it is what it is.

Monday, February 20, 2006

The Last Frontier

4AM and the lights dance on the ice.

First of many lake and pond landings. It's ALL good!

Jay Baldwin is the guru behind it all. A wealth of information, both of the area and of course, in flying. He operates Alaska Cub Training Specialists, and has a rich aviation history, including flying F-16's for 20 years, and currently Boeing 737's when not in the bush. He'll admit to lots of challenges and exciting experiences in flying, but is quick to point out that flying a supercub in the Alaskan bush takes top honors for constant challenge and excitement. Jay is one of the most personable and easy-going fellas you'll find in the bush. And a top-notch pilot!

Lynnwood Feeler is an Alaskan icon, having raced the Iditarod 14 years, placing 2nd as his best. He has 180 dogs nearby, and more outside Juneau. Lynn and Jay join up for flying whenever they get a chance, and today he's lake hopping with us.

Later in the day, we stop off at this lodge for a burger and a little conversation with the locals.

Snaking up the Yentna River, and never feeling more alive! Periodically, mushers slip by underneath. This is part of the route of the Iditarod, the famous dog sled race from Anchorage to Nome.

The light is getting low and the definition of the snow is diminishing, making landings a bit more challenging.

Not a bad driveway...
As a matter of Alaskan bush practice, the super cub was tied down by anchoring ice screws into the frozen lake. An insulated cover was placed over the engine, and wing covers installed to ward off frost. The wing covers also had stall gates to discourage flight during high winds while tied down. The following morning the cub got a luxurious hour of preheating with a northern companion burner and then fired to life with a couple hand props.

Ahh, home sweet home. A good day of flying, and hot noodles and apple cider in a cozy cabin miles from civilization. "You say you paged me? I must've been out of range..."

Another new day, and lots to explore. This glacier-fed lake will do just fine. The snowshoes payed their way here, when our first steps away from the plane resulted in chest-deep snow. The snowshoes are bungied onto the wing struts, where many things are transported, including moose antlers, supplies, and small children.

So what makes a glacier blue? Magic, of course.

Welcome to my humble glacier lake. To enter, lick the ice.

Jay might be a real bush guy, but he knows class. Here, he explains how to turn your cabin into a swanky dinner joint-- simply put a piece of glacial ice in the middle of the table with a pick and let the guests chip their own ice for their drinks. The unique taste and hardness will have your guests spitting the Jones's ice cubes out like sour lemons. "Please pass the 4000-year old ice..."

Sizing up the cub's tracks for departure.
A Susitna slough presents itself, and we can't resist the urge to land. A fun little curvy path keeps things kinetic during the landing and takeoff phases.

In the slough, but not of despond.

A jaunt through the crags of Matanuska Valley finds us nearing the Knik Glacier. Lake George below us is frozen feet thick, and with a thin layer of glacier water on top of the glaze ice, makes for a WHEE-EEEE landing. (No brakes on skis!)

A stiff glacier wind coming down the valley tried to tease a primal hands-and-feet stance out of us on the slick stuff.

These glacial fingers calve off periodically, creating some impressive thunders and explosions that propagate down the valley

This little bench lake (does it have a name?) sits above lake George nestled in a nook with towering mountains to the side. A careful inspection for avalanche potential is warranted before landing, and once again, a YEE-HAA landing on the ice keeps it fun.

The wind is slightly muted from down on the lake, but still tips near 20 knots, providing an impressively short 100 foot takeoff.

Still plenty of fuel, sunlight, and new places to explore! This is definitely Chapter 1.