Extracting the Team from Riley Creek

In the Field 2013

When last we left off it was Monday, July 29 and the team had just been dropped off via helicopter in the wilderness area of Denali National Park called Riley Creek.

Today the team was scheduled for “extraction” from the mountain. When I arrived at the helipad this morning, the pilot for this flight, Tim, was readying the helicopter, and Jay, the helicopter manager for this flight, was in the helipad shack familiarizing himself with the trip details.


A call this morning from Tony to the Park Communication Center had confirmed the camp coordinates and given specs on the weather at their site. Tony also called me to confirm everything was set.  And now the team was up top just waiting for the helicopter to arrive for their 10am pick up.


But, of course, as it is with many aspects of this field expedition, there had to be some excitement.  This morning’s bit of excitement was the high winds that had come in during the night.  As a result of the winds the first pick-up flight didn’t get off the ground until about 10:45am. Despite that, like clockwork, about forty-five minutes later the helicopter reappeared from the mountains, low in the air, and safely landed to deliver Yuong and Paul back to the helipad.


I was told by Jay that the landing at the campsite had been a bit precarious and they had loaded “hot” in order to minimize the time on the ground and do the pick up as quickly as possible.  (Hot means they didn’t turn off the engine so the blades of the helicopter were still rapidly rotating) Apparently the wind had also caused a pretty wild ride back too, but after a 15 minute refueling the helicopter headed back again, this time to pick up Tony and Yoshi.

And, about 45 minutes later, the helicopter again came into view low in the sky, but this time also hugging the hill. It safely landed and Tony and Yoshi emerged.  Tony said that all he could think of was the song “Pinball Wizard” because of the wild ride and the way it felt with his head in his flight helmet banging around the inside of the helicopter like a pinball.

There should have been one more flight today, but upon departing the cockpit the pilot and manager made it clear that due to the wind they wouldn’t be going back again at this time, and possibly not at all today.  So, the remaining gear, equipment and scientific samples would be spending the night on the mountain.

The first questions I asked Tony, Yoshi, Paul and Yuong – what do you want first – Shower?  Food?  Sleep?

They all said shower… but it turned out the first thing they did when back to the HQ was eat real food and not freeze dried.  Ha!

Posted from Healy, Alaska, United States.