Friday, October 31, 2008

Preferred Alaska Tours

20,320 foot Mount Denali
by Robert L. Gisel

 The cruise liner tours are so magnificent they are the main source of the roughly 12 million tourists that go through Alaska each year. These are graciously accommodated by the 670,000 total population of Alaska. We take them on 20 to 1!

 Princess Cruise Lines has the best assortment of cruises including one that goes to Whittier and combines with an overland train ride to Denali and even to Fairbanks. Here is their video on this which really says it well.

  The season goes through August and not much beyond, then after the winter will start running again. These tickets comparatively high, as liner tours go and furthermore they tend to be sold out quicker to sell out, all a tribute to Alaska's popularity. However the last minute tickets one can get can be considerable savings. always has good last minute bargains and will be showing good options later this year for the 2009 50th Alaskan anniversary tours. 50 years for the 50th state, one can bet it will be a good year to travel to Alaska.

 The tours will embark from Vancouver, B.C. or Seattle or occasionally from San Francisco. These are the tours that typically go the route up the beautiful Southeast Alaska's Inside Passage to Glacier Bay. This gives a good show of mountains and glaciers and marine life as well as stops in the historical cities of the panhandle of Alaska. Here are the remnants of the Alaska Native culture with it's carved canoes, totem poles and lodges. Add to that historic sites of the Russian occupation and the gold rush historic sites there is plenty to see.

 This is usually climaxed by cruising right into Icy Bay close in to walls of ice at the Muir Glacier or the Hubbard Glacier or any of the dozens of others. The glaciers in that area come out of a huge ice field that is itself a hundred miles or so of continuous ice field and vast glaciers. It's easy to see the fascination of this to so many tourists.

 There are a number of side tours in each of the cities of which are in the main unfamiliar to me except in my home town of Juneau. Here you can tour the now closed AJ Mine, raft down the Mendenhal River and can take flight over the glaciers in a helicopter or a Beaver float plane. Weather permitting this is the best, as the scene of flying across the top of the glacier is unforgettable. Some of the excursions will land on the ice field and you can walk on the glacier or get a ride in dog sled.

 Another popular stop along the way is Skagway from where you can catch the train over the gold-rush Chiloot Trail through the mountain pass into Canada. That is a pretty spectacular ride.

 My personal all-time favorite way of travelling to Alaska is up the Alcan highway through Prince George to Prince Rupert and catch the ferry there to Juneau. The higher costs of travel and transport on the Marine Highway System may make it cheaper to get a discount fare on a tour boat. Nevertheless the drive, especially the stretch of sometimes winding road out of Prince George through the Frazier River valley then over the pass to Prince Rupert is totally worth it. This way you get the best of Canada as well as the Inside Passage and can go all the way to Haines, from where you can drive to Anchorage or Fairbanks and, of course, Denali Park. The immensity of Mount Denali dominating the horizon is awe inspiring.

 If you're driving to Alaska the two routes are to go up past Prince George up and around through Tok Junction to Denali Park and up to Fairbanks or down to Anchorage and the Kenai Peninsula. The Alcan has seen a lot of construction, is built up so as to be well above the permafrost thus it stays in pretty good shape now for a good drive that doesn't tear your vehicle up the way it used to.

 Then there is my favorite route on the Marine Highway via Prince Rupert which also gives you the pleasures of the inside passage, whale sightings, seals and porpoises.

  To travel in comfort let the tour boat Captain do the driving.


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Friday, August 29, 2008

Cost Of Living Alaskan

by Robert L. Gisel

 This time last year when I flew from LA to Anchorage the only thing cheaper in Alaska was the gas. No joke. At $3.29 a gallon in LA it was, lowest in town, $2.99 a gallon in Anchorage, went up to $3.09 (lowest station) in the two weeks I was there. Still it was over $3.30 in LA. I was told the lower Anchoarge price was because it was the gas produced in Alaska.

 The price was fluctuating so much this summer Dehart's Store in my childhood neighborhood stopped posting the numbers, just an arrow, up or down. This was covered in an article in the Juneau Daily Alaska Empire. As there were questions of the prices in Seattle or elsewhere I put up these comments on the article:

 "Milsec above logged these prices from Juneau:

"6/05/08 $4.059 gal $122.54 Barrel 6/11/08 $4.159 gal $128.86 Barrel6/23/08 $4.419 gal $140.21 Barrel7/04/08 $4.499 gal $145.29 Barrel7/09/08 $4.499 gal $145.08 Barrel7/19/08 $4.649 gal $128.88 Barrel8/15/08 $4.599 gal $113.77 /Barrel "

  "In Sacramento, North side, the price has been over $4.00 a gallon since June. Mid July or so it finally hit at least $4.43, lowest stations, Kwick Stop and Exon AM/PM, and as high as $4.69 even $4.75 at Chevrons and Shell Stations. This month it finally came back under $4.00.

 "Today the price has posted at $3.72, lowest, to 10 to 20 cents higher in other stations. All of these prices were higher yet in South Sacramento. Daily the stations are given a wholesale price figure and daily the price is raised or lowered, or not, according to the competiveness and goodwill of the station manager.

