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Talkeetna to Whitehorse

I don't really feel like writing this post, to be honest. This was one of my least-fun flights that I can remember.

We woke up in Talkeetna and finished packing up. We weren't in a huge hurry to get going. This day was going to be only flying. So, we walked to The Roadhouse for breakfast, then back to the airport. I walked ahead, because Emma is a slow walker, and I wanted to visit the Flight Service Station (FSS) at Talkeetna. Flight Service Stations are just about extinct in the lower 48, so I was excited about getting an opportunity to get a real in-person briefing. It was really fun to look at all the forecast products with someone. My primary concern for today's fight was Icing.

My usual tools for evaluating icing risk (the US Icing model and Skew-T/Log-P plots) weren't available for this flight, though the global icing model was. The global model, and the ForeFlight briefing were forecasting ice, but the briefer at the FSS wasn't convinced. He more-or-less dismissed the concerns, saying that there were no AIRMETS, SEGMETS, or remarks regarding icing along the route.

ForeFlight briefing

We filed our intent to depart with US CBP, and Canada Border Protection, and filed our IFR flight plan.

After filling up the plane and departing, we headed east. I got Anchorage Center on the radio and tried to open my flight plan. They weren't able to find it, but opened a new one for me anyway.

By the time we reached the Talkeetna Mountains east of town, we were getting into the clouds. Within the next fifteen minutes, or so, we did start picking up trace ice. It was pretty intermittent, and seemingly only in the clouds that had vertical development. We started working to avoid these clouds by deviating left and right. Once we were past the Talkeetna Mountains, the unstable air didn't have the forcing action of the mountains and the clouds settled down. This gave us some time to take stock of things and think about our strategy for the remainder of the flight.

At this point in the journey, we were in a bit of a bowl, and mostly on our own. Anchorage Center was technically responsible for us, but we didn't have radar service or communications. Eventually we did make contact at a reporting point just prior to the border, and were given the instruction "Maintain one-two-thousand while in controlled airspace, contact Edmonton Center one-hundred miles prior to whitehorse". This was a mostly-formal "you're on your own for almost two hours, good luck".

I was a little unfamiliar with how much latitude I had to change altitudes and deviate with such an instruction. We were still hitting some clouds with ice in them, and I was getting worried about how much TKS was left. We were shedding the ice at an OK rate, and we weren't accumulating anything more than a few millimeters on the leading edges. But, this was way more than I was comfortable with. So, I just started deviating anyway.

Eventually, and much closer than 100nm from Whitehorse, I was finally able to get Edmonton Center on the radio. I told them I had deviated left of corse, and that I could accept a vector whenever they wanted. I don't remember the exact response, but it was essentially "We don't have radar where you are, so you can proceed direct Whitehorse whenever you want"

Again, we were in a position where the clouds were behind us, and we had an easy shot to our destination. After a bit of decompressing, Katie and I talked about our experience. I confided that I was stressed about what had happened, and that I was remaining calm to not give her the impression that things weren't going great. She said "that's good, because I was afraid, and I was calm because you were calm. The whole time, though, she was watching for ice build-up, helping me spot bad clouds, helping me decide whether left or right would be a better choice. Katie was a hell of a co-pilot. I feel incredibly lucky to have a wife that not only likes to go on these flying trips, but is able to take the bad with the good, rise to the occasion, and kick ass.

Shortly thereafter, Edmonton Center asked me if I had an approach request at Whitehorse. I said that I could accept the visual. They replied that "altitude is now pilots discretion, contact Whitehorse tower when desired." We ended up descending into a valley and flying that to Whitehorse. I was cleared to land abeam the tower, and pulled off a smooth landing, even though the winds were 4, gusting to 19.

Talkeetna

Our only concrete plan for Talkeetna was to get an arial tour of Denali from K2 aviation. We had heard that Talkeetna was kind of boring, and that we should spend the minimum amount of time there. This was not our experience. In some ways, Talkeetna was my favorite town. It had a funky Austin, TX kind of vibe. There were plenty of pride flags flying, a clear environmental conscientiousness, and lots of cool, very yummy, restaurants.

As it happens, our time in Talkeetna had a very strange Man V. Food connection with us. On Thursday, after our K2 flight, we went to the West Rib for lunch, and noticed there was a film crew working. We went in anyway, and a production assistant asked us if we'd be willing to be on the show. We agreed, and had a 10 minute interview with Casey Webb. The episode will probably air in late Fall. The next morning, we were eating at The Roadhouse and I noticed that Katie was sitting in the seat that the original Man v Food host, Adam Richman, sat in during a 2009 episode.

We also ate at the Wildflower Cafe, Denali Brewing, and a small food truck selling fireweed ice cream, Emma's new favorite flavor.

In addition to all the interesting and fun man-made stuff in Talkeetna, the natural beauty is abundant. There are trails everywhere that let you explore. Be a little careful, though, it can be hard to tell when you start venturing onto private property. Our final full day here we mostly spent exploring and made our was across the rail bridge to a small beach on the river and let Emma play and splash around while we dug our toes into the sand and glacial silt. This was also the only place on our trip that we experienced the legendary mosquitos we were warned about, Katie didn't notice at the time, but later that night discovered at least dozen very itchy bites.

K2 Aviation

K2 has a stable of De Havilland aircraft. They use mostly Otters, but also one Beaver, and one Piper Navajo. These tours can be either the south-side of the mountain, around the mountain, or flying up to the summit. All-but the summit flight have a glacier landing option. The summit flight is in the Navajo, because pressurization is required. We elected for the Grand tour, which goes around the mountain, with a landing.

