Happy New Year GAAA Mates!

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January 2009
Kenmore, WA

The GAAA is hitting the lecture circuit. Here is our speaking schedule so far this year:

Saturday, February 7th, 2:00 PM at the Museum of Flight in Seattle. (www.museumofflight.org).
The show will consist of slides and video from the trip with commentary from Mark & Doug . This event is first come, first served, open seating and we expect it to fill up quickly. If you would like to attend, please let Doug or Mark know by February 1st, as we are allowed to save a block of seats. The cost is $14 (less a variety of discounts if you qualify), which also gets you into the rest of the museum.

Friday, February 20th at the Embassy Suites in Tukwila, WA, Washington State Seaplane Pilots’ Association Grounded Hogs Banquet. Contact Jack Yager, Treasurer, 206-722-0254, jacky@wa-spa.org.

Saturday, April 18th 1:00 PM, Owl-on-the-Town event at Kenmore Air in Kenmore. This event consists of a tour of the Kenmore Air Beaver rebuild facility, a free copy of Marin Faure’s book “Success on the Step: Flying with Kenmore Air”, our GAAA presentation and hors d’oeuvres. The cost is $99 per person which goes to benefit the Overlake School in Redmond, WA. Please contact Doug Allen at 425-467-1014 or dougallen67@hotmail.com. Thanks to Doug Allen and Kenmore Air for donating time and space for this benefit event.

A couple of weeks ago I drove down to the airport to sweep the snow off the wings of N2SF. She sat patiently on the tarmac, a fresh white coat insulating her like an Inuit sled dog hunkered down in an Inuvik white-out. I’m not sure, but she appeared to be begging to be fired up and taken for a spin.

A fluffy buildup of 4-5 inches had warmed and became saturated by a slushy rain, making it heavy. As Beaver wings are designed for air pressure on the underside, it was time to remove the snow load on the top. Sweeping precariously from a slippery ladder, and float pumping kept the body warm, but driving slush and a cool wind required frequent interruptions of the work to warm exposed hands. Where have we been through this before?

I couldn’t resist firing up the Pratt & Whitney to circulate some warm oil through the cylinders. As she sputtered to life, the signature blue plume of exhaust smoke flurried around the fuselage and off into vacuity. We sat together in the rain, the familiar rumble bringing temperatures to the green arc for a quick run-up to charge the battery. We’re ready to go again! But on this day, that was the extent of it, and so goes the winter flying.

We have been putting several video clips together in preparation for the GAAA presentations. We still enjoy our meetings together, albeit they don’t carry the same sense of urgency as our decision-making chats on the GAAA trail.

Our thoughts frequently return to the Arctic and our friends in Canada. Thinking of Ozzie, our host in Resolute, I checked www.findlocalweather.com for the current weather there. It’s -35d.C with a north breeze at 24 km/hr. This puts the wind chill factor at -45d.C. They are forecasting a warming trend and it should get up to -29d.C by the end of the week. Sounds like a good time to break out the golf clubs Ozzie. The website lists the time of sunrise as “none”.

While our days here in Kenmore are already getting longer, we pause to express gratitude for them.

Until our February report,
With warmest regards to all our GAAA mates,

Mark and Doug

October 1, 2008 – Update from Kenmore, WA

Mark No Comments

We are gradually assimilating back into normal life here in Kenmore. Doug has returned to work on an innovative new piece of medical equipment. Mark is busy keeping his real estate projects on track during a challenging economic period. The rigors of the GAAA have perhaps prepared him well. Emmy is letting him keep his beard for now.

Our thoughts frequently wander back to our time in the Arctic. Is it possible that we miss the raw air, the piercing winds, the cold hands and the wet feet? Could we possibly pine for the low scud, white capped lakes and turbulence? Certainly, we miss the spectacular, the unimaginable, and our mates.

This month we are getting together with film maker Jim Clark to review the footage shot on the trip. Jim has been going through the tapes and seems to feel we have some excellent footage with which to work.

We have also discussed returning to the pole. It remains a lofty goal. But our time together on the GAAA trail has taught us that thorough planning, a solid team of caring workers, and persistent effort in the face of difficult circumstances, win the day in any endeavor.

