Page 1 of 2 12 LastLast
Results 1 to 20 of 24

Thread: Aniakchak Flight

  1. #1

    Default Aniakchak Flight

    I work for the National Park Service in my day job, and have been to Aniakchak every year for 14 years...until this year. It looked like I was going to be out of luck, as the season was pretty much over for fieldwork. So I started looking for weather and time to get myself down there in the milkstool...


    Today was looking pretty good based on forecasts throughout the week, and the forecast seemed to hold as the day approached. Finally, last night I got myself organized, and had my son out helping me get ready for one of today's other commitments. The first of those is the delivery of a freight container. We have finally become full-blooded Alaskans, we bought a freight container to use for storage so we can clean up our garage and get the mess in the yard under control. Of course the guy wanted to deliver it on Aniakchak day.


    "What time?"


    "Oh, say about 1 pm."


    Muttering to myself..."1 pm...that gives me like 4 hours from sunup...I can make that work...be a bit rushed if we don't get out promptly though..."


    To him..."Okay."


    So last night my son and a pal of his were helping me get the supports leveled for the container. We had previously done it, but were checking after a few days and adding a little height to the supports to make sure we had good door clearance on the uphill side. Of course we were doing that in the dark because I was working until after dark yesterday...but we got it done. Then Cedric's pal left to go home. Usually, he has arranged some sleepover or other, but here it was, a weekend where my son had not gotten himself any plans!


    "You want to fly to Aniakchak with me?"


    "Sure, well, I guess, I mean I don't have anything else lined up, so yeah, I could do that..."


    The immortal words of a 12-year-old explaining how thrilled they are to spend a morning with their dad. Oh well, whatever works.


    This morning I got him up and off we went. Stopped for gas and snacks, he got to buy snacks while I got the gas, then off to the plane. Preflight, fueled up, got the all-important snacks in place, Cedric untied the plane, then put on his winter gear. He was cold, wanted to wear enough clothes to warm up. Finally, we bundled in and were taking off just a few minutes after sunup. The sun was low over the mountains with Big Creek in the foreground as we headed south.



    Cedric started looking sleepy within five minutes of departure, so I asked him if he wanted to fly. He did, so for the next 20 minutes he kept us headed in a pretty straight course southward toward Aniakchak while I looked around and acted like I wasn't helping him. Love those rudder pedals.


    Finally, he asked me to take the yoke again, and leaned his head on my shoulder and zonked. I was pretty sure he'd be asleep for most of the trip down, that is just the reality of his rhythm. But if we landed, that would wake him up, and I have a spot I've been wanting to land in the caldera, so we were headed there. As he slept, we passed Pilot Point out his window.



    At that point, I started climbing. The caldera has two passes that go into it, one about 1,000 feet, the other about 2,000, but unless I wanted to fly around to enter one of those, I would need at least 3,000 feet to peek in. Although we were in clear sky, there were clouds shrouding part of the top of the caldera, so I didn't know exactly what we'd find when we got there. The mountain makes a pretty good helping of weird weather all its own. Sometimes it will be cloudy everywhere else but the caldera will be blue sky. Sometimes it will be blue sky everywhere and the caldera is like a snow cone spilling clouds over. What would we get today?


    As we got near, I could see that we were going to have at least part of the caldera open, and it looked like under the clouds the Gates might be open as well. So we could fly in, descend and land, then take off and fly out the Gates. I was hoping to fly down the river, then back up to King Salmon by Mount Chiginigak. But around 20 miles out I was starting to doubt whether it was going to work quite like that. Starting around 30 miles out we were getting a little bit of burbly air. Finally, as we approached, it got just burbly enough that it was unsettling. But we were definitely going to be seeing in.


    I woke up sleeping beauty and started telling him what we were seeing, starting with the cinder plains outside the caldera. Then we broke over the rim and saw Surprise Lake greeting us.



    The upper end of Surprise Lake has some cinder cones around it, and Vent Mountain rises up right in the middle of the caldera floor, and is taller than the wall we flew in over, though not taller than the wall on the other side...