Of over 400 hours in small planes, this was probably the most amazing hour I've ever experienced.

Juneau to Talkeetna

There's really only one real IFR route between Juneau and Talkeetna for a plane without a turbo and oxygen. The route takes you to Sister Island SSR, intercepts T269 at HAPIT, then keeps going all the way to Anchorage TED. Once at anchorage, just turn north to Talkeetna. In my plane, it's about a 4 hour flight.

Mountains

We did the entire flight at 10,000'. When we initially flew out to the ocean, the HAPIT waypoint is a fair bit away from the shore, so I asked for an early turn direct to YAK. ATC cleared me for this, but then turned us a little to keep us far enough away from Mt. Fairweather.

Mount Fairweather

The geology in this region is much more interesting that we had seen so far. The mountains are just starting to get pretty huge. In the distance, I saw a huge peak, and thought "woah, can we see Denali already!?" Turns out, no. I hadn't known that there was another enormous mountain that's only 800' shorter than Denali: Mt. Logan.

Mount Logan

Another amazing thing to be able to see were the various stages of glacial geology. All glaciers start as Cirques, which are the bowls which collect snow over the ages, compressing it into glacial ice. Eventually, these fill up enough that the ice flows into a valley glacier. We got to see many amazing examples of glaciers in every stage of their formation and life-cycle.

Glacial flow

A glacial terminus can be either on land, or on water. We got to see great examples of both. In this case, the glacier is terminating at sea, and the ice is breaking off to become icebergs.

Icebergs

In other cases, the glacier melts while still on land, and produces these silt flats that lead to beautiful waterscapes

Silty Waterscape

Finally, over even more time, these silt flats become beautiful lush landscapes

Lush landscape

The only real complication during the flight was the handoff from Anchorage Center's 119.0 frequency to 119.3. I was told to contact them on 119.3, and if I couldn't make contact in ten minutes. This was at 14:51. At 15:11 I tried again. And again. And again. It ended up being almost an hour before I could finally get them on the radio. In that time, I did have luck relaying messages to them via airliners and freighters above me, so I wasn't overly concerned. But, I was conscious that if I couldn't re-establish communication by Cordoba, AK, then I'd probably be required to land. It's a little bit of a grey-area to me whether I was actually having a communications "problem" that would have required squawking 7600 and doing the communications failure stuff. Another irony is that I didn't have radar service, so no one would see me squawking anyway!

Talkeetna Runway

Juneau

Link to the gallery

In and around Juneau

Whales

On the flight from Ketchikan to Juneau we flew along the coast and Katie saw DOZENS of whales. At first she was unsure what the little dark grayish torpedos were, but then she started seeing them blow and even saw one huge breach. We were pretty shocked just how many humpbacks could be seen at once. We hadn't booked any whale excursions on our trip, so this was particularly cool.

Jorgensen House B&B

I don't even know where to begin with Jorgensen House. It was absolutely spectacular. The house and grounds themselves are incredibly beautiful and peaceful. We walked to and from town every day past a gorgeous park-like cemetery. Renda, our hostess, was so gracious and spoiled us endlessly, always accessible, but never obtrusive.

Amazing breakfasts

The breakfasts were out of this world ridiculously delicious. Honestly they have gourmet chefs serving breakfast and every morning they come out and tell you what they've created. We felt like royalty while staying here.

Katie's not-birthday Cake

We didn't tell them it was Katie's birthday, but by random happenstance, they had cake available the evening of her birthday. They also whipped a scrumptious lunch to go with zero notice when they learned we'd be flying over the lunch hour, such service!

Around town

Town was pretty clearly divided between cruise ship owned tourist crap stores and local stuff, we tried a bit of both and for the most part liked everything. First we had diner at The Hanger on the Warf which was yummy enough. We also tried the Twisted Fish (apparently the same owners) and it was also pretty good. Emma was quite pleased with the sashimi platter at Tokyo Japanese Restruant. We got Russian Dumplings for lunch one day at Pel'meni which were good and cheap. We also had a suprisingly ample lunch at Devil's Club Brewing along with two satisfying flights of beer, the people there were very nice. The best, in our opinion, was Deck Hand Dave's food truck at Gunakadeit Park. Renda tipped us off that when the Food Network folks had stayed with them they said it was the best fish tacos around. There we ordered fish tacos, fish and chips, and got some beer in the cute little food truck court, it was all very very good.

Juneau is the capital of Alaska, and as such has the capital buildings and the governor's mansion. These are mostly unremarkable, but the capital building has a life-sized bear statue that Emma decided was her mama.

Emma and the bear

Mount Roberts

Sun filtered through the trees on Mount Roberts

The driver of our taxi from the airport gave us a quick tour of downtown Juneau, and one thing that he mentioned (that we hadn't already heard about) was that we could hike up Mount Roberts, and after buying $10 of stuff from a gift shop, ride the tram down "for free". I'm not telling you to cheat, of course, but no one checked our receipt ;)

Will and Emma on the trail

We were planning on walking downtown from our B&B to the base of the tram, and taking the tram round-trip. But, we didn't have anything planned for this day, so we thought we might try the hike. Initially, it seemed like an insane idea, but Emma was bouncing off the walls, so we decided to give it a shot. Our B&B is near the trailhead for the Gold Creek Flume trail, which links up with the Mount Roberts trailhead. By the time we hiked up the hill to get to the trailhead, we saw that it was closed until September... Booo! Undeterred, we called a taxi and got a ride to the Mount Roberts trailhead by road.

