the valley is wider. For my final approach, I had could descend steeply following a ridge or curve around the ridge and approach from the side. I chose the steep descent. The airstrip itself wasn’t as grassy as Johnson Creek, but it was still smoother than anywhere we had landed in Utah. And there were picnic tables and pit toilets.

“What a luxury,” I thought, “and no one else here. Next time we come back to Idaho, we will have plenty of nice places to camp.”

Route to McCall up Lick Creek

From Reed to McCall, the valleys get quite narrow. In places it seemed too narrow to pass oncoming traffic if there were any. I find it hard to call the mountain valleys in Idaho canyons because they don’t have cliff walls. Yet they sure are narrow enough and deep enough to feel like canyons. I debated flying higher to leave more room between me and the mountain slopes. The Bearhawk oil temperature was behaving.

At McCall, I signed up for flight instruction on Wednesday. We got a really brief ground instruction review. I already knew most of it from reading Mountain, Canyon, and Backcountry Flying. The one new thing was to plan an escape route even after crossing ridge.

Isaac flying to McCall

Tyson flew the return trip. He let Isaac hold the controls for much of the canyon flight. Isaac absolutely loved that. Now he thinks all flying in New Hampshire is boring and he wants to go back to Idaho.

Meanwhile Tyson was thinking, “I had to wait until I was 49, just yesterday, to do canyon flying. And here Isaac gets to do it when he is 6. No fair!”

Tyson landed at Johnson Creek with more confidence than the previous day.

Afternoon hike

Most of the airplanes at Johnson Creek were taildraggers with some backcountry credentials. When we walked the runway in the morning, we had found one Bonanza. The pilot had flown in just for the day. A Bonanza is meant for going places and smooth runways. The pilot pulled his mountain bike out of the baggage compartment and headed off to explore the local trails. None of the other pilots and families were going more than a half mile from the runway.

When we returned from McCall in the afternoon, we met the Bonanza pilot returning from his ride. He described a scenic dirt road up to some meadows and a lake. We found the road on open street maps, but not the lake. He said that at the lake there was a sign and a foot trail that continued. It sounded like our best option, so we thanked him and set off.

Storms off west of Johnson Creek

The dirt road was a rough dirt road. Amusingly, there was a sign at the bottom saying the airport courtesy car was not allowed up the road. I wonder what led up to that being posted. We climbed up through a lofty ponderosa pine forest. I checked they were ponderosa by sniffing them. Up higher, the forest had burnt. Here there were more grasses and wild flowers. Now we had view back down into the valley. There were a few storm clouds in the distance. Good thing we were hiking and not flying.

Hennesey Meadows

A bit before our planned turn around spot, the road stopped zigzagging and pulled in tight to Riordan Creek. The creek gouged a slot through a short cliff and rushed through a canal between two mountain ridges. Above that we found a lush bog at the end of a long lake. We didn’t find the trail sign, but we had run out of time for the afternoon. Tyson and I took photos and then Isaac ran all the way back down to the bottom. We saw a few tiny airplanes landing in the distance.

Back down at Johnson Creek, we met the caretakers. They had guidebooks and maps. Had we made it to the trailhead, the Riordan Lake trail (forest service map and description) would have been scenic.

Photos from flight

GPS track from flight

Photos from hike

GPS track from hike