North to Alaska

Discussion in 'Cool Places to Fly' started by iamtheari, May 23, 2019.

  1. iamtheari

    iamtheari Pattern Altitude

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    I know that we have some pilots here who are or were based in Alaska. I know that we have a few who have flown between the lower 48 and the last frontier. So I'm humbly seeking advice on a daydream of mine.

    I have always wanted to visit Alaska, but I've never been able to make plans because it's just so big. It's like planning a trip "to America"...you can only see so much, and there is such a variety across the land that you would be cheating yourself to visit just one small slice of the place and believe you had seen the whole thing. But I have an airplane and a copy of a biography of Carl Ben Eielson, so why not fly to Alaska and explore it by air? The idea would be to block two weeks of my work calendar and plan on a 10-day trip, with about 1 full day to fly north, 7 days to explore, 2 days to fly home, and a full week buffer of "time to spare" at the tail end.

    Here are a few of the big-picture questions I have to begin with, and either to start solidifying a plan or to throw wet blankets on the whole idea. (Either outcome is welcome. That's what dreams are all about.)

    1. Which route is the best balance between safety, scenery, and economy? I'm in North Dakota, so a direct route from here to Anchorage would be 1800 nm and require a few stops, including one for customs each way. Most of the route is pretty sparse. There's also the coastal route, over to the Seattle area and then a hop over Canada to Ketchikan and on up. And there are probably other routes. I'm definitely in favor of different routes up and down to maximize my scenic views per mile traveled by not repeating anything.

    2. Which places should I prioritize visiting in Alaska? All of the myths of Alaska are alive and well in my daydream, from reading The Call of the Wild when I was a kid to watching the Iditarod and from catching a king salmon to hunting caribou and from going crazy with insomnia in the land of the midnight sun to cremating friends on the shores of Lake Laberge. I won't be in a bush plane so I don't plan to land myself on a glacier or anything crazy, but the point of doing the trip this way is to maximize variety. I need a balance between seeing it all and getting back to work before things pile up on my desk beyond any hope of recovery.

    3. When is the best time of year to balance taking in the sights? For example, I would like to see a serious dogsled race but if going in March to catch the Iditarod start would involve a 95% chance of freezing fog every day that prevents me from seeing anything else, a compromise would be in order.

    4. How dog-friendly is Alaska for a traveler? There are few activities I enjoy more than hiking and camping with my dog, and I would plan to spend a good bit of time on this trip boots-on-the-ground, so having her with would be a nice addition. But not mandatory if bringing her with would be a hassle.

    5. What are the unwritten Alaska rules about straight-in approaches, overhead breaks, and landing against traffic? (Just kidding, but I thought it would be useful to throw in a lightning rod to catch all the arguments and keep the answers to the real questions more civil.)
     
  2. sourdough44

    sourdough44 Pattern Altitude

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    1 day to fly North? What type of plane, how fast? AK is a long ways.

    I would do the inland route, loosely following the Al-Can Hwy. The weather is likely better, more landing options, terrain is less if a factor.

    I would plan to go when daylight hours are longer. For me that would be June, July, & August.

    As to the doggy thing, the main issue is getting though Customs. After that normal dog stuff, you’re likely used to most of that.
     
  3. iamtheari

    iamtheari Pattern Altitude

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    You're right, 1 day is too ambitious. Call it 2 days. If I go this year, it would be in my Arrow. Next year, maybe in my RV which would be faster but it would still be on the order of 9 or 10 hours in the air and that is no way to begin a vacation.

    What stops would you recommend along that route? I would plan on legs between 300 and 500 nm each. It also seems like I should be aiming for Fairbanks as an entry point if I go that route, or at least Northway or Tok, rather than trying to cut across the mountains for Anchorage too early.
     
  4. frfly172

    frfly172 Touchdown! Greaser! PoA Supporter

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    I did the al/can highway, easy flight to Fairbanks. I went in July and as usual it rained and was cold ,windy for 3days . Did a night at Tok .
     
  5. KaiGywer

    KaiGywer Pre-takeoff checklist

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    A friend of mine did the inland route in a Cherokee. Loosely followed the highway in order to have somewhere to land should the engine decide to quit. This also allows you to go through the mountain passes east of Anchorage. There are some pretty tall rocks in that area.

