Menu

Author: Leighan Falley

Flight training is no place for self loathing

The following is a story about dealing with the ups and downs of learning to fly a bigger airplane. 

It was a chilly spring morning in Talkeetna, Alaska. An uncontrollable shiver racked me as I walked up to the gleaming Garrett Turbine Otter. Set against a pale sky populated by thin cirrus, the white airplane seemed huge, remote, and utterly imposing. This was to be my first session of flight training in the beast, with the intent of culminating in my first IFR 135 checkride. As a mountain guide on Denali, I’d been a passenger in the Garrett Otter before becoming a commercial pilot, and was well aware of their capabilities. To me they’d always seemed like the mightiest weapon in the off-airport kingdom: a fire-breathing steed that behaved like a Super Cub at 8,000 pounds…yet also was able to fly through the clouds, cruise fairly fast (for a STOL airplane), and ascend to the 20,000 foot summit of Denali with ease. It seemed like a big jump for a low-time pilot like myself. My shiver, I realized, was born of nervousness and not the cold.

The mighty mountain ship in its natural habitat. Denali Basecamp, Alaska. Photo by author. 

Our two check airmen are merciless in their flight training and testing. The FAA would be proud. The main instructor is a powerful CFI and one of those pilots that has that “touch.” It’s hard to argue with such talent. He typically employs the method of negative reinforcement. We have been good friends since far prior to my employment at the air taxi, but every spring we set aside our friendship until after the checkride. My hands were shaking as I climbed into the cockpit with him. He sat there in the co-pilot’s seat, clipboard and pen in lap, sunglasses on, his jaw set sternly. And then I began my very first engine start. As I was toggling the fuel enrichment switch, he remarked “…I don’t know how you’re getting it to do this, but you’re moving the whole instrument panel with the switch. Light touch, OK? Don’t white-knuckle it.” Get a hold of yourself, I thought.

The moment I’d been waiting for: takeoff. I’d seen it done many times. Now I was the driver. The whole ship shuddered and ripped into the sky after only a few hundred feet of takeoff roll. All of a sudden we were at 6,000 feet, maneuvering above a glistening scattered layer with the emerald valley below. The session went unbelievably well. My nervousness turned to sheer joy. I’ve got this.

Due to scheduling, a week passed before my next session. My hands still shook as I climbed into the cockpit with my fearsome friend, but I was more excited than nervous. However, things went poorly from the start. I couldn’t even taxi the thing. There were about a million people out on the ramp that day, and they were all watching me, the “girl pilot,” struggle. Everyone on the field has always been very accepting of me, but I do think that I get watched more closely. “You’re not inspiring confidence in anyone,” said my instructor as he looked over at the watchers. A harsh but apt observation. It took all I had just to get the thing to the runway. Inevitably, the distraction of the difficult taxi led to me making more mistakes. We sat in silence on the runway after I’d taken the active before completing the pretakeoff checklist. I listened to the powerful, rich hum of the turbine at high idle, ready to launch into the sky. “What do you think you should do?” he said. After a few seconds, I pulled the condition lever back. “I think we’re done for today,” I replied. He nodded silently. After a fight to get the airplane back to its parking spot, we shut down the engine. “What do you think you could have done better?” The classic CFI question. “I think something is broken on the plane,” said I. His thoughts were written on his face: excuses. I don’t get this.

I lay awake all night, contemplating my failure. A terrible voice played in my head: You think you’re a pilot? You want to fly like the best? Well, you’re nothing but a little girl, and you can’t even get the thing to the runway. And you’re a terrible instrument pilot. How are you ever going to take a checkride in this thing? But another, softer voice spoke through the murk: Maybe something really is broken on the airplane. Taking chances can lead to occasional failure. If you didn’t love the thrill, you wouldn’t have chosen this path. As fate would have it, a bushing in the tailwheel was the culprit. The thing steered beautifully after its replacement. It was time to rebuild my confidence.

When I began to write this, I had intended to share some advice on exactly how I managed to come back after such doubt. But in the process of writing, I realized I was joining the ranks of self-help articles. During my troubles, I read close to a million of those things on rebuilding confidence…and unanimously found them to be annoying and inapplicable to my situation/personality. So I’m not going to proffer any advice. All I can say is this: I simply decided that flight training is no place for self loathing. The line between confidence and arrogance is thin, and one that I’d probably taken too seriously. The doubt was degrading my performance. Standing in front of the airplane before my next session, I decided to let it go. It was an experiment in personality alteration…but what did I have to lose? And that’s when things started going really well for me.

