3 warm nights in Canada and a very cold shower
Updated: Feb 11
We would have liked to continue this flight forever. The Alaskan coastline with beautiful forests, glaciers and icebergs kept on rolling under the LV-GQF and filling our eyes and amazement. But soon enough, the low-pressure system above Ketchikan appeared in front of us and forced us to abandon the Ocean and turn inland towards the better weather route to Whitehorse (Yukon). We soon realized that we had stayed a little too long listening to the mermaids singing; the icy cloud base was already covering the mountain tops and blocking all passage to the East. The only way forward was “tunnel” flying through the valleys under the clouds. If we did it right, we would emerge safely over the Canadian plains, but we had to pick the right entrance; and they all looked very very similar. Fortunately, our faithful MFD screen -the one we replaced in Denver in May- clearly displayed our surroundings: in bright red the terrain that was at or above our level and in soothing yellow the mountains that were at least 500ft below us, thus guiding is to the right entrance to the tunnel. There was one valley that snaked South-east almost straight into Whitehorse but further South the cloud base could fall lower as we approached the system, blocking our exit. There are not many things as uncomfortable as being squeezed between clouds and mountains, so we decided to take the longer but safer route towards the North-east and get away from the weather as fast as possible. Right call: after a few minutes we started to see blue sky patches above us and we soon reached a sunny valley with a nice road heading directly eastwards; it was the Alaska Highway, maybe the most iconic American road after Route 66. We would just have to follow it to safely reach the Canadian Plains and open skies to Whitehorse.
Compared to all the preparation we had done for our arrival in Canada via Whitehorse (Yukon), the reality was surprisingly easy. When we landed at CYXY on September 7th, we informed the tower that we needed to go to customs and, they guided us to a small wooden booth with windows and instructed us to park in the large blue box painted on the ground. The booth looked empty except for a payphone so we weren’t really sure what to do. After a few minutes, we asked the tower if someone was going to come -after all the Border Services knew about our arrival through ArriveCAN and CANPASS- and the controller suggested we get out of the plane and call the number indicated in the booth. We double checked the instruction: were we really allowed to step out onto Canadian territory? When we landed in Quebec back in May, the border officials had been very clear that we should not exit the aircraft or even open the door… But until they came, and they showed up with a dog too! But the tower confirmed so Alex stepped out and tiptoed to the little cabin -please, don’t shoot!-. He found a sign with a number to call and on top of the phone were a few dusty coins with a small paper saying “courtesy quarters”. They were very dusty because nowadays everyone has a mobile phone… and apparently no visitor had needed a handful of quarters bad enough to pocket them. Alex did not use them either. The Border official who picked up was fully aware of our arrival and explicitly asked if we had done a PCR test. In the meantime, we had received the email from Anchorage with the results of our early morning swab, so we could report in all honesty that they were negative and that. That was enough to satisfy the official who gave us the 3-digit codes required to enter the country. He, he did not ask to see the results, there was no stamp in our passport, no aircraft inspection, we were free to go.
To go where? We had planned to spend the night in Whitehorse because Calgary was too far but everything had gone so fast the day before and we had not really looked into accommodation. We weren’t very worried though, I mean why would an unknown place like Whitehorse be full, especially during Covid times when no one is allowed to enter Canada? So after we parked the plane in the designated spot, I opened my Booking.com app to start my usual search, using the usual filters but there was NOTHING! Maybe they had closed reservations for the day? Alex and I started calling all the hotels to ask if they had a room for just this night but no one did. Finally, I found something, a very poorly rated motel outside the town, while Alex was being told by another hotel that they might know someone who had a vacancy; they would call him back shortly. The CYXY airport is small, there was almost no one around -not even to receive parking payments- and there were clearly no transportation options.
All alone in CYXY
No one around to cash in the airplane parking fees
It had been a very intense day and we would have another long flight the day after, so we accepted our fate and started heading to the Cheap-o motel. As we were searching for a taxi, Alex got THE call. Not only did the woman on the line have a room available, she also offered to pick us up from the airport and drive us around town so that we could get a feel of it. Her name was Angel and we felt like she had descended straight from heaven😊 She appeared in her truck 15 or so minutes later and we discovered Whitehorse, a town that grew during the Klondike gold-rush that started in 1896. For a few years, many prospectors headed to Dawson City and Whitehorse to try their luck. Railroads were built and some traveled by steamboat along the narrow and dangerous canyon and rapids of the Yukon River; the river could grow fast and white and the sailors had to steer away from the rocky passage walls by pushing away with wooden oars. In the end, there was not very much gold to be found but they struck copper instead and the city is still there.
The Yukon river canyon
One of the more recent steamships
A dam was built in 1959 for electricity which made life difficult for the salmon swimming back upstream to lay their eggs (yes, Canadian salmon behave just like their cousins in Kamchatka and Alaska). To compensate for that, a fish ladder was installed. This ingenious device allows salmon to swim up to bypass the dam and continue their return journey. We were told that it was the longest fish ladder in the world and also that Whitehorse was the city with the least pollution in the world: Go Whitehorse!
