March 5, 2012
Mike Litzen and Doug Zirkle
The best laid plans often come to naught when confronted with Alaskan weather!!
Doug and I (Aliy's dad and mom) met our good friend and experienced Alaskan pilot, Mike Litzen at 0930 today. Mike had flown his 1953 Cessna 150 from his home on the Kenai Peninsula to gather us in Anchorage and make the hour and a half flight to Rainy Pass. We had all been watching Aliy on the Iditarod GPS tracker and planned to catch her shortly after she arrived at that checkpoint. We packed food, drink and extra layers in hopes of staying until 4 this afternoon to see Ryne too.
We were flying over the Cook Inlet at about 1500 feet when Mike got the Rainy Pass/Puntilla Lake weather report. At 1000 the ceiling was 16000 feet, broken with a visibility of 25 miles. Cool! Good flight conditions ahead.
We had great visibility at first. We could see the shoreline of the Kenai to the south, the mountains to the north. We could pick out the Alaska Range to the west. We flew over total wilderness- snow, spruce, rivers, creeks and an occasional moose.
Mike had been briefed before the flight about a snow event due in during the afternoon so, as usual, he kept a sharp eye out for developing patterns. About half way into the trip Mike pointed to the southwest and said, "It's getting a little fuzzy over there." And we continued our flight toward the Shell Hills in the distance. Fuzzy, huh?
The checkpoint, Skwentna, was a few miles to our north. We were searching for the Iditarod Trail and any teams along the way. Gradually the radio chatter among pilots increased significantly. We were looping around Shell Lake when Mike contacted one of his commercial pilot buddies who flies Iditarod photographers along the trail. He had breaking news. Rainy Pass was completely socked in and the owner of the Rainy Pass Lodge suggested that those en route 'don't even bother'. By that time we were about 10 miles from Finger Lake and about 40 miles from Rainy Pass.
We made a u-turn and landed to stretch our legs and eat a muffin at the Skwentna airstrip. Five or six other planes also stopped here to reassess travel plans. Some chose to wait there. Most headed back to Anchorage.
When we took off again to head east, the western horizon had become a white bank of snow and fog. Conditions had gone from 25 mile visibility to zero visibility in about an hour. No one was heading to Rainy Pass now!
So Aliy and Ryne, we have to send you our love over the miles. Stay happy, healthy and focused. There will be no trail visit at Rainy Pass.