Category Archives: Alaskan Adventures

Best of kenai Caribou Cabins

Looking for a real Alaska adventure?
Caribou cabins is an adventure that is off the grid in the back country from homer. No cell/ wifi. Just a view of the wild kingdom. Birds, moose, even a bear might wander by.
Cabins have an efficiency kitchen. Frig, crock pot, coffee maker. We have two cabins. They sleep 4 comfortably.they are dry cabins with a private connected out house.
In winter there are miles of snow machining, ice fishing. In summer there is fishing hunting in season.
We are 8 miles off the road. you need an ATV or snowmachine,or a float plane in the summer, to reach our place.? We r on a large freshwater lake on the lower Kenai Peninsula.

We have electricity ?provided by a generator, and the cabins are heated by a woodstove and electric heaters.

Bring a camera for some excellent shots.
Reservations are required. Call by thursday for a weekend stay or we will be out of phone reach.

Plan Your Nushagak Salmon Trip Now

A message from our friends at Jake’s Nushagak Salmon Camp:

 

It’s Time to Fish Alaska

The Nushagak River is revving up for another Banner year of fishing. Are you planning on joining us for a tackle busting, reeling-until-your-forearms hurt kind of trip this year?! If you haven’t booked your trip yet and are still sitting on the fence, don’t wait any longer. This is going to be your year!

Book Your Trip Now

King Salmon Counts Are Amazing

The Alaska Department of Game and Fish Sonar counts average for the last 3 to 5 years on the Nushagak River were just under 100,000 counted fish. With the beginning of the run starting the second week of June and slowing down mid way through July.

Whether you want to fish for 8 hours or 20 hours, the Kings are going to be running. The spell that the Nush puts on you as you cast out your pole in hopes that the big one is out there waiting for just you to reel her in is tantalizing. Whether it’s your first or tenth time, you can feel that the mystery and the magic of fishing is alive as it breathes over you.

Book Your Trip Now
Jakes is running its 34th year on the Nushagak River, and we hope that you would join us for making another memorable trip of a lifetime. We currently still have a few openings for the June 18th time frame, and we are now going to be staying open for the Silver run July 25-Aug 15th.

Dierick’s Tsiu River Lodge: A Family Tradition

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Dierick’s Tsiu River Lodge has been Family owned and operated since 1997. Greg Dierick has been fishing this river since he was a boy. Greg and his father, Ed, built the lodge on the Tsiu River after over 40 years of fishing here in this Alaskan wilderness paradise. The Dierick family’s experience on fishing on the Tsiu River is the same experience they want to share with you. The fishing lodge is located 120 miles north of Yakutat, Alaska nestled between the Wrangell-St. Elias Mountain Range and the Gulf of Alaska.
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tsiuriverlodge.com
(907) 784-3625

Shark Tooth Charters: Choose Your Fishing Adventure

The thrill of a lifetime is waiting for you! Experience the intensity of catching a silver salmon, a halibut or possibly a shark. We’re here to help you experience something special.

Silver salmon: two trips daily (7 a.m. to 1 p.m.)

Sharks and halibut (all day)

Silver salmon (half day)

Maximum of six in boat

For prices or information, please call 907-351-8853 or email us at dave@sharktoothcharters.com.

harks and Halibut – All day

Captain Mike McDaneld (formerly of Good Hand Charters) is one of the Top Halibut charter captains in Valdez.  He has operated the Dawn Treader for over 11 years and will operate halibut charters from May until the end of July.
Captain Dave Pope, a Coast Guard licensed charter Captain in Alaska since 1982, will operate shark charters and salmon charters in August.


A Beginner’s Guide To Gold Panning

Note: This story appears is in the May issue of Alaska Sporting Journal

PHOTO BY STEVE HERSCHBACH

PHOTO BY STEVE HERSCHBACH

By Steve Herschbach

Strike it rich! Many people would like to find a little gold. To find gold, a beginner needs nothing more than a gold pan and some basic tools.

The best way to learn how to pan for gold is to first get the right kind of gold pan. The steel gold pans of old are still made, but most actual miners and prospectors these days use plastic gold pans. The colored plastic pans show the gold better than the shiny surface of a steel pan, and plastic pans can be molded with “cheater riffles” that make it easier to pan and still not lose the gold.