    The east side of the caldera was pretty unappetizing air as we flew around to check things out. Looking down at the lake surface, I could tell that the wind was light on the caldera floor, but if we descended we were going to need to either climb back up corkscrewing to gain altitude, or fly out the Gates. The wind in the Gates is never calm, and flying over near the Gates told me I wasn't going to do that today. So we elected to save the landing for another day. Instead, we caught a massive updraft behind Vent Mountain and took another turn around the place. I snapped a photo of the western section, where the eruption pit from 1931 is in the distance, and half cone, an eruption from around 500 years ago, is visible closer in.



    Since we had brought cokes, and since Cedric always does better if we stop and stretch, and we wanted to empty our bladders to make room for the coke, we agreed we'd find someplace to land on the way home. In the caldera, I've walked most of the floor, so I know exactly where I can operate. But outside the caldera, there are the established airstrips, and there are lots of cinder blows that have airplane activity on them.


    A friend of mine that is familiar with the Pumice Creek cinder blow had told me that it was sufficiently firm for my little non-bush wheels, and it was the first option we were going to come to. So I flew over to it, found a stiff wind coming down off the mountains, flew a couple practice approaches, and then landed. The strip we used, of the options on the blow, was about 1000'. Landing in 1000' in a PA-22 is no big deal. Taking off in that span is no big deal now that the engine has been overhauled and the prop is new, but I wouldn't have done it two years ago. The cabin in the background is used by the Alaska State Troopers.



    From there, it was a launch home and look for critters all the way. On the way out of King Salmon I had spotted a moose while Cedric was snoozing. So we were looking for a moose all the way back. But no luck on that. What we did see a few miles before we got to the Egegik River was a beautiful bull caribou.


    A totally lovely flight. Had a great morning. Got back in time...but the guy canceled on us. So we could have played around a little more. Oh well. There will hopefully be more opportunities.
    14 Days to Alaska
    Also available on Kindle and Nook

  2. #2
    Member Gerberman's Avatar
    Join Date
    Feb 2008
    Location
    Soldotna AK, Eugene, OR
    Posts
    613

    Default

    Thanks for the great "Flight", I could almost feel the updraft. Have a great winter

  3. #3
    Member
    Join Date
    Dec 2008
    Location
    Bush, AK
    Posts
    164

    Default

    Awesome write up!

  4. #4

    Default

    Thanks guys, I enjoy spinning events into words...and photos...and it was a great day.
    14 Days to Alaska
    Also available on Kindle and Nook

  5. #5
    Member alaskabliss's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 2008
    Location
    Wasilla
    Posts
    1,419

    Default

    Great write up and photos. Looks to me like a great place to fly and very nice piper. Good job getting the boy involved too.

  6. #6
    Premium Member denalihunter's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2006
    Location
    67 mi E of Cantwell, 68 mi W of Paxson
    Posts
    1,556

    Default

    Great pic's and story! Really enjoyed it!
    Experience Real Alaska! www.alpinecreeklodge.com

  7. #7

    Default

    Been too busy working and flying to post, a good sort of problem to have. I was hoping to get in an overnight camping trip in the Caldera with my son, but that hasn't worked yet. Maybe sometime in the next few weeks we'll have that miraculous weather to make it work. Meanwhile, we had some pretty decent weather and my FIL wanted to go for a flight...and he'd never seen Aniakchak. I put up a real fuss, but he eventually talked me into taking him for a ride. Okay, maybe it was my idea. But I haven't been to Aniakchak this year yet either, and needed to get my fix. And again, I was hoping to get in a landing while we were there.


    The weather in King Salmon was a bit testy, with occasional low level wind shear and occasional moderate turbulence below 6000, and after we took off in mid-afternoon it was certainly a bit burbly. The wind was supposed to be diminishing so I figured we'd climb up to get smoother air on the way down, since we'd need to climb anyway to get into the caldera, then we could get down and do some critter-spotting on the way back up the peninsula. Somewhere around 1200 feet it smoothed out, and continued to be great all the way up to 3500 feet. On the way down, we had a great view of Peulik and Chiginigak, and I could see Aniakchak on the horizon from nearly 100 miles away. There were just a few clouds hanging around it, with a mostly clear sky greeting us as we sailed south. King Salmon River, Egegik River, Fort Jensen airstrip, Blue Mountain Lodge, Ugashik and Pilot Point, Mother Goose Lake, Pumice Creek Lodge, Cinder River Lodge...there are certainly some signs of people scattered along as you go down the peninsula. And yet, it is still like a long trek into the wild, further and further from the known world, a remarkable journey which, for us, culminated in us popping over the caldera wall at 3500 feet with a view of Black Nose on our left, and the Gates below us and also to the left.



