Back to the Arctic
Sun Camp Travel Blog› entry 34 of 38 › view all entries
Upon landing in Wasilla last week, my helicopter was promptly dismantled for valuable parts - not to fly again until next season. Regardless, after a long season it was always a good feeling to bring an aircraft back to the home base in better condition than it was sent out in; a sort of personal challenge to most field mechanics. As far as I was concerned my season was over but there were still nearly two weeks before my flight home. Working in the hangar, putting in eight hours, and living for the next coffee break was not my cup of tea so I was elated when one of our helicopters, still working in the arctic, needed a transmission change and I was selected to go up there with the replacement parts and help out.
With the fresh gearbox tightly bubble-wrapped in a bulky black plastic container, a few special tools, my day pack, a sleeping bag, shoulder bag, and a minimal assortment of hand tools for the job, I was transported to a small log cabin on the ramp at the Wasilla Airport.
Dave leveled at 10,000 feet. We passed Mount McKinley, about forty miles off our left wing, and were able to outline its summit between high streaming clouds. Glaciers flowed from surrounding slopes and our ride became rough as we traversed jagged white peaks and ridges of the Alaska Range.
The sloping valley was in fall colors with no snow, more wooded than around the camps I was at. Dave made a wide pass to glimpse the windsock and study the layout of the unfamiliar, short gravel strip. He set up an approach to land and completed our six hour flight. Dave dropped me off, took on some fuel, and departed to reach Fairbanks or Tanana before dark .
I was pleased to learn that the mechanic already had the faulty transmission removed and was all set up for the replacement. The job was completed, leak-checked, and test flown in less than two hours.
Sun Camp belongs to a different mineral exploration company than the one that I had worked with this season. Crews here had already been drilling and stacks of samples await completion of a core library which is under construction beside the airstrip. But the camp is similar with the same two-man Weather-Port tents with oil heaters, a spacious kitchen, and the large white dish antenna for telephone and internet communications. Sun Camp is much more scenic too with more trees, level ground cleared of tundra, nearby hills and streams, and cold beer. A fine fire pit and two picnic tables perch on a high bank overlooking the bend of a well-fed stream which is often active with salmon, wolves, and the elusive brown bear. Just this morning, warning shots were fired to chase off two grizzlies who began to probe at one of the outer tents.