    Oh, and I wanna come with :happydance:
     
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  6. eb87f

    eb87f Pre-Flight

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    I have flown from So. Dak. to Fairbanks and back 3 times. (Daughter at Fairbanks) We basically followed the AlCan but did cut some corners. Each time it was in July or August. On one of those trips we could have made it in 2 days if weather had permitted. We have always had weather delays and we usually took 4 days, with 5 in the plan to allow for weather. We fly a Warrior which is a little slower than your Arrow. Also no instrument rating but I am told that doesn't make much difference -- very few pilots (none) that I met along the way used their IFR capabilities along the highway. PLAN on weather delays. Ours were always between Watson Lake/Fort Nelson/Dawson Creek.
     
  7. Tom-D

    Tom-D Taxi to Parking PoA Supporter

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    Then do it, they fly just like we do.
    one leg after another.
     
  8. iamtheari

    iamtheari Pattern Altitude

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    Where did you stop along the way?
     
  9. iamtheari

    iamtheari Pattern Altitude

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    Same question as my last post...where did you stop along the way for customs, fuel, etc.? :)
     
  10. sourdough44

    sourdough44 Pattern Altitude

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    When we flew up, back in 1992 we got Canadian Customs at Medicine Hat. I seem to remember White Court somewhat in the Calgary area. Once you get further up, it makes sense to stop at about each AL-Can Hwy airport, Ft Mcmurray, Watson Lake, Whitehorse & the others. Fuel should never be an issue, besides costing a bit. I always kept an airport in my back pocket, meaning if I couldn’t get back to one fairly easily(WX) it was time to hole up. That airport may not of been one of the mains, just something that would work.

    Planning the trip is part of the fun. We camped at most airports, some had facilities set up for flyers, showers, sites. We even camped at the Fairbanks Airport.
     
  11. BillTIZ

    BillTIZ Final Approach

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    I’ve flown from LAS to Alaska and back. From NorthDakota it’s a piece of cake. Head towards Ft Nelson and pick up the Al-Can Hwy. Stops at Watson Lake and White Horse. Customs into Alaska at Northway in summer. They did not have fuel, plan on Tok or Gulkana for fuel. I was able to tanker fuel and got from White Horse to Gulkana headed to Anchorage.

    From Anchorage, flew down to Homer across the Kenai peninsula, then back through Anchorage to Talkeetna and across Denali to Fairbanks. From Fairbanks to Tok for fuel and then to Whitehorse for Canadian customs.

    From Whitehorse I returned via Watson Lake to Ft Nelson, then south to Edmonton, cleared US Customs at Cut Bank MT and on to Billings for the night.

    Study up on US and Canadian customs procedures both coming and going. Have fun
     
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  12. GRG55

    GRG55 Final Approach

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    The above is the route I'd recommend too, but a few minor corrections/updates to the above post:
    • Depending on where in ND you are launching from you can clear Canadian customs in Regina, Saskatchewan (CYQR) or Lethbridge, Alberta (CYQL). Medicine Hat, Alberta (CYXH) is not a Port of Entry and currently does not offer customs service. CYQL requires 90 minutes prior notice, but since you'll be on a flight plan for the DHS eAPIS they should know you are coming.
    • Whitecourt is northwest of Edmonton, and may be a good stop, depending on your exact routing. Calgary is some distance south of Edmonton, but if you are that far west CYBW has the best Calgary area GA services. Stay away from Calgary and Edmonton International airports. They discourage light planes and have horrific landing fees.
    • Grande Prairie, Alberta is another potential stop with services and a decent sized town.
    • Fort McMurray is not on the route to Alaska. It is northeast of Edmonton. Fort St. John is the reference I believe the post above meant to refer to. It also has good services and is the first stop north of Mile Zero of the AlCan at Dawson Creek.
    • After that it starts to get sparse.
    Hope this helps.
     
  13. sourdough44

    sourdough44 Pattern Altitude

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    Yes I was just going off memory with that, no chart in front. At the time I went they also had U.S. Customs at Northway,AK. That may of changed some too.

    I started my trip from central MS, part of my plan was to stay in the U.S. as long as possible, before crossing the boarder. I remember much of the southern Canada part as being similar to flying across MT.
     
  14. Capt. Geoffrey Thorpe

    Capt. Geoffrey Thorpe Touchdown! Greaser! PoA Supporter

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    My brother and I followed the highway in a Cessna 120 back in the '70s. Other than waiting for weather and getting snowed on in August, most of it went easy with no need to push fuel reserves or fly particularly high.
     