A stiff crosswind was blowing the day of my checkride. The check airman was also the owner and director of operations, a fact that I found rather intimidating. Though an affable boss, he is every bit as stern with our flying as his henchman the instructor. With my new mantle of confidence, I managed to keep it together as I preflighted the dragon. “Just remember,” said one of my colleagues as I walked out the door, “…if you don’t pass this checkride, you won’t have a job and it’ll be really hard to find another one!” And, because I had chosen to be a confident pilot, I simply laughed.

Post-checkride and fully operational.

Leighan Falley grew up in Alaska and works as a professional pilot among the continent’s tallest mountains. She lives in Talkeetna, Alaska, with a family that includes a climbing ranger husband, two little daughters, and a rough-looking PA 22/20 on tundra tires.

The Darkest Hour: A Recap of the Thunder Mountain SAR

 

The following is a story about what happens after the ELT goes off. It is written from the perspective of a fellow Alaska Range Pilot… who happens to be married to the incident commander of the search-and-rescue effort.

At 6 p.m. Alaska Daylight Time on Aug. 4, a de Havilland Beaver on a scenic flight impacted the side of a jagged ridge in Denali National Park. The aircraft’s ELT was the first indication that something was amiss. Shortly following the accident, the improbable occurred: A satellite phone call was made by the pilot. Though exact details remain mysterious, the pilot indicated that there were major injuries and/or fatalities, and that the occupants were trapped in the aircraft. One irrefutable fact was taken away from that call: There were survivors. 

Thus began the largest-scale SAR the Alaska Range has seen in decades. Other scenic aircraft continued to swirl about the mountains nearby, going about business as normal, while the occupants of the Beaver were passing through their darkest hour. Yet, across south-central Alaska, forces were marshaling. Military and civilian aircraft of an astounding mix were to become involved, syncing their combined talents in a battle against the odds.

A photo taken by glacier pilot Matt Bethke, depicting conditions near the crash site shortly before it’s occurrence. Though VFR, it reinforces the old adage “… treat every cloud as if there were a mountain behind it”

The odds were about as big as they come. The crash site was just under 11,000 feet on very steep, serac (ice cliff)-filled terrain below the ridge, one of an impressive peak called Thunder Mountain. Situated about 15 miles south of 20,310-foot Denali, it is actually a fierce arm of Mt. Hunter, the third highest peak in the Range. It is one of the more inaccessible areas in a mountain range known for its vertical nature, and an improbable place to survive a crash. Yet somehow they had. But for how long?

According to other pilots who had been in the area around the time of the accident, the weather was volatile on the high ridges. “Really swirling clouds with a lot of flow,” a colleague of mine remarked. However, there was good VFR in the main glacier corridors, including the large highway of the Kahiltna. A weather camera on this glacier confirmed this for the times before and after the crash.  “We’ve all worked with less… much less,” another pilot said.

A screenshot of the Kahiltna weather camera taken approximately one hour after the event. The summits in the background are just south of the crash site, and depict a ceiling of over 10,000 feet msl. The glacier sits at 6,500 feet in this view shed. Photo by the author.

However, things were about to change. The weather began deteriorating in earnest almost immediately. The National Park Service A-star B3 helicopter was able to get within a mile of the site about one hour after the ELT was detected, but it and all other aircraft were forced to return to Talkeetna ahead of the large storm that was to impact the area for the next few days. Overnight, the rain came down in sheets. I lay awake, listening to the roar of it on our cabin roof. At 1:15 a.m., my incident-commander husband finally made it home from the SAR room. At 5 a.m., he went back to work.

Denali National Park maintains an elite team of Mountaineering Rangers and a contract helicopter for SAR during the summer. This resource is usually  more than adequate to handle incidents. Because of the potential for survivors, the number of occupants, and the location of the aircraft, this was something much larger. It required the outside resources of the military.  The Alaska Rescue Coordination Center established a Unified Command between the military and the National Park Service. The title of Incident Command fell to District Ranger Tucker Chenoweth, head of the Mountaineering Rangers… and my husband. In trying to explain the situation to our five year old, he put it very aptly. “You know, it’s like daddy is in charge of a soccer team, and I’m trying to get them to play soccer… and they all come from different teams.”

