Flying Over Kodiak in an Antique Bomber… North to Alaska

Kodiak is a beautiful island ranging (in the summer) from intensely green hills to glacier covered mountains. I took this photo out the window of our plane as we flew over the Island.

Kodiak is a beautiful island ranging (in the summer) from intensely green hills to glacier covered mountains. I took this photo out the window of our plane as we flew over the Island.

Kodiak refers to itself as the Emerald Isle, a title it borrowed from Ireland. Having driven through Ireland and flown over Kodiak, I understand. Our floatplane trip to watch Kodiak Bears on the Frazer River provided a great overview of the island. The first impression was one of pervasive greenness.  Soon, the green became dotted with snow fields and then glaciers; Kodiak is not Ireland.

Peggy captured just how green Kodiak can be... set off by patches of snow. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson)

Peggy captured just how green Kodiak can be… set off by patches of snow. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson)

In American terms, Kodiak is a big Island. At 3500 square miles it is the second largest island in the US, second only to the island of Hawaii. Given that it has around 3500 Kodiak bears, there is an average of one bear per square mile. One was waiting for us when our plane landed in Frazer Lake. He came running toward us. We opted to stay on the plane until he disappeared. Later we saw him swimming across the lake.

The Kodiak Bear, a young male, made his way toward our plane. He was more interested in fish than he was us, but we stayed on the plane until he left.

The Kodiak Bear, a young male, made his way toward our plane. He was more interested in fish than he was us, but we stayed on the plane until he left.

Our floatplane trip also provided us with some great views of the Kodiak Coast Guard Station where our son Tony flies H-60 Helicopters on missions rescuing everything from stranded fisherman to errant oil rigs. I’ll blog about the Coast Guard later.

Coast Guard Station on Kodiak Island.

A view of the Coast Guard station on Kodiak. We stayed at our son’s house on the facility. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson)

The floatplane was a 50-year-old plus de Havilland Beaver, which makes it not only old, but also something of a legend.  Ours, according to the pilot, had originally been designed to serve as a light bomber during the Korean War and still had bomb mounts on the wings. The Beaver found its true vocation serving as a bush plane in the far north, however. It has lots of STOL in pilot lingo, short takeoff and landing capability. And STOL is critical when your runway might be a riverbank or a small pond.

Beaver floatplane in Kodiak Alaska.

Our de Havilland Beaver floatplane was waiting for us when we arrived. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson)

A few weeks before our visit, Tony, his wife Cammie, and their children had toured Kodiak in one of these floatplanes.

A few weeks before our visit, Tony, his wife Cammie, and their children had toured Kodiak in one of these floatplanes.

The first floatplane I ever flew on had retractable wheels and took off from a regular airport. I somehow didn’t make the connection that we would be landing in a bay. The armrest probably still has my fingerprints embedded in it from when I thought we were crashing in the water. This time we took off from and landed in water. There was no confusion. Only the bear.

Another photo of Peggy's that captures both the green and ruggedness of Kodiak. We spotted mountain goats on some of the peaks.

Another photo of Peggy’s that captures both the green and ruggedness of Kodiak. We spotted mountain goats on some of the peaks.

Kodiak, Alaska glacier

This, and the next three photos show the glaciers we found on Kodiak.

Kodiak, Alaska Glacier

Kodiak Island glacier. I thought this photo Peggy took would be best shown in black and white. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson)

Kodiak Alaska glaciers.

I close with another glacier photo that I found almost mystical. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson)

19 comments on “Flying Over Kodiak in an Antique Bomber… North to Alaska

  1. Peggy’s shots of the glacier are great Curt. Your son must must be a chip off the old block. Coast Guard rescues in that part of the world are not for the meek. It’s probably the job of the lifetime for him, and a truly unique lifestyle for his family. ~James

    • Right on all counts, James. Tony is absolutely loving the experience. I am sure the family will remember the experience forever. I only wish his boys were a little older than 4, 2, and 1. –Curt

  2. So did you run into Kodiak bear-sized mosquitoes once you touched down? 🙂 J/K

    Those were stunning aerial views, Peggy and Kurt. Although the B&W image was striking, my faves were a couple of the color ones. Such contrasts between green and the snow/ice.

    And such a rewarding time staying with your son… Your mention of the de Havilland sparked me to check into it a bit. The last airframe was built in ’67 so none of them need any breaking in. 🙂 And it had a fill tube in the cockpit to add oil?? LOL No wonder skydivers like it. 😉

    • I consider the bear watching trip to be among my top ten single day adventures. And you are right, there are no young Beavers. It really says something for the plane that it has survived for so long, so well. As for mosquitos, no-see-ums and other nasty bugs, we missed the worst of the season. Still, a couple of times required a liberal dose of bug juice. 🙂

  3. Wow.. I had no idea Kodiak Island was so big and so beautiful..Your son is so lucky to be in such beautiful surroundings. My daughter is joining the Coast Guard (my other daughter married a Coastie :-).(I was Army)
    Smart move staying in the plane until Mr bear departed..he looked a bit serious!

    • Knew you were army, Lynne. Fun news on your kids. Maybe they will cross paths with Tony someday.

      As for Mr. Bear, he was a kid in bear years (maybe four), but that makes them all the more dangerous. We didn’t budge. –Curt

  4. Fun to read the comments! Hard to take a bad photo in such gorgeous surroundings! Curt tells me the next blog will be about our fishing experience featuring my 15 lb. halibut….grin. Peggy

    • Thanks FeyGirl. Kodiak is indeed beautiful… as is much of Alaska. And I might add, wild. I don’t think of Alaska as the “Last Frontier,” which implies needing to be tamed. I think of it as the last great wilderness, needing to be saved for future generations. –Curt

  5. Such wonderful photos. The second one looks like a stream bed covered with moss. I agree about the B&W. That’s a remarkably striking photo. I do think the first one of the glaciers is my favorite, because of the blue. When I sailed Glacier Bay, I couldn’t get enough of the blue ice. It was fascinating, breathtakingly beautiful.

    Your mention of the STOL reminds me – did you know Gene LeVan when you were in Liberia – the Phebe pilot? You surely did. He’d been there forever, and served as his own mechanic the whole time. As I recall, his only mishap was a flat tire on landing. I’m not sure about that, but there were stories told that whatever his single mishap was, it put him in a deep funk.

    The best part of flights with him was buzzing the “airstrips” to get the goats and the kids playing soccer off them.

    • I didn’t know Gene. It sounds like I missed a true character. Beyond other Peace Corps Volunteers, Jo Ann and my community was pretty much limited to fellow Liberian teachers and students. –Curt

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