In general green is considered one of the best colors for a gold pan, as it contrasts well both with the gold and the sand from which the gold is being liberated. A 14-inch gold pan is about the right size for most adults, while most children would probably be better served with a 10-inch pan.

In good hands, the pan is one of the most efficient devices available for gold recovery. There is some skill involved in gold panning, however, and the big mistake most people make is in not learning how to pan before going out for the first time.

Find a tub large enough to move the pan around inside the tub. Obtain a few flakes of gold, or lacking gold, and use a small flattened lead shot. The gold or lead flakes should be about 1/16 of an inch in diameter or smaller. Fill the tub with water, and fill the pan level to about 1 inch short of the top with sand, gravel, and small rocks. Some actual stream gravels are best. Carefully count out a number of lead or gold pieces and push them into the material in the pan. This is the key thing about this process. It is necessary to start with a known number of pieces in order to gauge how well the panning process is going. Ten flakes is a good number to use.

 

PHOTO BY STEVE HERSCHBACH

PHOTO BY STEVE HERSCHBACH

THERE ARE LOTS of ways to pan, but all that is important is getting rid of that sand and gravel while keeping those sample pieces. Submerge the pan just below the surface of the water, and allow the water to soak into the material. It may be necessary to stir the material up somewhat to wet all the material in to pan. Pick out any larger rocks at this time. Then shake the pan vigorously side to side and front to rear, all the while keeping it just under the water and basically level.

The goal is to get all the material in the pan moving vigorously and very soupy. The gold or lead is much heavier than an equal size piece of sand, and so with all the material moving around the test samples will quickly sink to the bottom of the pan.

The next step involves taking the pan of material and tilting it forward, away from the panner, and scooping some water up out of the tub. The goal is to try and make a wave similar to that seen on a beach. Scoop the pan into the water and then lift the pan while tossing the water away. The water should ride up the tilted pan, and then as the water flows back out of the pan it will carry some material out with it.

The secret is in keeping the material in the bottom of the pan stationary and letting the water wash off the top layer in the pan. Do not dump the material out of the pan; wash it out of the pan. Three or four of these “scoop and toss” washing actions take place. Then the pan goes back to the level/submerged position for another round of vigorous shaking. Then back up, tilt forward, and scoop/wash the material. Repeat this action until only a few spoonfuls of material remain in the pan. You can be vigorous at first, but get more careful the less material remaining in the pan. Watch the material carefully while washing for a glint of gold or lead. If a piece is seen, stop and shake it back down into the bottom of the pan. If the pieces are seen often, it means the shaking action has not been vigorous enough to sink the samples to the bottom of the pan.

More care must be used when washing as the last bit of material remains in the pan. One wrong move and everything in the pan will go in the tub! When only a spoonful of material remains, swirling the material around in the bottom of the pan with a small amount of water will reveal the pieces of gold (or lead).

A very handy tool at this point is the snuffer bottle, which is a plastic squeeze container with a tube inserted into in such a fashion that small items can be sucked into the bottle but can’t escape. This makes it easy to spot the flakes, and then suck them up while getting as little sand as possible. When all the pieces have been captured, dump material still in the pan into the tub. Then take the cap off the snuffer bottle and dump out the captured pieces back into the pan. It should now be very easy to separate the test samples from the tiny amount of sand remaining.

Now count them! All the original test pieces should be captured. If not, rinse everything out of the tub back into the pan and start all over. The first goal is to get to where all the test pieces are reliably recovered every time. When that point is reached, the next goal is to try and pan faster, to speed up the process. Beginning panners take incredible amounts of time on a single pan when they are learning, sometimes 15 to 20 minutes or more. But with practice it should take no more than a few minutes to work a pan of material. Gold panning championships are measured in seconds, not minutes.

If this kind of practice does not take place before going out to do some actual gold panning, the chances for any kind of success are very minimal. The new prospector will have no idea if there wasgold in the material they have chosen to pan. When nothing is found, they will be unsure if it is because of poor panning technique or just because there was no gold to start with. It is very important to have confidence so that when a particular spot is sampled with a pan a few times and nothing is found, the decision can be made to try panning somewhere else.