 "So why not gas from the refineries in Alaska into Juneau instead of Saudi gas from Seattle? I highly doubt that it is Alaska gas from Seattle. I'd think you'd have a better chance to get cheaper gas where you produce it, even in California which refines gas and still runs among the highest prices in the nation, at least the south 48. Talk to your own, Governor or whoever will listen, as very possibly the cheapest (and home grown) gas available to Alaska is refined in Alaska.

 "There's always the alternate route: Yank your drive train and put in an electric engine."

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Prius Trashed by Un-eco-friendly Bear

by Robert L. Gisel

 Ann Boochever's car gets trashed when a bear gets trapped inside.

 It was a Prius Hybrid so this was evidently an un-eco-friendly bear. Of course that's an oxymoron, but you have to admit it's kind of funny. It's not every day the inside of your car gets trashed by a bear, so it's understandable she'd worry that the insurance company wouldn't believe her.

 Speculations as to why he was in the car do not include the most logical one, that this juvenile was hoping to go for a joy ride. Delinquent bears can do funny things.

 As I haven't heard from Anne in years, once in years since graduating together at JD High, it was a mild surprise to see her in the news. Some of the comments posted to the article surprise me even more. Is Juneau now overrun with Chechakos (new comers)? Prompted me to leave the following comments on the news blog.:

 Well, what's Alaska all about if you don't have bears around. It's part of what makes Alaska unique. Learning bear safety is as natural in growing up as training your kids don't take candy from a stranger. My first lessons after we arrived in Alaska were indelible; walking down the long private dark and wooded road to the school bus as kids we learned to make noise, which trees to climb and all of that, from the best, renown woodsman Ralph Reischel. Last time I was there a bear came down to Front Street where the tourists were hanging around. It happens. So if you're afraid of bears you're in the wrong state. It beats having a snake come out of your toilet. God I hate snakes.


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Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Bow Hunting Bears Makes for a Dangerous Hunt

 by Robert L. Gisel

 The ultimate in sports hunting, after hearing the story myself, has to be in hunting bear with a bow and arrow. That my brother Chuck Gisel had the fortune, or dubious honor, to participate as the backup rifle makes for a very exciting story.

 The mastermind of this adventure was Scott Leonard, who was working at the Alaska Fish and Game in Juneau. He had bow hunted just about everything except bears. So his idea to go after a one with the bow was a logical progression in his range of trophy hunting. Killing a bear is a dangerous proposition in usual circumstances, but taking one on with a bow and arrow is courageous beyond belief, or simply asking for trouble.

 Obviously this is big game hunting and not recommended for the fainthearted or photo-shoot-only crowd.

 Doing this sport one is best advised to take along a backup shooter with the proper rifle and savvy at dropping bears at close range. Scott somehow convinced my brother to go with him as his backup gun. The conditions were laid out and it was agreed they would select a small black bear and Scott would get well prepared for the hunt. This included practice snap-shooting for speed and accuracy, which he did, prior to embarking on the expedition.

 The arrow selected had a spiral tip that would spin and go through the game in a spiral, coring a plug all the way through. To make this work you had to be totally accurate and hit its heart in spite of any movement by the bear. You might only get one shot, so it better be good.

 Bears have a bad adrenalin problem that makes taking one down difficult in the best of circumstances, to say the least. A head shot usually just bounces off the skull. Even with a shot in the heart it will continue it's charge for you for fifty yards or more. Only a hit in a shoulder breaking the ball joint of its limb can stop its attack. You have to do this so it can't run and it drops at your feet.

 It follows then that using a bow as the weapon has some real potential drawbacks and questions one's sanity. Scott just wanted the experience and, of course, the hide. Evidently the thrill as well.

 After practice, the team set out for Gambier Bay outside of Juneau in a friend's boat. Anchored off North Point the first day was spent just watching the beach for any bear that might come around on its rounds. Seeing none, the next day they went to a different location and watched some landlocked islands, then again for a third day. Several bears were observed but what the hunters were looking for was any repeats of the same one, which means it could be predicted in its pattern.

 The one seen to be rounding a circle was a small brown bear which made it almost ideal for the hunt. Black bears are more amiable, if any wild bears can be amiable. The browns akin to the grizzly and are known to be mean and sometimes dangerously unpredictable. This upped the stakes in the bow hunt; a better prize, more risk in getting it.

With a careful study of topographical maps they plotted out where to set up to waylay this bear as it came around on its usual path. They had be down wind, so the bear couldn't smell its hunters, and be hidden well in a thicket of brush. A spot was selected, they got into their positions and the trap was set.

 Bears do funny things sometimes, like sneak around to other side of you when you're looking the other way. Hiding in the brush, waiting for a bear to approach and do battle must be the epitome of macho.

 This time the bear came around as expected. It walked up its trail quite close to where Chuck and Scott were. Sensing someone was there, it stood up a mere 20 feet from them. It couldn't smell the hunting party as long as the direction of the wind prevailed and kept them down wind. On its hind legs it looked around, sniffing. Still the brown bear couldn't spot what it was missing. If it did, he would be on them in a second.