    The Gates is mighty impressive no matter how you look at it, but it is probably most impressive when you are at the bottom of it looking up. I was happy to have a chance to look at it from above on this day.



    I managed to completely miss getting a photo of the lake this time, but I did get a really nice photo of Half Cone. This is the site of an eruption around 500 years ago that was pretty substantial, it appears to have been one of the more noteworthy eruptions since the original caldera-forming event 3500 years ago, which was beyond huge.



    While I wanted to land, and the weather was not too terribly bad, it was plenty bumpy over the caldera, and I try to be pretty cautious. The wind was whipping from the west down on the caldera floor, as evidenced by the waves on the lake. The section of floor where I would land is more on the western side of the caldera. So I would be landing into rising terrain with a nice headwind, an optimum situation for landing. But landing is not the hard part with a Tri-Pacer. For takeoff, I would be facing rising terrain with a headwind that was composed of a very strong downdraft. Didn't take me long to veto that...not today senator...so we flew a lap, got bounced around, and turned to fly down the river a bit. Last time the weather was unfriendly over the river, so it was nice to be able to get a look at the terrain downstream, starting with flying out over the Gates.



    After looking at the residual effects on the landscape of a flood that drained the caldera when the Gates failed around 2,000 years ago, I was inclined to head over toward Chiginagak to get a nice view of the volcano. But then I looked down at my GPS. We were making 70 mph ground speed, and our estimated time to get back to King Salmon was more than our fuel endurance...


    So we abandoned the mountains by setting a course direct for Ugashik. Though that meant we actually had some terrain to fly over first, and lovely terrain it was.



    This was one of my favorite sights on the trip, a ridge that was in the upper Cinder River watershed.






    We flew over Painter Creek Lodge, then past Mother Goose Lake, and descended for landing at scenic Ugashik.



    I've flown over Ugashik a lot of times. But I had never landed there. We didn't strictly need to land, as we were getting better ground speed, but the coffee needed to be set free, and I had a five gallon jug of gas that would be better in the tanks, and it seemed like a good excuse to see another runway. So we called in from 10 out, then made a call from 5, downwind, and final, landed nicely and taxied down runway 24 to pull off at the little maintenance building. We had barely got the engine off when an ATV and an SUV pulled up. The two gentlemen that arrived first were brothers and we chatted for a while as they told us all the salient news that could be transferred. After twenty or thirty minutes, one of them took off and another gentleman arrived. One of the things we learned was that 6 people live in the village of Ugashik. So half the town came out to visit us, just because we were there. Actually, when they first pulled up, the guy asked if we were lost or confused...



    After an hour of shooting the breeze, we loaded back up, sans coffee, and headed back north. This time we tried to keep it down where we might be able to spot some animals, but all the way past the Becharof Outlet, we saw only swans. But we got a good look at Blue Mountain Lodge and the Fort Jensen strip, which looks like a major piece of runway. Then we headed a bit east toward Headwater Creek, thinking we might see a bear. On the way there, we came across a magnificent bull caribou, all alone, then a little later in the creek a cow moose. But no bears. Then we moseyed over to Big Creek and flew down the creek to King Salmon and called it a night.


    Cedric and I may make that camping trip yet...
    14 Days to Alaska
    Also available on Kindle and Nook

  8. #8

    Default

    Sunday afternoon I took another trip to my favorite place. The wind was so calm that Becharof Lake was like a mirror. The ride was quite bumpy despite the calm winds...afternoon thermal heating was bumping us around, but it was not bad and I was looking forward to the opportunity to see the caldera from my plane without getting tossed all over the place.





