Warning: Long Post
My wife, 4 year old son and I just got back from spending a week at Seeley Lake in Montana. We took off Friday, June 30 from San Carlos and stopped at Truckee for the night and topped off the tanks in the 206 (80 gallons). We got an early start the next morning and flew nonstop to Missoula at 11.5.
The flight was beautiful and smooth. Knowing that we’d be out of radar coverage for the better part of 100 miles through the Blackrock Desert, I filed a VFR flight plan. I usually don’t bother with flight plans unless we’re going someplace where flight following is unlikely to be available. I kept the radios tuned to the nearest center frequency, but turned down the volume so we could enjoy the relative quiet and just gawk out the window.
When we got close to Idaho, I tuned in 122.9 to listen to the traffic in the backcountry. We had great views of McCall and the South Fork of the Salmon, flew right over Mackay Bar, then past Shearer and Moose Creek on the Selway. The Bitterroots were beautiful out the windows to the east. It was bittersweet flying over the Salmon River and Selway country without landing, but the destination was beckoning. We landed at MSO after 3:35—not bad for a fixed gear bug-smasher! I dropped off my wife to pick up the rental car, then flew with my son the brief 10 minute hop over to Seeley Lake.
Tuesday, we flew down to Ennis for the 4th of July rodeo. We landed at Sportsman’s field at Ennis and walked over to the rodeo grounds. It was a great show and lots of fun. Afterward, we walked into town. The sidewalks had pretty much rolled up and there wasn’t much open, but it was nice to get a flavor of the town. Definitely trout heaven. The weather cooperated nicely for this day trip—there were some scattered thunderstorms around, but we flew pretty much direct over several mountain ranges from Seeley to Ennis and back again.
On Wednesday, we did an aerial tour of the Bob Marshall Wilderness—Seeley to Meadow Creek to Benchmark, then over to Ronan for cheap gas ($3.50/gallon), then back to Seeley up the Jocko River. The scenery was fantastic. We saw a number of former airstrips on the South Fork of the Flathead and at other locations inside the Wilderness. In particular, we flew over a ranger station in the middle of the Bob that looks like it has a nice airstrip. I remember reading that this strip still sees some “administrative use.” Must be a sweet assignment.
The next couple of days were pretty stormy. I had hoped to get out for some trout fishing, and finally took my shot on Friday morning. There were still lots of clouds around from the previous night’s storms, but it looked like the storm had blown itself out at Seeley, and I thought that I might be able to land at Meadow Creek, Spotted Bear or Schafer. I flew up the Seeley-Swan valley to the north and crossed the Swans at Holland Lake. I was able to drop down into the South Fork of the Flathead drainage, but was rewarded with some brutal turbulence. The windsocks at Meadow Creek and Spotted Bear confirmed that this was not a day to close to the ground. I overflew Spotted Bear, pulled a 180 to start home and put the “balls to the wall” at Vy (80 knots). With just me in the plane, I was pretty light, so I grew concerned when the VSI indicated that I was going down at 500 fpm at Vy. Uh oh. I was reminded of my mountain flying instructor’s words about keeping out of the canyons when the wind was blowing.
I was only 1500’ agl at Spotted Bear, so I figured that I had less than a minute to either fly out of the downdraft or get myself turned around for an involuntary (aka “precautionary”) landing. Right when I was about ready to head for the runway, I flew out of the downdraft, got a welcome kick in the butt and had the VSI over 2000 fpm up. I did a couple of circles, angling for a large hole between clouds, and went up to 13.5 to get on top. Once on top, I pointed the nose for home (Seeley Lake) and returned to land in clear skies and a light breeze. So that’s as close as I came to harming trout last week.
The next day, Saturday, we reluctantly bid farewell to our cabin at Seeley Lake and began the trip home. Our goal for the day was Boise, since it would provide us with an early start across the desert on Sunday. But Boise was in the mid-‘90s and we were no hurry to broil ourselves with an afternoon arrival. I flew the hop from Seeley over the Missoula, collected wife and child and then flew down the Bitterroot valley to McCall. On the way, a lonesome soul at the West Fork Lodge called us up on 122.9 and encouraged us to stop by. It looks like a nice place and, from his account, has plenty of services and amenities.
I was impressed by how much of the West Fork had not been burned back in 2000. The pictures I’d seen made it look like the entire drainage had been crisped, but there was plenty of green timber and the streams looked nice.
McCall was in the 80’s, which was better than the ‘90s but still hot. The kind folks at McCall Air loaned us a car to drive into town for a few hours. We found some shade and quiet up in Ponderosa State Park and spent an hour or two up at the lake. What a gorgeous place.
We started our last leg for the day to Boise around 8 p.m. We flew low down Long Valley and got a good look at the new developments around Cascade and Tamarack. Western Aviation at Boise gave us great service and sold us gas at $1.00 off the regular weekday price (net $4.25). Apparently, they drop the price on 100ll on the weekends. That was a welcome surprise.
Yesterday morning, we took off from Boise for home. We didn’t get such an early start, so we had some turbulence of the Blackrock and then again over the Sierra. The 10 knot headwind at 10.5 didn’t add to the joy of the end of our vacation. We landed in San Carlos after 3:45 minutes and 50 gallons. Now I’m sitting at my desk writing this over lunch. I can still close my eyes and see the snow-flecked peaks of the Swan Range and the long curve of the Chinese Wall stretching off into the distance. Those memories, and a couple hundred digital pictures will have to keep me going until I can get back.