 Scott had his bow drawn for the shot and held it for some moments. Chuck began to wonder when he was ever going to release the arrow. Chuck had his gun up and aimed. At six yards there was no room for misses.

 Finally the arrow flew and found its mark through where the heart should be. Naturally the bear protested this with its throaty roar. He was really mad now. At 20 feet away this was a horrendous and frightening sound. Then the long stream of blood pumped out at intervals indicating the heart had been hit.

 Enduring the deafening battle cry, Chuck still had his wits about him to shoot it twice to ensure it came down and stayed down.

 Still alive, he was pawing the ground and making noise, lots of it. Chuck approached the bear, capped him with his barrel against his skull and that finished him and the hunt.

 Chuck said he did a check of his shorts to make sure he hadn't, such was the fearsome experience. Scott was pumped, his first bow-hunted bear kill. Chuck was sure this was his last.

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Saturday, April 5, 2008

Bears At Large

 by Robert L Gisel

 It has been an indelible memory duly impressed upon me the early survival teachings I was initated in when I was a lad. Newly in Alaska, the circumstance that bears were at large was a new element, unknown and definitely a factor to be considered wherever we went.

 Our first homestead, a house owned by Ralph Reischel, an old time woodsman, was well off the road at the end of the moderately populated Fritz Cove Road that was by no means city living. Long time Juneau residents lived along this coastal road specifically to be near to the water and far from the city. This put us 13 miles out from downtown Juneau.

 We had an access road, one lane of packed dirt that in part went through a stretch of woods. A school bus serviced Fritz Cove Road but we had to walk to the main road down our private access road about 2/10 mile long. It seemed longer then though that is probably all it was, but it was dark.

The shorter days in the winter meant that during the school months it was still pitch black out when we had to go meet the bus. The short patch of woods was even darker and it had shadows and noises. I was only nine and my bother was 11 while my sister was a couple years older yet. Just kids.

 We were taught that though the bears probably wouldn't be coming around they could and we had to take measures to avoid them. This was new news, not the usual "don't take candy from strangers" survival coaching kids need in the big city.

 This meant talking in the woods was good, or singing, or carry a can with rocks to rattle for noise to announce our presence. If a bear hears you coming he'll most often move out of the way as he really doesn't want the confrontation anymore than you do. Generally.

 A sow with cubs can be very protective and really dangerous especially if you get in between the sow and her cubs in which case you could be for it. Given enough advance warning the sow will herd the cubs away and out of danger. Yes, danger, as you are also an unknown to the bears.

 A wounded bear is expected to be pretty ornery and quite aggressive. He wants to get even with someone. A bear just doesn't usually stick around though when he hears you coming unless he watches you secretly out of curiosity. The worst scenario is when he sets up an attack plan and is out for blood. This is usually times when he comes out of hibernation and he is mighty hungry or when has been wounded. Sometimes you are just in his feeding grounds and he marks you for punishment.

 I asked Ralph what he would. He said if it was an old sow he'd just outrun it. Also running uphill is better as they have shorter hind legs and they really can't run too well up hill. That's comforting to know next time I have a bear chasing me.

 Ralph knew a lot about bears. The den in our house still held his collection of exotic bear furs. There was the usual Brown and Grizzly bear pelts hanging there. He also had a Glacier bear which was basically just a Grizzly but with a lighter streak on his back. He had one he called a Blue bear which did have a blue tint when you fanned the back.

 His real claim to fame was that he was one of the only trappers around who could successfully trap wolverine alive for the zoos. This was in the 30's and the 40's, long before sedation darts or any technology like that. A wolverine is like a real small bear in some respects. Their fur is thick like a bear, quite bushy, but the wolverine is more the size of a wolf. They are also reported to be even more vicious and every bit as dangerous as a bear especially when cornered or trapped.

 Ralph's routine for capturing the wolverine alive was a two man operation. First you have to catch the prey alive in a snare trap. You have to check the traps often, every couple hours. Otherwise the wolverine will get desperate and bite his own foot off to get free of the trap.

 When you have caught one alive transporting them was tricky. Their sharp teeth would chew through most anything. For that he devised a metal lined wood barrel.

 When he caught one in the snare he went out with a partner and the barrel. The trick is to have your partner distract the fellow while you get around behind the wolverine. Evidently this is much harder than it sounds as getting behind a wolverine especially one you are trying to corner is no small feat. The partner has to get close enough as if to engage in a fight.

 Then you work your way around behind the critter and sneak up on him close enough to grab him by the tail and swing him into the barrel. That's all there is to it. Ralph said he had had some whip back around on him though when it all didn't go exactly to plan. He still had his face and all his fingers so it would seem that wolverine wrestling was just part of the fun.

 When it came to bears this too was just part of the fun. Ralph coached us how to flee when necessary. Going up a tree for instance can be good, or very bad. You have to pick your tree correctly. Too small and he'll push it over. Too large and he can get his paws around it enough to get a purchase and climb up after you.

