Monthly Archives: August 2018

Alaska 2018: Day 14 (12 of 12)

This is the last day of a trip to Alaska, part 12 of 12. Click here for the prior entry, here for the introduction.

I wanted a good meal so Dave and I hit the local W for breakfast. The don’t have a website, but they did make a good vegetarian omelette with great crispy cubed taters even if the coffee was weak.

Back at the hotel, I used their office space to get a weather briefing. Bad weather was still covering the Trench, but it was clearing out in parts so I would check again around 11am. Meanwhile, I read Yukon Wings, the book Bernd got me for my birthday. It’s a great book, and mine is signed by the author.

At 11, the weather looked better. We could definitely get to Prince George, and maybe Quesnel and Williams Lake. If not, we’d at least get over the mountains separating us from the Trench, and one step closer to home. I filed a flight plan to Williams Lake with an alternate for Quesnel. We checked out of the hotel, drove to the airport, and Bernd returned the car while I preflighted the plane and called the FBO to fuel us up.

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Approaching mtn pass SW of Ft. St. John

We departed at 12:30 local time heading SW. Skies were mostly scattered, broken in isolated areas, at about 8,000′. This is enough for good VFR through the passes to Prince George.

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Hills in the trench NE of Prince George

The flight over the mountains, into the trench and past Prince George was scenic though uneventful. As we turned S toward Quesnel we could see small isolated thunderstorms in the distance ahead. I wasn’t going to fly into that so as we flew over Quesnel I called their MF and reported I’d land there.

Here, I encountered a difference between US and Canadian procedures. Quesnel (CYQZ) is a non-towered airport at elevation 1,800′, so pattern altitude is 2,800′. They have a class E airspace that goes up to 4,800′. I flew over and announced mid-field at 4,500′. This is a safe, legal way to approach a non-towered airport in the US. Midfield, you don’t conflict with arriving or departing traffic, and 1,700′ above pattern altitude puts you high enough to avoid conflicts with anyone in the pattern. And approaching from that height and direction, you have great visibility for any other planes in the area so you can smoothly merge into the pattern. However, in response to my radio call, the Canadian RCO berated me, saying I violated their airspace and should announce at least 5 miles out. They asked did I have a CFS on board? I assumed they meant a Canadian Flight Supplement and replied “affirmative”. Then the RCO said there were no other airplanes in the area so it did not cause any separation issues, don’t worry about it. I resisted the urge to reply that was obvious because from mid-field, 1,700′ above pattern at a non-towered airport, I was looking out for myself and could see that. Instead, I kept my mouth shut. “Nothing” is often a wise thing to say.

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Quesnel

After I landed a local Canadian pilot walked up to my airplane, said he was listening on his radio, that I did nothing wrong, that RCO had been chewing out pilots for no good reason. He was going to call the RCO and complain about their poor service. I told him I was a visitor in their country and despite having studied the differences in US-Canada flight procedures, I could have missed something. I don’t know who was right: this friendly pilot or the RCO, so I’ll consider it a lesson learned: in Canada, the RCOs want you to announce before entering the class E area of an airport, even when the airport is non-towered.

After landing, we refueled and parked. About 30 minutes later, one of those scattered t-storms came through and dumped an amount of heavy rain that belied its small size.

Flight time: H 89.6 – 91.6 = 2.0 hrs
Flight track: https://hangar.naviatorapp.com/20353/cyxj-to-cyqz

I called NavCanada to get a briefing. Wiliams Lake was socked in, MVFR, but if we could get past there, we’d have clear conditions through Hope, Abbotsford and to Seattle. We decided to wait a couple of hours in Quesnel and check again. They have a nice pilot lounge so worst case, we could stay there for the night. We ordered a pizza and charged our devices while waiting.

The second weather briefing for Williams Lake looked better; the weather was moving to the E. And, 2 pilots entered the lounge on their way to Atlin. They had flown N from where we were going. They were older guys, experienced with the area. The pilot was a former FAA inspector. They said conditions were OK and we’d pass by just fine.

