When the offer came out in early April to the Office of Communications to fill a seat on a backcountry airstrip flight to take pictures and document the journey, I thought wow this is going to be one special trip. Being the “new guy” I waited until everybody had the chance to say yes, then I said, “Well if nobody else can go, I will.”
E-mails were sent back and forth confirming the trip and I was really getting excited! I would be flying with Mike Pape (the second-best pilot in Idaho according to JV DeThomas, seated next to him) and Gary McElheney to join several volunteer pilots scheduled to fly up as well to inspect and clean-up areas of the Thomas Creek airstrip.
For those of you not familiar with Thomas Creek, it is in the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness and is only accessible by air or river, for it is on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River with no road access.
The flight was scheduled for Saturday, April 11, (weather permitting). Of course, Idaho weather in the spring is about as predictable as Idaho weather in the spring, but I decided I could “will” the weather to be nice. All week I was gearing up to go. Warm clothes, hat, gloves, etc. and showing my wife and daughter were I was going on Google Earth.
Saturday finally came and I drove out to the Division of Aeronautics for the first time and was very impressed with how immaculate that operation is kept. You could eat off of the hangar floor if so inclined. Mike and Gary were very gracious hosts and made sure I knew exactly what was planned for the day.
Takeoff was scheduled for 8 a.m. in the Cessna 206, which is a four or five seat plane that is perfect for backcountry flying. Mike completed his inspection of the plane’s exterior, and then we all got in and situated as he did his internal inspection and flight check.
He then radioed the tower and we were off (more or less). We taxied to the eastern edge of the Boise Airport to take off. While we were taxiing, Mike was communicating with other pilots who were already in the air. The excitement was growing. We were at the end of the airport, cleared for takeoff.
Cool! Now I can eat my sandwich and Munchos for breakfast and buy another for the next trip.
The flight was re-scheduled for a Wednesday and joining us would be John “JV” DeThomas, the Aeronautics Administrator, a fantastic person and pilot, and we were not only going to Thomas Creek, but to Johnson Creek and Garden Valley as well. This trip just kept getting better!
We lifted off on a beautiful sunny Wednesday morning, flew over Bogus Basin and into the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness area. The scenery was amazing as we flew over the mountains, and I was feeling like a lucky guy to be aboard.
The Thomas Creek airstrip is a dirt strip surrounded by mountains and about 200 yards from the Middle Fork of the Salmon River. We did an initial flyby and were able to see several herds of elk grazing in the foothills surrounding the airstrip.
With JV piloting the plane, landing was like sliding into a warm bath -- smooth and comfortable. We got out and I started snapping pictures. I wandered down to the Salmon River and I was struck with the thought of how lucky we Idahoans are to have such a wonderful river flowing through our backyard and a backcountry airstrip system that is second to none in the U.S.
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Photos: Top - Thomas Creek airstrip; right - Division of Aeronautics Administrator JV DeThomas who served as pilot on the excursion