We will keep you all informed. Look for our next blog on November 1st.

Warmest regards,

Doug and Mark

Episode 45 – Home Sweet Home

Doug, Mark 1 Comment

Part 1: Coming Full Circle (Mark)

As was the case the night before at Buffalo Pound Lake outside of Moose Jaw, a full moon enlightened the tents all night long on the shores of Eagle Lake. A full moon seems to carry with it some odd powers, and as was the case the night before, nearby dens of coyotes howled their form of text messages back and forth to each other, gossiping most of the night.

Unlike wolves that have a distinctive howl, coyote howling seems to be a family affair. The coyote song combines a plethora of voices from a high pitched “yip yip yip” to a small-dog-accidentally-kicked-under-the-dinner-table yelp, to a melancholic screech, in a chaotic serenade that crescendos for a moment, and then dies off. Separately located dens provide a stereo affect. Dozing off in your sleeping bag, you convince yourself that they are finished for the night. Then you faintly hear the class clown coyote, (you know the one, he just can’t keep his mouth shut) with his evil coyote smirk and his wimpy little whelp, and the rest of the colony can’t help themselves, and the whole rock show starts all over again. The cacophony is exacerbated by the fact that the classical music lovers of Eagle Lake, the mallards, Canada geese, and frogs that are so plentiful there, try to drown out the imposing rock stars with their own concert.

So much for sound sleep at Eagle Lake. It was magnificent, however, and well worth the lack of sleep on the eve of our homeward leg.

The dawn brought more moonlight, cool still air, a blanket of dew on the tents and a blanket of fog on the lake. Autumn is coming to Alberta. We awoke to country music, as one of the heifers from a nearby farm must have gotten separated from her cow gang and started bawling. One could hear lousy cow impersonations coming from the tents as well.

Leslie Pringle of the Eagle Lake RV Resort (www.eaglelakervresort.com) graciously offered her fax machine for faxing our customs forms to Seattle, as well as a send-off cup of coffee. Thank you again Leslie, for the hospitality.

The Beavers broke glassy water and started the arduous westbound climb towards the Rocky Mountains in smooth air on what promised to be a perfect last day of flying. The day did not disappoint.

As the heavy Beavers got busy with their morning chores in workmanlike fashion, slowly gaining altitude in warm inversion temperatures, we followed the highway out of Calgary up through spectacular Banff Provincial Park. Doug Devries recalled a 1982 venture when he and a friend pedaled 750 miles from Calgary to Vancouver over this same highway, albeit with fewer lanes and less traveled than it is today. This was just an earlier version of ambitious adventure for Doug. My experience is that if you hang out with him long enough, you will find yourself engrossed in some wild scheme to bike, canoe, dog sled or fly to a far region of the earth. The bumper sticker “Get in, sit down, hang on, and shut-up!” comes to mind. I realize that I have been hanging on for 45 days now, and am happy for it. In some way, I realize that I am better for it as well.

The Rockies regaled us with striking granite monoliths sporting dustings of snow on the upper ledges, hanging glaciers, and small glacier-fed lakes in every conceivable shade of green and blue. We buzzed our good friends John Hamler and Cindy Helgesen at Big White Mountain outside of Kelowna, BC. Chatter on the radio and within the cockpit was friendly and fun, as the six of us tried to capture one last time and hopefully for all of memory the joys of our hours together. Jocular ribbing was frequently accentuated with a “woo hoo!” or a “hoo ahh!” or a “What’s your position?” or a “Roger that.”

We touched down for our last fuel stop on beautiful Skaha Lake in the arid town of Penticton, BC. We were cutting the corner for home like horses returning to the barn, deviating from our original published course, which included two stops after Calgary in Vernon and Mission, BC.

As we slid onto the beach, our good friends Fred and Dawn Hamilton of High Arctic Lodge were pulling their Beaver C-GSUE out of the water and across the highway to the Penticton airport for the winter. Fred had quite coincidentally, just moments before our arrival, returned from his season at Cambridge Bay. We joked that poor Fred had been flying across Canada trying to avoid the two pesky Beavers from the US, but no matter where he went, from the 69th parallel of Cambridge Bay, to the 49th parallel of Penticton, he just couldn’t get away from us. It was a friendly reception on the beach under the hot BC sun.

