May 12, 2013
Bush Planes: Accessing Alaska
By Peter B. Mathiesen
Three years ago, outdoor writer, photographer, and consummate sportsman Peter Mathiesen left his hometown of St. Louis to start a new life in Alaska. Here’s why he made the move, what everyday life is like, and how it feels to have Denali right outside your window.
No trip to Alaska is complete without at least one ride in a vintage bush plane. Even today, these Super Cubs, Taylorcrafts, Beavers, and Otters DeHavillands play a vital role in transportation, freight, and even serve as a lifeline to countless rural Alaskans.
There are numerous rogue pilots in the state flying less-than-certified airplanes. However, the vast majority of licensed aircraft companies offer immaculately maintained planes with some of the most experienced bush pilots in the world. You will find a plethora of these pilots and vintage wilderness aircraft just 10 miles from my home at the Talkeetna airport. Check out Talkeetna Air Taxi’s web site and the live web cam of the Alaska Range here.
Talkeetna is the primary support station for climbers on Denali and dozens of other sites in the Alaskan Range. On an average day in mid May, you'll see nearly two dozen turbine Otters and close to a dozen radial Beavers rigged with wheel-ski landing gear. Floatplanes (five miles away at Fish Lake) are still several days away from being put in the water, as the ice has not yet fully receded.
These powerful air freighters spend the entire year mixing cargo with climbers, support gear, and plenty of tourists flying routes to numerous destinations, including landing on glaciers at 7,000 feet on Denali.
While climbers make up a large part of aviation-season travelers, there are plenty of anglers and hunters being ferried to inaccessible parts of the North Susitna Valley and the Talkeetna river systems.
If you fly to a location 30 miles from town, you may find great fishing or hunting, but someone has been there recently. Fly an hour to an hour-and-a-half, and you really may be in a place that just a handful of sportsmen ever get to experience.
Getting to a remote location will cost you around $350 per person. The trick is to keep your party down to two people with ultra light gear. As long as the carrier only has to make one trip in a smaller aircraft, you can sometimes get in and out for $250 each. If you’re with a group of lineman-sized guys with heavy camping gear, it’s going to take a larger plane, or more than one trip, upping the cost substantially.