On May 16th 2003, Todd Kelsey and I flew into the upper Chickaloon drainage with Dave of Grasshopper Aviation out of the Wasilla airport. We got to the airport to find out that fog was sitting over the landing zone so we sat around in Dave's office while he regaled us with tales of plane crashes. Nothing fills your mind with confidence like a pilot who reminisces about various spills and forced landings. Apparently losing a tail in a landing was no big deal. Who knew?
While flying in Dave apparently sensed my unease and did his best to scare me silly. He skimmed along the river, diving in sickening bursts of madness. When we landed we landed a bit too fast and hit the ground HARD slamming into the rocky strip and bouncing close to 10 feet in the air. I crawled out of the plane and ran into the bushes dry heaving.
There were 3 other people at the landing strip. Jake, a bear hunting guide, and his two clients. Jake was the classic Alaskan bear guide. He was classic in the sense that instead of flying out with his garbage on his lap he opted to throw it into the bushes. Classic in the sense that he had hauled literally hundreds of pounds of junk into this area only to leave it sitting under a blue trap so it could be destroyed by bears and porcupines. ( Read more... )
The earth buzzes by below us; rolling hills turn to spires, caribou tracks up ridge lines, blue ice overflowing tight river drainages. The creeks flow past - Caribou, Divide, Boulder. The mighty Chickaloon calm, frozen in time the meandering blue ice locked until Spring (who hovers just around the corner) descends. And suddenly we are banking past jagged granite spires. The spires become behemoths trapped in glacier ice, seracs clutching their sides glistening and opaque.
My pilot, Mike Meekins, maneuvers his plane between granite towers and we float out into the open, the Talkeetna glacier spread below us, her many forks outstretched and the plane spiraling over them with my eyes glued to the window looking at ice, granite and snow. Meekins studies the snow and we aim for a calm tongue of powder unscathed by the winds. ( Read more... )