Other items handy for gold panning are rubber gloves for protection from cold water, rubber boots, a small shovel or large scoop, a small pry bar and, of course, a snuffer bottle. Be sure to have a bottle to put the gold in. Do not use glass, as it can be too easily dropped and broken. An optional item that can be a real aid is a half-inch screen. Screen the material into the pan while underwater, carefully washing, and then discarding the larger rocks. This speeds things considerably and makes panning easier. Dump the rocks next to you where you can spread them and look for a large nugget that did not go through the screen. Large nuggets are rare, but it could happen!

 

NEXT IS THE question of where to go gold panning. Always attempt to go where gold has already been found, as stumbling on an unknown gold deposit is not likely to happen. Be sure that the area is open to the public, or that permission is obtained from whoever has jurisdiction over the property. For most visitors with limited time, it will be best to stick with known public sites. These can be easily found on the internet.

When panning, it usually will make more sense to spend extra time and effort filling the pan with quality material. For example, splitting bedrock crevices and cleaning them thoroughly can take some time, but the material produced will usually have a better chance of producing a good showing of gold than simply filling the pan with a couple shovels full of bank material. Panning can produce substantial amounts of gold, but the material must be chosen carefully for good results. Good luck, and good panning!

Editor’s note: Steve Herschbach operates the gold website detectorprospector.com. Email him at contact@detectorprospector.com.

Sweet Deals On Two Most ‘Overlooked’ Weeks At Katmai Lodge

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By Andy Walgamott, on April 30th, 2014

Fly fishing season is upon us. Presently we are very busy loading up supplies and making sure Katmai Lodge is ready to open in June. We are very excited to begin this season with you.

(KATMAI LODGE)

(KATMAI LODGE)

Katmai Lodge would like to offer you a ONE-TIME SPECIAL PRICE of $5,000 for a SEVEN-NIGHT STAY on two of the most overlooked weeks of the year.

JUNE 28-JULY 5
This week was last year’s BEST for king and sockeye fishing as well as great trout and grayling. With the mild winter and early spring, the Alagnak River should be in prime shape for another early arrival of kings en masse.

(KATMAI LODGE)

(KATMAI LODGE)

Coupled with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game wanting to get sockeye escapement into the river, this is the most consistent week for non-stop numbers. It’s also a perfect time for trout and grayling on mice and other dry flies.

JULY 26-AUGUST 2
Always wanted to learn to fly fish? Catch that king salmon on the fly? This week of transition is the time 90 percent of our king run is already here and the chum salmon run is at its peak. With the onset of the pink salmon run and shots at silvers, the river will be boiling with fish (only sockeye are unavailable at this time) – and it is all here waiting for you, all at a time without pressure on the river though not for a lack of great fishing!

(KATMAI LODGE)

(KATMAI LODGE)

Katmai Lodge offers personalized fishing adventures for groups of all sizes and experience levels. Accessed through its private airstrip with its own amphibious equipped de Havilland Turbine Otter, the main lodge rests atop a bluff overlooking the Alagnak River, offering hundreds of miles of fishing in Alaska’s only designated Trophy Fishing Area.

(KATMAI LODGE)

(KATMAI LODGE)

Already one of the great fishing ecosystems in Alaska, fishing on the Alagnak continues to improve. The pristine river is uniquely home to all five Pacific salmon species along with native stream fish such as rainbow trout, Arctic grayling and Dolly Varden/char, with four or five salmon species spawning within 2 miles below and 45 miles above the lodge.

(KATMAI LODGE)

(KATMAI LODGE)

The region is also home to a diverse array of wildlife, which provides amazing photo opportunities.

An experienced guide staff personalizes each guest experience, making use of the lodge’s 40 boats to explore the full range of the Alagnak. Our river-based lodge is only 10 minutes away from tidewater. Its diverse fleet of both jet and prop boats allows for both sea-fresh salmon and rainbow trout fishing, while the lodge’s floatplane enables easy access to Katmai National Park for viewing the renowned Brooks Falls brown bears and for fishing the area’s many blue-ribbon trout streams.

When off the water, anglers are encouraged to enjoy the unrivaled amenities of Katmai Lodge, which boasts more square footage per guest than any other lodge in Alaska. World-class chefs prepare hearty breakfasts and gourmet dinners in the central dining room.