 Some years later Mom would drive us out to the garbage dump to watch the bears grubbing for something to eat. These were mostly black bears or small browns, used to having people stand around watching them and were pretty harmless. One I walked almost right up to, five feet away with only a fallen over refrigerator between me and him. He never even looked my way, seemingly oblivious I was there.

 Sometimes in the wild you just have to pack a gun and know how to use it. In fact whenever you went into any wood where there could be bears it was more than recommended to carry rifle or a heavy caliber pistol. Just a standing rule, have a gun just in case. Personally I never had any encounter with any bears nevertheless.

 On a sabbatical one year I was visiting my folks in their retirement cabin at Colt Island and wanted to go wander around exploring nearby Horse Island. You can walk to it at low tide on the spit that connects the two islands. My step dad gave me a rifle to carry as there was a resident bear on Horse. The bear usually hung out behind old John's house hoping John would throw something out he could eat.

 I walked around the island several times watching for the bear but mostly was entertained by the deer, doe and fawn tracks that went around the island as they kept on the opposite end from me. I got bored with that and was going through the woods and noticed a patch of skunk cabbage the deer had been eating. The stems had been freshly broken off and hadn't had time to start juicing yet so it was very fresh sign.

 At the north end I encountered a fellow who was roasting a weener over the most pitiful tiny fire built of small twigs like he was afraid of it. He wanted to know why I was carrying a rifle and I told him about the bear that lived on Horse. He blanched. Apparently he was kayaking around southeast Alaska, by himself, and he had slept on the island having the idea no bears could be there. He was really a cheechako (Alaskan for greenhorn).

 When I got back to Colt my folks wanted to know if I had seen the bear. I hadn't but told them about the deer sign including the very fresh sign in the skunk cabbage patch. That's when I was informed deer don't eat skunk cabbage. Bear eat skunk cabbage. I guess I have been spending too much time in LA. Heaven forbid someone mistake me for a Cheechako.

 My Mom had remarried to Lynn Forrest Jr, Bud, a retired architect, and he has had some brushes with bears and dropped a few in self defense. This is where I learned about the bear in an attack plan. The bear is kind of dumb in that he will sometimes formulate a plan to come around and jump you but if the plan is foiled he'll try to go through with it anyway.

 On a fishing trip Bud and three buddies were coming back down the trail with their catch. Bud was up front with one friend and the other two were about a hundred yards back. He spotted a bear moving along the other side of the stream who had not seen him yet. Bud had his friend stop and be quiet. The bear's plan was evident, he was going to cross the stream and double back and jump the other two fishermen.

 The bear started across the stream towards Bud and that's when he saw them. He kept going on the plan of attack but this time towards Bud and his friend and he broke into a charge. Ready for him with his rifle Bud got a shot into his shoulder joint aned dropped him. Unfortunately they had their fishing licenses but no bear ticket so they had to leave it there for Fish and Game as otherwise they would just get arrested and fined.

 I think the ultimate though is my brother's story about going out as the backup gun for his friend who like to bow hunt and wanted go after some bear. That's really looking for trouble. But that's a tale for another blog post, if you're interested.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Mounts Juneau, Roberts, and Gisel Peak

by Robert L Gisel

 Standing in the Million Dollar Golf Course at Juneau with some friends it was one of those days where I reminded myself how incredibly gorgeous Alaska is, fully made evident by a nearly cloudless day. We were a small group but all waiting for the event to happen.

 The Million Dollar Golf Course is so named because really all it is is the mine tailings of the now closed gold mine at the base of Mount Juneau. Is is so named because the flat of land could still hold very small particles of gold if one had the means of extracting it and it was once actually a nine hole golf course set up for fun and mostly in jest. There are no grasses and no greens as such. The "greens" at each hole were compacted sand and evidently one could actually move a golf ball around through all that.

 This day it was just a glorified land fill that afforded a good view of the top of Mount Juneau where we watched a helicopter land and unload a single person with his gear. Juneau is on a narrow strip of land framed by these two mountains, Roberts to the the south and Juneau to the north, at this time Roberts was beside us.

 We could see the hang glider emerge on the very peak of Mount Juneau as the adventurer set it up. There was an agreed upon period of time in which if he didn't decide to go ahead with the glide the helicopter pilot would come back and pick him up. Understandably launching a hang-glider from the nearly 4000 foot peak could be too dangerous, not just from almost a mile of height but from unpredictable drafts of wind. If the takeoff were successful the whole flight probably would be.

 After about fifteen minutes of waiting the daring individual leaped into the air and was off on a long thrilling ride that ended in a safe landing on the flats where we stood. This environment gets quite nasty in the winter months as over on the other side of Mount Roberts to our right is the Juneau Ice Field. The cold winds from this huge permanent plain of compacted ice, around 2000 to 2500 feet deep, has a habit of moving rapidly across the peak and dropping into the valley in high gusts of non-directional winds known as the Taku. This day the air was calm.

 Taku is a popular Tlinket Indian name probably meaning something to the Tlinkets but I never knew what that is. A lot businesses in Juneau borrow the name and there is Taku this and Taku that throughout the area. The ice field spills out at its perimeter in various glaciers like the large Taku Glacier on the southeast border of the ice field and the Mendenhall Glacier north of Juneau.

