From Seattle, the easiest way to get to Vashon is the WA state ferry. Here’s the schedule. It’s different on weekends & weekdays. You’ll depart from and return to Fauntleroy. As of Oct 2020, the fare is $7 for a walk-on with a bike and is paid only westbound. Masks are required due to COVID. As you approach the Fauntleroy ferry terminal, if you are on the walkway, then walk (don’t ride) your bike. If you want to ride your bike, take the car lanes. If your forget this, the ferry workers will chide you when you arrive.
Parking: you can park a car at Lincoln Park parking lot 1. This is about 1/4 mile up the street from the ferry terminal. There are no fees for parking. From there, ride down to the ferry terminal to walk onto the ferry.
Vashon’s pavement is often rough. Autumn leaves fall onto the road, get rained on and decompose, making the corners slippery. And some of the downhills are steep. So take extra care!
Most Vashon roads don’t have bike lanes, but most cars drive slow. It’s similar to biking the San Juan Islands.
For typical riders in decent physical condition, due to road conditions & hills, plan on lowish average speeds around 14 mph which makes 3 hours of riding. Bring food & water accordingly. About halfway through the ride there’s a little town with a coffee shop, hotel, and a deli called Harbor Mercantile, where you can get food & water.
Here’s a typical scenario for a Vashon ride in Autumn 2020:
Meet @ 7:40am @ Lincoln Park
Park, prep, ride to Ferry
Pay fare & walk onto 8:15am ferry
Disembark on Vashon around 8:45am
Bike: 4 hours (full route, with extra time to eat or fix a flat)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. John 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.
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.
These are days 10-11 of a trip to Alaska, part 9 of 11. Click here for the prior and next entries.
Bernd got a rental car delivered to the hotel and we drove to Starbucks for breakfast. We met the owner and also spotted a flyer for free guided nature hikes, one at 2pm. We checked out of the family hotel and into the hostel on Takhini hot springs road next to the public hot pools. Lunch at Whisky Jacks and saw David again. Stopped by the airport to get our sleeping bags out of the plane, then went to the float plane base S of town for the nature hike.
Ingrid and Janie led the hike. They were friendly and knowledgable, and we had a nice group of about 10 people. We hiked out & back the scenic Miles Canyon trail, learned about local history, saw a bear swim across the river and climb up on our side about 1/4 mile away.
After the hike we returned to the Takhini springs hot pools and spent over an hour in the water. We emerged completely enervated yet relaxed.
Bad weather was coming in and we’d be stuck in Whitehorse for another day or two.
At the hostel, another family checked in. They were a Swiss family of 5 and had spent the past 5 days hiking the pass from Skagway to Whitehorse.
We returned to the hot pools and met a Canadian couple, who recommended Ft. St. John as the best place to get stuck, of all the towns we’d hit along the way home. Back to town for grocery shopping, then back to the hostel. Met another arriving family, the parents were both teachers with 2 teenage daughters. We watched another movie and hit the sack.
This is day 9 of a trip to Alaska, part 8 of 11. Click here for the prior and next entries.
We got up early, and Rebecca & Jody were already at work. We helped Jody load the 185 for the mail flight. It was stuffed to the gills, even so we took care to ensure it was within weight and CG.
I got a weather briefing and things looked better. Rebecca was learning to fly, so we took her along in the right front seat for a local flight to see the sights, assess the mountain pass to the East, and give her some stick time.
Rebecca practised gentle un-coordinated turns (rudder only and aileron only) to get a feel for how too much rudder pulls you to the outside, too much aileron pulls you to the inside, and properly coordinated balances these forces, so it pulls you straight back into your seat. She also practised using a light fingertips touch on controls during cruise, trim it so the airplane’s inherent stability does the work. This enables you to better feel the airplane’s control forces talking back to you, reduces pilot workload and smooths the transition to instrument flight.
