Seizing every moment possible, the first child awake and I departed Smiley Creek northbound for Big Creek. A well-deserved breakfast after one of the most awe-inspiring approaches to a mountain airstrip were in order, and surely making the trip with Josh, whom was the first person I’ve flown into Big Creek (which coincided with my first time flying into Big Creek), and Tyler and Sarah, who were also first timers made it very special to me. And meeting our great friends Joshua and Kelli who were smart and left early made it even more special. Moments I’ll treasure while Josh and I stood upstream and watched the cutest little Pacer make a beautiful approach and landing to what can be an intimidating airstrip made today something to remember.
More than my best friends heading to breakfast, my son Luke and I shared some tender moments on our journey across the backcountry. From his delicate control of the aircraft, to his uncanny ability to take the view outside and that on a sectional chart (yes, even a paper one!) and correlate position and direction, and even making Roy-grade backcountry position reports on 122.9, I spent more than a few healthy moments wiping the tears out of my eyes while the last few days of thoughts and conversations came to fruition.
Realizing the moments being made with my son were moments I recently longed for was overwhelming to the point we gained a few thousand feet (at no appreciable loss of ground speed, by the way) and I didn’t even notice. Thinking about those precious moments my father and I spent camping across the southwest in search of the next ghost town, staring at a senior year high school yearbook photo of my dad (that resides in place of a compass deviation card), watching my son take the many hours we’ve flown and pilot us across some of the most breathtaking, challenging, remote areas…was again overwhelming.
I don’t know why I’ve become so emotional but here I am in some of the most beautiful country around flying with my son crying the whole time.
Trying to take 80 miles per hour airplanes and covering nearly 250 miles with a little time here and there to eat, to fuel, to rest, and to return, makes early mornings a necessity. Many of my mentors warned me of the perils of flying in the mountains after high noon. However, favorable conditions, an uncanny ability to climb without notice, and my son continually evaluating what Plans B, C, and D are as we traversed the backside of the Sawtooths made what was likely one of my most challenging flights again memorable.
We’re always enjoying the eastern slopes of the Sawtooths here in the Stanley Valley. Picturesque views of the ragged rocks break up the monotony of countless peaks and valleys across this desolate area. A few clear lakes litter the mountain range on its good side. Looking into what lies beyond our sight lines always draws me yearning for more, and today, a decision made by our four friends to cut a few corners and beeline it back to base camp, putting the backside of the Sawtooths in our path.
Reaching almost 11,000 feet above the seas, the Sawtooth Range and the afternoon winds took turns adding climbing and descending columns of air ahead of us. Traversing these iconic peaks, altitudes, airspeeds, and alternatives were continuously calculated. Luke in the back managing the maintaining of our attitude in the turbulent air kept us from succumbing to the errant jostling across some of the most breathtaking vistas. Field Goal Peak and Shark Fin Peak and the numerous teal blue alpine lakes were immortalized in our minds as we feared moments trying to capture them on cameras would result in a potential loss of our level attitude through the tumble dry cycle.
Worrying Luke would let the turbulence get the best of him, I approached the situation as I would have at work, calmly explaining the weather ahead, providing assurance that this is not out of the ordinary for this area, and an estimated timeline as to when it would end.
Descending over Alturas Lake into Smiley Creek out of 11,000 feet, I was amazed at the grin Luke and I both shared. Our friends, our families, and a few milkshakes won by accurately guessing our fuel consumption the closest (tach hours multiplied by 4.75 for old 37H) awaited us.
Embracing our fellow adventurers after the day’s successful mission, I remembered the sheer joy and terror that manifest itself in those moments. Some hiding it better than others, we knew it was a day we would never forget. Whether we remember the views, the blueberry muffins, or the sheer power of upper level winds across jagged rocks, I’ll never forget that Luke told me he wants to go again.
Soon, bud. Just got to wipe these tears away first.