The next day passed darkly, with no further contact from the downed Beaver. It’s tracking mechanism continued to give a signal, indicating the location of the aircraft. Forecast conditions aloft indicated high winds and snowfall at the crash elevation. The rainy calm of the morning was ripped asunder by the military helicopters, bravely making their way to Talkeetna through the murk. Two CH-47 Chinooks and two UH-60 Black Hawks journeyed south from Wainwright Army Base in Fairbanks, joined by two HH-60 Pave Hawks from Elmendorf. Additionally, the company of the downed plane sent out multiple aircraft.  But no one would reach the Beaver that day. My husband came home late again, with stooped shoulders. At 4 a.m. he sat straight up in bed, clutching his iPhone. The weather camera showed unexplainable, good VFR on the glacier. “It’s happening,” he said.

A marriage of NPS, Air Force, Army, and Pararescuers surged toward the site, while a military C-130 circled overhead. The downed beaver was in a precarious site, plastered to steep snow above a 4,500-foot cliff. A ranger friend  remarked that it was not the scene they were hoping for. “About the worst-case scenario,” he said. A debate ranged over which helicopter was best for initial response. In the end, the NPS ship, dubbed the “hummingbird” by the larger aircraft, was dispatched. Talented pilot Andreas Hermansky short-hauled NPS ranger Chris Erickson to the precarious site. Hermansky has been the SAR pilot for many years, and has saved lives from as high as 19,000 feet. Ranger Erickson, like all his team, is a light in the dark for those trapped on steep mountainsides. On Thunder Mountain, they battled a fierce wind and deteriorating weather as the military ships massed on the glacier below. The Chinooks had become mobile medical/refueling sites, equipped to handle multiple injured. The Pave Hawks and their attendant Pararescuers were prepared for extrication and paramedic duties. A wave of capability was breaking on the shores of Thunder Mountain. Radio silence fell as Erickson assessed the smashed aircraft. There were no survivors.

Below the aircraft is a 4,500-foot cliff. Photo courtesy NPS.

The belle of the ball: this ship and pilot Hermansky (along with all the mountaineering rangers) specialize in high-altitude, snowy, steep, glaciated rescue.

This incident will forever mystify us glacier pilots. A jagged, snowy ridge at 11,000 feet with swirling clouds is not an improbable place for CFIT. It is, however, an improbable place for a Beaver with other options. We regularly take Beavers past Thunder Mountain on scenic tours, but it seems an odd choice given that the glacier corridor below was so good. But this was not authored to pass judgement on the actions of the pilot. The description of the aircarft’s interior was grim. It is amazing that any occupants survived for any time. Even more amazing was the SAR effort put forth by the Unified Command. The NPS returned to the site a few days later, this time with my husband on the short haul line. He braved avalanche conditions, a crevasse underneath the aircraft, jagged metal, and (of course) a huge cliff below to assess the recoverability of the bodies. Hermansky hovered for nearly an hour as Chenoweth made his inspection. The enourmous hazards precluded removal.

If there had been survivors, they would have had an amazing array of rescuers at their aid. Mountain pilots, capable aircraft, paramedics, climbing experts, extrication experts, and SAR command came together to help the downed airplane. In it’s grief, the community may not have given this the attention it deserves. I encourage detractors of the decision not to remove the bodies to imagine themselves on the end of that short haul line. So I write to highlight this fact: There are a lot of brave, capable people coming to help you after your ELT goes off. If you can survive your darkest hour, there will be light.

The final statement was not directed at family members of the deceased. As the spouse of a glacier pilot, he understands the importance of bringing a loved one home. A local detractor with no connection to the deceased has unjustly criticized our brave public servants, and, through unclear motivations, has suggested that private contractors put themselves in harm’s way to attempt removal.

Leighan Falley grew up in Alaska and works as a professional pilot among the continent’s tallest mountains. She lives in Talkeetna, Alaska, with a family that includes a climbing ranger husband, two little daughters, and a rough-looking PA 22/20 on tundra tires.

The Human and the Pilot: A Story About Irrationality

The follwing are a low-time bush pilot’s thoughts about her irrational side… and when her greatest phobia somehow found its way into the cockpit. 