 I've estimated on a topographical map that the ice field is roughly 50 miles wide and 50 miles deep as it stretches across the border into Canada. It is said to cover 1500 square miles altogether. It is well studied by Dr. Maynard Miller, who teaches a class of Glaciologists there every summer. The group, now as much as 80 strong, marches in the Fourth of July Parade and then embarks on an eight week trek across the field as they take core samples and generally do what Glaciologists do.

 I know of Dr. Miller as having been somewhat instrumental in the discovery of the major ecological issue of the hole in the ozone layer. Apparently the ice field has rings that demark time and weather going way back. There also is evidenced a cycle weather cycle that has been running full circle every 70 years like clockwork. When new core samples showed up a drastic change in that whereby the turnaround was an unheard of 35 years Dr. Miller was concerned to say the least.

 As this little known story goes Dr Miller sent out communiques to his various comrades in the field about this including a Glaciologist researching in Antarctica. That scientist sent up a balloon and made a discovery of the hole in the ozone layer now having an effect on the global weather patterns. He got credit for the discovery but the string pull began with Maynard Miller.

 Somewhere in the middle of the Juneau Ice Field, on the edge closer to the Canadian side of the ice field, is a set of mountain peaks known as Devil's Paw. Off to the side and to the northwest of Devil's Paw is a previously unnamed border peak that now carries the name Gisel Peak.

 In honor of my Dad, Charles A. Gisel, Dr Miller took the effort to get the mountain named for his dangerous works in flying Glaciologists in not the safest of conditions as well as some dangerous rescue work in the helicopter. This took two submissions, being on the border. It had to get approval of the US government as well the Canadian government and Dr. Miller pushed it through both approval processes.

 Gisel Peak is a very steep mountain crag that looks formidable to access. At some point it was charted and the height determined at 6,523 feet. Presumably that means it was once climbed by the USGS though I can't imagine this remote spire being at all sought out by the aspiring mountain climber set.

 At one point I worked with Cinema Alaska, Inc. owned by Charles Mackey, a small film producer. During my time with the company we completed a short documentary film of a 15 minute plane ride over the Juneau Ice Field including some shots of Gisel

 We were all proud of my father and having the mountain after him gave us all some satisfaction not, on my part, entirely satiating the unfulfilled desire to have known him better. It is there though, as a monument to his greatness.


Fly Anywhere, Land Anywhere

by Robert L Gisel

 There are privileges to being a renown Bush Pilot. One of these is that the authorities leave you alone and let you go and do. At least that is my assumption for the wide respect the community afforded my father, Charles A. Gisel Jr.

 I know that one time when a friend and I were boisterously experimenting with 150 proof Everclear late into the night the knock on the door was from my father not from the Juneau Police Department. They had gone instead to my father and he came around and politely asked if maybe we could keep the the noise down. Apart from a wake up call for our errant behavior it was an interesting view on how the police handled this by reason of my father being who he was.

 How and where he flew airplanes and helicopters was partly allowable, then, just due to the tremendous respect he earned from people. However that explains only part of it. Either nobody cared about the rules, I know my Dad sure didn't worry himself about them too much, or the acceptance of the Bush Pilot and the prevalence of Air Taxi make it a very unique to Alaska flying experience.

When we first moved to Alaska we lived 13 miles out the road from town. Actually we were on the spur Fritz Cove Road which weaved along above the shores of Auke Bay. Ralph Reischel was an old time woodsman who had a house on the beach with a guest house. He and his wife Martha moved into the guest house, that was big enough for them, and we moved our family into the big house.

 It was right on the beach. Maybe 6 feet in front of the house was a small 2 foot rock wall and the beach stretched out from there. That was where the highest tides came to, that little retaining wall. To the right of the house a long low log dock stretched out into the water. Left of the house was a small grass yard the length of the house but only about 30 feet wide.

 Playing outside on the dock I was surprised to see Dad fly in one day in the helicopter. He was just coming home after the day's work. He had not wanted to go all the way back to the seaplane port so he just flew it home.

 Even more surprising to me was where he landed, perched at the edge of the yard, where it did not appear to me to be enough room for the rotors between the house and the trees. He says there was "plenty of room". It seems a common deal to land a helicopter on a larger yaught but this was the first and probably only time I had heard of commuting home in your helicopter.

 Another time during a summer vacation I was in town with a friend of mine, wandering around looking for something to do as lads will, when we saw my Dad's copter come in for a landing. We hurried over there to find that he had landed on the landfill just behind the Foodland Supermarket. My friend had the idea you were not supposed to land in the city. Come on! He had run out of King Edward cigars and was just stopping at the store for more. What's wrong with that?

 It was usual to spend time flying to places with Dad. One summer he had a contract hauling people and things for a mountain top radio signal reflector that was going up on Mt. Hood. There was an abandoned cannery at the base of the mountain and my brother and I stayed there for a couple weeks for a vacation. Some days he had to haul gas barrels to the top so he could fly all day without coming back down. He would come in and hover low over these and I would run under the copter and hook the cargo net to the cargo hook.

