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Icefield Discovery Tours In Kluane National Park In The Yukon.

OPEN ROAD LIFESTYLE

DESTINATIONS

HOW TO LAND ON A GLACIAL ICEFIELD

Glacier Pilot At Icefield Discovery Tours On Edge Of Kluane National Park in The Yukon Discusses Safety & Adventure

Flying Over The Glacier With Icefield Discovery Tours. [Photo Credit: Tim Wassberg]

The peaks of Kluane National Park in the Yukon loom large. These are the tallest continuous chain of mountains in North America with Mount Logan reaching almost 19,000 feet. But for Icefield Discovery Tours, the only tour plane service allowed to land on the icefields, it is another world. After landing at nearly 10,000 with an ice pack taller than One World Trade in NY, beneath you, the scope is hard to describe. Glacier Pilot Tom Bradley sat down with The Buzz to discuss love of flying, scope and the unique experience they offer.

The Buzz: How do you end up landing on glaciers in the Yukon?

Tom Bradley: My passion for flying is mountain flying. I did a lot of flying back in New Zealand previous to coming here and a little bit of flying down in British Columbia. And then I just found out through a friend that these guys needed a pilot. When I looked into it more and I saw where they flew and the airplanes that you'd have the opportunity to fly, it was one of those massive ticks in the old box of a must-do for a bush pilot like myself. That's how I found myself up here. That's why every season I can't wait to be here.

The Buzz:Can you talk about looking at the different places up there? Like you had the camp up there  but you couldn't land at that spot, so you found a different place.

TB: So we have our camp there and that's a nice safety net for us. There's two tents at the camp. One's a sleeping quarter. One's a kitchen dining roo m. We've got 20 days of food for one plane load of people there. That's our go-to area normally. But weather like today meant that it wasn't suitable or scenic to land there, so we went and chose a better site that was more viewable and we had a longer window to stay on the ice field. But because of that fact, we weren't going to shut the engine down because we don't want ourselves to get stuck up there. It would probably never ever happen, but Murphy's Law sometimes comes into play. So it was just mitigating any risk that would be involved because the last thing we want to do is spend a night up there unplanned away from the camp.

The Buzz: What does it take to take off from a glacier in an ice field?

TB: You're looking at quite a few different factors. You're looking at the wind, the lighting and the snow conditions and those three factors there...if you've got bad light, a tailwind, and sloppy snow conditions, you're making things pretty hard on yourself. Today, we did have a tailwind and we did have some pretty soft slushy snow but we did have the sun in our favor so that was nice. But yeah, you've got to know where you're going to land. When you're looking around for a landing site –- I can land anywhere with this airplane –- but it's more where can I take off? Where's my path of least resistance? So that's what I'm scoping when I'm finding a suitable landing site.

The Buzz: With the ice field, can you describe what it is up there that were standing on? Why it's so unique to the world and the fact that it's in the shadow of the largest piece of rock on the face of the earth?

TB: That's right. So we're standing on the world's largest non-polar icefield. So what that means is, outside of the Arctic and the Antarctic, it's the largest ice field on earth. It's the hub of this whole area and the glaciers flow out of that hub. It's like the hub on a bike wheel and the glaciers being spokes. It's the accumulation zone, it's the zone that collects all of that snow and ice and that's what forces those glaciers to move. So it's very significant and the world's largest supply of fresh water comes from these temperate glaciers. There's enough water up there in the snow and ice to fill every lake and river in Canada.

Keeping the plane running after landing on the icefield. [Photo Credit: Tim Wassberg]
Glacier Pilot Tom Bradley after landing on the Icefield at Kluane National Park. [Photo Credit: Tim Wassberg]
Taking pictures on an ice sheet 2500 feet thick. [Photo Credit: Tim Wassberg]

TB: So what we were standing on is very significant and even just as significant as that the highest coastal mountain range in the world. It contains the world's largest mountains by girth. So Mount Vancouver, the one we did see today is one on the world's largest by girth. Logan is the largest, and unfortunately, it was obscured in that mist. Everything is on a world's largest scale.

The Buzz; And you can't get up there by vehicle, you have to go up there by plane.

TB: You have to fly.

The Buzz: Can you talk about the uniqueness of Ice Field Discovery Tours in that way?

TB: We started back in the 1960s actually. We've got a lot of institutional knowledge about what's going on up there through the various expeditions that we've been a part of. No one else lands up there. It is a special permit and it's a lot of work in order to get a permit to do what we do. We have to prove to them what we're doing is safe and we've got to have these provisions in place at the camp.

The Buzz: Can you talk about this plane and why it's suited to do this?

TB: It's so suited because of its slow flying capability. The Helio Courier can fly as slow as 30mph and we cruise at 120mph. So we've got a nice slow speed range to get in and out of tight spots and we've also got a nice cruise speed range to be quite productive in going to see a lot of the area like we do. The biggest tick in the box for us with the Helio Courier and it is something that made them quite famous here in this area back in the late 1960s through the early 80s they used to land these Helio Couriers on the top of Mount Logan. So right in the plateau at 17,600ft. At the time when they were first doing it, that was the world record for the highest takeoff and landing. They made over 500 landings out there incident free. They went in there day and day out for a scientific program called The Hex Project which is the high altitude physiology science. So a lot of today's modern medicines for altitude related illness came from that project. That's why we still operate the Helio courier because nobody has made an airplane as capable since.

The Buzz: What is the psychology of a bush pilot? How do you have to think?

TB: It becomes second nature after a while but first and for most, we're flying the airplane...that comes first. Navigating and then the tourist side of it...that comes last. It's the least of the priority when you're flying a plane. You're looking at the safety aspects of what we're doing. The psychology of a bush pilot? We're I guess just kind of thinking ahead the whole time up there. You just keeping the risk down to a minimum level. And flying up there on the skies is very safe because we're literally flying over a constant landing site anywhere if you had a problem. It's a bit like a float plane flying over water.

The Buzz: What keeps you passionate about flying but also about this area? You came all the way from New Zealand.

TB: The main thing that keeps me passionate here is the fact that no two flights are ever the same. It's the wild -- I feel like I'm living my piloting dream by being able to do what we do in the air. Overall I've never been a pilot that was too drawn to airline type of flying, I really like the bush flying and I think if you're going to be a bush pilot or as we like to call ourselves more of a glacier pilot, then this is what ticks the box for me, personally.


Tim Wassberg

A graduate of New York University's Tisch School Of The Arts with degrees in Film/TV Production & Film Criticism, Tim has written for magazines such as Moviemaker, Moving Pictures, Conde Nast Traveler UK and Casino Player. He enjoys traveling and distinct craft beers among other things.

Congdon Creek Campground

Make Sure To Stay At:

Congdon Creek Campground,   which is located on a scenic 45 hectare park reserve about 16 kilometers south of Carcross on the shore of Tagish Lake's Windy Arm. The campground  meets the growing demand for recreational opportunities near Whitehorse for both Yukoners and visitors.


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