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Sun Camp Travel Blog

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Mount McKinley from 10,000 feet.
 

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.

Clearing the Alaska Range at 10,000 feet.
The brochure of Grasshopper Aviation said it all: 'Our flights start where the real Alaska begins.'  Dave, the owner and sole pilot, operated a Maule to transport hunters, fishermen, kayakers, and hikers into the remote bush. The small and powerful Maule was ideal for the rough and rugged take-offs and landings at remote sites, not always on an airstrip. But for our long flight to Sun Camp he opted for his Piper Cherokee which provided much more speed and comfort.

 

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.

Turning final at Sun Camp.
We descended over the Tanana Flats which make up part of the wide Yukon River Basin. Hours later, more mountains loomed - the Brooks 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.

Dave's departure
Doug had changed transmissions before and didn't require assistance. Except for the main rotor blades or the tail-rotor driveshaft assembly, most component changes on an MD 500 can be performed by one mechanic.

 

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.

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Mount McKinley from 10,000 feet.
Mount McKinley from 10,000 feet.
Clearing the Alaska Range at 10,00…
Clearing the Alaska Range at 10,0…
Turning final at Sun Camp.
Turning final at Sun Camp.
Daves departure
Dave's departure
Dave departing
Dave departing
Eldridge Glacier
Eldridge Glacier
Eldridge Glacier again.
Eldridge Glacier again.
Appach to Sun Camp.
Appach to Sun Camp.
Sun Camp
Sun Camp
Northbound past Mt. McKinley
Northbound past Mt. McKinley
Pilots view
Pilots view
Glacier field
Glacier field
Sun Camp
Sun Camp
WeatherPort tents
WeatherPort tents
Plugged-in for the night.
Plugged-in for the night.
The stream
The stream
Approach and landing at Sun Camp.
Sun Camp
photo by: rotorhead85