Flying the Misty Fjords, Alaska
By François A. ‘Navman’ Dumas
Owner, publisher and photographer
Silver Cloud Publishing
I think it doesn’t happen often to us; dreams coming true. Once in awhile you get lucky though. I know I did, on our recent trip to the US. And as is often the case in such situations, a few wonderful people were instrumental in making things happen.
Let me start right off with mentioning them by name, because that’s the least they deserve!
First of all there’s Barry Copeland, Sr. Captain at Alaska Airlines, a good friend since 2007 and just a wonderful person in so many respects! And let’s not forget his understanding and equally kind wife, our friend Della! Nina and I met Della and Barry 3 years ago in Seattle and it was as if we’d known each other for ever. That hasn’t changed. On the contrary, that feeling has only been reinforced during our subsequent reciprocal visits.
Secondly Jeff Carlin of Carlin Air in Ketchikan, Alaska; an awesome DeHavilland DHC-2 Beaver bush pilot, Alaskan tour guide and great sport (although he probably will not know how much he helped!) He flies that rather big float plane the way I used to navigate my little Austin Mini through Amsterdam. And he’s got a big heart too.
Last but not least, let me mention the US of A, a country where so many things are still possible. Things that we Europeans in our cramped and jammed little continent, chock full of people AND rules, can only dream of. And sometimes not even that!
Allow me to start telling our ‘Alaskan Adventure’, and save my rides and flights in Seattle and California for separate stories.
Why Alaska? What would a Dutch guy be looking for in a place like Ketchikan, or the Misty Fjords? Why would he be interested in visiting PAKT’s control tower? Why would he even know they existed!?
As you may or may not know, I started a Flight Simulator add-on company, some 8 years ago. That means I am a publisher of programs that aim to enhance the Microsoft Flight Simulator ‘game’ by adding new aircraft, landscapes, airports and adventures.
One of our most successful and oldest products was a title called Misty Fjords for FS2004, by Holger Sandmann.
It depicts all of the Misty Fjords area, enhancing the standard Microsoft landscape 100-fold, adding real coast lines, land ‘textures’, moving shipping and air traffic, even the buoys in the water ways are there now.
With the added information from topographic charts - including the real altitude lines of hills and mountain and the real glaciers, rivers and lakes added - it now looks pretty much like the ‘real thing’!
So ever since we started developing this title, I started flying (in the sim) from Ketchikan. I also did a lot of research on the area and the country. That means that for more than 7 years I have spent a lot of my time “flying” around ‘virtual Ketchikan’. I got so accustomed to it that I also started testing all new aircraft and ships in that area.
Over those 7 years I got more and more interested in America’s largest state, its natural beauty, its incredible open spaces and beautiful vistas. So much so that I decided I would really love to visit it for real. But there wasn’t a chance of that, since I lost my well-paid job back in 2005 and now have to live off some money we saved and the income from our publishing company and Nina’s little beauty parlor.
So….. just a dream.
Then again … sometimes the weirdest things happen.
We had promised to spend time with our daughter on her 30th birthday. At the time we promised we didn’t know she would be living on the Caribbean island of Aruba.
But she does, so we set off for the West Indies, using some remaining frequent flyer miles I had left over from my corporate years. But being so close to Florida – well, relatively speaking – we could hardly refuse to hop over to our pregnant niece, who lives just north of Miami, Florida.
As soon as we were committed to spending time in the US, I figured it would be a waste not to stay a bit longer and see some friends. We’d promised to visit motorcycle friends in San Francisco, and when the word started getting out, our friends Della and Barry insisted we come to Seattle, where Barry had already started planning incredible things for us to do. (No, I don’t mean playing with them on their Wii, although that was fun too!)
One of the first things he said was “… I can get you to Alaska, for free, and maybe fly a Beaver…….”
And I’ll be darned….. the good man did JUST THAT !
He got us on the free flight from Seattle to Ketchikan, courtesy of Alaska Airlines.
He managed a deal with Carlin Air, where Jeff Carlin flew us around the Misty Fjords for almost three hours (Yes!!!), and lent us his van (which we subsequently used to drive on ALL of Ketchikan’s roads (there’s about 50 miles in total), AND find a number of geocaches.
Barry booked us a nice hotel overlooking the harbor, the Inside Passage, and the airfield in the distance.
We also walked the streets and port of a sunny Ketchikan the next day.
And he took me into the airport’s control tower to chat with the staff up there! Very nice people too!
Yes, my dream came true. Even Nina was thrilled (and she doesn’t really like aircraft and such).
Just one word: AWESOME.
Maybe two: TRULY AWESOME.
We were so lucky.
The fjords were shrouded in clouds and mist.
And we had a pilot who loved to fly in THAT weather … low and slow.
What we saw, no, ‘experienced’, were the MISTY Fjords as they should be. In the state that gave them their name. Half visible, half hidden, changing all the time, wet, cold, somber, grey and rainy.
To many tourists this would have been a lost day. Cold and rainy, fog and mist everywhere, no vistas, no distant views.
To us, it was grand!
The Misty Fjords in all their splendor.
I am a geek, I know. I kept my handheld Garmin GPS running. So I know exactly where we went, where we landed, where we turned. Nobody in a Beaver will tell you to shut off your electronic equipment upon take-off.
I loved it. Every minute of it.
I loved the low passes Jeff made to show us waterfalls - BIG falls at places. And the tight turns to show us this or that lake, muskeg, landslides, special rocks and wild mountain goats.
I loved the water landings, surprised by the high-speed maneuverability of the Beaver on water. In ‘FSX’ it would tip over at those speeds!
We all loved going ashore in a little lake underneath an immense vertical granite wall of polished rock; polished by 10,000 years of ice from the glaciers. In a place in the middle of nowhere, 30 or 40 miles from the nearest human being, the only thing we heard was the water running off the rocks and the ticking of the cooling engine.
We marveled at the hunters Jeff had dropped off in the wilderness, living in their little green tent. They had to decide to come home that day or stay to the next week, because of approaching bad weather.
After we returned in Holland and were looking at the pictures in my office for the umpteenth time, Nina said to me “… that’s YOUR country, huh?...”.
Yes, it is. I’m a mountain man. Not by birth, but in my heart. Have been for 50 odd years. Trotted so many mountain paths, done most Alpine passes many times, and can just sit and watch a mountain stream for a day, without doing anything else. I even learned to fly in the mountains … in a taildragger … on skis.
But unlike those hunters out there in the fjords, I’d probably die within a few days. Because I’m also an ‘old office boy’, out of shape and trained to feed microwaves.
I admire every guy and gal living in Alaska and surviving in that wilderness. I envy them too.
Overall I shot over 8500 photos during our trips, including quite a few in Alaska.
I had trouble deciding which ones to select for this story. So if you see too many, mea culpa.
But I just had to share this experience with anyone who loves flying and nature.
Thank you so much Barry and Jeff for a truly unforgettable flight!