  15. jwyatt

    jwyatt Pre-Flight

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    Currently planning a trip for June, if weather works out. MN to Anchorage is 18 hours, split up over 4 days for passenger comfort and sightseeing stops. Your RV must be significantly faster than mine. :biggrin: We’ll do the highway; I’ve driven it 9x so it will be neat to see from altitude.

    Routing is roughly KRGK KGTF CYBW CYDQ CYYE CYQH CYXY CYHT PAOR PFTO PAGK PAAQ PAMR ... not all those are stops,
     
  16. iamtheari

    iamtheari Pattern Altitude

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    Your RV is faster than mine at the moment, as mine is not done yet. But I will have a great speed mod: no passengers to worry about making comfortable. :)

    Please post PIREPs when you go. I’m curious to hear how your stops go. Any particular reason you’re heading so far west before turning north across the border?
     
  17. kath

    kath Line Up and Wait

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    I followed the Al-Can on the way south (Anchorage -> Tok -> Whitehorse [customs] -> Watson Lake -> Fort Nelson -> Fort St. John), which is a route deliberately designed to ferry airplanes across Canada with non-stressful distances and fuel stops at each place. It's easy terrain, and has the comfort of knowing that if you run into any trouble, there's a road under you. I crossed the border in Montana.
    On the way North, I flew "the Trench" (Prince George -> Mackenzie -> Watson Lake -> Whitehorse -> Northway [customs]...) because I was coming from Washington State. That was more of an adventure. 342 miles and no road or services!
    I've never done the coastal route either direction, but the WX is notoriously bad along the coast. I was hoping to fly to Sitka today, but... well, didn't.

    I'd recommend summer, definitely summer. Fishing, kayaking, camping, hiking... Flying is possible in the winter, but you'll need accessories like wing covers, an engine blanket, and a plug-in or portable engine heater. And there just isn't as much to do. Even if you're a sled-dog fan, there are outfits that can take you on a sled-dog ride up on a glacier in the summer. There are fly-ins and STOL competitions at various places through the summer, but the most famous one is in Valdez in May. Talkeetna is a great destination. So is Homer (halibut fishing and art galleries!). Chena Hot Springs has an airstrip. There are lots of well-maintained gravel airstrips where you can just camp under the wing.

    Take your timescale (1 day up, 7 days there, 2 days back) and triple it at least. Everything in this state is way farther away than it looks on the map. Took me 4-5 days to get from Anchorage to the Lower48, and I got *very* lucky with the weather. (Of course, that was in a 150!)

    If you do not have a dog with you, you will be issued one at the Alaska border. State policy. :) :)

    About the flying itself: Alaska still has real Flight Service Stations. This means that a) when you call on the phone, you get an FAA human who actually lives here, and b) if there's an FSS on the field at an airport, they'll want you to check in with them first on the radio, so that they can give you advisories before you start your normal yakking on the CTAF which is the same frequency.
    Also, Anchorage has a whole set of Part 93 weird special procedures that you'll want to read up on in the Pink Book. Or ask about.
    Oh yeah, and our Green Book is Pink. :)
    Flying is more different in Canada, than in AK. But maybe someone who's done the trip more recently than me can chime in about that...

    DO IT!!
     
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  18. jwyatt

    jwyatt Pre-Flight

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    Will do! This will be the first time back to my old stomping grounds (lived north of Anchorage until I moved to college) in the better part of a decade. I have a particular fondness for The Highway. No family left up there, so going back is expensive with hotels and car rental, but some college friends have got a house not too far from Merrill Field in Anchorage now.
    Th jog west is a stop to see family in Great Falls.
     
  19. IK04

    IK04 Pattern Altitude

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    My last trip to Alaska was two flights of three from Savannah, GA to Fairbanks. We RON'ed in Helena, due to weather for two days and joined up for a single flight of six for our Canadian entry stop in Edmonton International and Blatchford (now closed), Alberta.

    From there we joined the Al/Can at Fort Nelson and followed the highway all the way to Fairbanks. There are airports along the way for refueling.
     
  20. apr911

    apr911 Pre-takeoff checklist

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    By request... Here is my grand-circle of Alaska Tour plan.

    Dont know that it really fits in this thread since I start and end in Anchorage and dont cover the Southern part of the state or Canada... My goal with planning this was to see things that aren't really accessible by other means. Considering the national parks and other sites along the way north from the lower-48 border to Anchorage are accessible by road, they didn't qualify.