    I thought about touching wheels on Jensen Strip just because...but kept on heading south in order to make my way down there and save the landings for the areas around Aniakchak.





    Chiginigak Volcano was visible from the moment we lifted off in King Salmon, but it was looming large behind Mother Goose Lake as we crossed over it on our way southbound.





    Over top of Mother Goose Lake, I looked down and practically gasped. Wow. I grabbed my camera to get the color of the water...looked tropical. I bet it wouldn't feel tropical though.





    Last fall I met the owner of Painter Creek Lodge. I told him I had thought about landing a few times, but didn't want to disturb their guests. He laughed..."Well, we haven't had any guests for three years, we've been closed! How would you like to buy a lodge?"


    I wasn't really interested in buying a lodge, but he invited me to drop in anytime. So when we got near, I tried to identify the wind direction, noticed that the runway was uphill toward the west and that it was nearly a direct crosswind, so we set up and landed uphill. I flew a couple laps getting set up, and there was no sign of life, so the winter watchman must have already left, and it didn't look like anybody was there, so we just stayed on the runway and stretched our legs.





    We took off east and flew over next to a slope with an upslope wind in order to catch the free lift, and rode it all the way up to crossing altitude to get over to the Pacific side.





    Then we headed to the coast and Amber Bay.


    14 Days to Alaska
    Also available on Kindle and Nook

  9. #9

    Default

    There are a couple places in the caldera I'd like to land. In fact, I intend to land there. When the conditions are right.


    And we certainly had the right wind conditions to land, so in that sense, the conditions were right. But it is springtime. I'm afraid of springtime. You can walk along in the spring and find places next to maintained gravel strips where your boot will sink 6 inches into the mud. A few days before this flight, I had landed and shut down in the middle of Kulik strip in order to get out and walk around at 750' and see how the ground was. It was hard and dry, which is no surprise given the hot dry spring we've been having.


    But the caldera is 1100' on the caldera floor, and surrounded by higher slopes that hold snow longer. So I had already decided that I was going to be skipping the caldera landing regardless of whether there appeared to be good conditions. I'm just scared enough to want to be sure. And as we flew over, there were dark wet spots in the landing zones, and snow a couple hundred feet upslope. No thanks.





    So we flew a couple more laps and soaked in the awesomeness before heading out over The Gates and westward toward the Bristol Bay coastline.





    ...with one last parting shot of Surprise Lake on our way out...





    We flew downslope, and I did a roll and go on a cinder blow that has had tracks on it every year since forever, just to get a feel for it, then snuck a peek at Cinder River Lodge and flew on down Cinder River.


    As we headed toward the coast, I realized we were going to need to add fuel sometime, and we might as well use a cinder blow. So I flew along until I found one that looked good. I flew a lap, using the GPS to gauge the wind direction, then flew over the landing zone and timed it at 95 mph to make sure it was plenty long. It was a 20 second length, which was plenty long no matter how you sliced it. Cinders slow the takeoff roll substantially, so I was looking for something over 1200 feet, as I would have expected to be up and off easily in 600 feet on regular surfaces. The timing indicated well over 2000 feet, so I came around and set up to land.


    The landing roll was wonderfully smooth, and I kept speed up and rolled to assess the surface before committing to stopping, which I did by pulling the mixture on the roll and letting it roll to a stop.





    I pulled out the step stool and put the gas where it does the most good.








    After we finished fueling, we loaded up again. I pushed back about 20 feet so the plane would start rolling in the tracks it already made, so I didn't have to chew a bunch of gravel to get the roll started. Then I kept on taxiing past the end of the tracks, made a figure eight to get around back to my landing roll, and started the takeoff roll in my own tracks on the way out. Despite using my own tracks, the resistance of the pumice and the uphill nature of the first half of the cinder blow made for a takeoff roll that really was in excess of 1,000 feet, but off we went, on down Cinder River. We got near the coast and found some caribou, then flew up the coast all the way home.


    Best Aniakchak flight ever. So far. But more to come...
    14 Days to Alaska
    Also available on Kindle and Nook

  10. #10

    Default

    Talk about deja vu...


