Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Stehekin Airstrip: Remote but Vital

Plane secured after flight at Stehekin Valley Airstrip (Photo Credit Nancy Barnhart)

Overhead this morning, there is a  familiar friendly drone of engines.  Not one or two, but three small planes fly successively over our home. Their landing approach is heard echoing against the valley walls as they swoop onto Stehekin's Airstrip. It is easy to  imagine a group of pilot friends "dropping in" to  have delicious coffee together at the Stehekin Pastry Company only two miles away. A perfect summer morning to fly in over towering Cascades and Lake Chelan.  My suspicions are confirmed when an hour later, just long enough for coffee,  they take turns elevating back into the sky and flying down Lake Chelan together.

Stehekin Airstrip facing northward
I am not a pilot. Let me clarify that right away. I have, though, dropped into the airstrip sideways with my pilot son for a thrilling landing. I have flown to Spokane from this tiny airstrip with my long time pilot brother in law, gazing down at a majestic waterfall on the way out. I have bumpily taxied my way in, after an unforgettable flight with a pilot friend over blue- green glaciers too big to imagine  that only a flight can reveal. I know each pilot to be safe but even more than that, entirely enthusiastic about flying! 

I have lived near the Stehekin Airstrip (2 miles away) long enough to know it is a vital and busy part of the Stehekin Valley. My son, his cousin and his uncle are far more qualified to speak of the importance of the Airstrip, being resident pilots and each one lifting off and landing on this mountain valley strip too many times to count. To them, it is a part of Stehekin life and a carefully considered option of travel.
Mild weather this evening
Airstrip facing north (Photo Credit: Nancy Barnhart)
Many summertime cabin folks fly in, one bringing boards and supplies as he built his beautiful cabin on the lake. One recent flight was a rattle snake bitten dog and her worried owner out to Wenatchee for help before dark. Sometimes a fly fisherman drops in for a cool and relaxing day on the river. 

If you ARE a pilot, you do need to study up on the Stehekin Airstrip idiosyncrasies before even starting your engine. 
"When you fly into this magnificent country you will be amazed by its beauty. However, the magnificence of the terrain makes Stehekin one of the most difficult airports in the state. It is definitely a strip for an experienced mountain pilot." Good advice for a flight into Stehekin

Close up: Mowed grass, sand and a bit of roughness
The 2,630 foot turf runway is considered "rough." You are not going to be pampered at this location. Here is more first hand advice for approaches and what you can expect to find once landed:

With this armory, you can be forewarned, or simply type in "Stehekin Airstrip" into your search engine and enjoy the many YouTube recordings of landing in this rare mountain valley. 

Staging for Lone Mountain Fire: Airstrip 2014
 Recreation would easily be the most used reason  for bumping your way to the tie down after a gorgeous descent. However, the Stehekin Airstrip becomes imperative during emergencies such as fire or life threatening situations where staging is absolutely necessary and wide visibility and clearance required.
Life flight Helicopter:  Emergency response practice, Airstrip 2017 (Photo Credit Nancy Barnhart)
Even if you do not fly,one of the most sweeping and breathtaking views of 8,000 foot McGregor Mountain can be taken in from bottom to top as it rises in the north from the valley floor into the azure blue sky right in front of your eyes. Check for snow free opening dates sometimes as early as April. 
One of the best views of McGregor Mountain

The Stehekin Airstrip may be remote and rough, but it remains an artery for recreation for visitors, a way to commute for residents, and a necessary platform in times of emergency. Drop in some time, but do your homework first!  l.c.