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Expedition Update #1

Vancouver, BC to Whitehorse, YT
Canada

After months of planning and preparation, it was finally time for the 5intheSky team to start the great adventure: a 14 month flight around-the-world by single-engine aircraft, with a goal of raising $1 million for the global charity SOS Children’s Villages.

 

In actuality, only 3 of the 5intheSky team members (Ian, Sam and Chris) were to depart from Pitt Meadows Airport (CYPK) on June 15th, 2022, as Sydney had to stay in Vancouver to finish grade 12 and graduate and Michelle was staying with her. Sydney had a Karate tournament scheduled for July 2-3 in St. John’s Newfoundland, and our plan was for the departing 5intheSky crew to fly across Canada and pick up Michelle and Sydney in St. John’s before continuing on the expedition.

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The Porter family in front of the GA8 Airvan

It’s a long way across Canada; a straight line flight from the Pacific Ocean (Vancouver, BC) to the Atlantic Ocean (St. John’s, Newfoundland) is about 2,700 nautical miles (5,000km), but we had no intention of flying the direct route! We had an airplane (our trusty Gippsaero GA8 Airvan) and time, so we did the only logical thing and planned to head directly north to the Arctic Ocean before turning eastward toward Newfoundland.

 

The weather for June 15 looked good, but not great. As a pilot would understand (and non-pilots will come to appreciate if they continue to follow the 5intheSky adventure) the weather has a massive influence on route selection, timing and safety in aviation.   

The 5intheSky expedition is unique in many ways, a family of 5 in a single-engine airplane flying around-the-world likely hasn’t been done before, but the expedition is unique also in the fact that we will be flying VFR (visual reference to the ground at all times), low and slow and stopping at as many airports as we can and seeing as much as possible of every area we visit.

 

Checking the weather again, our plan leaving Powell River was to fly up to Prince Rupert and then the following morning, cross into the U.S. at Ketchikan and fly up the Alaska panhandle before returning to Canada. The weather forecast looked good for this route, although navigation around thick bands of clouds would be required until the weather cleared further to the north.

We flew north along Queen Charlotte Strait and over to Fitz Hugh Sound planning a quick rest stop at Bella Bella (CBBC). The approach into Bella Bella is spectacular, and we passed dozens of huge eagles soaring in the mix of sea breeze and thermals as we descended to the airport. The stop took a little longer than expected as a scheduled flight was unloading and Samantha met a friend from school, but soon we were back in the air for the 140NM (Nautical Mile) flight to Terrace. Yes, Terrace (CYXT) not Prince Rupert, as a check of the weather while on the ground showed thick marine cloud had started to surround our initial destination.

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Fixing the flat tire in Terrace

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Chris unloading gear from the AirVan

The flight to Terrace was relaxing and uneventful until the AirVan settled onto the 7,500’ long runway 33 at Terrace Airport (CYXT) and immediately pulled to the right and clunked to a stop near the edge of the 150’ wide strip of tarmac. Flat Tire! Thankfully we had rolled to a stop without damaging the rim and radioed the airport ground crew for assistance. They were friendly even though we had just shut down the main runway, requiring a number of scheduled flights to be diverted to the alternate runway (03-21).

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An air compressor was brought over, and we filled the tire and were able to taxi (quickly) to the apron before the tire went flat again. There was no AMO/AME in Terrace, so we arranged for a replacement tire to be driven in from Smithers and installed the following morning.  While changing the flat main tire, further inspection of all of the tires revealed we had also picked up some metal wire in the nose wheel tire. Through an abundance of caution, and as we were heading north into truly remote areas, we decided to replace the damaged nose wheel tire, however the closest replacement for the 8.00-6 tire was in Whitehorse, Yukon, 439 nautical miles (813km) to the north. 

Non-Pilot Tip:  Airport runways are numbered based upon the compass bearing of the runway, rounded to the nearest 10 degrees. For example, runway 21 would be oriented at approximately 210 degrees. The opposite end of a runway is 180 degrees different, so the opposite end of runway 21 (at 210 degrees) would be runway 03 (at 30 degrees).

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We changed plans and the 5intheSky team was off to Whitehorse! There are few options for landing on the route from Terrace to Whitehorse (CYXY), however we decided to stop at Bob Quinn Lake (CBW4) for a relief stop. It was hot with gusty winds as we descended into CBW4, but the gravel airstrip is long (just over 4,000’) and there was no other air traffic in the area, even though it's on the established VFR route connecting the Terrace and Smithers to Watson Lake.

