It used to be a tradition at Alaska Airlines, still may be, to put their best pilots on their most challenging runs. In the late ‘70s those included the Southeast Alaska “Milk Runs.” Wrangell and Petersburg had gravel strips on which to land a 737, Sitka had an “aircraft carrier” runway, shorter than it is now and Juneau had a glacier next to an ocean creating fog before GPS and “fog buster” technology. Given the climate and instrumentation at the time it was the “Brigadoon” run, with airports appearing from the mist every century or so.
Today with GPS, longer paved runways, and better overall instrumentation the run, while still having its challenges, is a bit more tamed. But I remember one pilot who enthusiastically ended his cockpit speech over the PA with “It’s a beautiful day. Let’s go fly.” He sounded like he loved the “Milk Run” and the challenges it presented.
There are actually several Milk Runs, flights numbered in the 60s. Between flights 61 and 69 they call at Seattle, Ketchikan, Wrangel. Petersburg, Sitka, Juneau, Yakutat, Cordova and Anchorage. Depending on the weather you can look at the coasts of BC and Alaska and at some of the major navigation landmarks from the era of sail, Mt. Edgecumbe, Mt. Fairweather and Mt. St. Elias.
And since some of the flights are very short distance, they don’t go very high, you fly alongside the mountains and over the icefields, looking at glaciers calving into the Gulf of Alaska.
On Saturday we needed to fly from Anchorage to Sitka but on Saturday the evening flight does not run so we got to take 64 south to Ketchikan and then 67 north to Sitka.
We took off out of Anchorage, and once we left the Anchorage bowl had beautiful flying weather. We flew up Turnagain Arm and over Prince William Sound, over the Gulf past the landmark Mt. St. Elias, the second highest peak in both Alaska and Canada and the third in North America, boundary peak # 186, sitting on the border and towering over the Gulf of Alaska at more than 18,000 feet. My grandson, Elias, is named for that mountain. If you look 26 miles to the North East you can see Mt. Logan, the highest peak in Canada and the second highest in North America 26 miles away. If the weather in Anchorage had been better, we would have seen Denali, North America’s highest peak at over 20,000 feet, but we did see it earlier in the week.
We came in to Juneau over Glacier Bay and landed in Alaska’s Capital with a view of the Mendenhall Glacier. Taking off we went right over Alaska’s capital city and over part of the Juneau icefield into Petersburg, flying past the Le Conte Glacier and “Devil’s Thumb.” (Boundary Peak #71.) It is over 9,000 feet tall and in Tlingit legend is that Taalkhunaxhk’u Shaa, “the mountain that never flooded” was where the people took refuge during the great flood.
Taking off from Petersburg at sunset we went over the Stikine delta. When we left Wrangell it was after dark, we changed planes in Ketchikan and took 67 north to Sitka. The trip took more than 7 hours, longer than a flight from New York to London.