A Family Adventure

in the mountains, ocean, and air

This is the tenth post from the 2022 Flying to Alaska trip.

Monday, Aug 15: Peavine to Whitehorse

Monday we departed Alaska to head back to the lower 48. The front that was slowly approaching from the west had gotten close and I was concerned about being grounded for a week. In hindsight, I think we could have stayed and just moved to the north side of the Wrangle Mountains, but we had made a conservative decision and at the time I didn’t have information that suggested changing it. We would head out while we still could and do some exploring in Montana.

Our first stop was Gulkana for fuel and to retrieve the food box we had stashed with Copper Valley Air and then stop for customs at Beaver Creek. It would be easy to call Canadian Customs from Gulkana and meet our scheduled appointment with them. We thought it would be nice to spend the night at Discovery Yukon Lodgings again, but decided that it was too close. We wanted to cover more miles before stopping for the night. We settled on Whitehorse as our overnight stop. If the weather permitted, we would roughly retrace the route my father and I followed to get to AK. In addition to giving Emilie and Isaac a chance to see it, I now knew some of the route and resources it offered. This would make planning a bit easier.

The weather during the first leg started with a few low scattered clouds, but was mostly just overcast with high ceilings and excellent visibility. Along the route the spotted the Mt Drum fumarole. During our stop at Gulkana, a couple Copper Valley Air planes returned from dropping off or picking up hikers or hunters. On the route to Beaver Creek we spotted a few of the promised rain showers in the Wrangle Mountains, including a reasonably large and dark region of rain that threatened to meet us at Beaver Creek but never did. The customs stop at Beaver Creek was slow but easy. Though the Canadian Customs stop for the Alaska Highway was just feet away, we had to call, wait on hold for the obligatory 35-40 minutes, and then were given a pass over the phone without an in-person visit.

The Shakwak Trench and Takhini Valley route along the Alaska Highway from Beaver Creek to Whitehorse is a wonderful flight even if a bit mellow compared with where we had been flying in Alaska. On our way in to Whitehorse, we asked the tower where to find fuel and parking. The tower controller told Emilie to do a 180 on the runway after landing and back taxi to Taxiway Alpha to get to the ramp with fuel. When she touched down on the threshold and was at a taxi speed before Taxiway Alpha (about 500 ft), he cleared her directly with an “Oh, one of those pilots” tone of amusement.

DC3 weathervane at Whitehorse

After fueling, with some effort we found where to park for the night. There were no tie-downs, so chocks was the best we would get. We then spent equally long finding our way through the gates to where we were able to get a taxi ride to a hotel. At the hotel we found dinner (Chinese), laundry, a shower and a real bed. Oddly, our nothing special hotel had an amazing, large petrified wood stump in a corner of a stairwell.

Trip legs

  • Peavine-PAGK: 124 miles, 0:57 hrs, 128 mph
  • PAGK-CYXQ: 182 miles, 1:28 hrs, 124 mph
  • CYXQ-CYXY: 256 miles, 2:08 hrs, 119 mph

All Day 18 Pictures

Tuesday Aug 16: Whitehorse to Dawson Creek

Tuesday morning, a cab brought us back to the airport and we made our way through the gates back out to the airplane. While loading our bags, three Air Tractors taxied out for takeoff. I would guess that they were fire fighting. It was humorous to watch all three of them back-taxi for a full length takeoff and then levitate off the runway almost before reaching the displaced threshold. I presume they operate under procedures that require using the full available runway.

The route to Watson Lake starts by flying down Marsh lake. At the south end, the Alaskan Highway headed north for a bit and we flew more directly to Teslin Lake where we picked up the highway again From there, we followed the highway closely to Watson Lake. The Cassiar Mountains looked like a fantastic place for some backpacking with high alpine terrain and somewhat rounded summits. However, they appear to lack places to land legally.

After fueling at Watson Lake, we headed south down “the trench”. I recognized some of the landmarks from the flight up. Other places I saw for the first time because they had been shrouded in rain on the trip north. Emilie tried to find which side of the trench had lift. There were plenty of puffy cumulus clouds, so their should have been lift. Emilie gave up after a half hour of trying. All she could find was sink. After two hours of flying, Emilie’s knees were starting to hurt.

We decided to land at Fort Grahame (CBW3) to check it out. We met the couple that runs Finlay River Outfitters. They were extremely friendly and invited us in for sandwiches and chatting. They welcome pilots stopping in. They have cabins and meals available. They said their friends at Scoop Lake Outfitters farther north are equally welcoming. We asked about the driftwood that had been arranged into piles along the shores of Lake Williston. It was explained as “make work” projects and to keep the wood out of the hydroelectric damns at the outlet of the Lake. Lake Williston is a man made reservoir.

After turning left on the eastern arm of Williston Lake, we spotted some odd towers on an open summit. We later spotted a lone odd tower that we were closer to. We could not figure them out. We also passed an area of forest fires.

While at Ft Grahame, the guy there mentioned someone that he knew that was building a Just SuperSTOL. I said that I might have seen the plane on my way north. When we reached Dawson Creek (CYDQ), I found the same blue 75% scale P-51 Mustang on the ramp in front of the hangar again, the door open, and the SuperSTOL builder inside working on his airplane. Another case of meeting someone new who happens to know someone I recently met or already knew. We opted to walk into town to the hotel and ended up at the same restaurant that my father and I visited on the way north. In the hotel lobby there was a rack with free copies of a large, yellow publication. In this case, instead of the old “Yellow Pages”, it was the “Comprehensive Oilfield Supply & Service Database”. There really are a lot of oil wells up there.