With a mere three and a half hours of fresh fuel on board, and flight plans filed for two hours to Kenmore Air (KS60), we took off in formation for our final leg, turning an early crosswind to avoid one of the many fire bombers based in Penticton. She was taking off on another run to douse a forest fire in this scorched country. The skies were also a-buzz with helicopters, tethering water buckets replenished in Skaha Lake and zipping off towards ribbons of rising smoke emerging out of nearby deep canyons. What a contrast to our Arctic ports of call!

Another slow climb ensued and the last vestiges of this mountainous region of Southern BC passed by under the EDO’s. (The floats on the Beaver.) As we crossed the 49th parallel into familiar US airspace, Doug and Mark shared some thoughts on the radio, mostly thanking each other for making such an adventure a reality. We recalled the high points of the Yukon, Bathhurst Inlet, landing at Resolute Lake, ice bergs, polar bears, the Maine Fly-in, Ottawa, and of course, our magical evening with the legends of De Havilland in Toronto. We also recalled some tough times such as the difficult leg to Resolute, the treacherous arrival at Baker Lake, the endless low pressure trough swirling around the 60th parallel, and the biting Arctic wind that somehow pierces the best windbreakers money can buy.

The real high point though for both of us has undoubtedly been the people: The wonderfully diverse cultures of Canada; The warm and generous Canadians in every corner of this amazing country that came out to greet and assist us when we needed it most; The RCMP officers that came to our aid in the Arctic villages; Our gracious hosts in Maine, Ottawa and Toronto; Our valued team members Tom F., Tom M., Jani, Dan S., Michael, Steve, Dick, Vince, Dan N., David, Lisa, Robbi, Norma, Rick, Doug N. and Brian, who supported us in so many ways, lifted our spirits from segment to segment with fresh team chemistry, brought in food and treats from home as well as good weather, did so much of the hard labor required to load and unload airplanes on windy beaches in driving rains, and set up the camps and got dinner going night after night; Our camera crew of Eric Thiermann and Jim Clark that willingly traded the comforts of a studio for the rigors of the Arctic to capture some amazing images of our adventure for a movie later. They are both consummate professionals, always ready with a smile and a laugh to lighten the sternest mood; The web subscribers that have faithfully followed our progress, sent us emails of encouragement, endured our occasional technological shortcomings, and flattered us with your genuine interest; Our support crew at home of David and Carol Good, Robbi Devries, Emmy Schoening, Carol Murphy and Brian Marquardt; And finally, our dear family and friends that encouraged us, tolerated our absences and financial excesses without complaint, and welcomed us back with open arms. Thank you all for making this trip possible.

We cleared the tall ridges of the North Cascades and started the long high speed slide (if you call 130 mph “high speed”) from altitude to avoid the floor of the Seattle Class B Airspace. Doug remarked that we didn’t have to fly far from home to witness some of the finest scenery in North America, a subject on which we are now experts. As the North end of Lake Washington came into view, we couldn’t resist a low pass over Kenmore and Arrowhead Point on approach. We had to readjust our approach path for the many boaters out enjoying a perfect September afternoon. Boats? Now there’s something we haven’t had to deal with in a while!

As we pulled into the familiar Kenmore Air dock to clear customs, we couldn’t help noticing a small gathering of friends and family there to welcome us home. After customs, long awaited hugs and handshakes were exchanged on the dock. Thanks to friends Van and Eve Van Rennes, Matt Mostad with Cooper and Cos, as well as Phyllis and Ken Smith for taking time out to come down and greet us. Also on the dock were Robbi and Doug’s mom, Mary Lou, with Mark’s wife Emmy and son, Brian. Greg Munro, Director of Operations for Kenmore Air, and Todd Banks, the GM, offered congratulations.

Then it was back to Doug’s house for a neighborhood reception graciously hosted by Robbi. Mark and son Brian jumped off N2SF to cool off. Mark’s two year old niece, Ava, not recognizing her bearded uncle asked “Where’s Uncle Mark?” Our thanks go to our neighbors that joined to make it a special homecoming for all of us. It was a wonderful finale to our Great Arctic Air Adventure.

