Talkeetna to Whitehorse

I don't really feel like writing this post, to be honest. This was one of my least-fun flights that I can remember.

We woke up in Talkeetna and finished packing up. We weren't in a huge hurry to get going. This day was going to be only flying. So, we walked to The Roadhouse for breakfast, then back to the airport. I walked ahead, because Emma is a slow walker, and I wanted to visit the Flight Service Station (FSS) at Talkeetna. Flight Service Stations are just about extinct in the lower 48, so I was excited about getting an opportunity to get a real in-person briefing. It was really fun to look at all the forecast products with someone. My primary concern for today's fight was Icing.

My usual tools for evaluating icing risk (the US Icing model and Skew-T/Log-P plots) weren't available for this flight, though the global icing model was. The global model, and the ForeFlight briefing were forecasting ice, but the briefer at the FSS wasn't convinced. He more-or-less dismissed the concerns, saying that there were no AIRMETS, SEGMETS, or remarks regarding icing along the route.

ForeFlight briefing

We filed our intent to depart with US CBP, and Canada Border Protection, and filed our IFR flight plan.

After filling up the plane and departing, we headed east. I got Anchorage Center on the radio and tried to open my flight plan. They weren't able to find it, but opened a new one for me anyway.

By the time we reached the Talkeetna Mountains east of town, we were getting into the clouds. Within the next fifteen minutes, or so, we did start picking up trace ice. It was pretty intermittent, and seemingly only in the clouds that had vertical development. We started working to avoid these clouds by deviating left and right. Once we were past the Talkeetna Mountains, the unstable air didn't have the forcing action of the mountains and the clouds settled down. This gave us some time to take stock of things and think about our strategy for the remainder of the flight.

At this point in the journey, we were in a bit of a bowl, and mostly on our own. Anchorage Center was technically responsible for us, but we didn't have radar service or communications. Eventually we did make contact at a reporting point just prior to the border, and were given the instruction "Maintain one-two-thousand while in controlled airspace, contact Edmonton Center one-hundred miles prior to whitehorse". This was a mostly-formal "you're on your own for almost two hours, good luck".

I was a little unfamiliar with how much latitude I had to change altitudes and deviate with such an instruction. We were still hitting some clouds with ice in them, and I was getting worried about how much TKS was left. We were shedding the ice at an OK rate, and we weren't accumulating anything more than a few millimeters on the leading edges. But, this was way more than I was comfortable with. So, I just started deviating anyway.

Eventually, and much closer than 100nm from Whitehorse, I was finally able to get Edmonton Center on the radio. I told them I had deviated left of corse, and that I could accept a vector whenever they wanted. I don't remember the exact response, but it was essentially "We don't have radar where you are, so you can proceed direct Whitehorse whenever you want"

Again, we were in a position where the clouds were behind us, and we had an easy shot to our destination. After a bit of decompressing, Katie and I talked about our experience. I confided that I was stressed about what had happened, and that I was remaining calm to not give her the impression that things weren't going great. She said "that's good, because I was afraid, and I was calm because you were calm." The whole time, though, she was watching for ice build-up, helping me spot bad clouds, helping me decide whether left or right would be a better choice. Katie was a hell of a co-pilot. I feel incredibly lucky to have a wife that not only likes to go on these flying trips, but is able to take the bad with the good, rise to the occasion, and kick ass.

Shortly thereafter, Edmonton Center asked me if I had an approach request at Whitehorse. I said that I could accept the visual. They replied that "altitude is now pilots discretion, contact Whitehorse tower when desired." We ended up descending into a valley and flying that to Whitehorse. I was cleared to land abeam the tower, and pulled off a smooth landing, even though the winds were 4, gusting to 19.

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