View from Mount Roberts

We knew, of course, that hiking up a mountain was going to be challenging, and we were worried how Emma would take it, but we actually did amazingly well. Emma never complained about the hike. She said she was tired once, but it had the air of a status report, rather than a complaint.

Selfie Totem

Though the hike was achievable, I had not anticipated how sweaty I'd be at the top. It was kinda jarring being sweaty and stinking while mingling around so many people from the cruises that took the tram up.

Emma in a recreation eagle's nest

The tram ride down was awesome, and it is a truly impressive incline.

Tram incline

Mendenhall Glacier and Summer Dog Camp

One of the three banner events for the trip was the Mendenhall Glacier helicopter tour and dog camp. Everything went according to plan, and the weather today was perfect. We had an easy morning, because our tour group was set to meet in downtown Juneau at 2:45. The tour company is a mill, and is run like a well oiled machine.

Helicopter pilot

Their facility is on the East end of the Juneau International Airport, and it's basically a small building surrounded on three sides by running helicopters. When I say running helicopters, I mean it. I don't think they shutdown all day. A flight of three comes in and lands, the people get out, it gets fueled (while running), people get in, and they leave. The whole process can't take more than 3 minutes. The flight to the glacier is about ten minutes. About half-way through your time on the glacier, you can hear the helicopters come back and swap-out another group. The formation flying that these pilots do is pretty awesome. The flight itself isn't close formation, but the takeoffs and landings are like ballet.

Helicopter formation

The flight to the glacier, though short, was beautiful. I can only think of a few places on earth that would be as spectacular to see by helicopter. As we flew away from Juneau and climbed, we could see the trees thin at the timberline, then as we climbed further rock turned to ice. Flying further still, we could see the flows of ice, frozen in time.

Mendenhall Glacier

Eventually, we approached a large bowl-like feature in the rock and ice, and in the center a small formation of structures. It was like a micro-sized burning man on ice. This impression was made even stronger when we landed and were greeted by funky guys in full glacier glasses.

Dog Camp

The first guy we talked to explained the camp, and what he does there. During the winter he lives in Fairbanks with his wife and their 45 sled dogs. But, in the summer, it's too warm down there for the dogs to exercise and train properly. So, every summer they move up to the glacier and that lets them keep their dogs from going nuts due to boredom. About 22 people live at the camp at a time, and they rotate down with a few living "on the ground" at a time.

Will "Mushing"

Next we got to take our ride on the dogsleds. They plan on making 3-4 stops along a 1.5 mile loop so that everyone can rotate in position on the sleds. The front sled is the one that's driven by the real musher, and there's a trailer sled that looks like a normal dogsled on which each visitor can play at mushing. Even though you had no real control in the back, I got the feeling that being the real musher doesn't afford you a lot of control either. The sleds do have brakes, and I did use them a few times to avoid hitting the real musher in front.

Sledding

One of the times that we stopped to rotate, and also at the end, we got a chance to pet the dogs and thank them for doing a good job. It was cool to see how different their personalities were. I became enamored with one in particular that was very clear with you when she decided she wasn't done being petted. She'd either hit you with her paw or head-but you, such a sweetheart.

Petting Sled-dogs

Finally, we all got a chance to pet and snuggle with two very cute puppies. I'm certain this was Emma's favorite part of the entire vacation.

Emma snuggling a puppy

Mendenhall Glacier by Canoe

This excursion was a pretty simple one. The basic idea is to get into a canoe with something like 19 other people and paddle for 5.5 miles in Mendenhall Lake. I was surprised just how exhausting that would be, and how annoying it would be to paddle behind some late-teen/early-twenty something women from Jersey who were either incredibly incompetent and/or incredibly lazy. We weren't at all sore after climbing Mt. Roberts, but our arms were a little sore after paddling the lake.

Mendenhall Glacier at the lake

Emma really wanted to try paddling, but she's just not quite strong enough yet. I helped her with it, but the angles were really hard on my arms. I have to say, she may not be a great paddler yet, but she looks great with a paddle! ๐Ÿ˜‚

Emma the paddler

After going as close as we could to the glacier, we turned toward Nugget Falls. The guide had us paddle right at the falls as hard as possible, and got a pretty good splash. Emma was not impressed!

Nugget falls

That was pretty much it. We paddled back, and that was that. Then, the next day, when we were flying to Talkeetna Katie got an awesome photo of Mendenhall Lake, with the glacier and Nugget falls.

Mendenhall Lake

Ketchikan

Link to the gallery

Enjoying Ketchikan

Now that we're on the ground at Ketchikan, and had some rest we got to explore the town some. It's a pretty neat little community and we enjoyed it. There were a few highlights...

Funicular

Katie and Emma in the Funicular

Our hotel is up on the hill overlooking Creek Street. It's a pretty steep grade at 70%, and 175' of elevation change. It would be a total bummer to have to walk it every time. Thankfully, the builders of the hotel had the good sense and foresight to build the Funicular. The upper end of it opens right into the lobby.

Creek Street

Creek Street shirt

Creek Street is the former "Red Light" district of Ketchikan. There were saloons, brothels, all that good stuff. Now, though, it's fairly typical tourist-y shops. As far as these shop walks go, though, it's pretty cute. The best part is the actual creek that runs along side it where you can see HUNDREDS of salmon at once try to make it back up stream to spawn and seals gather for an easy meal.