(KATMAI LODGE)

(KATMAI LODGE)

The main lodge includes a fully stocked fly-tying area complete with expert instruction, central gathering place, a clothing and gift shop as well as Internet access. Adjacent guest cabins welcome anglers to rest and relax, offering the privacy of individual common areas.

The high season for Alaskan salmon fishing at Katmai Lodge runs from late June through September, with trout season opening June 8th. For reservations or to inquire about group packages, anglers should visit the newly launched website at www.katmai.com or call 1 (800) 330-0326 for more information.

 

Flight Of The Fledglings

Two hunters fly their plane up from Spokane to hunt caribou in Southwest Alaska.

Dodging just about every bullet that fall conditions can throw at them, the men experience a hunt to remember.

By Jim Johnson

Editor’s note: The author originally wrote this just after his trip, then, 32 years afterward, added details he and his hunting partner agreed not to tell their wives.

Vern Ziegler invites me to join him on a hunting trip to Alaska. It’s early October 1977 and he has just purchased a high-performance bush plane called an M5 Lunar Maule Rocket. Vern is a relatively new pilot and I am sure he wants the ultimate challenge – performing as a bush pilot in Alaska.

I jump at the chance, although I have some hang-ups, which I keep to myself. I’m prone to motion sickness and have a fear of heights. But I’m determined not to let this keep me from joining my good friend on his bold adventure. Vern wants a trophy bull caribou for his lake cabin and I want a bull moose rack for my recreation room.

A HARROWING FLIGHT NORTH

On the morning of our departure, I walk into Vern’s Spokane lumber company and everyone acts as though they’ll never see us again. John Estey, Vern’s bookkeeper, shakes his head in disbelief.

Soon we crank up his single-engine plane and head north towards Anchorage. I try to relax as the little craft reaches cruising altitude, but just outside of Fort St. John, B.C., we encounter a bad storm and begin to ice up. It’s a terrifying situation. We find ourselves flying in a solid gray freezing mist with zero visibility. I can’t help but think about the possibility of colliding with another aircraft in the cloud bank.
Vern radios Fort St. John and tells them we are icing up and asks for a radar fix. The reply is, “Sorry, sir, we don’t have radar, you are on your own; good luck.”

(JIM JOHNSON)

Vern glances at me with a look of disbelief as this has never happened to him before.

It just so happens that an employee at my Spokane wholesale shop is taking flying lessons. I borrowed his textbook and read it from cover to cover as Vern has some health problems and if anything were to happen to him, I want some knowledge on how to fly this thing. We are in a most serious situation, for sure – the ice buildup will soon render the plane too heavy to fly. What we need to do is lose altitude and find some warmer air currents to shed the ice, but we don’t want to crash into a mountain in the process.

Vern asks me to take over the controls and sternly instructs me to use the instruments to keep the wings level.

“Trust the gauge, not your instincts,” he firmly commands. Now we are encased to the point we can’t even see out. I’m at the controls leaning hard to one side because my senses are telling me we are in a steep bank, but I hold fast to the instruments and keep it from going vertical.

Vern is scanning a map looking for any high peaks in the area. I say a little prayer, “Please, God, don’t let us kill ourselves the very first day out.”

True, we won’t be around to face the embarrassment, but still don’t want to confirm to the others our stupidity.

(JIM JOHNSON)

We have no choice but to lose altitude. I rejoice as we break out of the clouds and see the ground. The ice dissipates almost immediately – bullet No. 1 dodged.

Moments later we pass over two bull moose, either of which would look just dandy on my recreation room wall.

But this is still Canada, and with dusk we arrive at Watson Lake, just over the Yukon Territory border from British Columbia.

THROUGH THE STORM

The next morning finds me at the controls flying while Vern sleeps. He gave me strict orders not to try and land the plane while he is sleeping, a stunt I tried on another occasion. Not a good idea, for certain, but that’s another story.

By now I am keenly aware of the sound of the plane’s engine. I can’t keep myself from listening for the slightest irregularity. We are putting a lot of trust in this small plane and its single man-made motor.

Then it is my turn to doze and everything is going along fine until I hear the engine cough and quit. I sit up, eyes bulging, terrified, but Vern just grins at me as he switches tanks. She starts running again.

“You scared the hell out of me,” I shout, “don’t do that!”