Armed with this knowledge, I filed an international flight plan from Quesnel to Williams Lake, Hope, Abbotsford, then Seattle. The prior day I had filed the EAPIS. I called Seattle customs for our arrival notification. Then we departed at 5:30pm expecting to arrive in Seattle at 9:30pm. We’d be early if I could cut the corner and skip Hope. Seemed like we’d been gone a long time, felt strange to imagine being back in Seattle.

Over the phone, the NavCanada briefer gave me a discrete squawk code to cross the border. After takeoff, the RCO gave me a different squawk code. I told him the briefer had given me another one. The RCO said that is unusual, they usually don’t do that. He couldn’t find the other code in the system so I went with his code 0022.

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Fraser River Valley
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Cut the corner for clear skies
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Mt. Baker from NE of Abbotsford

Once again, the flight was scenic yet uneventful. Since the leg was over 3 hours, I slowed down to medium power cruise for efficiency (2400 RPM) which gives over 5 hours of flight.

The long way is to follow the Fraser river all the way around to Hope then back to the W. This avoids the high altitudes needed to cross the northern Rockies. The short way is to cut the corner. On this day the SE end of the Fraser river was socked in with bad weather so we cut the corner through clear skies.

I called Abbotsford tower as we approached; they cleared us through their class C airspace (same female controller we had on Day 1, with the great sounding Australian accent) and handed us off to Victoria Approach to cross the border.

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Harrison Lake, NE of Abbotsford

Then we transferred to Whidbey Approach, after that cancelled flight following and continued direct to Boeing Field. We landed a few minutes ahead of schedule. Customs met us and the processing was quick and efficient. Taxi-ing back to NE parking, BFI ground didn’t reply to my radio call. Then the ground controller got grouchy with myself and several other aircraft and made several mistakes, mixing up our tail numbers and locations. Seems like he fell behind in whatever he was doing and was frustrated trying to catch up. No problem, we got our taxi clearance, tied down, unloaded and ended our 2-week adventure.

Flight time: H 91.6 – 94.8 = 3.2 hours
Flight tracks:
https://hangar.naviatorapp.com/20352/cyqz-to-wn51
https://hangar.naviatorapp.com/20351/wn51-to-wn93

Total flight time: H 59.7 – 94.8 = 35.1 hours

Alaska 2018: Day 13 (11 of 12)

This is day 13 of a trip to Alaska, part 11 of 12. Click here for the prior and next entries.

We breakfasted at the hotel then took a cab back to the airport to rent a car.  The bad weather that came in the prior night was fully upon us today. The airport was IFR. While there, I checked my airplane. It wasn’t tied down because I was on the grass, and the grass was a thin layer over hard concrete-like Earth so my screw-down grass stakes wouldn’t dig in. It was fine.

We drove to the local rodeo, but there was hardly anyone there except for the participants, and we didn’t want to sit outdoors in the rain to watch it. We’d come back tomorrow if we were still stuck here in Ft. St. John with better weather.

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Not many hotels have a pool slide!

The hotel had a pool with a big spiral slide, so we stopped at the local Walmart to get swim trunks. I also replaced the charger I had left in Gulkana. We lunched at the Canadian Brewhouse, which was a decent place. Then returned to the hotel, went swimming, sliding and hot-tubbing for a couple of hours. We ate dinner at a local Greek place, the Olive Tree. Bernd called his old friend Pete the Greek from Sebastopol who spoke with the restaurant owner. Both grew up in nearby towns in Greece.

That evening we finished what little whisky we had left and hoped for good weather the next day. If we were lucky, we’d make it all the way home.

 

Alaska 2018: Day 12 (10 of 12)

This is day 12 of a trip to Alaska, part 10 of 12. Click here for the prior and next entries.