 The ski area those days was on Douglas Island just across from Juneau where the Juneau-Douglas Bridge came across. Dad used to run a service flying skiiers from the parking lot up to the mountain top for a small fee or would just carry their skis up for a lessor fee. I'd help him load the helicopter and then take the last ride up.

 Whenever we wanted to go anywhere for hunting or fishing, or whatever, there was always a plane available or the copter. Mom wanted to go clam digging one time so Dad flew us and some friends out to an abundant clam beach on Admiralty Island. He dropped us off there while he went around doing his flying jobs for the day. It took two trips going home and Mom and couple others went back in the float plane and my brother and I waited on the beach. In a while he came back in the helicopter and picked us up.

 There is a bottomless lake in Auke Bay where we would sometimes water ski. This one particular time there was a barbeque for the Rainbow Girls at a house on the shore. Mom was an Eastern Star so she was active as well overseeing the girls' organization. Eric Lindeguard was our next door neighbor so he brought his ski boat and lauched it into the lake. To top the whole event off Dad would stop by in between trips to the Glacier where he was flying Glaciologists. He wouild land on the beach in their back yard and give the girls free helicopter rides.

 Dad was fun loving and likely to do a good humored prank. He started buzzing Eric with the helicopter. It was great fun for dad and us watching this hilarious show of Dad's straffing runs low over the top of Eric's boat. As I recall though Eric was not at all happy about being on the receiving end of this great fun.

 The planes and helicopters Dad flew for work became like our personal rec vehicles. It just seemed the way things ought to be. John Travolta set up his home in Ochola, Florida, to accomodate his close involvement with flying this way. There is a private community there with a landing strip for the residents' planes. John took it one step further and extended the runway taxi strip so he could park his planes at his house.

 On one side of the house is the Boeing 707 and the Gulfstream Jet he parks under an awning on the other side. He comments that he always thought that is the way it should be, that he had grown up thinking that everyone would someday have their own plane parked at their home. I have always thought so too.

 Quite some years ago a feature article which I thought was Popular Mechanics portrayed this idea with a kit plane you could buy. It was billed and presented as a flying car. The hood area contained a rotor and the trunk area of the car was another rotor. It was said to be VTOL and could land in your driveway and that was the cover picture on the magazine.

 A friend of mined said he had attended an Oshgosh Experimental Flight Meet and there were 1/2 a dozen of these still in operational condition. I don't have any idea what happened that the kits are not still available and for the life of me I haven't been able to remember the name of this or locate it in a search.

 It is my ideal scene that a car/aircraft could be so versatel and usual that you just fly it home to your garage and these should be as abundant as you see rec vehicles today. We certainly had a taste of that living under the wing of a Bush pilot as tjhat is just the way it was.This is the way it should be everywhere and if I can make a few ideas work it will be that way.


My Dad Was a Bush Pilot

by Robert L Gisel

 My Dad was a genuine Alaska Bush Pilot. It was for that that we moved to Alaska in a long exodus from Texas. Rumor had it the 49th State was going to broken up into two States and then Texas would be the third largest State in the US.

 Originally my dad, Charles A. Gisel Jr, went into the Army Air Force to become a pilot. That ambition was denied him as he was color blind, only saw things in black and white, shades of gray, so he was put into radio communications training instead. He went into a classified project I only found out about inadvertently reading a book on it much later. The experiment was to fly remote controlled airplanes while the Army Air Corps developed a method of flying pilot-less planes or drones into the guns of Navarone for D-Day.

 After the service he did a remarkable thing. Somehow getting a copy of the color charts used for the tests he memorized the shades of gray until he could name all the colors. In this way he got his pilot's license and went on to be, ironically enough, a Civilian Flight Instructor for the Army. So he started training the Army's pilots in the Bird-dog Trainer.

 The rule of thumb of the Army for its pilot Instructors was to transfer them around a lot. The think was that if they allowed one to stay in a location for longer than 18 months they would want to stay and they wouldn't accept a transfer to the next base they would be needed at. This meant for me many different homes and many moves to different states.

 From where I was born in Kansas we went to Oklahoma, to Alabama, back to Kansas, then to Texas all by the age of 7. There in San Marcos, Texas I started second grade. The Army then violated its rule and we stayed living in Texas for 2 1/2 years. When it came time to transfer us again back to Alabama we didn't want to. Not just my Dad but none of us in my family wanted to go to Alabama again. The rule in Mobile, Alabama, is that if it rains on Monday it will rain all the rest of the week. There was more to the decision than just the weather but that is where Dad quit the Civilian Army Flight Instructor business.

 By the time he was training pilots at Ft. Hood Dad was now also giving flight instruction in larger planes and even helicopters all the way up to the big transports my brother and I called the flying banana. This led to Dad getting a job flying for Era Copters in the summer of 1959. The job was to transport Japanese Glaciologists around in Glacier Bay for their exploratory work. He was to learn some things about what makes being a Bush Pilot so dangerous at times.

 Picking up a Hiller 12-E helicopter at Era Copters in San Francisco Dad flew it to Glacier Bay for the summer contract. There he had a white-out and crashed.