The pass was MVFR at best, but clearing, so we landed back in Gulkana and prepared to depart. Meanwhile, Rebecca showed us a mini-projector she used to watch movies from her phone. It was unusable with a broken power adapter. We found some solder in the aviation shop, a soldering iron, and I fixed it. The fix wasn’t the cleanest, but functional if fragile, and the best I could under the circumstances.
We said our good-byes and departed Gulkana for Tok, then Whitehorse. Due to the overcast, we followed the river through the mountains to Tok instead of taking Mentasta pass
This worked great. We landed in Tok, refueled, got a new weather briefing, filed EAPIS and called Customs for the flight to Whitehorse.
We departed Tok at 3pm and flew to Whitehorse via Northway, Beaver Creek, Silver Springs, then E to Whitehorse. Along the way we flew over some scattered cloud layers around Kluane Lake, then descended to fly under others. At one point we encountered small scattered thunderstorms, wide enough apart to slip between them. This put us in true old-school VFR flying through valleys following rivers and roads. We approached Whitehorse from the W through the mountain pass.
Tower gave us L downwind for 34R. We landed and tied down under the tower (not at the north ramp this time).
Just behind us landed Scott in his Piper Cub. We met while fueling up. He was ferrying the airplane from Texas to Alaska for an owner. We walked to the terminal together and looked for a hotel and a place to eat. Whitehorse gets booked in the popular summer travel/cruise season. After several calls we couldn’t get a rental car but we got a room at the Family Hotel and took a taxi there. It doesn’t look like much from the outside, but they have nice staff (family owned) and great showers – incredible pressure and flow rate like standing under a waterfall! We walked to the local Boston Pizza for a hearty dinner, then hit the sack. Scott planned to get up early and on his way, so we would not see him again, at least not on this trip.
This is day 8 of a trip to Alaska, part 7 of 11. Click here for the prior and next entries.
Day 8, Sunday, was upon us, the halfway point of our trip. We checked weather again; it looked good through the passes NE of Anchorage and to Tok, and to Whitehorse. Given the fast-changing and unpredictable weather, we decided to leave this afternoon.
First, we visited the Sun Dog kennel. Jerry Sousa, the owner, was our guide. He’s a man of few words with a blunt, dry sense of humor. We met the dogs and they took us for a ride, followed by more dog visiting and a Q&A session afterwards.
When we got home I got another flight briefing; things looked good to Tok and Northway. From there, we could submit EAPIS and Customs forms and submit the flight plan to Whitehorse.
As we departed Talkeetna to the S, we dodged widely scattered thunderstorms. Then we turned E to go through Chickaloon and the other passes, which were VFR but MVFR in places.
As we emerged from the passes into the big plain toward Gulkana, the clouds over the mountains to the NE, which we had to cross to reach Tok, had turned into a giant wall of mist. This was a no-go, so we landed at Gulkana.
Here, we pulled up to the pumps to refuel and saw something unusual. A large private jet with 2 crew manually fueling up. They didn’t know how to operate the pump; we had to help them. I suppose that can happen when somebody else is always refueling your airplane year after year. And they needed 2,000 gallons! We had fun time kidding them, then walked into the Copper Valley FBO.
Here we met Rebecca, who was “manning” (I use that word loosely) the office. She welcomed us to tie down next to the office and use their computer to track the weather cam at the pass we needed to cross to get to Tok.
After a couple of hours the pass wasn’t clearing, and the day was cooling off, eliminating any chance it might clear that evening. We started calling to find a place to say in town, then Rebecca said we were welcome to crash at the FBO, and it might be easier. I knew we would wouldn’t be the first, nor the last, to do this.
We got our sleeping bags, gear and remaining food from the plane – local fresh eggs and sourdough rye bread – with onions and peppers, and cooked up a scramble to share with everyone. Rebecca said Jody was flying in tonight with supplies from Anchorage. She arrived around 9:30pm and we helped unload the supplies.
We stayed up until midnight with Rebecca and Jody, sharing engaging conversation and stories, lots of laughs. Stuck due to weather, but in good company. A wonderful evening.
This is part 6 of an 11-part series on a trip to Alaska, covering days 6 & 7 (Fri & Sat). Click for the prior or next entries.