I recently read an online article titled “I Hate to Admit it, but Women Pilots Make Me Nervous.”  The piece was written and published for a periodical in the United Kingdom, and penned by a woman. And no, it was not from the 1970s: The date on the article was August 16, 2017. In it, the author acknowledges that her viewpoint is inflammatory and outdated, and apologizes for “…being an antiquated old sexist.” She goes on to list her own instabilities, and attributes them to her gender, expressing concern that a female pilot would also fall prey to such emotional vagaries. For example, she writes, “…I become a terrible driver at certain times of the month.  Might my pilot be flying when she’s pre-menstrual? Arguing with our teenagers can leave me distracted and upset for days. Could she be prone to getting flustered?”

Of course, we, as pilots, know this cannot be true. And, as a fellow female, I have never experienced the symptoms she is describing. There is no place for fluster in a cockpit, regardless of age, sex, outside stressors, and pretty much everything else. Part of being a pilot means maintaining a cool, calm, collected demeanor, especially in times of crisis. It means constant mindfulness, hyper-aware vigilance, and logical, succinct decision making. Though all the pilots I know display these traits on the job, I doubt if any of them are wholly unshakable. We may keep it together in the cockpit, but perhaps we allow unfiltered emotion and irrationality into other aspects of our lives.

I for one, am not unshakable. I was born an artist, with a free, impulsive spirit and not what you’d call a linear way of thinking. Over the decades, I have engineered a different personality inside of my mind: the pilot. I have grown to respect and admire this person: the cool, calm, competent decision maker. The PIC. And the PIC is unshakable in the cockpit (as a few crises have determined). However, the irrational side still exists, and it needs an outlet.

There is a large, black beetle that inhabits the boreal forests of my Alaskan home. And I am absolutely terrified of them. They have been my bane since childhood. Attracted to heat, they make for my dark hair as it warms in the sun. To my dismay, there seems to be a large population on our ramp. I learned to bribe the rampers with tip money to swat the beetles away from my safety briefings so my phobia would not become apparent to my passengers. My co-workers find this behavior hilarious, and query me about it often. In trying to explain it, I say that it helps me be a PIC…  because I allow this irrationality an outlet. I compartmentalize myself, keeping the pilot separate from the person that runs screaming from the beetles. It’s a harmless way to be a flustered person, I tell them. And the two shall never meet.

Last year, while on short final, my passenger started swatting at his neck. And swatted a big, fat, black beetle right onto my leg. It stuck there, looking up at me with its awful pincers and its unimaginable horns. And I realized that my phobia had somehow found its way into the cockpit. The next few seconds seemed to stretch out into eternity as the two sides of my personality faced off. The PIC won, of course, flicking the beetle down by the rudders and landing the Beaver quite nicely (despite the weird wind). My passenger never knew that he’d almost changed the outcome of the flight. However, as I was putting the  cap back on after fueling, I heard a loud “brrrrrzzzzzzzzzzzzzppp.” And there a beetle was, stuck to the airplane by the filler neck. And the PIC in me just shrugged her shoulders as the flustered person ran screaming for the hangar.

Leighan Falley grew up in Alaska and works as a professional pilot among the continent’s tallest mountains. She lives in Talkeetna, Alaska, with a family that includes a climbing ranger husband, two little daughters, and a rough-looking PA 22/20 on tundra tires.

Crashing airplanes is so yesterday

The following are a low-time bush pilot’s thoughts about the “bad old days” of Alaskan aviation.

Alaska can feel like an island sometimes. Obviously, it is separated both geographically and culturally from the rest of the nation. This can be said for the aviation community as well. Flying here is a haven of sorts, but can also leave one in an information vacuum. Seeking a broader knowledge of flying culture and collective wisdom, I have started to use social media. This is a drastic change for a young Luddite like myself, who is good with the ancient tech in a de Havilland cockpit, but is baffled by Instagram.

Being Alaskan, I gravitated to a backcountry flying group first. Right away, a debate raged over an incident at a recent fly-in, where a competitor in a STOL event damaged his aircraft. A sympathetic local had started a GoFundMe page to assist the owner in rebuilding his ship. A heated exchange raged between two factions: those who thought wrecking an airplane was ludicrous, and those who believed that crashing  was part of the overall flying process. Both sides were incensed, with the vast majority of comments in favor of accepting the wreck. I was fascinated, and it got me to thinking about the current culture of Alaskan aviation. Things have gotten a lot better since the “bad old days” when I was little.  However, there still exists a hero-worship of the hero aviator… and a rhetoric that things like bending metal, pushing weather, and high stakes are inevitable.  I’ve heard the countless war stories in bars and at fishing holes across the state.