Tonight’s shout out goes once again to our hosts at the Toronto Aerospace Museum, with some corrections for Episode 40. The Board members in attendance were Ken Swartz, Lyle Abbott and Robert Cohen, the Marketing Chair. Not only did we miss Wayne Barrett’s name, referring to him as “Dwayne”, but we neglected to mention that he is the Chairman of the Museum. It turns out, that Wayne personally sponsored the dinner. Wayne, please do not let the fact that we missed your name interfere with the warm regards we have towards you, and our debt of gratitude to you for making this once-in-a-lifetime event possible for us! We will always remember. Thank you, Ken, for pointing out the errors.

Evening has now settled on the Arrowhead Point community. A full moon rises over Lake Washington, with its ribbon of light sparkling on the calm waters of twilight. They glisten off the wing tops of N2SF, parked at the head of the dock still loaded with freeze-dried food and GAAA gear, a job for tomorrow. Could it possibly be the same Canadian moon that caused the peaks of the Yukon to glow? Could it possibly be the same Canadian moon that electrified the ice bergs off Resolute Bay with their florescent light? Or the same Canadian moon that woke up the coyotes of Saskatchewan and Alberta?

We’ve indeed come full circle.

Part II: Episode 45: Reflections on The Last Imaginary Place (Doug)

On Day 45, the last day of our arctic odyssey, our flight took us across both the Canadian Rockies and the North Cascade mountain ranges. The jagged peaks and icy glaciers provided by any measure some of the most spectacular scenery on the planet. Oddly, as this dramatic panorama unfolded below, we were delighted, yet not moved as we were by the relatively drab arctic tundra. The gorgeous beauty of our home turf was a familiar and welcome site, but our lack of awe and wonder started me musing about the allure of exotic places.

The need for change and variation is a basic human need, though it often goes unrecognized and as a result unmet as our lives unfold. How many times have we seen the careers of our fellows begin as a passion, transition to a responsibility, and ultimately end up as a burden? For me, our travels through the arctic, though at times harsh and unforgiving, satisfied that need for change, as it was a land of unknown people and places.

In the book, The Last Imaginary Place, Robert McGhee opens with a discussion of why the arctic so effectively captures our imagination. Historically, we as humans tend to fill in the gaps of our knowledge with assumed truths or myths. The sun was a God that must be appeased, and the earth was a flat plate that dropped off into an abyss at the edges. As both travel and knowledge increased, the myths were replaced by scientific explanations, but not without a cost. The allure of the unknown is a powerful force and makes for a great story, and so it is today that we still enjoy a good yarn about the latest Sasquatch sighting, or the origin of crop circles.

The arctic is still a relatively inaccessible place – you really can’t book a “Pleasant Arctic Holiday” cruise through your local travel agent. Nunavut, the largest Canadian arctic territory, encompasses 750,000 square miles, yet has a total population of less than 30,000 people, making it one of the least populated places on earth. This is a place beyond the end of the road, a land that does not support the basics of food production such as farming or ranching. Wood, still the most commonly used building material of our society, is non-existent in the arctic. Visitors must adapt – the arctic is unyielding and unforgiving.

Our time machine, the venerable de Havilland Beaver seaplane, provided unique access and insights to this unfamiliar place. By air, from our vantage high above the ground, we observed the “big picture”, a mosaic of lakes and rolling tundra, punctuated by the occasional esker rising from the plain. Upon landing, our craft became a boat, conveying us to the shores where we set up our nightly camps. Once on the tundra, we experienced the other arctic, an unexpected ecosystem teaming with life against seemingly impossible odds. A curious ferret popping up from the tundra like a jack-in-the-box, a pair of sik-siks scolding the intruders, a curious caribou wandering by to gawk at the visitors who dropped in from the sky, a pair of regal arctic swans floating in the distance, all part of a community of life thriving in an unlikely place.

I’m home now, and trying to re-integrate into my old life – a great one to be sure – but as I fumble with the now-confusing digital remote control, or inch along the traffic jam on highway 405, my mind returns to the arctic, the last imaginary place.