    I also assumed I likely wouldn't be flying my own plane (dont own one and even if I did, probably wouldn't be equipped for bush flying) and therefore would be looking to rent/borrow/find another pilot with a bush plane interested in doing this with me somewhere around Anchorage.

    I broke it out into legs of about 200-250NM each. This was more for the purposes of fuel than intended legs (i.e. I will have additional stops/legs but those are for sightseeing and what not). The calculation of these legs was based on the availability of fuel within a 2-3 hour range at an average ground speed of around 100kts; I assumed the average plane would carry somewhere between 4-5 hours of fuel so I should almost never be below a half tank and therefore have plenty of reserve should I need to reach an alternate or return to my origin. I also understand Alaska weather can be prone to somewhat rapid changes so the hope was that by limiting my legs to 2-3 hours, I wouldn't be caught out by such a change.

    Leg 1: Starting in Anchorage, WSW on V462 to FORAX and Lake Clark, then SSW to PAKN and Katmai (Sites: Lake Clark NP & Katmai NP)
    Leg 2: WNW on V506 to PABE
    Leg 3: NW/NNW on V350 to PAOM (Sites: Nome, AK)
    Leg 4: NW on T260 then along the coast out to the far tip of the mainland just past Wales before continuing up the coast to SHH and V401 into PAOT (Sites: Bering Strait, Russia and Kotzebue)
    Leg 5: ENE on V401 to PAFM and Kobuk Valley, then retrace steps back to PAOT (Sites: Kobuk Valley NP)
    Leg 6: WNW on V506 to PABR - Longest leg at 292 NM (Sites: the Northern most point of the US - Point Barrow and Arctic Ocean)
    Leg 7: E on V438 to PASC
    Leg 8: SSW to PAKP, then SSE to PABT (Sites: Gates of the Arctic NP)
    Leg 9: SW to 66.556N 150.813W then on to PAFA (Sites: North of the Arctic Circle Sign and Fairbanks, AK)
    Leg 10: SW to PANN, then along V480 to SUCOD before a wide 180 turn NE along the back side of Denali back to PAFA
    Leg 11: Zigzagging course to the the SW via ENN to PAIN, the front side of Denali and back into Anchorage (Sites: Denali NP)

    On leg 4, @Zeldman suggested making the trip to the Diomedes Islands and I had some interest in crossing the international date line but there isn't a place to set down out there and I dont know that I like the idea of not having an out that doesn't involve landing in the waters of the Bering Strait... Plus I dont know that I'd really want to deal with the ADIZ and Russian Airspace.

    On leg 6, I've also considered adding a stop along the way to PABR somewhere along the coast between Cape Lisburne and Icy Cape to see the Walrus breeding grounds but Leg 6 is already long. Cape Lisburne adds 90 NM to that trip which puts me at 380NM. I could add a leg and do it as an out-and-back from PAOT/Kotzebue but that's still a 290NM leg.

    @Zeldman also suggested a stop at Point Hope (PAPO) which would be out that way, stating
    I could add Icy Cape as an additional stop which adds only 31NM making the leg only a bit longer than desired at 323NM but reasonable or I could do it as an additional leg out-and-back from PABR/Barrow which makes it a very reasonable 236 NM round trip but I'd have to deal with the ADIZ (not that it presents major issue, its just a hassle) and there is nothing out there in terms of civilization (and even finding the airport on google maps satellite seems impossible).

    Point Lay seemed the most viable either as an additional stop or as an out-and-back; there's some civilization there and at 328 NM as an additional stop or 312 NM as an out and back from PABR/Barrow or 343 NM as an out and back from PAOT/Kotzebue, its right on the edge of what I'd consider acceptable. As an additional stop or out-and-back from Kotzebue, I'd want an ADF as backup in addition to GPS whereas from/to Barrow, I can more easily use pilotage as a backup.

    Dont know that it'd be worth the trip though; I dont want to run afoul of the Fish and Wildlife Service or the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 and there isn't a lot in the way of civilization out there so dont know that I'd be able to get my way to the breeding grounds even if I were to land at the airport and it all assumes the walruses are even there (which they might not be). I could overfly it at 2000' according to the sectional but again dont know if that'd be worth the trip.

    So that's my "plan." Doubt I'll have the opportunity to fly it any time in the near/immediate future; unless @Zeldman does manage to convince me to go take up a career in flying in Alaska but its a fun trip to think/dream about that's for sure...
     