    The weather has been so stunning that I decided to go back to Aniakchak...almost the same flight in some ways. But a few differences. I talked a different friend into accompanying me, so I got to gab about the place the entire time again without repeating myself. Except, of course, I sort of felt like I was repeating myself. Most irritating wasn't my comments though, it was the fact that I left the camera in the car. Thank goodness for smart phones. I really wanted to see the Painter Creek Lodge strip again, so our first stop was there.





    Had a good west wind this time, so we landed right into the wind instead of with a cross wind. Of course, that doesn't matter much, always good to land into the wind. But the strip is a pretty good slope...so the question becomes which direction to take off. I decided to takeoff downhill with a tailwind. The strip is long enough that I knew it would be a non-issue, but I wanted to see how well I could judge my liftoff point. I was about 200 feet off, so will have to file that away so I can do a better job next time. Climbed out over this ridge, riding the up elevator air that was also climbing the ridge, so we could cross over to the Pacific side.








    Mostly the passenger was taking the photos this round, so hopefully they are as good as the flight was. I got a photo looking south down Aniakchak Bay though, as we started heading up the river.





    The beach down Aniakchak Bay is not known for being a happy airplane spot...a bit soft. So no, I wasn't tempted. There is a spot on the north side of the river that I have walked a lot and know really well. I would have been tempted to land there but the tide was not out as far as I wanted, so we didn't do that either...


    The wind was a bit more this time, and I kept thinking that we would get beat up somewhere, but it really wasn't bad. A few bumps here and there.


    As we flew up the river, some of the cinder blows along the river started calling my name. I saw tire tracks on one, briefly thought about landing there, but kept going upriver. But pretty soon we were passing the huge cinder blows along Albert Johnson Creek and I couldn't help myself...I've walked across those multiple times, I know what they are like with boots on the ground...so I set up for landing and came in to drag it. I was expecting it to be a little softer than the ones down on the Pacific Side, and as we touched down the wheels grabbed a bit and my expectations were born out. I kept it rolling for a five count then added power and took back off. Would have been fine to land, but I wanted to feel it, think about it, and I didn't need to stop right then anyway...so we headed up the river.


    Got a bit of bump behind Pinnacle Mountain, and found a slope with the up elevator assist to get some altitude so we could enter the caldera above The Gates. Going through The Gates is not part of my plan when the wind is blowing...it gets crazy in there.





    We took a bunch of turns around the caldera, and I had a good hard look at my preferred landing sites again. Still some dark spots, but getting fewer...I actually considered doing a roll-and-go just to get a feel for my favorite one. But the wind was coming over the caldera wall from the west, I would have been landing west pointing right at the wall, and should have had about a 20kt pile of sink air pushing me down...not very good for the liftoff...so I took a pass. I did a pretty decent 500 ft inspection though, and while it was blowing, it wasn't bumpy like I feared as I transitioned from high above the caldera down into the bowels of the thing. We climbed back up to make our escape out over the rim and head downriver.








    We investigated the waterfall on Lava Creek, one of the most perfect falls I've ever seen. I still have never taken a photo of it. Always getting somebody else a shot, by the time I get down where the perfect photo is on that creek, I'm usually headed downriver and the passenger is getting that one. Going to have to get one sometime.


    About a mile from the falls is a cinder blow that invited inspection, so I set up into the wind, in configuration, and had the passenger time it while I did a low approach. It looked pretty good, and I'm sure we could have landed fine...but it is still similar in elevation to the caldera floor so I didn't have a real desire to touch down until a few more weeks have gone by and the hidden ice and melt pockets are gone...


    Have I mentioned that I am a bit leary of spring?


    We got down to the lower elevations and found a good spot to land though.





    This cinder blow was so long that we pushed back so we could start rolling in our tracks, then I ran my pre-takeoff process on the roll and went straight into the takeoff, and we lifted off in extremely short order, at which time I realized that I had failed to put on the headset before firing up...


    On the way home we landed at the old Ugashik Bay runway, then at the outlet of Becharof Lake, but both were just touch and go and skedaddle landings.


    Rocket was just telling me we need some hard IMC weather for a few days so we can get some rest.


    Which sounds about right. What a string of summer we are having this spring.