Honestly, a different type of story dominates my thoughts: a story told to me by a western Alaska pilot friend of an elderly Yup’ik woman who would pray before every flight to her village, running rosary beads through her gnarled hand. “They’d all had someone die in a plane crash,” he said. To me, this simple tale highlighted the sinister consequences of crossing that line where risk outweighs reward.

So I joined the debate. My post went something like this:

Several years ago, I was giving a BFR to the daughter of a famous bush pilot. We were going over some ground school, discussing the subject of emergency procedures. She, naturally, was concerned about the prospect of an engine failure over Alaska’s unforgiving terrain. I tried to explain that a forced landing, if done properly, could be eminently survivable. “Your dad crashed like 20 planes and walked away from all of them, right?” To which she replied, “… it was more like 26.”

But times have changed. I feel like I speak for many in the avaition community that crashing airplanes has become passé. What used to be  a badge of honor is now a black mark: in the eyes of the FAA, most employers, and among my flying friends. Crashing a work plane is grounds for discontinuance, and crashing your own plane after hours isn’t looked on favorably either. And it’s not because my company or my friends are not bold. “There are those who have bent airplanes, and those who will,” said a remarkably empathetic POI after I had an incident in a work Super Cub. It was more sympathy than I deserved, and I felt ashamed. Early on in my flying days, I had to land dead-stick on a river bar because of carburetor ice. I was able to fly home unharmed, but badly shaken, after allowing the ice to melt. After tying the bush plane down and running my hands over the empennage gratefully, I went to find my flying mentor. I thought he’d be proud of how well I [performed] in a critical situation. Instead, he was deeply disappointed. It should have never happened in the first place. His reaction taught me a valuable lesson, one that I carry with me every time I fly.

This post elicited quite a few comments. However, the vast majority of commentors didn’t notice that my piece was meant to carry an opinion. Instead, they focused on the dead-stick landing part. My tale of caution ended up becoming a forum for all kinds of war stories celebrating dead-stick landings. My message got hijacked. People continued to celebrate the mistake.

When I was first learning to fly, my CFI walked into the room one day and dropped an enormous, squat book on the table with a thump. “Wh-what’s that?” I stammered. “That’s the rules,” he said with a laugh. At first I loathed the FAR/AIM. In my idealistic, juvenile understanding of aviation, I’d seen it as an impediment on my journey toward the freedom of the skies. These days a copy sits on my nightstand. I have grown to admire this publication and the philosophy it represents. We would never leave the ground if there didn’t live a little boldness, daring, and bravado in our hearts. But the line that cannot be crossed is more like a cliff. If recklessness should cause us to teeter over the edge, there may be no return from the void on the other side.

So give me a new rhetoric. A lack of war stories is a good thing. And with all due respect, I tire of the hero-worship of “famous pilots” that have crashed so many airplanes. That legacy has little to do with modern aviation. However, I do not think that we, as the pilots of today, are necessarily sissies, either. I think we have more information at our disposal, better equipment to fly, and (most importantly) are more cognizant of target risk. In today’s world, I would like to think that we operate at a threshold of boldness that gets the job done without bending anything. There are old, bold pilots…  and I want to be one.

Leighan Falley grew up in Alaska and works as a professional pilot among the continent’s tallest mountains. She lives in Talkeetna, Alaska, with a family that includes a climbing ranger husband, two little daughters, and a rough-looking PA 22/20 on tundra tires.

I Left My Wallet at Mystic Pass

The following are a low-time bush pilot’s ruminations on intuition and decision making in a high-risk environment. The actual events occurred some years ago.

It was a beautiful fall day in Talkeetna, Alaska. I was nearing the end of my first season as a Part 135 pilot, employed by a small operator that was one part maintenance shop, one part floatplane air taxi, and one part flight school. The work was diverse and thrilling, and I’d been given a rather long leash for such a green pilot. Today’s mission was to try and retrieve some overdue sheep hunters from a wildly remote glacial lake just outside Denali National Park’s western boundary.

