Alaska 2018: Day 4 (4 of 12)

This is Day 4 of a 14 day trip from Seattle to Alaska and back. Click here for the prior and next entries.

Whitehorse to Northway

We breakfasted at the Whitehorse Starbucks, which is pretty nice even though they didn’t have smoothies; it’s hard to find good coffee in Whitehorse. We checked out of the hotel, loaded the plane and departed Whitehorse at 11:00am for the 2.5 hour flight to Northway Alaska.

Flying over a scattered layer

Note: I filed an international flight plan with Nav Canada. But I did not have or need a discrete squawk code. Normally, one would to cross an international border. But the AK-YT border is unique and does not require a discrete squawk code (it still requires EAPIS, Customs notification, a flight plan, and the usual documentation).

Kluane Lake
Colorful mountains W of Kluane Lake

This is an incredibly scenic flight with mountains, Kluane Lake, some old abandoned airports, then exiting NW out of the mountains into the low lying grassy plains toward Beaver Creek (the Canadian airport just a few miles from the border), then Northway, which is in the middle of a big, flat wetland.

At one point we saw a tall, straight funnel or column sticking straight up from the river. What was that? Maybe it was a geothermal spot creating a column of steam. I don’t know!

River funnel column
L Base to 23 at Northway

Northway is the point of entry with Customs. We landed spot-on-time to our estimated 12:30 local time (2.5 hours, minus 1 hour since Alaska in summer is GMT-8, 1 hour behind Yukon which is GMT-7). First Alaska landing — check the box! The customs officer met us as soon as we taxied to a stop. He walked around the airplane with some kind of hand-held scanner. Then we de-boarded and declared our shotgun. He checked our passports and we had a brief conversation about living in CA, WA and AK. Then we were on our way.

Northway airport has no fuel. So after landing, we flew for 15-20 minutes up to Tok (pronounced: “Toke” – the “o” is long) to refuel. But before departing Northway we walked into the RCO and met Trek, who was manning the station. He had answered our radio calls as we approached Northway. Trek gave me the latest weather and flight briefing with some local flying advice and friendly conversation. He also told us that our flying acquaintance Paul had passed through just 20 minutes earlier. Then we departed for Tok to refuel.

Flight time: H 69.1 – 71.7 = 2.6 hours
Flight track:

Northway to Tok

On final to 25 at Tok

Tok is a very small town with a full-service FBO, only 15-20 minutes flying from Northway.

They have a well-equipped aircraft maintenance shop and have computers and weather info. We refueled, used their computer room and phone to get a flight briefing and check the weather to Talkeetna. The pass between Tok and Gulkana looked OK, but the corridor between Gulkana and Anchorage looked marginal especially near Chickaloon pass and Sheep Mountain. We waited a while and checked the weather cams again. The trend was improving, so we took off. Worst case, we’d turn around and land at Gulkana or one of the several closer airports along our route.

Flight time: H 71.7 – 72.1 = 0.4 hours
Flight track:

Tok to Talkeetna

Approaching Mentasta Pass
Matanuska Glacier

We departed Tok flying through Mentasta pass, then SW over Gulkana, then entered the narrow pass toward Anchorage.

IFR: I Follow Rivers (or Roads)

All the while, monitoring and announcing on the RCO frequencies from the Alaska Aviator Handbook.  The Tahneta RCO said Chickaloon pass was IFR, but that was outdated and incorrect. After they said that, Paul chimed in on the radio, heading to Wasilla, and said he was flying it, and it was VFR.

R base to 19 at Talkeetna

It was indeed VFR, though MFR in a few spots. But the pass follows the river & the road, so you can’t get lost. We saw some incredible scenery.

Flight time: H 72.1 – 74.9 = 2.8 hours
Flight track:

Intrepid Travelers Reach Talkeetna

Total flying for the day: 5.8 hours.

We fueled up at Sheldon’s, then took a tie-down spot on the gravel. Dave from Sheldon’s drove up in a van to take us to the Talkeetna Hostel, where we were staying.

We recommend this hostel. Liz and Charlotte, who run it, were flexible and accommodated our plans which were made unpredictable by weather. Also, the house is a clean, warm, environment and we met different interesting young travelers every day.

We walked into town, bought some groceries, had a beer at one of the bars, and headed back. That evening we met fellow guests Kevin, Fred, Erin and Laura and had fun and interesting conversations.