An Alaskan Aviation Adventure

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I've talked about visiting Alaska for probably a decade now. This year, I finally made it. 3 weeks, flying solo in my Grumman Tiger. It was awesome! Here's the story of the journey...

July 1-4: San Diego to Whitehorse
July 5-6: Whitehorse to Barrow
July 7-10: Barrow
July 11-14: Valdez and Denali
July 15-17: Homer
July 18-20: Juneau to Gig Harbor
July 21-23: Gig Harbor to San Diego


Trip planning technically started more than two years ago. A group of pilots had all declared an interest in flying up to Alaska the following summer. We looked at different routes, places to stop, things to do. Things came up, and ultimately only 3 of us assembled to make the trip... and were confronted with weather forecasts of two weeks of solid rain. After rescheduling to this summer, more things came up, and then I was the only one left going...

Ok, fine. I would be free to follow my own program, and my plan was ambitious. I decided my goal was to visit the northernmost habitation in the US at Barrow, and see the midnight sun and snowy owls there. It would be a long trip - Barrow is 2636nm from my home base in San Diego. Denali, a glacier day-cruise, and a bear viewing tour were also high on the list. I would fly up via the "Trench Route" and the Alaska Highway. On the way back, weather permitting, I'd stay along the coast.


While I had an EFB for the trip, I'm enough of a dinosaur to want to have paper charts along - Especially the Canadian charts which were unfamiliar and hard to read on the tablet. I found it was very straightforward to purchase the charts directly from the NAV CANADA Online Store. In addition to the VFR sectionals (VNCs), I also picked up IFR charts and approach plates (Canada Air Pilot) just in case. If you buy any of the CAPs, don't forget to include one of the free CAP GENs! It's basically the legend for all the plates. Finally, even for VFR only flight, make sure to get the Canada Flight Supplement (CFS). It's a fat book that's like our Flight Supplement (A/FD) and lists important things like the ATIS and ground frequencies which are nowhere on the VFR charts! As a bonus it lists the local FBOs and indicates whether services like food, car rental, or internet are on-field or nearby.

The store is, of course, priced in C$, so at current exchange rates you get a nice discount off the number you see. Furthermore, at least to the US they ship International FedEx, so the charts showed up surprisingly quickly. If you have any questions, it's easy to get a live person on the phone to help. This year, the Vancouver charts were due to be updated in June just before I was to leave. When I ordered in late-May, there was no way to specify online that I wanted the new edition, not whatever they had in stock (which I already had from last year's abort). The agent told me if I could put in the order online that day, she'd look out for it and annotate it for the new chart. Uh huh. What could possibly go wrong? ... Nothing! I got everything except for the Vancouver charts right away, and a few weeks later, the new Vancouver charts showed up. I was quite pleased.

One final note on the subject of NAV CANADA. They are the private corporation that runs all of Canada's air traffic services, from the chart store to the control towers. For light GA aircraft under 3 metric tons (6600lbs) there is a C$17 quarterly user fee for foreign aircraft (assessed per quarter ending Feb, May, Aug, Nov). This covers everything except landings at a short list of big airports like Vancouver (C$10/day). You'll get an invoice in the mail about a month later. There was no obvious way to pay it on line, so I called them and paid by credit card over the phone. It was pretty simple, and while I do not support the idea of user fees here in the US (raise the fuel tax if you must), if it winds up being implemented as sensibly as it seems to be in Canada, I can't really complain.


The general plan was to fly two roughly three-hour legs each flying day. That could cover up to 750nm each day, and get me to Barrow in five days. The initial itinerary I drew up looked like this:

  • July 1: Redmond, OR
  • July 2: Prince George, BC
  • July 3: Whitehorse, YT
  • July 4: Whitehorse, YT
  • July 5: Fairbanks, AK
  • July 6: Barrow
  • July 7: Barrow
  • July 8: Barrow
  • July 9: Fairbanks / Denali
  • July 10: Valdez
  • July 11: Valdez
  • July 12: Valdez
  • July 13: ?? - Maybe towards King Salmon or Kodiak, maybe towards Skagway/Juneau
  • I figured after two weeks, weather or other delays would have me off the plan anyway, and I'd play it by ear. I guessed by around 3 weeks, I'd want to be getting home. The limiting factor would be the 30 day USPS mail hold limit, as I didn't make other arrangements for mail forwarding or pickup.

    On the morning of July 1 I packed the plane full of stuff - easily half was emergency related I hoped I wouldn't need, and set off.

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