My boss looked up at me as I walked into the office. “I got a sat-phone call this morning… they say it’s spitting snow a bit, but it’s VFR. Really windy though.” The weather had been quite nice on our side of the Great Range, but as is often the case, they were on the threshold of the other side. A series of fall pressure systems in the Bering Sea had brought an early mix of wintry conditions to the Kuskokwim headwaters.

I taxied the Cessna 180 floatplane out in the bright, still waters of late afternoon, and enjoyed an empty-airplane departure into smooth air. However, as soon as I lifted above the canopy, I could see what lay in store. Fifty miles distant, the Alaska Range was capped by an ominous roll cloud. My destination was bestowed with the poetic name Mystic Pass, and it bore a small reputation for the smashed-up airplanes decorating its sides. Before becoming the green bush pilot that flew in this story, I had worked as a climbing guide on Denali for nearly a decade. It was a dangerous job, and and I found myself often applying that experience to flying. It took all the risk-assessment I had learned in that decade to make the decision to keep going through the pass. But an insidious question loomed in my mind (as it often did that season): What would a REAL bush pilot do?

A wall of IFR loomed just down-valley from my destination, and snow was being spat horizontally out of it. My mental workload was high, but there weren’t enough reasons not to land, so I put the floatplane down on the most sheltered part of the lake I could find. As I fought the plane to shore among the icebergs, the sheep hunters came bounding over the rocky moraines. “We didn’t think you were coming!” they shouted over the wind. They scurried away to break down their camp, leaving me alone to try and turn the Cessna in the howling wind. I called out, imploring them for help, but my voice was lost in the gale. I dug my floatplane-wrangling rope out of my grey survival pack, and threw the pack onto the equally grey boulders of the shore.

“It’s going to be a rough ride out of here!” I informed them as we departed the icy whitecaps of the lake. “That’s fine with us!” they replied excitedly. The looks on their faces spoke of true hardship. We began a series of climbing turns in the VFR box to get back over the pass. The turbulence made me want my mother, and snow stuck to the windscreen like bird poop. This is probably nothing to a REAL bush pilot, I thought. As I’ve gained more experience in the Alaskan skies, this thought has remained true. But lacking the intuition that experience brings, I didn’t yet know where that line lay. It felt very close.

What is intuition anyway? Very often, it feels like a mystical quality, mercurial in nature, and transient. However, I believe that intuition is real, that it is the result of tacit memories derived from patterns we have learned over time. Development of intuition equals subtle changes in our behavior as a result of experience, which is directly linked to the overt changes described by the thing dear to a CFI’s heart: the fundamental definition of learning. When I wish to make a decision based off this subtlety, I find it helpful to ask myself: Is this intuition reliable? My criteria are based on a second question: Do I have enough experience to have sufficiently altered my behavior? Though the answer is often a moving target, I find it a helpful place to start. Before developing reliable intuition, one must adhere to rule-based decision making. Formula, matrixes, and rules are en essential part of ADM. But I do believe that formula, when combined with a reliable intuition, makes for a powerful decision maker. And it may help to explain the “luck” that follows the best bush pilots around.

“What’s that over there?” Asked one of the hunters. He was pointing to the carcass of a red airplane, an obvious victim of CFIT from a previous time. I swallowed hard as my thoughts divided between this comforting sight and the crazy things the VSI was doing.
The home lake was a picture of serenity as we docked the plane and unloaded the gear. I rejoiced in the calm and sense of mission accomplished, thinking that I never, EVER, wanted to go back to Mystic Pass again. But as the hunters unloaded, my survival pack was nowhere to be found. A sick feeling lodged itself in my gut: I’d left it at the glacial lake. Inside was my cell phone, my sat phone, my survival gear … and my wallet. “You can charter the plane and go get it, ” said my boss in a rather unsympathetic tone. The ace in the hole of the Alaskan aviator is the long daylight of summer. It was about the only thing I had going for me. As I rose above above the canopy yet again, the Alaska Range looked even more ominous with its evening backlit fracto-cumulus. I clenched my jaw and gripped the yoke with one sweaty hand. My wallet was at Mystic pass, and I was gonna get it.

Leighan Falley grew up in Alaska and works as a professional pilot among the continent’s tallest mountains. She lives in Talkeetna, Alaska, with a family that includes a climbing ranger husband, two little daughters, and a rough-looking PA 22/20 on tundra tires.