to Alaska, almost...(Part 2)
of 2008 wasnt a memorable one in
terms of good flying weather. Most
of the country endured rain, cloud and
cold for three months. Several
full weeks would go by while we sat on
the ground. My seasonal work was
flying in Northern British Columbia for
the Forest Health Program. We flew
specialists in forest pest identification
who mapped the damage to trees caused by,
among other things, the Mountain Pine
beetle. Out here in B.C. a huge
percentage of pine is already dead, and
speculation is there will be none left in
a few short years. Further, the
beetle is migrating into Alberta and
Saskatchewan, carried by the wind, even
the jet stream. Huge swarms of
this insect apparently appear on radar
just as rain does. Worst of all,
theres no way to stop them at this
time. All that can be done is
assess and monitor the damage until
someday, they run out of food
at an isolated gravel strip
we used is quite simple, and that was to
fly grid patterns where possible allowing
the specialists to assess pretty much the
entire province for damage and decide
what type of pests are active.
Consequently, it was a great way for a
pilot to see just about every square mile
of British Columbia, at least the section
hes assigned to. Mine was
mostly the north-west quarter of the
province, from Tweedsmuir Provincial Park
up to Dease Lake, and from the centre of
the province right out to the west coast.
at Hudson's Hope BC
never went north of 60, for a
southerner like myself, I consider that
area the NORTH. Every
small town we worked from is consistent
with the northern character. Many
bear resemblance to a mining or logging
camp, where the motels and restaurants
are full of transient workers, and
helicopters come and go by the dozens
from local airports. Businesses in
the towns have names like Glacier,
Frontier, Northern and Pacific Western.
Pickup trucks rule.
Theyre all painted with the same
color mud and sport cracked windshields.
Nowhere will you people wearing a
suit and tie. Its a rough
and tough atmosphere resembling a pioneer
Mine, south of Burns Lake.
come to this area, including many on
their way to Alaska. Time was when
there was one route, the Alaska Highway
from Dawson Creek. In recent
years, an alternate highway has been
paved through Dease Lake. Highway
37, now favored by hundreds of travelers
in motorhomes, cars and a surprising
number of motorcyclists. They come
from all over the continent to take home
the bragging rights I went to
Alaska. A common shortcut is
to drive to Stewart, B.C. then cross the
border into Hyder, Alaska.
Its the end of the road and as
such, theres no U.S. customs to
deal with. Just Canadian customs
when you come back. At that point,
the Alaska panhandle is so far south
its only a short distance from
Prince Rupert and a long way south from
the Yukon border.
from 10,000 feet.
still make the trek each summer as well.
This is a good place to see the
bush planes, several with the big tundra
tires grinding up the various routes
north. I enjoyed the company of a
Super Cub pilot who flew from Nanoose Bay
on Vancouver Island one day.
Shortly after his visit, a restaurant
owner from Aspen, Colorado came through
in a PA12 which was outfitted for the
roughest country he was likely to find.
I hope those two pilots eventually
met up and had time to spend together.
They were both looking for similar
always a factor in the rugged mountains
of the northern B.C. Some days the
wind would blast in and wed feel
like a cork in a Jacuzzi. Other
times, it was so calm and clear that
viewing the mountain scenery was like
watching it on a movie screen.
After flying so much in the southern half
of the country and on the prairies, the
north is peculiar in its scarcity
of population. Its pretty
much all mountains and bush. Only
the occasional road, village or tiny
settlement is seen. Theres a
vast territory out there.
River, some 20 miles west of Terrace.
sometimes frustrated by the difficulty in
obtaining reliable weather reports in
this part of the country. Quite
often, contacting Pacific Radio is
difficult on 126.7. Our monitoring
was done by the BC Forest Service from
the Fire Centres in Prince George and
Smithers. Automated Flight
Following is employed, where a signal is
sent every two minutes from our aircraft
to the centres via satellite giving them
GPS co-ordinates. The tracking
lines connecting the GPS dots
show up on maps in the dispatch office.
Additionally, we were required to
make voice contact via radio every 30
minutes. It wasnt guaranteed
insurance against a crash, but if there
ever was an engine failure, wed be
located pretty fast!
point A to point B, carrying passengers,
supplies, equipment and machinery is the
traditional life of the bush pilot.
In this forest health work
however, we were airborne for many hours
at a time. Flying the grid
patterns sharpened up my GPS skills and
ensured a pretty thorough understanding
of navigation by degrees, minutes and
assignment lasted just under three months
and about 200 hours of flight time.
Not a whole lot, but this
particular job depended so much on
weather. Any significant cloud
would be cause to scrub the days
flying. At the end of the summer,
with plenty of great flying behind me, I
came away with my fill of mountains and
bush. Not an unpleasant experience
by any means, but autumn is a good time
to be back on the south coast of B.C.