Hmmm, we still have that unused fuel sitting up there in Eureka…

From N47d.44m.12s., W122d.15m.59s.,

With warm regards and our heartfelt thanks for your support,

The GAAA Team

PS: What’s Next?

Over the next few weeks, Mark and Doug will be reviewing the video footage with videographers Jim and Eric, devising a plan to bring this amazing adventure to life in the form of a film. We plan to update on our activities around the first of each month, through both the email list and the BLOG, so check back often for new info on our progress.

Episode 21: Film Festival

Mark 2 Comments

The weather was fair today. The gusty Arctic blast that has been pummeling us for two days gave way to a steady but cold 15 knots out of the North. The sun made a surprise guest appearance.

Having made the decision to forego the Pole for now, and still waiting for our friends Dan Noble and David Good to show up here in Resolute, today was a free day of sorts. We spent much of the morning editing film, repairing film equipment, saying goodbye to our new NASA friend, Sarah Thompson (who headed out to the airport to catch her Air National Guard C-130 ride home….those NASA scientists travel in style) and re-routing Segment 3, trying to minimize the use of car gas. If Dan and David show up tomorrow as scheduled (even the scheduled carriers don’t keep a perfect schedule up here), and the good weather holds, our departure and route from Resolute will be as follows:

Sunday, August 24th, AM departure back to Cambridge Bay, refuel and camp south of Cambridge Bay near the Kent Penninsula.

Monday, August 25th, Cambridge Bay to Baker Lake.

Tuesday, August 26th, Baker Lake to Coral Harbour.

Wednesday, August 27th, extra weather day.

This puts us back on schedule, if it works out.

We spent the afternoon refueling the airplanes. With the weather inviting, we couldn’t resist the temptation to go fly and get some footage. Eric parked himself on a rise overlooking the lake with his telephoto zoom lense to record the take-offs and landings, while Jim worked the smaller camera and looked after the stationary float cam from the right seat of 2SF. Doug and Mark just goofed off, flying low formation along barren Cornwallis Island shorelines riddled with small ice bergs, snow-lined bluffs and frozen lakes, while Jim filmed.

A large berg was spotted west of the airport about a mile offshore in Barrow Strait. The flyboys couldn’t resist a couple of low fly-bys, finally landing next to it. While taxiing around the enormous, 100 foot high pinnacle (keep in mind, app. 7/8ths of the mass of ice bergs is under the ocean surface) we found ourselves awestruck with its beauty and majesty. I have felt this way before, in the close presence of other behemoth natural wonders such as montrous rock walls, waterfalls, moose and whales. The ice berg was a first however, and not an experience we will soon forget.

While we were loitering around the berg, one of the Borek Air pilots off the airport, heading to remote points North in one of their many recognizable red and black DeHavilland DHC-6-200 Twin Otters, couldn’t resist a berg top buzz job and wing wave to his smaller Beaver brethren, bobbing in the light swell. It was a classic Canadian Arctic moment.

With Eric and Jim satified with the day’s footage, we strolled down to the beach to conduct a scientific test of the 7/8ths theory regarding ice bergs. A couple of boulder-sized ice chunks were found on the beach and tossed into the surf. Sure enough, approximately 1/8th of the chunks’ surface area remained above water. We decided to test the theory on cameramen. Poor Eric was involuntarily picked for random testing. After a brief malay, he was properly corraled and we began the swinging accompanied by a raucous chorus of “ONE, TWO, THREE”. As “THREE” approaches, the victim invariably goes through that startled stage of uncertainty where he wonders if his tormentors are really crazy enough to go through with it. Ummmm…..I wonder.

To Mrs. Theodossiou’s 8th Grade Earth Sciences Class in Duxbury, MA: NASA’s Sarah Thompson gave us a shatter cone from the meteor impact site on Devon Island where she was testing the drill designed for the surface of Mars. These rocks have the distinctive shear marks of a destructive meteor impact, and are a geologist’s proof positive of such an event. We understand that they are only found at meteor impact sites. We will send you Sarah’s sample for your review and study, so you may confirm her claim that it is a shatter cone. We look forward to hearing back from you.

