After weeks and weeks of nonstop rain and wind, a blue sky and light breeze beckons to the Alaskan pilot: VFR Flying Day!
Today I fly just for the joy of it. Destination: navigate through Lake Clark Pass from Cook Inlet and onto the magnificent lake, some 100 air miles into Southwest Alaska. Traveling with me is another, more experienced bush pilot, a visitor from Outside and a dog in the back.
We enter the pass heading west where it begins just behind Big River Lakes at about 2,500 feet. There is a minor quartering headwind and unlimited visibility.
With autumn showing red and gold in the brush along the cliffs, the sunlight sparkles on every surface, reflecting a pink hue off of some glaciers below.
Waterfalls had cut their way into knife-edge crevasses in the rock faces, appearing as tiny white ribbons curling down a brown backdrop.
The pass is long -- some 70 air miles -- but wide, miles across at most points. And yet it feels deceptively intimate to the human eye. The occasional airplane flying the opposite way seems the size of a bird. As a result, the photography is amateur-level easy: nearly every vista shows the braided water on the valley floor, the rock and brush faces of the cliffs, and even the snow-covered peaks towering behind and over them.
When we emerge into the vast opening to Lake Clark, the notorious winds welcome us with some significant punches, interrupting the sense of tranquility.
In place of the Pass comes the awesome spectacle of glacier-fed turquoise water bordered by lush, low green rolling hills. The village of Port Alsworth passes by below, one of the stranger sites to behold with its two, parallel, several-thousand-foot-long runways. Beyond to the horizon, terrain of the Pebble prospect slopes uphill.
We decide to land and this pilot learns another float-flying lesson about the optical illusions of landing on water: how deceptively far away the shoreline of a bay can appear when setting up for the descent and landing. One go-around later, we touch down near a lodge and pull up to the beach, where a welcoming soul is wondering about our intentions.
What was intended to be a quick stop for the dog and passengers to stretch their many legs is jolted by a second optical illusion. How shallow the clear water looks when standing on the floats!
I step down into sparkling water which turns out to be far more than knee deep. Thanks to Travis, the friendly lodge caretaker, and an excellent clothes dryer inside the quiet lodge.
We spend a delightful hour savoring the stunning scenery and tranquility on the ground. It feels as though we're in the middle of Lake Clark.
Alice Rogoff is a private pilot and also the publisher of Alaska Dispatch.
Alaska Dispatch Publishing