At the Takhini hostel, up at 7:30am, breakfasted on our groceries: coffee, Cheerios with bananas and toast with peanut butter. Skies looked clear but it was cold with low lying fog in the valleys. Optimistically, we checked out of the hostel and drove to the airport, which was IFR with a thin layer of fog. I used the pilot office to get a weather briefing: bad weather to the SE, a huge pile of cold moist air was socking in everything to the SE of us. Chances were, enough sun to burn it off would also be enough to make thunderstorms.

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Chipmunk buddies at the hostel

We drove into Whitehorse to Starbucks. I planned an alternate route down the trench, Whitehorse to Dease Lake to Prince George, using paper charts and my tablet. Calculating this with the leg distances, headings, and fuel calculations took over an hour. Then I used the Starbucks WiFi to get an updated briefing. Conditions were improving.

We lunched at the local Vietnamese place, then back to the airport. At the pilot lounge I got an updated briefing. The center of the bad weather was over the trench, hammering it with big thunderstorms. No way were we getting through that, whether direct or via Dease Lake. But it looked like we could make it to Watson Lake, Nelson Lake, and maybe down to Ft. St. John. I filed a flight plan to Ft. Nelson, 2 legs, with enough time for a fuel stop at Watson Lake. If upon arriving Ft. St. John looked good, we’d fly that leg. Either way, we’d be a step or two further along our way.

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Departing Whitehorse for the last time
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Few above, scattered to broken below
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Watson Lake

We flew above the layers at first, then the layers got thicker and higher. When we got to 12,000′ and the layers were still rising, we descended below them and followed the valleys, dodging scattered rain showers that would develop into thunderstorms later in the afternoon.

Flight time: H 83.9 – 86.0 = 2.1 hrs
Flight track: https://hangar.naviatorapp.com/20338/cyxy-to-cyqh

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Fueling at Ft. Nelson

At Watson Lake we refueled and departed for Ft. Nelson. Since we came up the trench on our way out, this would be a new destination, further E along the AlCan highway.

Flight time: H 86.0 – H88.0 = 2.0 hrs
Flight tracks:
https://hangar.naviatorapp.com/20337/cyqh-to-ca-0207
https://hangar.naviatorapp.com/20336/cbf8-to-cyye

After arriving at Ft. St. Nelson, we refueled again and I got a briefing for the flight S to Ft. St. John. The bad weather was closing in, but the forecast was we could beat it there since it is only a 90 minute flight.

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Between Ft. Nelson and Ft. St. John

We departed and I ran the airplane at high speed cruise (2600 RPM, 120 kts TAS). As we headed S we had clear VFR under a high layer at 7,000′ to 8,000′, but we could see dim grey and rain in the distance, where we were heading.

The weather got to Ft. St. Nelson ahead of schedule and beat us there. As we arrived the airport was reporting VFR, but we had to fly through MVFR heavy rain and limited visibility to get there. Fortunately, I always record the position of my destination airport with a VOR radial and distance. Without this, I would not have found the airport in these conditions, and would have had to turn around and head back to Ft. Nelson. VFR minimums (3 miles visibility) are sufficient for keeping the shiny side up, but not for navigation. My tablet app (Naviator) crashed just as we approached the worst of the poor visibility and had to find the airport, reminding me why I use VORs. We flew direct to the VOR, made a single left turn and the airport appeared right in front of us, spot-on the 100° radial at 6 miles. Winds favored runway 12, which was right in front of me. We landed, taxied to the grass, and unloaded, all in heavy rain as the ceilings lowered and weather worsened around us. Soon after, the airport went to IFR.

Flight time: H 88.0 – 89.6  = 1.6 hrs
Flight track: https://hangar.naviatorapp.com/20335/cyye-to-cfj7

The FBO let us inside. We called around and found a hotel that sent a shuttle to pick us up. While waiting we met a security lady who told us about the local rodeo. From her appearance and demeanor, I suspect she was a cowgirl herself. We shuttled to the hotel, walked to Boston Pizza for dinner, then hit the sack.