    14 Days to Alaska
    Also available on Kindle and Nook

  11. #11
    Member
    Join Date
    Jun 2011
    Location
    Tennessee
    Posts
    1,462

    Default

    Ah, yes - - - Painter Creek Lodge. I flew and guided for them during the 1984 season. Jon said that two young brown bears decimated the lodge's main building and two of the cabins in the early spring of 2012. Sold the place and got out of the business, I'm told. My friend, and formerly part owner, Joe Maxey, was flying out of the lodge when the weather finally caught up with him. Lost Joe and his three passengers on that last flight.

  12. #12

    Default

    I met Joe a month or so before his last flight. We were in Aniakchak studying fish and he came in and landed with clients to look around.

    Whoever owns the place at the moment is still one of the longtime owners, unless the place sold over the winter. I spoke with him on the ramp in Pilot Point last fall. They have not been operating as a lodge for a few years, and the place was for sale, but I don't recall the gentleman's name. They told me they'd like to sell it to me or anyone else...but that I was free to land anytime I wanted...
    14 Days to Alaska
    Also available on Kindle and Nook

  13. #13
    Member
    Join Date
    Jun 2011
    Location
    Tennessee
    Posts
    1,462

    Default

    Hi, Troy. You must have been talking to Jon, whom I believe was the recent sole owner. Yes, he told me he was selling out and just leaving the fishing lodge business altogether. That was in 2012. I was scheduled to fish there again that August, but the bears had destroyed the place and I suppose re-building will cost an arm and a leg.

  14. #14

    Default

    In that case it has been for sale but has not sold unless it was since last October. Seemed like a good guy. We did not wander around the place when we landed so I did not notice the extent of visible damage...didn't show from the air. If I make it back that way I will wander over and look. I met the winter watchman last fall and I figured if he was still around he would wander out if he felt like visiting. Guessing he may not have stayed this long though.

    Sent from my LG-D801 using Tapatalk
    14 Days to Alaska
    Also available on Kindle and Nook

  15. #15

    Default

    Troy
    I think he still owns it. We are doing a fly around in that area 3rd week of June with about 10 planes. Plan to stop in if he is there. Looks like great country.
    DENNY

  16. #16

    Default

    Been to Aniakchak a few times, have not had the opportunity to sit and rattle on about it, so I am just going to post a few of my favorite photos from those trips and call myself caught up...hopefully will have time to relate some stories to go with the next round of photos...























    14 Days to Alaska
    Also available on Kindle and Nook

  17. #17
    Member
    Join Date
    Apr 2006
    Location
    chugiak, ak
    Posts
    630

    Default

    Denny and I did come down in June with quite a gaggle of planes and stayed at painter creek lodge with Jon. It's still for sale, and looks to be in great shape. We made a trip into aniackchak, landed took some pics.... Amazing place! Be very careful with the wind in there. I went in there with my lightly loaded 185 on 29s and the take off was interesting. Gorgeous country.
    Tim

  18. #18

    Default

    Sounds like a great trip. I have spent a few months of my life camped in the caldera, and I have seen weather there that boggles the mind. I have flown my own plane down there 9 or 10 times, and only 3 of those times was the wind in the caldera tame enough to even make a second lap. Amazing place. Crazy place. Love it.
    14 Days to Alaska
    Also available on Kindle and Nook

  19. #19
    Member
    Join Date
    Apr 2006
    Location
    chugiak, ak
    Posts
    630

    Default

    I completely agree!

  20. #20
    Member
    Join Date
    Jun 2011
    Location
    Tennessee
    Posts
    1,462

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by TBLOOMA View Post
    Denny and I did come down in June with quite a gaggle of planes and stayed at painter creek lodge with Jon. It's still for sale, and looks to be in great shape. We made a trip into aniackchak, landed took some pics.... Amazing place! Be very careful with the wind in there. I went in there with my lightly loaded 185 on 29s and the take off was interesting. Gorgeous country.
    Tim

    Are you saying that Jon has opened the lodge again? Last time I talked to him (September, 2012) the bears had devastated the place and he was just going to give it up and sell out . . . . .

Page 1 of 2 12 LastLast

Bookmarks

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
  •