Allison’s Ornithological Report: No new ID’s today. Confirmed ID’s include arctic loons, glaucous gulls, and a very cold and hungry looking raven, who as we pass by, squawked “…nevermore.”

All the best to everyone.

The GAAA Team

Episode 19: Unresolved in Resolute

Mark 3 Comments

It’s snowing and blowing in the Arctic. Today is one of those days you are glad that you are not flying in a small aircraft. Thank goodness for our hosts at the South Camp Inn here in Resolute, Ozzie Kheraj and his wife, Aleeasuk Idlout. They provided us a safe place to park the Beavers in the howling Arctic winds, and warm accommodations. Thanks also to Ludy and Doris for checking on our planes.

Ozzie immigrated to Canada from Tanzania when he was a teenager, and moved to Resolute when he was 24. That was 30 years ago, and he has never left. As near as we can tell, very little goes on in Resolute without some input from Ozzie. He runs a construction company, the fuel company and the main hotel. He and Aleeasuk are often there at the airport to meet guests staying at the Inn. They will even look after your sled dogs for you, as evidenced by a string of dogs howling outside, owned by a famous Japanese musher. They are friends to virtually every major Arctic explorer that has used Resolute as a jumping off base (thus the name ‘South Camp’ Inn) during the last three decades. They and their staff, including the amazing cook, Randy, have been a big help to us as well.

Aleeasuk is an Inuk who when she finds spare time from running a hotel and raising a gaggle of kids and grandkids, is one of the top producing polar bear guides in the world. You would not have guessed it to look at her, with her petite stature and unassuming nature, but after talking to her a bit about polar bear hunting, I think I would avoid her if I were a polar bear.

Jim spent most of the day editing. Doug, Eric and Mark went out to the airport to try and solve the Magnetic Pole puzzle. We had planned our schedule to arrive at our most northern fuel cache in Eureka in the middle of August, a time that traditionally offers a high probability of providing open water. It is a balancing act, because as the ice moves out in mid to late August, the weather starts to change from summer to fall. (Or as near as we can tell, it goes right straight into winter!) Last summer it would have been smooth sailing. However, this is a different year. A couple of days ago the wind shifted, pushing the ice pack back into Slidre Fjord where Eureka is located, making it impossible to land the Beaver there. For now we are cut off from our fuel cache.

We stopped by the Canadian Ministry of Natural Resources office of Polar Continental Ice Shelf Project Base Manager Tim McCagherty. Tim, a big affable guy who was quite gracious with his time, must be one of the best logisticians anywhere in the world. His job is to coordinate several airplanes, helicopters, crews and other equipment in support of virtually every Canadian sponsored scientific research expedition in the Arctic. There are many, going on year round, spread out over an area twice the size of the state of California, in some of the most forbidding country and weather conditions on the planet. If Tim couldn’t find a solution to our challenge, no one could.

We discussed many options. Some of the lakes up near Eureka are still open. If we could somehow get our fuel to one of these lakes, we could land there and refuel. Transporting the fuel from Eureka to an open lake may take a helicopter (none are available right now), or a Twin Otter on tundra tires which will need a lake near a tundra or esker landing strip. We even considered using four wheelers, carrying drums of fuel on a wild cross-tundra ride, which would probably take several days, depending on the location of the lake we find.

We could also cache fuel in the Beavers from here in Resolute and abandon our fuel in Eureka. Carrying three drums per 720 nautical mile round trip ferry, it will take two of the drums to get back to Resolute. That means that we could cache one drum per Beaver per ferry. We need at least six drums for one Beaver to make the pole run and return to Resolute, so six ferry flights, or three good flying days, plus two more for the pole and return to Resolute. Five good flying days.

So you see the process. It is still a work in progress, and as of this writing it is still unresolved. For now we remain undeterred and will continue working on it tomorrow. Meanwhile, a severe low pressure system is bearing down on us from the Boothia Peninnsula, 500 miles south. I’m sure glad we are well tied down here.

Allison’s Ornithological Report:

There are not many birds up here in this place we are affectionately calling the gravel pit. But we finally figured out that the bird making the low honking sound we’ve been hearing for the last week is an arctic loon, as one flew right over us this afternoon.

Thanks to all for tuning in, and so long for now.

The GAAA Team