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Heading north from Terrace

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Parked in Bob Quinn Lake for a rest stop

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Atlin Lake

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Plane outside Kyle and Sara's hangar

For the route from Bob Quinn Lake to Whitehorse (about 270nm/500km) we climbed to between 8 and 9,000’ and enjoyed spectacular views of the towering mountains, glaciers and deep river valleys of a very lightly visited region of British Columbia. We descended down to follow the east coast of Atlin Lake towards Whitehorse.  We would have loved to stop at Atlin (CYSQ) and Carcross (CFA4) but we didn't want to risk more landings on the damaged nose wheel tire. We rolled into Whitehorse airport at 6:30pm and Kyle and Sara Cameron really helped us out and installed a "new to us" nose wheel tire. If you are ever in the Whitehorse area and need top quality service look them up! They were also kind enough to allow us to use one of their cars to explore Whitehorse, so we were able to get to visit attractions such as the seaplane base, Miles Canyon and the Yukon Beringia Interpretive Centre. The weather was beautiful and warm and we enjoyed walking around Whitehorse that evening. Chris got to sharpen his photography skills on the plentiful foxes, which appear to live in vacant buildings and come out at night, under the summer sun, to roam and play.

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Miles Canyon is a picturesque river canyon surrounded by parkland, walking trails, picnic benches and a pedestrian suspension bridge across the river.  At Miles Canyon the Yukon River has cut through thick basalt rock from pre-historic lava flows to create a narrow, steep sided canyon. During gold rush times, in the 1880-90’s, hundreds of boats loaded with supplies were lost in the rapids running between the 50’ high canyon walls. 

We also visited the Yukon Beringia Interpretive Centre, which is a research and exhibition facility dedicated to the presentation and preservation of the First Nations and scientific history of the vast sub-continent called Beringia. It is owned and operated by the Department of Tourism and Culture, Government of Yukon and was very worthwhile to visit. Beringia, also known as the Bering Land Bridge, is the area that connected northeastern Asia and northwestern North America back in the glacial period. This was a time when massive glaciers locked up a lot of the world's waters in ice and allowed for migration of all types of different species and peoples. During these “glacial periods'', global sea levels dropped as much as 100-150 metres, revealing the floor of the Bering Sea and facilitated that connection between what we now know as Alaska and Siberia. Many species of plants and animals were able to move from one continent to another. Horses, camels, caribou and black bears migrated out of North America, while bison, mammoths, moose, elk and humans migrated into North America. Without Beringia, the world would be a very different place today, and this centre does an incredible job of capturing its true importance and appreciating the many phenomena that came from these incredible time periods.

As you  may know, Earth's climate was not always cold and over the last 2.5 million years, our planet's climate has been made up by cycles of cold glacial periods and warmer interglacial periods. Different species of plants and animals could be found during these different periods. During the glacial times, animals such as the woolly mammoth, steppe bison and scimitar cat roamed the plains, along with caribou, muskox and frizzy bears. Many of these can be seen in our landscapes today. During the warmer interglacial periods, giant beavers, mastodons and camels could be found. Yes you heard that right.. giant beavers and camels. The giant beaver is actually the largest rodent known from ice age North America and although they were similar in appearance to modern beavers, they could grow up to two metres in length and weigh up to 100 kilograms. 

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Chris poses next to a beaver while Ian gets bit - Ouch!

Different types of camels were other interesting species found in the Beringia landscapes. We were surprised to learn that the Camel family (camelidae) actually first evolved in North America and eventually spread across Beringia to Asia. Beringia was home to two species: the Yukon giant camel and the smaller western camel. There were fossils found in Old Crow (a small town in the Yukon that you will later see we stopped in to visit) that indicated they lived in the region around 1 million years ago.

 

The Beringia Interpretive Centre has a great website including much more information on these fascinating topics, if you want to check it out click HERE

While we would have loved to spend more time in Whitehorse, the weather forecast showed that the weather, including upper level winds (at 3,000’, 6,000’, 9,000’ and 12,000’) looked very favourable for us to fly into the Kluane National Park the next day, so we decided to leave Whitehorse the afternoon of June 16 and overnight in Haines Junction in reparation for an early departure into the Kluane, home to 7 of the 10 highest mountains in Canada.

 

At this stage of the expedition in Whitehorse, Yukon, the 5intheSky team has flown 870  nautical miles (1,611 km) and logged 7.9 hours of airtime, stopping at 5 different airports.