 A white-out is a blizzard, in this case where the snow gets stirred up by the propellers, flies up all around until you can't see anything, except white snow. A guiding principle in flying a helicopter is to keep your eyes on the horizon thus keeping your orientation. When in the middle of a white-out you not only can't see the horizon you also can't tell which direction you are going. Thinking he was going forward when instead he was going backwards the tail rudder hit the ice followed by the main rotors and the helicopter beat itself to pieces.

 Seeing the photo of the wreckage which was no longer remotely identifiable as a helicopter I asked my Dad how he walked away from that. He says he just unstrapped and stepped out. He flew back to San Francisco and picked up another 12-E and went back to complete the contract at Glacier Bay. One gets the idea this was a sort of inner circle Bush Pilot's initiation: crashes happen.

 After that however they adopted a technique of using lamp black to mark the landing area first. A long section of stove pie is hung out the open door towards the ground and lamp black, soot, is dumped in it to lay a black line on the landing area. This worked pretty well apparently, except the one time they got too close to the ground. The back-wash from the rotors blew the soot back up the stove pipe into the cockpit. Now they had a black-out. Well that one came out okay as Dad took it back up, instrument flying, until they could clean off the inside of the bubble and land safely.

 By the time Dad had finished flying the contract At Glacier Bay he had landed another job in Alaska. He was going to be a Bush Pilot for Dean Goodwin's Flying Service in Juneau. Dean had a couple Cessna 180 float planes and also a Beaver and an Otter both on floats. The real clincher was he also had a Hiller 12-E helicopter. Dad was set. This was the ideal scene, doing what he loved the most and in the idyllic environment of Alaska.

 Just as winter was setting in we set off for Alaska in a caravan of two vehicles, towing two trailers, a packed 16 foot trailer and a 16 foot boat on its trailer. That was a long trip, not that I cared about that as this was the kind of adventure that thrills the life of a nine year old.

 When we finally arrived Dad again had to set about another memorization task: the topographical maps of Southeast Alaska. He had me grill him on where things were on the map. This was primarily because this is not where you fly around from airport to airport with an abundance of beacons and navigational aids. There would none of that and with wild and fast weather changes there was no substitute for knowing the terrain and how to get around by sight alone. This was flying in the wild.

 Dad started going out to canneries and villages in the float plane and taking Geologists on minerals surveys around Admiralty Island then another contract came up with the Japanese Glaciologists, this time at Mendenhall Glacier.

 One day Dean Goodwin came flying in in a super rush and landed the 180 at our boat dock on Fritz Cove Road. He ran up to the house without saying anything leaving my brother and I to corral the plane coasting by the dock and tie it off to worry about what had happened as this was a very unusual event. Turns out Dad had had another crash, this time on the Mendenhall Glacier. Dean wanted Mom to know about it before she heard about it on the news, and to know that no one was hurt, Dad was okay.

 Dad told me later how it happened. Flying in 100 feet over the glacier the carburetor iced up and killed the engine. Dad looked for the flattest place he could find and started auto-rotating for it. Feathering the rotors at the last moment the copter plopped on the ice, on the rubber pontoons. It then started a slide to the right into a crevasse that was 16 feet deep. The one on the left side it turns out was over a 100 feet deep. The copter dropped into the crevasse and beat itself apart.

 The straight up walls of ice were too high to climb up out of. Being lost to sight in the middle of such huge expanse of glacier it would be weeks before anyone found them so rescue didn't look too promising. One of the Glaciologists had a dislocated shoulder as he was the third man on the bottom when the whirlybird came to rest but there were fortunately no other injuries. Forming a human pyramid with one Glaciologist standing on the shoulders of the other then Dad climbing up on top of him this was high enough to use the ice picks and get free.

 From there it was just a matter of hiking off the glacier to a house where he made the phone call for help. The Coast Guard came and retrieved the two still in the crevasse.

 Dad went on to live another eight years of flying, sometimes in the hardest of conditions until it was finally a faulty Fairchild Hiller that took him down. The error in the new cowling design permitted snow to sluff into the engine and kill it. This took it's toll during a critical takeoff at Snettisham Dam Project resulting in a brutal crash.

 He was extremely well loved and admired. Now we all miss him. He leaves behind some good memories and the mountain Gisel Peak, named in his honor.


Thursday, April 3, 2008

Once An Alaskan Always An Alaskan

by Robert L Gisel

 To Alaskan residents past or present it has been a long understanding that the call of Alaska never really ever leaves one once you have tasted the Great Land. Moving around the south 48 I hear mostly these two recurring lines: "I've always wanted to go to Alaska" and "I really want to go back".

 Personally I grew up there and I'd be there today but the need for work in my technical skills required I go elsewhere. The dream of returning never departed but was only partly satiated by knowing my family was still there and trips back for visits were still on table. This grand lure is amazingly widespread so one could wonder what this is all about.

