Courtesy of Points North
Day 2 in Alaska heli camp: settling into the routine
March 21, 2008 —
I woke up to Owen the black lab breathing on my face. My first night of sleep in the guide house was a little rough, even with the help of Ambien. My head seemed to be in directly lined up with a draft of cold air coming in through the window.
I felt like crap, and it was 6:30 a.m. It was time for the guide meeting just a few feet away from my bed, which was nice since I was sleeping in all my clothes and all I had to do was stand up, put on some fuzzy Crocs and walk a couple of feet.
Outside it was clear but still dark. The immediate indication was that today was going to be a fly day, and my energy and nerves jumped as I imagined we would soon be hovering over the Chugach Mountain range in a helicopter.
Kevin Quinn, owner and operator of Points North Heli Adventures, along with his wife Jessica, started off the guide meeting by reading a letter from the fire chief and signed by the mayor of nearby Cordova, Alaska.
The letter thanked Points North as well as a few of the guides for their assistance in helping with the retrieval of an avalanche victim a few days prior to my arrival. It was tragedy that took place right above town and had nothing to do with the heli operation.
Apparently a couple of well-known and snow-savvy locals had hiked a mountain above town with their dogs to get some fresh tracks. They had a few successful runs until one of the dogs, or perhaps both, triggered a huge avalanche (15-foot crown) that wound up taking the life of one of the skiers.
Iím officially in Alaska Ö and like all big, wild places, it needs to be respected.
After the debriefing of the incident and the reading of the letter we went into our daily schedule and procedures: groups, what zones we would be flying into and what approach to make on the terrain.
Since Walker Milhoan and I had just arrived, we would be holding down the base camp. This meant a combination of working in the kitchen cleaning dishes and peeling potatoes to manning the aircraft radio and setting up gear for the next fly day. We were basically part of base operations while groups took off the deck and into the field.
At this camp everyone pitches in to help keep the place functioning. Since itís only up and running a few months a year, everyone who works here is from a very tight-knit group of Quinnerís friends. He only chooses people with a great work ethic and great skills. Itís an amazing group of friends to work with while Iím here.
Day 3 (I fly!)
We prayed the winds would calm down on Day 3. They didnít. But I got to go up in the heli anyway - on a recon. We were hoping that we could find something with good snow that hadnít been abused by the wind. As we gained elevation, it was evident that the wind was still pumping, as banners of snow were blasting off the high peaks.
The snow texture as we flew from one valley to the next indicated that almost every aspect had been wind affected. Ugghh! We landed a ridge, unloaded and skied one run on a variety of aspects.
It was a mix of a slight velvet powder and a breakable crust - the kind of conditions where every turn youíre just trying not to instantly flip upside down Ö or blow out a knee. It was good, but not incredible. Not worth flying the clients out onto it.
Since we couldnít land up high because of the winds and the lower landings had the conditions I just described going on, we decided to pull the plug under clear skies but windy conditions. It was a hard one to explain to clients when we got back to base Ė but it was the right decision.
Next blog: a big fly day on Day 4!
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