Alaska '03



We traveled from Houston to Anchorage - I went pretty much up the "Highway" route.  My legs (2,900 nautical each way):
T41 - LaPorte (Houston)
AMA - Amarillo
CTB - Cutbank Montana (to call Canadian customs for Canpass clearance)
CYQL - Lethbridge (short hop - landed to 'clear' customs, which involved sitting on the ground for 10 minutes, then departing)
CYQU - Grande Prairie (only on the return trip)
CYXJ - Fort St John (gas stop)
CYYE - Fort Nelson (overnight stop on the way up)
CYQH - Watson Lake (quick stop to file IFR with weather building ahead)
CYXY - Whitehorse (to call US Customs for arrival)
ORT - Northway AK (to clear US Customs - polite, but not near as nice as Canada was on the way back)
ANC - Anchorage
I had fully intended to pitch a tent at the airport in Cutbank the first day after flying 8 hrs, but when I got there at 5:00pm, the sun was still high overhead.  So, I gassed up, flew across the border to clear customs and then continued on.  Found gas late at 'night' - 9:00pm or so, but the sun was still up - at Ft St. John (that was where the first 'big nozzle' was). Got tired of flying shortly after and didn't want to tackle the mountains at night - plus there was little point because I couldn't clear US Alaska customs until the morning....and I had planned three days for the trip so I was running two days ahead!
So, I stopped for the night at Fort Nelson - total about 13 hrs flight time day 1.  Got out the tent, looked across the street and there was a cheap motel.  Walked over there and for $20US rented a room and avoided the bird-sized mosquitos for the night.
Next day got up and launched intending to stop at Whitehorse to call customs.  I pretty quickly got to weather that I couldn't top VFR, so I landed at Watson Lake, fueled and filed IFR to Northway.  I called customs from Watson Lake and then just overflew Whitehorse.  Picked up some decent ice on the climb to 16,000 (MEA's up there are tall), but always had a solid-gold "out" back to Watson Lake if necessary.  No ice in cruise at 16,000.  Landed at Northway - to my surprise the previously paved runway was now a gravel runway with a huge crack (like a foot wide and displaced about 18 inches vertically) from an earthquake earlier in the year.  As it turned out, it was the only gravel runway I had to use the entire trip.  Cleared customs there in Northway, then proceeded VFR low through the passes to Anchorage (just for fun).  Total flying the second day of 5 hrs.
While in AK, we ran a marathon in Anchorage, climbed a couple of the 'foothill' peaks in Denali National Park, Salmon and trout fished on the Russian River, Glacier cruised in Seward, dinner with Bruu, etc, etc, etc.  Alaska is truly a national treasure.
Lots of flying back and forth in Alaska - airplane is the ONLY way to tour Alaska if you ask me.  Highlights included an observation flight with an IFR departure up the valley from Talkeetna to VFR on top above 14,000 to fly around McKinley and other peaks sticking out of a solid overcast layer.  Canceled on top, flew around for an hour or so, then picked up an IFR clearance back down the valley to Talkeetna and on to Wasilla for fuel (I think we fueled there 5 times during the two weeks).
On the way back we battled weather most of the way through Canada.  Cleared Canadian customs at Whitehorse.  Tried to go Whitehorse to Watson Lake VFR because of fear of icing, but had to turn around in a valley because of low clouds - first time I ever understood how getting trapped in a valley could happen.  Went back to Whitehorse, filed IFR (on the way back I got a report from someone overhead of no icing).  Climbed to on top at 13,000, cruised to Watson Lake.  Flew the approach (a little pucker factor because there are mountains all around).  Broke out to a glorious ILS rabbit at 300 ft.  Spent the first night in Watson Lake at a nice B&B owned by the airport manager and his wife (Watson Lake would be a neat place to spend a few days).
Next day we left IFR, but got tired of the level 3 weather beating us up after about 3 hours and landed at Grande Prairie - watched it rain all day long.  The following day we returned to the US, clearing customs at Cutbank - customs officer had to drive over an hour from Great Falls, but was quick and courteous with us upon his arrival (which was within 15 minutes of ours) - I think he enjoyed the trip away from the office!  We went on to West Yellowstone and spent a couple days doing the geyser thing and flyfishing the Madison.
Things that we did ahead of time that really greased the wheels:
Canpass - Basically you "clear" Canadian customs well in advance, by mail.  You send them all the paperwork, and filing fee.  They give you a Canpass ID.  When you are ready to cross the border, you call an 800 number (24hrs), give them the ID number.  They tell you to land, wait 10 minutes, if no one shows you're free to proceed.  Clearing Lethbridge at 6:00 pm, no one showed up.  At Whitehorse mid-morning they had an officer on duty, but he just checked the Canpass and my ID and told us to have a safe trip.
Radio station permit and radio operator license - no longer required for domestic flying, but required for border crossings when we did it.  We actually had this from a Cayman trip already.
12" vinyl N numbers.  At the time we just had the small N-numbers.  We've since had 12" numbers painted on.
US Customs decal - gotta have one, but they will sell to you upon arrival.
All the customs forms for Canada and US pre-filled.  Not necessary, but sure speeds the process upon arrival.
Pilot license, current medical, photo ID, airplane registration.
Clearing US Customs in Northway the officer checked ALL the paperwork, including license, registration, etc.  I didn't have to unload a single bag at any stop.
Flying in Canada is a little different.  VFR flight plans are expected (and required at night I believe, though during the summer up there night is a fleeting thing).  Local "FSS" type operation at most of the larger airports, and they monitor the local CTAF frequency and close your VFR flight plan on request.  Controllers are very formal about phraseology - actually quite refreshing and neat to hear it done right.  IFR is all non-radar, full procedure - they clear you for the approach from a Center frequency when you're 50 miles out and from there you're on your own.
The AOPA package is pretty comprehensive.  That was my sole reference for the red-tape details.  I bought a Sporty's video that showed both the highway and trench routes.  It was good for expectation setting.
pics of our trip are at:


Alaska.JPG (42678 bytes)   Pic album on ofoto


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