Excursion to the Yukon River

Oh no, here he comes!”, my brother exclaims, pointing to the orange sky and walking down the icy and mirror-smooth road. I grab the camera from the pickup’s passenger seat and run and slide after it. It really can’t be true: We’re so blown away by the frozen Yukon River and the rising sun that we completely miss our mission here. Captain Rob Everts is already hovering in his DC-6 and we are still a good 250 meters away from the agreed spot for the photo. Such a crap.

Mit Everts Air an den Yukon River

An hour earlier: It’s actually already early morning, but it’s still dark, the sun hasn’t really risen yet. When we climb out of the Pilatus PC-12 at Galena Airfield, our nose hair freezes after just two breaths. Quickly put on the cap and close the jacket. “Damn cold here”agrees with another passenger. “29 degrees below zero”, says our pilot. He means Fahrenheit. The conversion to Celsius doesn’t make it any better: minus 34 degrees. In Fairbanks it was “only” minus 18 degrees.

We retreat to the tiny lounge in the Everts Air building. An employee introduces himself as Chris and serves us a hot coffee. He has an idea: “If the boss is about to come in his DC-6, grab our old pick-up outside the door, drive around the airfield from the outside and then position your camera at the very beginning of the runway.” OK, got it. A little later the time has come. “Rob will be here in 20 minutes. Just spoke to him. Get on your way”, says Chris and puts the radio aside. Said and done.

“Look at this”, I say to my brother as we drive along the Yukon River a little later. The wide river is just a stone’s throw from the airfield and is almost completely frozen, steaming in the few places that are still open. The forest on the other side is covered in deep snow, above it the rising sun envelops everything in a mystical, orange-colored light. We get out and are completely blown away. The cold is forgotten at this moment. “The main thing is that Rob doesn’t come too early”, I say with an anxious glance at the clock. No sooner has the sentence been spoken than we hear a suspicious noise in the freezing cold air: Rob Everts is already approaching and we are not yet at the right place.

We try everything. We manage to take a few more shots, but we’re not really happy – we’re still quite a way away when the big bird touches down. I am angry. We head back to the airfield, where the hatch of the DC-6 cargo hold is already opening. A beaming Rob Everts comes towards us. “And? Did you get some good shots?”freight is. “Of course, everything is great”, I fib. Luckily he doesn’t want to see the pictures.

The cold is insidious – even for the fingers

I take a few photos of the unloading of the big freighter, marvel at the amount of oil under the engines and climb into the plane. And that’s the next mistake. At least if you do it without gloves. The icy metal of the ladder and hull sends a searing pain into my hands. “Be glad it’s not even colder – then you would be frozen solid now”, says Rob and laughs as I hold my immobile fingers between my thighs for warmth. I laugh tormented. After a few minutes it works again.

It doesn’t take long before the DC-6 is already unloaded. Primarily pallets of food. “For the local supermarket”, explains Rob. But some of it would be distributed directly to smaller planes and then flown to even smaller towns with even smaller airports. Unloading, he goes on to explain, always has to be done as quickly as possible in winter, “so that the engines don’t get cold”.

So it doesn’t take long before Captain Everts wants to take off again. I quickly take a picture of the start of the engines and the associated smoke development. The DC-6 is gone again in no time. And we? Have to wait for our flight back to Fairbanks. The Cessna Caravan that’s supposed to take us back won’t be here for a few hours. We can borrow the pick-up again, drive around a bit, have lunch in a tiny restaurant and drive a little further along the banks of the Yukon. It’s definitely too cold for a walk.

On the return flight we make a stopover in Ruby, a tiny village in a fairly hilly area. The landing approach is not easy: It is already getting dark, it is windy (atypical for Alaska), the runway is short and unlit and has quite a hump in the middle – and it goes without saying that it is completely iced and covered in snow. For them Pilots no problem here. A few boxes and a sled are unloaded, and two villagers with snowmobiles are waiting outside, heavily wrapped up, and transporting everything away. Two other residents also want to go to Fairbanks, one because he is ill and has to see a doctor. No problem at all – where the transport sledge was previously lashed down, two additional seats are now installed and off we go.

An hour later we are back in Fairbanks. Matching the after-work beer with Rob Everts.

Meiko Haselhorst

follow us on Twitter
Like us on Facebook

Already read?

Between wrecks and veterans

Fairbanks: Large airport for small planes

Tupolev dreams and Ilyushin illusions

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.