Longest fish ladder in the world!
We didn’t know how the place would be in the winter, but it was heavenly now. Alex was mesmerized by the proud little float-planes moored along the riverside which reminded him of his dream to learn to fly a float-plane one day.
While sightseeing, Angel shared her story: she was born in Alberta near Grande Prairie -where we were going the next day, otherwise we would have never heard of it- and raised by her grandparents because her mother died when she was 3 years old. She moved to Whitehorse about 25 years ago, found a job and never left. She now is the manager of the 98 Hotel, a gold-rush themed saloon-like place, similar to the ones where prospectors drank, gambled and enjoyed the ladies. The hotel was not published online because they had just finished some remodeling of the rooms. Ours was called “Dancers” and we had a shared bathroom across the hall.
Remembering the ladies
After a late dinner in a local restaurant (recommended and arranged by Angel, of course), we finished the preparations for our next two legs: 4.5 hours to Grande Prairie (CYQU) where we would re-fuel and 2 hours to Springbanks (CYBW), Calgary’s general aviation airfield. We were looking forward to Calgary, not only to meet our friend Ana but also to see our great travel mates Amir and Tamra again. We had last seen them in Petropavlovsk: they left while we were stuck in the Forest Lodge with thermal pool on the deck (poor us!).
Relaxing in the restaurant
The 98 at night
The first flight promised to be challenging because it was overcast so we had to go IFR and the mountains forced us to fly at icing levels. It looked like we would be able to stay on top of the clouds though but Alex had also prepared an alternative strategy which was to fly VFR along the Canadian part of the Alaska highway via Fort Nelson, it was longer but lower, meaning less icing.
Less clouds around Forth Nelson than around Ware
Happy with these two options, we went to sleep reassured, especially since our angel had promised to drive us back to the airport, our only worry was to remember to leave the parking money in the box before we left!
In the middle of that night however, back in Argentina, a horrible accident happened which we found out about on our phones the next morning. The news struck us like an extremely cold shower: our very dear friend and neighbor Sylvina Madero had died in a frontal collision with a truck on the way to her beach house, close to ours. Sylvina was an incredibly welcoming and generous person as well as an adventurous and energetic spirit. She would often invite us for drinks or dinner and tell stories of her travels (she had lived in the USA and explored almost all of Argentina), of her work with the indigenous Wichi community in the North of her country or talk about her children and grandchildren whom she was very proud of. At her funeral, which we could watch online (so great yet so far), it was clear that everyone loved her and would remember her as a very special woman. We already started to miss her in Whitehorse and knew it would only be worse when we would be back at the beach.
Bye bye Sylvina
Despite our sadness, we picked ourselves up and left for Grande Prairie after saying goodbye to Angel and even remembering to pay for the parking.
As Alex had anticipated, we managed to stay on top of the clouds, first at 9000 feet, then we had to climb to 12000. Alex requested an “altitude block” from 9000 to 13000 which was immediately granted, it was not very busy in the Yukon sky… At some point, at 13000 ft, I noticed it was -10 degrees Celsius outside and it was still technically summer! I was very glad Alex had been adamant on leaving Alaska before September 15th because temperatures and daylight hours were melting fast.
On top of the clouds
Getting a little better
For some reason though, even when it is very cold outside, it is almost never cold in our cockpit. Since we are often above the clouds, the sunlight directly hits the glass bubble we are in. The only times we have been cold is when there is an open door: even a tiny crack refrigerates the air around us, forcing us to turn the heat on, along with our CO2 detector because the heat comes from the engine. But most of the time, we are too hot and need to place sunscreens on the windows, either official screens or improvised ones such as wingtips, paper sheets fastened with clips etc…. Our bubble has a very large glass surface!
The red screen on the right is actually LV-GQF's wingtip cover! (and I am in the back because it is too hot in the front)
Another attempt with paper and clips...
In Grande Prairie we refueled in a place called “Happy gas” which reminded me of the little canisters of laughing gas they sell in Amsterdam on special occasions. I believe you're supposed to empty them in a balloon and then inhale. At Kings Day, there were little canisters all over the streets.
Another kind of happy gas
With full tanks and feeling happy, we left almost immediately for the 2-hour flight to Springbanks where Ana was waiting. Alex and Ana go way back: they went to primary school together in the “Colegio Santo Tomas” which later became our house (and was sold before our trip), their parents were friends and all four were active on the Colegio’s Board, so the children saw each other in school and outside.
Alex is third from left on the front row (Ana not here because in the grade below)
Ana moved to Canada many years ago and we had not seen her in 12 years, so it was quite a reunion! After landing, we had dinner with her and her daughter Sabrina, the next day we had lunch with Ana in Vendome café, where her son Alejandro is the main Chef and that same evening we had dinner there too😊 In between meals we went for a quick tour of Calgary, mixing Ana’s advice and the GPSmycity app.
Arrival at Springbanks