Monday, September 24, 2007

Idaho Wilderness Flying

Shortly after the death of my Father-in-law, I disappeared into the Idaho wilderness for a week long camping trip. I took 3 of my friends and we ended up camping at Fish Lake, Idaho. The first picture shows (L-R) myself, Mike Andrews, and Don Isaac. Jesse Penna joined us later in the week.

Fish Lake is a wilderness airstrip location that features pristine camping, hiking, and fishing opportunities beside a wilderness lake. There are no roads; the location is accessed via trails (20-ish miles) or by aircraft.

The airstrip is approximately 2800 feet long and is suitable for rugged, high performance aircraft such as my T206, or perhaps Maules/Super Cubs and similar aircraft. This airstrip is kind of like the Hotel California: it's easy to check in but hard to leave. You have to be very patient for favorable conditions. I found that leaving early in the morning, when it was still and cold, was the only way to haul a heavy load out safely and easily. YMMV. Pilots, check density altitude and your POH!

The pictured aircraft is a Maule (not my plane) and was in/out a lot during the time we were there. He was hauling mostly elk hunters (bow season was open) into the location.

We were pleased to see that the USFS cabin was staffed with an onsite wilderness host. This volunteer's responsibility is to look after the campers and the outfitters in the area; while we were there, there was about 5 groups in the neighborhood.

The area has incredible beauty and some pretty good wildlife as well. We saw deer, moose, and black bear and heard bugling elk. We caught cutthroat trout out of the lake; they were incredibly brilliantly colored.

The photo on the left shows a little stream that runs along the airstrip; it's mostly dry but has a few holes with water (and even fish).

The colors of the trees, grass, sky and water are extraordinary. I hunted for the right word there; even extraordinary falls a little short. We don't have scenery like this in Kansas!

We didn't experience any problems with mosquitoes; apparently they can be a hassle, but we saw lots of frost in the mornings and the biting critters were gone.

There are trails in the area for hikers; more on a hike I did in a few paragraphs.

The airstrip has killed quite a few aviators who made poor decisions; always concerning takeoff. Prevailing winds are almost always tailwinds upon takeoff, and they can get quite strong. When combined with rising temperatures and the high altitude, effective takeoff run lengths can easily exceed the field length. Making it even more questionable is the uneven sod surface on the runway. You keep hitting holes on the takeoff run, and they keep slowing the plane down. Finally, it skips into the air and keeps climbing. Whew! The warning sign accident numbers are outdated; to date there have been 8 accidents with 13 or more fatalities.

On our last day, Jesse and I climbed to the top of a nearby ridge. We had a great view of the lake and the airstrip. I found a passing sasquatch that was willing to take our picture; he did a really great job.

My airplane is barely discernible as the small white spec in the middle of the airstrip. I'm wearing my WiebeTech orange T-shirt; Fish Lake is clearly visible, and so is an old burned out part of the forest in the distance. The elevation gain required to take this hike was 1100 feet above the field; trail length is two miles from the airstrip to this point. It's great for your heart!