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We got up before dawn this morning and headed back to Anchorage. Driving along Turnagain Arm, we saw some mountain goats grazing right at the edge of the road. They really did stop traffic!
We were able to turn in the car, retrieve the plane from transient parking, get it fueled, get a weather briefing, and file VFR out of Anchorage in a remarkably short time. We were soon in the air, heading up the Glen Highway towards Tok Junction and Northway. In order to get to Skagway from Anchorage, one must either go completely over water or follow an inland route via Northway, Whitehorse, and then down to Skagway. I was not comfortable attempting a long flight over water in a single-engine aircraft, so we were left with the lengthy overland route.
Northway is the first stop in Alaska for those flying up the highway and is often used for customs. They have the transient pilot in mind, and even have rooms available for those times when the weather shuts everything down. We reached Northway and then Whitehorse without incident, just a long day of flying.
At Whitehorse the weather office advised us there were conflicting reports as to whether the White Pass was open or not. In order to reach Skagway from Whitehorse, a pilot may either fly an airway to Juneau and then VFR back up to Skagway or follow the Klondike Highway from Whitehorse to Skagway. Skagway is ringed by coastal mountains, and there are two passes through these mountains, namely the White Pass and the Chilkoot Pass. Both of these passes were used by the 1898 gold rush stampeders, who would land at either Skagway or Dyea and pack their supplies over the passes to a chain of lakes that led to the Yukon River and thence to Dawson City. The Klondike Highway follows the route of the White Pass but there is no road or trail today that marks the Chilkoot Pass.
We were able to follow the Klondike Highway down to the White Pass, where we encountered a solid mass of low clouds, perhaps 500 feet agl. These clouds appeared to have come up from the coast side and were totally obscuring the highway. There was no choice but to do a 180 and head back to Whitehorse.
This evening a local commercial pilot told us that often it was possible to get through the Chilkoot Pass when the White Pass was shut down. However since we were not familiar with the area or the mountains, I didn't think it was a viable option for us to attempt (the local pilot agreed).
Hopefully tomorrow the pass will clear. Weather delays are a part of flying Alaska, and one must accept them. Sometimes, according to the local pilots, you can get weathered in for days and there is no choice but to sit on the ground and wait it out. In particular the mountain passes can shut down very quickly. A report on the mountain passes should be a standard part of any weather briefing. Even though the FSS specialists have information on the passes, their status can change very rapidly -- so be prepared for it!
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Copyright © 2003 Linda Dowdy, last revision 030302