• Flying to the Yukon

    First, let me introduce myself. Home is Muskoka Ontario, about 2 hours north of Toronto. I am a roughly 200 hour pilot with a license from 1970, VFR only, with 3 or 4 cross country flights of maximum 3 hour duration. I flew only enough to keep my license during the family/career years. Since purchasing my Musketeer Sport MB 292 two years ago I have been taking some hood and night instruction. When my wife consented to go on a 3 week canoe trip in the north east Yukon I immediately thought : “What a chance to fly”. Experienced pilots pointed out that a 30 hour flight is just ten 3 hour segments and that is just what it was.<br />
    Here are some observations and things that I learned.Planning<br />
    Buy maps, plan, draw lots of coloured lines, use the EAA Aero planner and then be ready to have everything change. Get the Alaska Highway VFR route map.<br />
    Just don't there and back. Get out on the country.<br />
    You don’t have to fly high on the route that I took, my maximum altitude on the whole trip was 8500 ASL.<br />
    Go to http://home.gci.net/~mbaston/. Mr. Baston has an excellent writeup of the possible routes to Alaska. I printed them out and consulted them regularly.<br />
    If you are coming from the USA check AOPA and COPA and customs for information on crossing the border. Pay attention to the requirements about contacting border officals in advance. Don’t bother thinking about bringing handguns into Canada.<br />
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    Order a Canada flight supplement the bible of airports and Canadian regs.<br />
    Go to your mechanic, get the plane checked, spare tools, a spare plug, instruction on how to identify a bad plug and tiedowns.<br />
    Get a GPS and learn how to use it. I had an Airmap 500 and next time I will have topo data on it.<br />
    Pack emergency gear, bug shirts and repellent, spare clothes and send everything else by road.<br />
    Let people at your airport know what you are planning so they can help. The night before leaving I got a call from a friend saying “Ron and his son are leaving tomorrow for Saskatoon in a C170. His son is an AME and has done this route a number of times. Why don’t you call him and fly along?”<br />
    As a newbie I really appreciated in flying behind an experienced pro who knows the weather, what can be done and what can’t be done. This was a major bonus and so simple.<br />
    Plan on flying across pure bush for an hour at a time – nearest highway – 40 miles. The gravel bars of rivers and logging roads are alternatives but one way alternatives.<br />
    Go south of Lake Superior, I went north but weather can be tricky along the north shore. I had 1500 ceilings max both ways.<br />
    Avoid the airport at Sault Ste Marie Canada. This was the only place that charged me landing fees and an overnight tiedown fee. The fees were high.<br />
    Maximum bladder endurance is 3 hours. Plan on it.<br />
    I kept a minimum of 2 hours reserve fuel. Airports are that far apart in places.<br />
    If your spouse is willing, a copilot is really handy following the map and checking the Canadian flight supplement for airport information, mandatory frequencies etc.<br />
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    The Trip<br />
    The trip from Muskoka to Thunder Bay is 500 nm with 2 stops (Elliot Lake had a 2 hour delay waiting for clouds to rise, Marathon). The first half of this flight was mainly over bush at 1200 ft. We could have followed the road and did so on the way back. <br />
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    Thunder Bay – one day delay to weather then Dryden, Winnipeg (St Andrews) and Yorkton Saskatchewan. (approx 500 nm) This section is above roads much of the way. My first view of the prairies and the first experience of prairie hospitality in the second half of the trip. Yorkton provided a courtesy car and two good B&Bs were available.<br />
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    Yorkton, Saskatoon, Camrose/Alberta. Beautiful day, just sit up there and watch the fields and roads/landing strips move underneath. Check out the yellow Canola and all the ponds. <br />
    Camrose to Grande Prairie – easy half day hop with a visit to a good aircraft museum at the airport in Wetaskiwin.<br />
    Now things get interesting<br />
    We departed Grande Prairie and flew direct to Fort Nelson, 250 nm. We could have flew the Alaska Highway but it detours west and goes into high hills which had low clouds. We had some form of road nearby over 75% of the way. It is rugged but there are oil exploration roads. The FBO at Nelson is friendly and helpful.<br />
    We left Fort Nelson at noon and flew directly west for an hour over lots of nothing. The Alaska highway goes south into the Rockies so we decided to avoid the big rocks. Here we made a mistake. The plan was to follow the Liard river when we reached it, south to rejoin the highway. We picked a river 10 miles too soon and followed it south until the fork on the river didn’t match the river on the map. Oops, climb to 8500 and sneak back through the rocks until the right river was found. Not recommended, I would recommend regularly setting up a waypoint on the GPS at the right location to turn, which I started to do the very next day! As my instructor said time and compass –works every time when you use it.<br />
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    Watson Lake is a town of 1600 and is at the junction of the Alaska Highway VFR route from Ft Nelson and the Trench VFR route coming up from the south. We lucked out, an hour after landing an airshow started up, we watched three aerobatic planes, a water bomber and best of all a show by the Canadian forces Snowbird jets. We had our own spot beside the gas tanks when the jets pulled in after the show. Hadwins, the Shell dealer put us up at their B&B – good place. <br />
    We started to see occasional burning trees and lots of smoke in areas between Watson Lake and Whitehorse. No problem, just advise your presence on 126.7 so any aerial firefighters know about you. One area along the highway was Notamed . The last day started late, waiting for clouds to lift over one critical pass. We just followed the Alaska highway along the way.<br />
    Whie you are there.<br />
    We left the plane in Whitehorse and canoed with a group of friends for 3 weeks along the Snake River. Unbelievable, 3 weeks of blue sky, warm temperatures and no bugs, just a river falling out of the mountains with drop dead scenery. Anyone with experience in the north will know how rare this is.<br />
    We returned to Whitehorse and picked up the plane. I had left it with an AME, Rodan, who replaced main tires, tubes, repacked the bearings and checked the spark plugs for a very reasonable cost. Someone must have had their feet on the toe brakes, wonder who?<br />
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    The way home was a repeat of the trip out except we tended to follow highways more often and we kept running into a low slowly moving east.<br />
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    Last Comments<br />
    Going one way involved 30 hours of flying time at 90 knots, about $1000 CDN in fuel and 2300 nm.<br />
    Flying the Alaska highway in the Moncho lake, Toad River area is fantastic, Snow peaks to the left and right and a highway 5000 ft below. Yes I know- you Western pilots have seen it all before.<br />
    So where am I now? <br />
    Well I feel lucky that, first I got to fly the route and secondly a kindly fate didn’t punish me for inexperience or just plane stupidity.<br />
    Next – well if I get my nerve up and my bank account recovers maybe, just maybe, a flight into the States. Now that’s scary.<br />
    Steve Thomas
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