Creek Street shops

Totem Heritage Center

Ketchikan City Park

Ketchikan has a really lovely little city park up the hill from downtown. It has a salmon hatchery, fountain, and the Totem Heritage Center. The Smithsonian, Forest Service, City of Ketchikan (and others) all worked to develop a survey of the totems in SE Alaska. They secured buy-in from the Native Alaskan Brotherhood and Sisterhood (NAB/NAS) and the owners of the totems. For totems they couldn't establish ownership, they got permission from tribal descendants. These totems were removed from where they were installed, and moved to the Center. The rational for these moves is that totems had been stolen, vandalized, or were decaying in the weather. They were carefully removed and are displayed at the center.

Totem Heritage Center

It was very cool and inspiring to see the old totems as they were. Growing up in the Pacific Northwest (as Katie and I did) gave us the opportunity to see a ton of totem poles around, but they were all modern. These are real and old.

Float planes

You know that you're going to see a lot of float planes in Alaska, but I had no idea just how many I'd see. It's honestly ridiculous. They're everywhere. Prior to coming to Alaska, I think I may have seen a De Havilland Beaver once in my life. Now I've seen probably 50. Same goes with De Havilland Otters.

Flying to Juneau

For the flight to Juneau, I filed an IFR flight plan, even though the weather was more than sufficient for VFR. Especially on trips like this, I like having "someone watching me". Unfortunately, no one was for the majority of the flight.

Cya later Ketchikan!

Ketchikan, like Port Hardy, has a "Mandatory Frequency" which is almost like a tower, but they do not tell you what to do. You check in with them, tell them where you are and what you're doing, and they tell you what everyone else is doing. When we checked on being ready to taxi, they just asked if we were going to be going right to the runway or stopping anywhere else (presumably for a run-up). Because we had already done all the pre-takeoff checks, we said we weren't stopping anywhere else. They told us about the Beavers in the pattern for the river, and that they had no other scheduled flights for several minutes. Finally, they reminded us that runway 11 is right-traffic. We took off, changed frequencies, and called Anchorage Center.

Mendenhall Glacier and Juneau International

When we called Anchorage Center, they couldn't pick us up on radar. I've had this happen before in Oregon. I'm not sure why, but my transponder just isn't that sensitive. While we were waiting to see if they'd be able to pick me up, and decide whether they were going to accept me as an IFR flight without a transponder, I went ahead and climbed up to 8,500' as a VFR hemispherical altitude.

Eventually, they cleared me for the flight, and I descended to the filed and cleared altitude of 8,000'. I had to give position reports about every 20 miles along the trip. Another thing that I have to sometimes do in remote mountainous areas such as this is get frequency changes 20-40 miles beforehand. For example, I got something like "report 20 miles prior to Level Island on my frequency 133.9". This is basically him telling me that I'm going to be out of range on my current frequency sometime between where I am and 20 miles south of LVD, and that they will use that as another point to keep track of where I am. This happened twice on this flight.

Another interesting thing that happened on today's flight is that another aircraft missed a handoff. So, Anchorage center asked me to broadcast to them their new frequency. I hadn't thought about it at the time, but me repeating the request was also broadcasting to them. I heard the other aircraft read back to me, then I heard them check-in with Anchorage. Finally Anchorage thanked me for the help.

Left 360

Because another IFR aircraft was going into Juneau before me, and they didn't have me on radar, I had to stay really high really late into the approach again. Luckily, I finally got close enough to a radar facility that they were able to pick me up and give me a descent. They cleared me for the visual and handed me off to Juneau tower. I was high and close enough that I had to do a 360ยฐ to lose some altitude. I did a wide downwind and had an uneventful approach to landing.

Runway at Juneau

I noticed while filling out my logbook that my plane has 1999.2 hours since new, and my engine has almost made it all the way to TBO. I can't wait to put the 0.8 on it soon, and hopefully get a photo of the big 2000!

Almost to TBO

Customs

Link to the gallery

I was hoping that the log for the first day of flying was going to be filled with sunshine and roses. It's not. It's primarily comprised of pee and frustration.

Packing and preparation

Our morning preparation was frantic and hurried. I had to file an eAPIS for departing the United States, call Canadian border patrol, call for the latest databases for the GPS, and re-pack my backpack from the work trip. Meanwhile Katie and Emma had to get themselves ready and packed. Of course, we left the house about an hour late. Being late today is a theme.

Once we got to the airport we were only just able put everything in the plane. Even after all of our work trying to optimize our packing. We still had to use a laundry basket to carry stuff we're planning on leaving in the plane most of the time. We preflighted the airplane, took our bathroom breaks, and were ready to go. Except that we had to call Canadian border patrol again. I couldn't find a way to edit my manifest on the US customs site, but I did read about the possibility of using the radio to do it.

First leg

Mountains and clouds

The flight portion of our first leg was honestly unremarkable. We departed VFR from Corvallis and got our IFR clearance to Port Hardy in the air. Once we were handed off to Seattle Center, I asked the controller if there was a frequency I could use to contact CBP (they mention this in their documentation) that I could use to adjust my estimated border crossing time. The sector that services most of Oregon (125.8) didn't know, and thought that a sector closer to the boarder would know.

Possibly a crater

We went through Portland's airspace, and when we were handed off to Seattle center again, I asked again about the customs thing. This controller was more knowledgeable about these procedures. She said that as long as I was on an IFR flight plan, I didn't need to worry about border crossing times. She did say that she couldn't help me with the customs at the destination. As I had already notified Canada about the change, I was all set.

Border Crossing

The actual act of crossing the border between the US and Canada was incredibly mundane. I took a picture, but that's all that happened.

