So many fish!

Sunday, September 01, 2013
Ketchikan, Alaska, United States
We knew today was going to be a long flight along the coast of Alaska to Anchorage so we wanted to do some exploring beforehand. Ketchikan had already surprised us the evening before, and we were particularly intrigued by the number of fish we saw in its river. So after breakfast, that's where we headed.

What's called the "Fish Ladder" didn't disappoint . This was straight out of National Geographic with the salmon fighting their way up the rocks and against the current to reach their spawning ground. It looked like such a sisyphean task, that it's hard to believe that any make it up the "ladder" at all. The number of fish we saw at the top though was ridiculous. There were more salmon than water in places! Countless also were dead amongst the rocks. For someone from Dallas, this was quite a new spectacle. Folks from the cruise ships were also getting a kick out of it, although I was pleasantly surprised by how few people were out.

After our walk along the river it was time to start heading out. We'd seen so many flyers around town for flights through the Misty Fjords just south of town, that we wanted to fly that first. Wow! After departing we were at 1000' with the fjords up along both sides. It's a vast network of fjords and we didn't see any other planes, although with the number of seaplanes departing from Ketchikan they had to be out there somewhere . The weather was perfect and it was inspiring to see the fjords from this angle. So much of our flying has been at higher altitudes (12,000 or so on average) so to be so low was a new perspective. Needless to say the cameras were working hard.

From there we filed IFR knowing it was going to be cloudy along the way in the 6 hours we had ahead of us. For the most part though, the flight was above the clouds and smooth. We could see some huge peaks in the distance and off to our right. It was moving countryside. Not but few miles from the Pacific were the massive peaks of the St. Elias Mountains, the Chugach Mountains, and the Kenai Mountains. Perhaps most impressive of all was the long Bering Glacier. There wasn't another soul out to be seen so it was fun flying.

The fun got quite intense as neared Anchorage. With still some mountains to cross before we reached the relative flatlands of Anchorage, we were in some dense clouds . It wasn't turbulent, but fortunately we'd regained radio contact after the mountains and started our dissent. The hourly automated weather painted a pretty picture of the Anchorage cloud coverage, but at 1700' above ground we were still in the clouds. It was odd that they hadn't put us on a structure approach, but rather just kept vectoring us around. Finally, when we popped out it was our typical challenge of finding the right airport. To our right was the massive international airport, and ahead and to our left the massive air force base. Unbelievably, the Merrill Field airport was right behind downtown Anchorage, so we got to descend right along the Hilton and Sheraton hotels before landing.

Merrill Field is an interesting place. There are SO many taildraggers. It was refreshing to see general aviation in such good shape up in Alaska. What wasn't in such good shape was the FBO or mechanic situation at the field. We came from spoiled airports where large shops were clearly labeled . Here it was much more a shoot from the hip approach. Our first targeted maintenance shop had, upon us walking up and tracking down a phone number to call, had been closed for 2,5 years. Next up while taxiing we tried a couple more places before settling on just transient parking and leaving the rest up to tomorrow. It was late on Labor Day after all, so no surprise things were quite.

Our hotel, a former Howard Johnson, had seen better days and I wouldn't recommend it, but for the price and location it did the trick. We found a brew pub and that quickly warmed us up and put the smiles back on our tired faces. It's hard to get a quality first impression of a place if you've been cramped & flying for so many hours and then it's dark, cold & rainy upon arrival. Still, I can imagine Anchorage to be a fun yet rugged town worth more than just a transitory stop. Our mini pub crawl after dinner helped validate that.

Our routing today was VFR in the Misty Fjords and then IFR to Anchorage:
ANN BKA HAPIT YAK JOH SNRIS PAMR (Merrill Field) at 10,000'. Flight time was almost 6,5 hours.
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