 One is hard pressed to really find something to object to about living in Alaska where there was some willful desire to go there in the first place. Okay, work can be hard to find sometimes. Not if you are rather intent on going to work though. There is the usual array of jobs found in any city in the US and more in the main industries of tourism, mining, fishing and lumber. There's attorneys and taxi drivers, pizza cooks, grocery clerks, churches, bars and you name it. The population is only around 670,000 in the entire state though, as huge as it is. So some certain amount of people are vying for a set amount of jobs which I'd guess to be less than 350,000, some of which are quite seasonal. Truly though for me there was never too much a problem to keep working when I needed to as I really wasn't allergic to work.

 People usually say to me as the very next response to saying I grew up in Alaska "Isn't it cold there?" Of course I concur, how so very cold it is, lest I ruin the game for real Alaskans. Sometimes though I get smitten with a streak of honesty and let them know that is just what we tell people to keep the population down.

 The truth is it is a big state. Very big. While it might be raining in Ketchikan that very day there could be also a cold snap that at 60 below zero freezes a spittle before it hits the ground at Point Barrow. It is after all a distance between those two communities of about 1320 miles as the crow flies. Being around a hundred miles north of latitude 70 and about 330 miles north of the Arctic Circle Barrow is really far up there.

 To exaggerate this even further the temperature varies not only in degrees but in the mind of the beholder. Personally the dry cold and little or no winds found in Anchorage suits me fine so that 10 below zero Fahrenheit is just right. The air is really fresh and crisp like that. It kind of snaps you alert and that is it. Throw on an overcoat, don't even button it, gloves or not, and no hat is all that was needed. When cross country skiing around the seasonal golf course it was just a heavy turtle neck sweater and no gloves. If the temperature dropped to 20 below I'd throw on an open coat and keep some gloves handy in my pocket.

 In my brief stint living in Fairbanks during the winter the temperature was dropping down to 30 and 40 below while I was walking to work 15 minutes away. At 40 below a scarf over my face was necessary and there would be icicles on it from my breath when I got to work. Here again it is is a dry cold and no winds to speak of.

 Just when I was thanking my lucky stars there was no breeze to drop the wind chill factor, one of the neighbors came racing out at top speed on his snow mobile on the park strip. That could be one very cold ride, one would think, but not to watch this fellow. He was obviously quite used to it and he was having a ball out there recreating before he had to go work. You get acclimated to it and more so by reason of one's consideration than anything else it would seem.

 On the other hand it is more of a wet cold in Juneau where I grew up and tends to have extreme winds in the winter so that 30 degrees above with a 40 to 50 knot wind can be somewhat bitter because of the wind chill. Dressed well with a good coat and hat though this is no problem either. All that considered, it was a much wetter cold in the Missouri winter so that at 35 degrees above in that climate chilled me to the bone and was too uncomfortable for me.

 Talking to people from the upper lower 48 it was at first amazing to me to learn the weather there was colder than what we were experiencing in places in Alaska. Montana, Wisconsin or Minnesota which regularly go into minus temperatures are far colder than Juneau which stays around 30 degrees and occasionally lower.

 Once in Juneau I saw the temperature break records by going under zero down to 12 below. At that time the winds were whipping around at 40 to 50 knots so the chill factor was so ridiculously low I had to invalidate my calculation of it as nothing could be that cold. Believe it or not we really didn't mind it.

 Until we found my car on the street had a flat tire. I still have to thank my friend Doug for spelling me on the tire iron to finish the job as that was just too brutal, even for me, a die-hard Alaskan. It's still a consideration: Doug was smiling away, getting that tired changed without a complaint.

 New York and Massachusetts always saw more snow fall than we did. One time there was 36 inches of snow in a 48 hour period and that was the most I ever saw in Juneau. New York gets piles more than that every year. In Anchorage the snow was even less. Remember it is a dry cold and thus a dry snow.

 One year there was so little snow cover insulating the permafrost it started thawing. The wood building our business was in shifted on its foundation and we started having trouble opening the doors. The permafrost, the level of underground frozen water table, is an essential facet of building foundations.

 The summers turn around into warm days anywhere from 60 to 95 degrees depending on where you are and the amount of sun or clouds. I went water skiing a lot in the summers in Juneau. I believe it was Doug and Bill and myself near the end of one school year who water skied down the Channel past the High School windows brazenly announcing our tardiness.

 Maybe it was just that, these extreme variances and the cocky acceptance of them, which makes one forever an Alaskan. When you watch the radical difference in the length of day and night you really get the idea you truly are barely perched on the side of the globe. The winter I spent in Fairbanks the sun never fully came up above the horizon. Midday was dusk at best.

 One other time I went to Fairbanks over my summer vacation and watched the mid-summer sun tracing the line of a shallow bowl as it rolled across the horizon , never setting below it.

 You just know you are someplace really different and if all this hasn't impressed then realizing you don't have to watch out for snakes anymore as there are none, but you sure better keep alert for those bears as they will impress you.

 "Scenic" was almost taken for granted while all the time my backyard was a mountain, where literally walking from the yard into the woods sloping up steeply 4000+ feet was the mountain top, and the glacier was just over there where you could practically drive up to the face of it. I came to realize this as the most beautiful place in the world. For sure it has been that for me.

 It's time to go back again.