The Canadian controllers we worked with were friendly and helpful, and gave us shortcuts several times during the short time we were in their charge. Eventually, we had to ask for a descent, because we were still at 10,000' quite close to Port Hardy. Apparently a Saab 340 had been slowly creeping up alongside us, and they had to have us do some turns to let them pass before we could be descended. By the time we could finally descend, we needed to do so at about 1,500'/minute. Emma's ears had a hard time clearing, and she let us know about it!

Rocks in clouds

One procedural difference about many Canadian and Alaskan airports is the "Mandatory frequency". It's almost like a tower, except that they don't really give you directions. When we initially called them up, they gave us a list of all the planes they knew about in the area. It was kinda cool to have a situational awareness brain dump, but it came quickly enough that it was hard to retain all of it.

It was really bumpy on the last portion of this flight, and the winds when we landed were 10 knots gusting to 18. It was sporting, but ended up being sufficiently smooth (the plane was reusable).

Port Hardy Runway

Once on the ground, we asked Port Hardy Radio where to park for customs, and they just had us park in a little parking area along the (only) taxiway. None of our phones worked, so we had to power on the plane radios again to ask how to get a hold of customs. They said that one person could leave the plane and use a landline. I ended up walking over to the Pacific Coastal Airlines fuel office and waiting for the Line service tech to return. He let us use his phone to call Canadian customs. They verified our information, gave us a "contact number" and said that we were all set. Easy peasy, lemon squeezy. Then, we had them fill the plane with the most expensive 40 gallons of 100LL I've ever purchased. ($2.39cad/lt. or about $7us/gal.)

Port Hardy

Port Hardy welcome sign

The Foreflight airport page for Port Hardy (CYZT) listed an airport Cafe that seemed fine for lunch. I did notice that they had no ATM, nor could they take cards. So, I was able to get some Canadian cash from Travelex in the Boston airport when I was flying home from my work trip. By this point, we were all pretty hungry (it was about 2PM after all) and looking forward to lunch.

Port Hardy Terminal Construction

Unfortunately, however, the terminal was in the process of being torn down. This was definitely a frustration, but the guy that fueled our plane recommended a sushi restaurant at the Airport Inn which was a ten minute walk away.

Emma and Katie went out ahead while I stayed during the fueling of the plane. I thought about the fact that we were basically splitting up and walking around a place we've never been before without cellular phone service. This is something we did all the time growing up, but we've become so accustomed to the safety net that it feels weird without it.

By the time I got to the restaurant and inn, Katie was walking out the door looking pissed off. It turns out that the restaurant had been closed for some time, and the closest alternative was a ten minute drive away. We were already running quite late, and this was starting to turn into a quagmire. Ultimately, we decided to buy the snacks closest to food that we could at the inn and go back to the plane. However, the inn had internet, and I had to make sure to file the eAPIS for our return to the US. Finally, all that was finished and everyone got back to the airport at a time somewhat resembling the original planned departure time.

Port Hardy Radio was able to get our IFR flight plan, and clear our departure, but taking off was "at our discretion". This was something we're not used to, but it wasn't an issue.

Second leg

The majority of the second flight was unremarkable, though exquisitely beautiful.

More mountains

Until about an hour in, when Emma declares that she needs to pee. NOW. We frantically searched for an empty bottle had Emma pull down her pants and luckily we made it in time... except since Emma is five and has never peed in a bottle before she didn't have it lined up perfectly at first so she peed all over the floor mat anyway. We adjusted and caught the rest, but some had already gotten on her pants and the floor, she spent the remainder of the flight half naked in her seat.

Naked Emma under a blanket

The approach into Ketchikan was odd. First of all, though I had updated databases, the RNAV 29 approach wasn't in the GPS database. Anchorage center was keen on clearing me for it, though, provided I had the plate, and that ZIKMU was in my database. He said "because we've already had a problem with this today, I want to make sure you fly to ZIKMU, do the procedure turn in the hold and proceed inbound." I acknowledge this, and about that time, it was time to turn. Because I wasn't working on an approach the PROC button in the GNS430 knows about, I had to manually add ZIKMU to the flight plan and activate it direct. Then, I had to go to heading mode in the autopilot to fly the hold in lieu of procedure turn (this is normal for a GNS430 [not WAAS]). I was cleared for the approach and told to contact Ketchikan Radio at ZIKMU inbound.

Annette Island, home of ANN and ZIKMU

Once past ZIKMU, we called Ketchikan radio, and gave them an initial position report. I don't remember exactly how they responded, but they basically said "whatever, talk to me when you're 8 miles out". I heard them mention to other traffic "there's a cirrus out there, but they're more than 10nm away". Once we were 8 miles away, I called them again, and they told us to call again. Eventually Ketchikan radio told us that Anchorage Center wanted to know our altitude. I told them 1,500'. I thought that was odd. Immediately afterward, an Alaskan Airlines 737 asked me if I was on short final. I told them I was. Then I heard them talking about doing some S-turns to make up space for me to land. I realized that I should keep my speed up and land longer than usual. I did these things (within my comfortability) and taxied as fast as I could. There are only two places to get off the runway at Ketchikan; one at each end. Once on the ground, I heard Ketchikan radio throwing shade at "That cirrus that decided to land short". I don't think they believe in taxiways up in the north. Port Hardy had one taxiway, Ketchikan has one taxiway. I'm looking forward to seeing how few airports don't have them.

I've noticed that Alaskan flying is next-level. The controllers expect you to be better. I've flown in Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Los Vegas, and Phoenix Class B airspaces, and I've never been thrown shade, as I've gotten from Anchorage Center. I think this is a good thing, and I'm committing myself to rise to their expectations.

