Almost Overlooked - Days 10, 11, and 12

By Zachary Sheldon | Published Feb 1, 2024
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We woke up to a ceiling around 2,800ft that got lower to the north, the direction where Matt was flying in from. Soon an Arctic fog bank rolled in, it started raining, and you couldn't see outside the valley. This didn't look good. That afternoon we got a text from Matt that he got 5 miles from us. He set down waiting for the weather to clear in the valley when he got caught in the fog. He was grounded for about 5 hours and then when it cleared enough, he took off back to the lodge and was going to try again the next morning.

He had a bunch of flying to do the next day and was going to get us first thing. We were to send him a weather report at 2am. We spent the whole day in the tent just laying in our sleeping bags.

The next day we were still fogged in. Matt informed us he had flying to do over to the west and he would try for the next day. He had another pilot coming in and the two of them would come for us. We spent another day in the fog and drizzle in the tent. Our wives were not happy.

At this point Eric and I were thinking we burned up three days in the same area, if we had kept hiking, we would be nearing the mostly packraft sections. Closer to the end and saving money not having to pay for an extraction. But at this point if we left, it would put us a lot further behind schedule and who knows if we'd be in an area where Matt could land should the weather and his schedule match up.

So we sat in the tent.

Then weather improved and we had to do something. We thought we'd go to the river and have a fire. We could at least be outside the tent, and enjoy the warmth of a fire.

Everything was so soaked from the two days of rain. After 45 minutes of trying, even after using my pocket rocket as a torch, we admitted defeat. It just reaffirmed our situation was junk.

Determined to salvage something from the day I decided to hike up the hill to the west and check out the view. Eric returned to the tent.

There was one caribou on the ridge when I started, but it was long gone when I reached the top. The ceiling was high and the views were far. I looked to the east where we came from and to the west, trying to spot where we would have travel should we have continued hiking out.

After walking around for 20 minutes I started back for camp.

The next day we texted Matt asking how things were looking. He reported his pilot was in and we were the priority now, just waiting on the weather. Soon after the fog rolled back in and the rain started up over us.

The rain started to taper off and the fog started to clear. Matt texted us, he'll be to us at 4:30. Finally! We were getting out. We packed up everything around 3pm and waited.

Not too long after we heard at noise of a prop rise from behind the hill.

Matt was first over the ridge in his PA-12 Super Cruiser, he did a flight over the landing zone. Then the Brett appeared over the hill in his PA-18 Super Cub.

They landed and we loaded up and carried our gear to the planes. We were finally getting out of here.

Immediately talking with Matt all the frustration and animosity that built up while trapped in the tent left. He's a great guy and we were thankful to finally be leaving. That's just how it goes with bush flying in Alaska. You're always at the mercy of the weather and as bad as you want to get out, you want to get out and not get caught in a weather system in the air.

We loaded up and flew out to the lodge. As we flew, I was tracing the country looking at the route we would have taken should we have continued as planned. Were I single, I probably would have continued. But I still felt I made the right call for where I am in life. We did skip some nice floats and pretty country. Maybe it was just the perspective of being 1,000ft above it all... Maybe it would have been as awful as the day we called it. Probably not, but maybe.

At the Silvertip Aviation lodge Matt and his wife treated us to snacks. I was all for the fresh baked cookies and lemonade. We chatted for about an hour before loading up in Matt's 185 and heading out to Happy Valley Airstrip.

We unloaded the plane and put our gear in our vehicles. Someone came over and talked to Matt as Eric and him were by the plane. I walked over to say thanks and goodbye, but the conversation was flowing so after waiting about 20 minutes trying not to be rude, I injected my appreciations and salutations and departed.

It was just over 6pm, Eric drove out first and I waited a few minutes as to not get a rock in the windshield or follow in his dust trail.

The sun was setting behind the Brooks Range as I approached Coldfoot. I wanted to get some gas in Coldfoot because I barely made it to Happy Valley from Fairbanks and I filled the tank as much as possible before leaving Fairbanks. When I filled the car with the gas cans, I probably could have gotten another couple gallons in it.

It was 10:30pm when I pulled in and thankfully, they were still open. I got some gas, orange juice, and a KitKat. I was hoping for a cinnamon roll. It seems a lot of the gas stations with restaurants along the Alaska Highway (Which I was not on. But have driven many times) usually have them, but `twas not the case.

I got back on the road. Just after passing the Arctic Circle my low tire pressure light came on. It appeared I had a slow leak. The rest of the drive down the Haul Rd I would pull over every hour or so and check it.

I made it to Fairbanks and just wanted to get home. So I kept driving through the night. I seemed to pass Eric in Fairbanks and was about an hour ahead of him after passing through the Alaska Range. But halfway between Paxson and Glennallen I hit road construction and by the time they let me through he was 2-3 cars back. We kept on driving hitting several more construction zones and got back to Valdez just after 9am.

It was good to be home.