He replies, “Sorry.”

That afternoon reveals breathtaking scenery but also some severe turbulence. We can see a cloud formation being whipped across a high mountain plateau and we are tossed, jostled and bounced around big time. It gets so bad the door on Vern’s side pops open, and when he can’t get it closed, I reach over his shoulder and try to hold it shut.

Then the door on my side pops open! My arms feel like they are being jerked out of the sockets as I struggle to hold onto the flopping doors – they’re trying to depart from their hinges.

Then we hit an updraft so intense that Vern virtually turns off the power and he informs me we are flying much faster than the design speed of the aircraft.

“Hold on!” he shouts. “When we top out, hope the wings don’t rip off!”

Then we come to an abrupt stop – ca-wham! We smash our heads on the ceiling, despite having our seatbelts fastened. The good news is, we still have wings and our little plane holds together.

Shortly after we land in Burwash, Yukon, a gravel strip in the middle of nowhere. But they do have gas, which is hand pumped out of 55-gallon drums. Having dodged another bulllet, we regain our composure and head on.

Later that afternoon a snow storm forces us down. We land in the backyard of a little service station, motel and restaurant combination called Tahneta. Tahneta is just a wide spot on the Alaska highway about 100 miles short of Anchorage. We spend the night here.

(JIM JOHNSON)

The next morning we find our plane completely covered with ice and snow. Using windshield scrapers, it takes an hour to get it so it will fly. To navigate to Anchorage, the service station owner suggests we fly down the highway to the second canyon to our left. There we will be able to fly down the canyon under the fog.

“This will take you directly into Anchorage,” he says, and he’s right. A 45-minute flight finds us talking with our friends, Ted and Monne Forsi, formerly from Spokane.

INTO CARIBOU COUNTRY

Ted decides to join us on our hunt, and so the next day we are off with Ted in his little red Super Cub followed by Vern and me in the Maule. We fly west out of Anchorage through the famous Merrill Pass and its spectacular scenery – stone walls close enough you feel you can reach out and touch them. There are blue and turquoise ice glaciers, chaparral with the magical profusion of fall colors and rugged majestic snow-capped peaks, but the wreckage of planes lying quiet on the rocks below reminds us of the perils of mountain flying.

I have been frantically taking pictures so as to preserve the experience, but upon completing a 36-exposure roll, wouldn’t you know, I find the camera to be malfunctioning. Probably from all the bashing it took from the storms. It’s a problem I’m sure I’ll fight for the rest of the trip.

We continue to fly west and see several moose including a splendid bull with an antler spread that would go well over 60 inches. Nice, but unfortunately no place to land.

We point the plane south towards the Alaskan Peninsula where we have hunted moose before. The immensity of this unpeopled, snow-clad, windswept land has me spellbound. Late afternoon finds us flying over the flat marshy wetlands of the peninsula. We begin to spot herds of caribou ranging from five to 50 per herd, and including some huge bulls.

It is getting dark when we find a sand dune that appears to be large enough to land on. We buzz the area first, then Ted sets the Cub in. Vern follows and he’s just made his first honest-to-goodness Alaskan bush pilot landing. It is a thrilling and satisfying experience for both of us!

There’s a large bull moose feeding across from us as we set up camp for the night, but Alaskan law states you can’t fly and hunt on the same day, and of course the next day he is gone.

HUNTING FOR BULLS

Before leaving camp, Ted has the presence of mind to erect a pole with a red flag on a nearby knoll. We will be able to spot it from a long distance. We then trek off through the spongy wet tundra in hopes the caribou are still in the area. The marsh land is thick with swans, ducks and geese. Perhaps the greatest pleasure of all are the ptarmigan. They’re turning white for the ensuing winter. I walk into one flock of close to 100 huddled in a sheltered brush pocket.

They seem to cry, “It’s a bear, it’s a bear. Where? Where? Look out! Look out!!”

It’s a foreign but delightful sound to my ears – I would give anything for a tape recorder.

Meanwhile, Ted spots a couple of caribou and then a large herd. Apparently we are still in the midst of the migration, good news We make a stalk on a small group only to find there is nothing worth taking. We encounter another bunch of about 40 which are 700 yards to our right. We glass them and observe a good bull in the bunch. The problem is, they have also spotted us. We try to get within good shooting range but they keep drifting away. It’s almost like antelope hunting. We reluctantly change direction. It is hard to leave that massive male to go after another herd not knowing what it might contain.