Ketchikan runway

Customs hell (and a silver lining)

CBP "truck" waiting for not us

When we got to the FBO we saw a marshaller showing us where to park. We followed his instructions and shut down the engine. When he came up to the plane, I explained that we needed to get checked out by Customs and Border Patrol. He said "No problem, I'll get them for you." We noticed there was a white SUV near by, and thought that might be the officer. But, the truck looked empty. We patiently waited for a while, trying to convince ourselves that waiting in a plane that you've spent 6 hours in is better than the giant football-field sized corral they have in Cancun. Then, we noticed that the truck disappeared. Now, to be clear, you are not allowed to leave the plane while you're waiting for customs. We decided that we had better call the local customs office and see what happened...

The phone rang, and a woman answered. I explained where we were and what we needed. Then she went off. She condescendingly explained that we were very late, and that the officer had waited as long as he could. Then he had to go to another float plane, and that he had gotten the ferry to the other side of the river. She said that my planned arrival time was 3:45 and that I was over an hour late. I tried to remain very calm, and tell her that I was looking at my eAPIS acknowledgement right now, and that I did not put 3:45 down as my time. I offered to read to her my filing confirmation number, but she said she didn't want to login to her computer. She said that the officer would come back when he was done with the other plane.

We sit in the plane for an hour. We are hungry. The plane smells like pee. Emma has no pants on.

After a while we decide to clean up the plane... Putting things away, cleaning up the pee, trying to dig out clothes for Emma.

I called CBP again. This time it's a Male officer. He's a lot nicer, but basically says "I'll get to you when I can"

We decide to move the plane to the overnight parking area. We're still confined to the plane. Emma has to pee again (goddamn camelback).

After nearly two hours on the ground, stuck in the plane, we see the office arrive. He turns out to be ridiculously nice. He apologized for everything and checked our documents. He said we were good to go.

We started unpacking the plane and getting our packs together. I called the FBO to ask for a van ride to the ferry. They're apparently already on their way, because they saw the CBP truck (awesome service, Aero Services! ๐Ÿ‘).

Once we arrive to the ferry dock, it's just pulling up and we sit down. Of course the customs officer is waiting to cross the river back to Ketchikan. We chatted with him a little on the ferry, and he offers to give us a ride to Creek Street! (It's basically right next to the Federal Building). We chat some more with him, and learn about what brought him up to Alaska from his prior work on the southern border.

To be honest, being imprisoned in the plane for two hours sucked a bunch, but the officer's kindness pretty much made up for it all in my mind.

Ketchikan from the air

First day flights

First day flight path

Goals and considerations

The main goal for the fist day of flying is to get to the state of Alaska.

Originally, we had considered starting from the Seattle area, and Boeing Field, in particular. The reason for this was two-fold. On the one hand, we could shave almost two hours off the first day of flying, and on the other, we have friends in that area that we'd love to spend time with.

Ultimately, I had a work obligation that will be longer than expected, and I won't be able to come come until a day later than expected. Also, Katie and Emma had considered coming with me on that trip. Had that been the case, we'd have flown up to Seattle, left the plane there, and flown to the work trip from SEA.

Anyway, as it happens, we're flying all the way to Alaska from Corvallis (CVO) in one day. This is just-under 5 hours of flying, which is less than we've done in the past. For example, the flight from Chandler, AZ to Corvallis is six-and-a-half hours. Emma was a champ during this flight, but the last hour was hard on her. Given that this day of flight will be more than an hour shorter than that was, I'm confident that she'll be more than capable of this one as well.

The plan

We've decided that we can do this trip in one day, with one stop for fuel and lunch.

It's a bit annoying that we'll have to clear customs twice in one day, once in Canada, and once in Alaska, but that's part of the fun, isn't it? ๐Ÿ˜†

I've read a few other trip reports, and it seemed like Port Hardy, on the northern-most part of Victoria island is a popular stopping point. As it happens, it's a very convenient stopping point for us, as well. Almost perfectly splitting the journey.


View Larger Map

Once we've filled our bellies and our plane, we'll continue on to Ketchikan. This is a relatively short 2 hour flight, and should be a nice way to end the day.

Port Hardy has a cafe on the field, and it looks like a good option. However, it appears that it's cash-only, and doesn't have an ATM, so we'll need to figure out how to get some Canadian currency before flying up.

There is 100LL fuel reported on the field, according to the Canadian Flight Supplement, but, as mentioned in the FAA Flying to Alaska document, it's wise to call ahead and check on fuel status prior to departure.

First leg

Between Corvallis and Port Hardy we can get almost all the way there on V495, but switching to V165 at Newberg (UBG) is a bit of a short-cut, and I'm planning on re-joining V495 at DIGGN, which is near the North East corner of the Olympic Peninsula. From there, we'll track V440 to Port Hardy. The highest MEA along this route is 9,600' near the mid-point of Victoria island, and I'm flight planning for cruise at 10,000'.

First leg of the trip, from KCVO to CYZT

Second leg

From Port Hardy to Ketchikan is a short enough, and remote enough, flight that there's no real point to worrying about airways, so we filed point-to-point. The path is from YJQ, PR, ANN, and finally PAKT. The highest MEA on this trip is 7000', and I'll fly it at 10,000'.

