Work on the DNR coastal project made a big leap forward today with the mapping of the villages of Goodnews and Quinhagak, as well as the remainder of Goodnews Bay, completing the southeastern block of the mission.
The weather at 6AM this morning was encouraging — clear skies in Bethel as well as much of the eastern bank of the Kuskokwim towards Goodnews. But there was still quite a lot of low lying fog in the surrounding area and the tides were starting to become unfavorable with mid-day highs, so I watched trends for a while and decided to launch about 9:30. The tide comes from south to north, so by flying north to south I would pass the peak hopefully in an area that I’ve already covered and catch Goodnews Bay while it was dropping. Based on the visible wet-dry lines and emerging mudflats, this seem to work just fine.
The bay was beautiful, now that I could see the entire thing at once. Looking south from there, the combination of snow capped mountains descending into the ocean in various peninsulas and inlets was picturesque. There was a broken cloud cover, but fortunately high enough to allow me to fly full height. So I made a few laps around the bay and then mapped the village of Goodnews. By this point, the cloud cover was beginning to thicken and squalls were forming and pushing across the bay from the south. By the time I was finished with the village, it was intensifying and I had to bag it. I only had one more lap to go and the shores here are pretty steep, so in terms of coastline studies I dont think we missed anything. I was able to make one pass down and back south of Platinum, but here the mountains fall straight into the ocean and their tops were obscured, so there was no chance of going further inland. But again, we’ve got the full coastline in hand now, and I’ve barely used any of my cloud cover allowance so I think I’m cashing in some chips and calling Goodnews Bay officially finished. Though it does seem like a nice place to visit.
Yellow lines are from today, red from yesterday.
I had hoped actually to spend a little more time there. As I understand it, Platinum (at the head of the Bay) is the main source of gravel for the entire southwest Alaska region. Behind the mountains on the shore, I saw a huge gravel mine, running for miles to the south, with stockpiles of gravel apparently waiting to be shipped. As I understand it, it gets barged from there to wherever its needed, and indeed there was a well equipped loading dock on the spit that seemed set up for this purpose. So it would have been cool to map the mine site, but the weather by that point had deteriorated substantially and I was feeling the need to be closer to Bethel.
The squalls were packed together and cloud bases lowering by the time I tried to make my last lap around the bay.
I must have punched through a dozen snow squalls on the way north. It’s really neat flying through snow, as you can see each snow flake zooming past, like you just went into hyperspace. I was a bit concerned about the camera port, but frequent checks showed no issues. When approaching the squalls, you could see the snow turning to rain as before it hit the ground, great conditions for icing. I was cycling carb heat so much I began to worrying wearing out the linkage so I just left it on.
It appeared to me that I was outracing the squalls northbound, as by the time I got to Quinhagak, it was out of them, but before long they surrounded me again. I tried to pick my lines such that I could avoid whichever one was plaguing me most and this worked out most of the time. By the time I was done, it appeared clear to the south again, so I headed back to Goodnews Bay to see if I could cleanup the remaining line. In retrospect I should probably had headed home, but at the time Bethel weather was calling strong cross winds (on both runways…) and I had the fuel, so it seemed worth it. Winds had been picking up from the east, which meant that I was flying on the downwind side of the mountains. So between those bumps and the thermal/rain activity, it was a pretty bouncy ride and I was back to just being glad I was acquiring anything, let alone staying on my line. But though it was a little weavy, I was able to flush out the last inland coastal lines but still not the last lap in Goodnews Bay which was still in a tangle of squalls.
Almost back to Goodnews Bay, it was clear this was endeavor was not likely to yield useful results.
The trip back was largely uneventful. It seems that lingering to the south only encouraged the cross winds at Bethel to intensify, but I landed with no damage and with my pride intact, as well as with a lot of really cool data.
Almost back to Bethel. I went around this one.
Somehow there was a direct 15 knot crosswind on both runways (which are perpendicular to each other). I guess the jumble of clouds like these above the airport had something to do with it.
Another productive day, over seven hours of flying and over 7000 photos to wrap up the southeastern portion of the mission.
Though its a bit tough to tell, the glass remained clear after 7 hours of flying through rain snow and grime. The combination of my custom fairing and magic glass cleaning formula seems to do the trick. But the proof is in the pudding…