We start around one of the hundreds of small lakes that surround us, then decide to sit for a moment and have a quick snack to restore strength. The bulgy tundra is like hiking in a plowed field and we’re expending much energy. As we sit eating, a large band of caribou appear on the other side of the lake just out of shooting range. They also have spotted us. Antlers glistening, they start to run in that beautiful, high-stepping, noble manner characteristic of caribou. Hoping to head them off, we race for a knoll trying to gain the necessary 200 to 300 yards to get within shooting range. There are several good bulls in the group. But they are better equipped and easily out-do us. We catch our breath and watch as they join the herd with the big bull we had given up on.

We’re frustrated, but it is mid-day and with all these caribou together the temptation is just too much. We start back after them, getting to within about 450 yards, but we can get no closer.

Vern and I have an agreement. On a previous hunt I had shot a large caribou, so he is to have his pick of the caribou and I the moose. While Vern gets a rest for his .300 Weatherby, I watch through field glasses as a stately bull racks his horns in the willow brush. In the meantime, Ted has picked out the bull of his choice.

Vern squeezes off a couple of shots and puts his bull down. I switch and watch Ted harvest his bull.

Then Vern yells, “Jimmy John, give me some help! He’s back on his feet and getting away!” I drop my binoculars and grab my rifle. By now they’re on the run.

“Which one?” I holler as Vern shoots again.

“Fourth from the rear!” he replies.

I pull up one … two … three … and four – sure enough, a bull! I pull out in front and a body width above, then turn her loose. I can hear the splat of the bullet as it hits meat; and watch through the scope as the bull stumbles and goes down facing me. Wow, more than a little proud, what a spectacular shot I just made.

Vern hollers, “Don’t stop shooting, he’s going to get away!”

I realize I’ve made a big mistake. The bull I shot isn’t the same impressive bull Vern has been working on. But before I can regroup, Vern puts his animal away for keeps and we have three caribou on the ground.

What happened, unbeknownst to me, was they split into two groups and I picked the wrong bunch. With it went my chance to shoot a moose – I will be forced to use my moose tag on the caribou. That is legal, but certainly not what I traveled all the way to Alaska to accomplish, disappointing for sure.

(JIM JOHNSON)

WHICH WAY WAS CAMP?

Now wouldn’t you know, it never fails, a storm is brewing as we hurriedly bone and sack the meat. It’s “nerves” time again as we are all aware of the problems we could encounter finding our camp if the gale cuts off our visibility in that flat tract of desolate, monotonous, wet land. The hunt has taken us 2 to 3 miles from our planes and campsite – and remember, there was no GPS in those days.

We struggle with our heavy loads as we start back, but by now the wind is howling so severely we are getting concerned it will upset and wreck our airplanes. We stumble along for about an hour, resting frequently. A migration of 40 to 50 caribou pass close in front of us, including several bulls bigger than the ones Ted and I are carrying.

We’re also watching out for our camp flag, which should be close enough to see by now, but is nowhere in sight. What’s going on, for heaven’s sake? Are we lost? The thought of spending a wet night out here without fire or shelter in this raging storm is frightening, Nothing in this country will burn, and of course, there is a disagreement as to the direction of camp. Vern and I think one way and Ted another. That apprehensive, sick, lost feeling sets deep into the pit of my stomach.

We stagger on, Ted protesting the direction. Vern is out in front and trips and goes face down in about a foot of icy, cold, tundra water. It fills his hip boots and saturates his clothes. The 100-pound load pins him as he labors to regain his feet. Ted and I rush to help him up. Now exposure could come into play. We push on hoping to find camp before dark. Then I think I spot something through my binoculars. Are my eyes playing tricks on me? Have I seen a spot of red?

I stop Vern and Ted. “I may have gotten a glimpse of the plane,” I excitedly state.

We all sit down and stare through our field glasses, seeing nothing but gray. Then, when a gust of wind clears things long enough for us to see it, we spot the red tip of our airplane’s wing sticking out from behind a sand dune knoll a half a mile off to our left. It turns out that the wind has blown down our flag.