Second leg of the trip, from CYZT to PAKT

Gallery

Risk & Reward

As with any activity, and especially with flying, risk is present. One must decide what their risk tolerance is, the inherent risk of their activity, circumstantial risk, and strategies for the mitigation of risk. For this trip, the most salient risks specific to this trip are:

Weather

Weather

The weather in Alaska and Northwest Canada is notorious for its treacherousness. There are two concerns in particular. One is coastal fog, the other is icing.

To mitigate these risks, we've designed our trip with flexibility in mind. This is a particular challenge for Katie, who normally plans our trips down to the hour. We have only three major activities scheduled, and they're in the middle of our trip. This will give us the freedom to skip a day of flying if the weather isn't cooperating.

Furthermore, Will is an instrument-rated pilot, and we will be filing and flying the trip under instrument flight rules.

Finally, our plane is equipped with a non-hazard icing protection system (using TKS fluid). This is not a system that you can rely upon (legally, or practically), but if we end up in icing it will buy us some time to turn around and get out.

Terrain

Cloudy mountains

This is high country. Denali is a stupidly tall mountain (around 20,000'). A lot of the mountains out here are huge. One problem this poses is that the weather and the terrain may push us to fly higher than is safe given the "thinness" of the atmosphere at altitude. Another problem is the potential for lack of situational awareness while in instrument meteorological conditions (IMC) and finding some terrain by surprise.

For the first problem, we mitigate it by choosing routes by looking at the highest MEA of the journey for each leg. In our case, the highest MEA is 11,300'. Will is a fit, relatively young, non-smoker. We routinely fly at ten, eleven, sometimes twelve thousand feet without supplemental oxygen. We have a pulse oximeter onboard, and check our SpO2 frequently on these flights. We make sure that it's at least 90%.

Regarding the unexpected encounter with terrain, the mitigation here is to use the technological tools at our disposal, including the aircraft's multi-function display (MFD), the terrain awareness and warning system (TAWS), and backup from the Foreflight synthetic vision system. Also, we will be avoiding IMC wherever possible, and my personal minimums for the ceilings at the destinations will be much higher than charted.

Facilities

Ketchikan and Juneau are not accessible by road. Take a minute, and let that sink in. The implication of this is that these very small towns (by normal standards) need to get everything shipped in via air or boat.

Simple things like aviation fuel may be difficult to come by. The FAA advises that you call ahead to each port that you intend to receive services from, prior to departure, to make sure that they can actually provide them to you. The biggest worry is fuel. We intend to bring a few quarts of oil with us, and a few spare spark plugs.

Additionally, many Alaskan airports don't have precision instrument approaches. I suspect that this is due to the nearby terrain, in many cases. For at least Ketchikan and Juneau, these airports are nestled in deep canyons. It's hard to have a miles-long straight shot to a runway, to say nothing about a missed approach procedure in this case.

Instrument approach to Juneau

For the instrument pilots reading, check out the approach for Juneau shown above, notice how different many things are relative to the lower-48, even the mountainous west. First of all, the missed approach point (MAP) and minimum descent altitude (MDA) are relatively far away from the airport and higher than normal. Also, if you reach MOLRE, and don't see the airport, you had better be turning without delay!

Mechanical

While our plane is in excellent condition, and there are no known issues, anything could happen. We're flying over a lot of desolate land, and the endpoints may have limited mechanical service available.

There's really no mitigation available other than to address anything that comes up as soon as its detected, especially if there are services available on the field. This even applies if it means that we may miss an appointment or booking because of it. It will be tempting to defer issues if it's inconvenient to have them addressed.

Procedural

Things are different in Canada. Things are even different in Alaska. These procedural differences are at best annoying, but at worst could lead to loss of separation with other aircraft.

The mitigation strategy for this risk is to read up on the procedures, and try to understand them as best as possible. I've got the Canadian Airman's Information Manual, and I've been reading through it.

Risk Tolerance

Phew, that's a lot of risk!

Or is it?

Ultimately, we decided that the risks are fully outweighed by rewards. We planned 4 days in Juneau, that gives us a bank of days that we can use to stay safe in the case of weather. On the way home, we don't have any appointments, Will has two days of PTO to spare, and we're taking the safer interior route.

Route Overview

Route overview of the trip

For our trip, we spent a lot of time considering what exact paths we wanted to take, and where we wanted to stop. Originally, we were thinking about going up and back along the coast, stopping in Ketchikan, Juneau, and Anchorage. Eventually, we decided to skip Anchorage and also have the flight back go through the interior of Canada, along the Alcan Highway. Generally, the interior route is thought to be a little safer, as there are more landing options and a highway to land on. Also, there's less of a chance of poor weather on the highway route.

Cities, Sites, and Activities

Ketchikan

Funicular

We don't have a lot planned for Ketchikan, it's mostly a stop and sleep, but we're planning on making the most of it. The Airport in Ketchikan is actually on an island across the water from Ketchikan proper so our first task will be to get across the water. We're hoping to hire a water taxi which will be a bit of a fun little excursion right off the bat. Our accommodations for the night will be at Cape Fox Lodge, and we're planning on riding the Funicular to get there. Totem Poles and Creek Street seem to be the main attractions here, and luckily our hotel has some pretty cool totems. Creek Street is right at the base of the Funicular!

Juneau

Mendenhall Glacier with Helicopter

Juneau is both a fun destination (and the Capitol of Alaska), and a bit of buffer in the schedule. We'll be staying at the gorgeous historic Jorgenson House Bed & Breakfast in downtown Juneau. We're planning on doing two tours of the Mendenhall Glacier, one is a canoe tour on Mendenhall Lake that goes near the face of the glacier and the other is a helicopter tour that lands on top of the glacier AND lands at a summer sled dog training camp. We expect the sled tour will be the highlight of the trip for our 5 year old as she'll get some mushing training and puppy snuggles.