Trip legs

  • CYXY-CYQH: 233 miles, 1:55 hrs, 121 mph
  • CYQH-CBW3: 301 miles, 2:37 hrs, 114 mph
  • CBW3-CYDQ: 193 miles, 1:28 hrs, 130 mph

All Day 19 Pictures

Wednesday Aug 17: Dawson Creek to Ryan Field

The next morning, I estimated what time we would reach the Del Bonita (H28) customs station on the border in Cut Bank, MT and did the required on-line filing. After the “complementary” Continental breakfast, we walked back to the airport to load and fuel the airplane. Turns out that this day wasn’t going to follow schedules very well. By the time we reached the airport, it was later than I had expected. When we arrived at the airport, there was another airplane the got to the pumps before us so we loaded the airplane first. After loading the airplane there was helicopter fueling and a truck loading a large fuel tank in its bed in line after the helicopter. While we waited for our turn in the fuel line, Isaac got a tour of another helicopter, an R44, that was used for erosion and pipeline surveying and was filled with equipment. The truck that was filling a large tank was a support vehicle for the helicopters. After eventually getting fuel and departing I worked on figuring out how late we were. The customs station was open until 5:00. I figured we had time for about an hour on the ground at our next stop in Rocky Mountain House (CYRM). That should allow plenty of time for a lunch/snack, fuel and calling customs to make the appointment and give them the required 2 hours notice.

After landing at Rocky Mountain House, my first task was to call customs while we rested and snacked. When I got through on the phone and told them that I would be arriving at 4:30, I was asked if I would really be there by then and not any later. I was told that 4:30 was the absolute latest time I could arrive. Then a voice in the background stated that I needed to be there by 4:00 so that they would have enough time to process us before their 5:00 closing time. WHAT?! I looked at the clock. I checked the flight planning I had done. I still needed to pump gas, reload the family and get the airplane launched. I took a deep breath and stated that I would be there by 4:00. I was asked if I was sure and wouldn’t be late? …yeah…. I’m sure.

There are no pictures from this Rocky Mountain House stop. The fuel system there is an old fashioned manual card swipe. My credit card doesn’t have the raised lettering required for this. The paper work requires filling in logs by hand. I pumped and wrote as fast as I could. I also answered questions from the friendly locals about the Bearhawk as fast as I could. We loaded ourselves and uneaten snacks into the airplane, fired it up and ran through the check list as fast as we could, followed by a rolling run from the taxiway onto the runway for an intersection takeoff. Fortunately, it wasn’t a busy airport and we didn’t need to wait to use the runway. We took off for a 2+ hour flight with a theoretical 2 minute margin if the winds didn’t kill us.

We climbed to altitude and adjusted for cruise settings. The winds were not entirely cooperative. I pushed the mixture and throttle up a little further. …and then a bit more than that. This would also be my first attempt at flying through Canadian Class C airspace. Class C in Canada is almost more like US Class B (Boston, MA) than US Class C (Manchester, NH). If there was any issues with getting a clearance through the airspace over Calgary, we would be late. There wasn’t time to go around.

With Emilie’s help to confirm frequencies, as we approached Calgary I gave them a call on the radio. After a few short, simple exchanges, I had my squawk code (transponder for radar tracking) and the magic words, “cleared into Class Charlie”! Other than paying close attention to the radio to not miss any calls while in Calgary’s airspace, the rest of the flight was stressful watching the clock, and otherwise boring. I finally took time to eat. With a couple more pushes on the throttle, it looked like we would arrive on time if the winds didn’t turn further against us. One very curious feature we noticed on the ground was an aqueduct that included a bridge to cross a river. That was something we had never seen before.

Landing Del Bonita

Part of our route was to pass west of a region of restricted airspace and then turn a little to the east for the final leg to the runway. As we approached the turn I started checking winds and planning the descent so make our approach to land as direct and efficient as possible. The winds allowed for a straight in landing to the east (we were coming from somewhat west) and we landed with 5 minutes to spare after a 2:10 hr flight with headwinds. Our customs stop was short, polite and efficient. We were done by 4:10 allowing plenty of time for the customs officer to walk the 100 yards back to the customs buildings and clock off by 5:00.

After recovering from the rushed trip to meet customs, we departed and turned west to Glacier National Park. The flat farm lands gave way to The Rockies. We crossed over the continental divide at Logan Pass and then headed south to Ryan Field (2MT1). As we passed through Logan Pass, Isaac noted a trail with a board walk and declared that was where he wanted to hike.

Ryan Field was donated to the The Recreational Aviation Foundation (The RAF) by Ben and Butchie Ryan to keep it open and available to pilots for recreational use. We were lucky to be bit off season and be able to make a late reservation for one of their cabins for a couple of nights. After being in Alaska and then a couple of nights in cities on the trip through Canada, we watched the sun set at a reasonable hour for the first time in weeks and enjoyed a few minutes watching the stars before going to bed.

Trip legs

  • CYDQ-CYRM: 316 miles, 2:31 hrs, 125 mph
  • CYRM-H28: 263 miles, 2:09 hrs, 122 mph
  • H28-2MT1: 77 miles, 0:38 hrs, 120 mph

All Day 20 Pictures

Continue reading: Hidden Lake from Ryan Field