Due to a bad weather forecast, we were stuck in Talkeetna for a couple of extra days, re-planning hotels & flights and making the best of things. In hindsight, the bad weather forecast for the weekend never actually arrived in Talkeetna, but King Salmon and Kodiak were socked in so we couldn’t get there.
We breakfasted at the hostel and had a nice conversation with Laxmi. Cancelled plans to visit Katmai Park and Kodiak Island (hotels & flights), due to weather. Given the unpredictable weather, we decided to head back early and made arrangements in Whitehorse. This time, we avoided the Westmark and instead arranged to stay at the Takhini hostel which is next to the hot pools. I walked into town for the zip-lining trip I signed up for the prior day. That was well-organized with interesting & fun folks in my group.
Dave and I lunched at the Bistro, which had a nice healthy dish of brown rice with veggies, and fresh draft beer. The people who run this place also own Sun Dog Kennel, which we visited a couple of days later. Bernd liked the Thai place and we met him there.
Dave and I walked to the river again, then back to town and met Bernd at the coffee place where Charlotte works. We bought fresh sourdough rye bread and farm eggs at the farmer’s market, then walked to the park to enjoy the free live music. We returned to the house and met Jin, a doctor visiting from Southern California.
The next day (Sat) we had a breakfast of fresh sourdough rye and eggs. Did some laundry then walked to the bike shop. It was way too expensive, like they were catering to cruise ship visitors. We googled bike rentals and found David, a former fireman who runs a trailer park S of town and rents good bicycles a lot cheaper. Recommended!
We rode to this place called Huskytown Kennel, about 6 miles S of town. We saw a flyer for it at the house. Turns out that kennel no longer exists. At least we got a good bike ride in on a nice day. On the way back to town, we stopped at the Squirrel Cafe for a fresh tasty light lunch.
Charlotte & Liz recommended the local Sun Dog Kennel, so we went to lunch at the Bistro again and while there, planned to visit the kennel the next day.
Dave and I walked to the river and around the N, toward the railroad bridge, then E and back to the hostel the back way.
When we got to the house we met ‘Sandro and Jin, and new guests Lance and Jack. Lance was a former photographer who had lost his sight a couple of years ago. Even so, he was hiking Alaska with Jack. They were great folks and we spent an enjoyable evening getting to know them.
This is Day 5 of a 14 day trip from Seattle to Alaska and back. Click here for the prior and next entries.
Today was Thursday. Over breakfast at the hostel, we checked the weather; clouds and rain were forecast Fri-Sun. On Sat, we wouldn’t be able to fly to King Salmon to visit Katmai Park and Brooks Camp as we planned. Time for a change in plans.
We called the hotel (Antlers Inn) and Float Plane to Katmai Park from King Salmon. Ideal would be push 2 days to Mon and visit Katmai Park on Tue. But the float plane was full all day Tue, couldn’t take us to the park until Wed. So we pushed it 3 days out, to depart Talkeetna on Tue.
The day was clear, but for a scattered to broken layer at 7,500′ obscuring Mt. Denali. We walked to the airport and took off for a 2 hour tour around Mt. Denali. This turned out to be the most scenic flight I’ve ever done. As we flew NW toward the E side of Denali, the moment we popped up through the cloud layer the peaks of the entire range came into view.
Denali and the range it dominates is so huge the scale throws off one’s sense of distance. Check the photo album for all the pictures, but they cannot do justice to the awe it inspires. This was the most incredible 2 hours I have spent in my airplane, well worth the entire trip.
We flew toward the E side of the Denali range, turned L and approached Denali, flying high (12,000′) and slow. We made a big slow circle, then continued W close to the mountain. It was dead calm and clear; winds at 12,000′ were only 3 kts. In our final pass heading W, we turned S to follow the Kahiltna Glacier out.
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.
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).
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!
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.
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.
We departed Tok flying through Mentasta pass, then SW over Gulkana, then entered the narrow pass toward Anchorage.
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.
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.
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.