Talkeetna

K2 Flying image

Talkeetna is the other true destination. While we're there, we're going to get a commercial tour of Denali from K2 Aviation.

Whitehorse

Whitehorse

Our trip home, for a variety of reasons, will go along the interior of Canada. Our first stop over for the night will be in Whitehorse, the capitol city of the Yukon. We're staying at the Coast High Country Inn, and we're going to try to visit the Yukon Wildlife Preserve

Prince George

Mr. PG

Prince George is another night stop-over, like Ketchikan. Unlike Ketchikan, though, our hotel in Prince George has a killer indoor pool with a waterslide. This will likely be Emma's second-favorite thing about the whole trip. We're staying at the Pomeroy Inn and Suites.

Papers, please

via GIPHY

Regulatory prep

Canada is, of course, a different country. And, it inconveniently lies between the "lower 48" and Alaska. This post is less narrative, and more of a checklist and brain-dump for what I'll need for ADIZ crossings, and clearing customs in both countries.

Useful Links and resources

Documentation and regulations

  • [x] Pilot Certificate
  • [x] Medical
  • [x] Passports
  • [x] Airworthiness certificate
  • [x] Registration
  • [x] Operating limitations
  • [x] Weight and Balance
  • [x] Radio Station License
  • [x] Restricted Radio Telephone operator Permit
  • [x] Public Liability Insurance (See Insurance)

CBP Decal and fee

(e)Fee for arrival of a private vessel or private aircraft -

(1)Fee. Except as provided in paragraph (e)(3) of this section, the master or other person in charge of a private vessel or private aircraft must, upon first arrival in any calendar year, proceed to CBP and tender the sum of $27.50, as adjusted in accordance with the terms of paragraph (k) of this section, to cover services provided in connection with all arrivals of that vessel or aircraft during that calendar year. Either a properly completed CBP Form 339V (Annual User Fee Decal Request - Vessels) or CBP Form 339A (Annual User Fee Decal Request - Aircraft), must accompany the payment. Upon payment of the annual fee, a decal will be issued to be permanently affixed by adhesive to the vessel or aircraft, in accordance with accompanying instructions, as evidence that the fee has been paid. Except in the case of private aircraft, and aircraft landing at user fee airports authorized under 19 U.S.C. 58b, all overtime charges provided for in this part remain payable notwithstanding payment of the fee specified in this paragraph.

(2)Prepayment. A private vessel or private aircraft owner or operator may, at any time during the calendar year, prepay the $27.50 annual fee specified in paragraph (e)(1) of this section, as adjusted in accordance with the terms of paragraph (k) of this section. Prepayment must be made in accordance with the procedures and payment methods set forth in this paragraph and paragraph (i) of this section. The decal request and prepayment by credit card or ACH debit may be made via the Internet through the โ€œTravelโ€ link at the CBP Web site located at http://www.cbp.gov. Alternatively, prepayment may be sent by mail with credit card information, check, or money order made payable to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, along with a properly completed CBP Form 339V (Annual User Fee Decal Request - Vessels) or CBP Form 339A (Annual User Fee Decal Request - Aircraft), to the following address: U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Attn: DTOPS Program Administrator, 6650 Telecom Drive, Suite 100, Indianapolis, IN 46278.

Aircraft

  • [x] ELT (121.5 still OK)
  • [x] Mode C

eAPIS and Flight plans

Use an ICAO flight plan (I already do this anyway)

Provide CANPASS more than 2, but less than 48 hours notice of entry

Provide US CBP more than 1, but less than 24 hours notice of entry

ATC Fees

Canada charges $17.85 for ATC services per quarter.

Insurance

Canada requires liability insurance as documented in the Canadian Aviation Regulations section 606.02(1).

Liability Insurance 606.02 (1) This section applies to every owner of an aircraft, other than a remotely piloted aircraft, that is registered in Canada or registered under the laws of a foreign state and operated in Canada, if the owner is not required to subscribe to liability insurance in respect of the aircraft under section 7 of the Air Transportation Regulations.

(2) Doesn't apply?

(3) Doesn't apply?

(4) Doesn't apply?

(5) Doesn't apply?

(6) Doesn't apply?

(7) Doesn't apply?

(8) No aircraft owner not referred to in paragraph (2)(a), (b) or (c) shall operate an aircraft unless, in respect of every incident related to the operation of the aircraft, the owner has subscribed for liability insurance covering risks of public liability in an amount that is not less than

(a) $100,000, where the maximum permissible take-off weight of the aircraft is 1 043 kg (2,300 pounds) or less;

(b) $500,000, where the maximum permissible take-off weight of the aircraft is greater than 1 043 kg (2,300 pounds) but not greater than 2 268 kg (5,000 pounds);

(c) $1,000,000, where the maximum permissible take-off weight of the aircraft is greater than 2 268 kg (5,000 pounds) but not greater than 5 670 kg (12,500 pounds);

(d) $2,000,000, where the maximum permissible take-off weight of the aircraft is greater than 5 670 kg (12,500 pounds) but not greater than 34 020 kg (75,000 pounds); and

(e) $3,000,000, where the maximum permissible take-off weight of the aircraft is greater than 34 020 kg (75,000 pounds).

(9) Subject to subsection (10), no owner or operator of an aircraft shall operate the aircraft unless there is carried on board the aircraft proof that liability insurance is subscribed for in accordance with this section.

(10) Doesn't apply.