Backcountry flying can be daunting. The land can be difficult to access and the thought of landing on rough terrain can cause any pilot to reconsider a backcountry trip. But for those who dare, backcountry flying can be extremely rewarding. The views are breathtaking, and the experience is one-of-a-kind. Often, a backcountry trip opens doors to locations that otherwise aren’t accessible.
To spark your interest and inspire you to get out and explore, we wanted to share two of AOPA’s staff, Alicia and Alyssa’s, most magnificent backcountry trips.
Alicia, our Aviation Writer for the Air Safety Institute, favorite backcountry trip was Idaho. Here is Alicia’s story about her Idaho trip:
“Airplanes can get you to some amazing places, and one of the best flying trips I’ve ever taken was to the Idaho backcountry. At the time, I had limited mountain flying experience, and was lucky enough to receive instruction through McCall Mountain/Canyon Flying out of McCall, Idaho, in their gorgeous Super Cub to get up to speed.
We started with some easy local airstrips and after I had a feel for the airplane, headed into the backcountry and Frank Church-River of No Return wilderness. The conditions were perfect—cool, clear, calm, and quiet. It felt like we had the entire place to ourselves, and we only saw two other airplanes. Canyon flying and no go-around approaches were my favorite parts of mountain flying. There’s just something amazing about looking up at the terrain out of your window! I can’t wait to go back, hopefully with enough backcountry proficiency to make it into the more challenging strips like Mile Hi and Dewey Moore.”
Alyssa, our director of eMedia, favorite backcountry trip was also Idaho! Here is Alyssa’s story about her Idaho trip:
“Dipping below the canyon rim near the Salmon River in Idaho, just four miles east of the Hells Canyon Wilderness Area, I set up for a landing at the Slate Creek Airport grass strip in a Super Cub. The runway looked dwarfed compared to the mountains rising around it—my traffic pattern was only mid-way up the mountains. Slowing the Super Cub, I made a steep approach with full flaps for a smooth landing on the overgrown grass (hay, actually, that hadn’t been mowed yet).
I couldn’t have asked for a better introduction to backcountry flying than in the wilds of Idaho with McCall Mountain Canyon Flying (see “High and Low” in the November 2018 issue of AOPA Pilot). I was nervous crossing mountain ridges, dipping into valleys, and flying below the canyon walls, but as my training progressed, I felt more at ease and embraced the challenge and adventure.
The training gave me confidence to tackle a backcountry strip much closer to home—this one on my dad’s farm in West Virginia, just a two-hour flight in my Cessna 170B from AOPA’s headquarters in Maryland. The roughly 2,000-foot grass strip sits in a bowl in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains and features a dogleg in the middle, so you want to touch down before the curve. I had flown in and out with my dad in his Cessna 172, but it had been a few years and I had never landed my Cessna 170B there. A summer trip home shortly after the training in Idaho proved the perfect time to try it out. My husband and I hopped in the Cessna 170B and headed west. Once we reached the field, I circled overhead and practiced some of the maneuvers I learned in Idaho just to refresh my skills. I entered on an upwind to have plenty of time to get configured at pattern altitude and keep my bearings (you lose sight of the runway on downwind). Coming in over the trees on final approach, I passed the point of no return and new I was committed for landing. Everything was on target, airspeed, descent rate, etc. My dad was already at the strip with a handheld radio, and he called out, “Shoot, I forgot my camera!,” so I knew my approach was right on the money. I touched down softly and had plenty of time to roll out before the curve in the runway and taxi up to the family cabin. Experiencing that with my husband and dad was an accomplishment I’ll never forget.
Plus, it’s nice to be able to fly home to the backcountry!”We hope these stories have encouraged you to take the jump and plan a backcountry trip. We promise, you won’t regret it.