    Last edited: Jun 24, 2019
  21. iamtheari

    iamtheari Pattern Altitude

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    One reason I would fly myself to Alaska is so I have the freedom of going places that you can't if you fly commercial and rent a car. So all ideas are helpful! Thanks for posting this.
     
  22. SToL

    SToL Line Up and Wait

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    Wow, I've made so many trips back and forth between Alaska and 'outside' aka, the lower 48, I seriously couldn't even guess accurately. The two common routs are the ditch, and the coast. By far the coast is the prettiest and the quickest way through Canada, or completely by passes it if you have the fly time. Always plan on longer than you expect, and be pleased when you get through as planned. I’ve made it in just a little over a day, and in almost two weeks. Weather will dictate when and where you can fly.

    If you’re seeing Alaska for the first time, the number one must see is Denali. Start by flying to Talkeetna, and talk to the local operators there. See if they have a map of the Denali area showing flight routes and reporting points, and frequencies. Use it and do not be shy about getting on the radio. There is an incredible amount of air traffic up there and you need to be known. And don’t be shy about telling someone on the radio if you don’t know where a reporting point is, just explain as best/close as you can and they’ll figure it out. They all know that area like the back of their hands. Don’t bother going to the north side, unless you just have a compelling reason. All the good stuff is on the south side. The Ruth glacier, Ruth icefall, the Moose’s tooth and Broken tooth, the root canal, 747 Pass, The Amphitheater, The Mountain House, Little Switzerland, Kahiltna glacier and Base Camp and of course, Denali. There’s tons more, but those are the big ones.

    Everything north of the Brooks Range is pretty flat and boring, unless you just want the experience of visiting some remote Alaskan village and maybe the chance to see some Muskox. In that case, bring lots of money and take your pick. There are plenty of places from the west to the east and in between. If you do decide to do this, then I have three recommendations. Barrow, who has now changed its name, has a very good Japanese food restaurant. Deadhorse, has the ‘Aurora Hotel’ that has an excellent kitchen, which is available 24/7. And then there’s Kavik Camp. Stop in there for some grub or even an over night if you like. Say hi to Sue Aikens. Tell her PJ says hi.

    Someone mentioned the Diomedes, but the little island (the US side) is 25 miles off the coast in unkind waters and no place for an airplane to land except on sea ice in the winter. There is a helipad. Have you been practicing your short fields?

    So heading back south… I’m particular to mountains. Love them, so that’s what excites me and Alaska is full of huge mountains and beautiful lakes. A must see, in good weather, is Lake Clark and you can fly into Port Alsworth.

    Once there you can either continue south to Lake Illiamna, the largest lake in Alaska or you can fly east to Chinitna Bay for some great bear viewing unguided, as in, you’re on your own, bear viewing. And there’s a lot of bear there. Do not have smelly food smells inside your airplane.

    From there you make a decision. Continue south towards the Aleutian chain, which I can attest is spectacular scenery all the way to Nikolski, or find your way back east across the Cook Inlet and check out Skilak Lake, Tustumena Lake, Cooper Landing, Moose Pass, Kenai Lake and Seward and Homer, land of the homeroids.

    You should also plan a trip to Portage, Portage Pass, Whittier, where the weather is always ****tier, and then out to Prince William Sound and land at Valdez. From here you could head back to Anchorage, about an hour to an hour .5 depending. Or you can head down to Ketchikan and back along the coast route along Canada and return home.

    Also beautiful is the trip from Valdez to Cordova, fly over Tatitlek, just so you can say you saw some TaTit-lickers, follow the coast to Yakutat, continue along the coast to Elfin Cove and turn inland towards Juneau.

    March is actually not too bad in Alaska. That’s the beginning of spring break up, long days and 40 degree t-shirt weather. There’s a lot of flying happening in March, but I think April is even better.

    Here’s the thing about dogs and Alaska, and I am a huge dog lover. Alaska has very large predatory animals. Sometimes dogs can tend to upset those animals which can result in the dog bringing that animal right back to you. Even a cow moose with a calf can be more dangerous than a brown bear at the right time. As much as I love dogs, I don’t thing traveling the bush of Alaska is the right place for one. Of course it has been done, but I don’t want that extra concern.

    Most AK pilots are pretty easy going. Just talk a lot on the radio so people know where you are and what you’re doing.
     
    Last edited: Jun 27, 2019
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  23. SToL

    SToL Line Up and Wait

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    Well you have to stop at Watson Lake and see the 'Signpost Forest'. It's pretty awesome. The first time I saw it was in 1981 and it was much smaller.