With food and shelter within our grasp, we can relax. We arrive to find our planes upright and undamaged by the turbulence, good news as we have dodged another bullet.

Even so, while Vern and I have a lifetime of hunting and packing out meat behind us, with our 40th birthdays behind us, we admit to each other that our days of strenuous big game hunting like this are numbered.

The next morning Vern and Ted fly meat and antlers into King Salmon for shipment back to Anchorage while I tear down camp and place it conspicuously to attract their attention on the return flight. I know there is little danger of them not being able to find me, but with them four long hours overdue, it is a welcome sight when two little planes appear out of the storm clouds – from the opposite direction of what I expected. They eventually admit that they lost me out here in this vast, desolate, tundra. Nice going, guys!

(JIM JOHNSON)

DODGING MORE BULLETS

The hunting is now over and it is time to fly back to Anchorage. A storm is worsening and as we taxi to the end of the sand dune, the added weight of me and camp sinks the tires into the sand and suddenly the strip looks pitifully short. Vern guns the engine waiting for a gust of wind to give us some added lift. It’s nerves time again!

“How much of the dune did I use when I flew the meat out?” he asks. “All of it,” I reply. “That’s what I was afraid of,” he says.

When we feel a gust of wind, Vern pours the juice to her. We come to the end of the gravel and, oh my gosh, we’re not airborne! No turning back now, though. Vern keeps the pedal to the metal, we’re at full throttle, son-of-a-b, we are skipping and splashing through the wet tundra! I have my feet clear up on the dash trying to help her get off the ground. I just know we’re going to flip and crash, but finally we make another bounce and take off.

“Thought we bought the farm that time,” Vern says. “So did I,” I reply.

Another bullet dodged.

Bright and early the next morning in Anchorage we say goodbye to Ted and Monne and head back for Spokane. The few short days we have been gone have changed the landscape we just flew over from fiery autumn colors to a desolate winter vista – colorless, black, gray, white, harsh, rugged, and lonely. It is awesome, but frightening and ghostlike.

Entrusting our lives to that single engine, I again find myself intently listening to her every breath. I am impressed with Vern and his absolute faith in it. The functions and use of the instrument panel are all very familiar now. Visible is the Alaska highway winding through the ice and snow below, a friendly and welcome sight.

But there is a nasty snowstorm brewing up. Vern radios ahead and finds some military helicopters have gotten through, so we push on into the teeth of the storm, all the time losing visibility. As it worsens, we drop down closer and closer to the highway. No turning back, we are committed. It gets so bad we are flying right down above the icy black top. Scary time again! We are on the edge of our seats!

“Don’t lose sight of the highway,” Vern orders, “or we are dead!”

At that exact moment it occurs to both of us: What if a pilot is doing the same thing, except coming from the other direction? As if driving a car, Vern moves over to our side of the road. He has no more than made the maneuver when another plane appears out of the gray blizzard clouds and flashes by on our left.

It’s gone in the blink of an eye. It happens so fast that it is hard to believe. My stomach does flip flops. We narrowly missed a head-on collision. With both planes traveling at 100-plus miles per hour, we would have disintegrated.

After another agonizing 100 miles of snowstorm and seat-of-your-pants flying, we break out of the weather, relieved to have dodged two more bullets!

As darkness approaches, Vern decides to press on for Spokane. It’s another new experience for me, night flying in a single engine aircraft, over a vast uninhabited wilderness with no moon to light our way – it’s as black as inside your hat. Now again, we’re putting all our trust in that little engine. At least in the daylight, with a good glide pattern, we would have half a chance to put her down without killing ourselves. But if she quits at night we’re dead meat.

It’s not my favorite thing to do, so I am more than happy when after hours of pitch black flying, the lights of civilization start to appear.

SAFE AND SOUND    

We are now close to home – lights from Wilbur, Davenport  and Reardon burn bright through the clear night air, and then we spot the blinking green light that guides us into Spokane’s Geiger Field. We land and I get out and kiss the ground.

Then again, after all we have been through, I feel bullet-proof, like a cat with nine lives.

A month later, as I put on a program for the Spokane County Sportsman Association on our trip, one old pilot gentleman in the audience pipes up and sums it up by saying, “You fledglings had quite a time!”