AOPA Pilot Magazine - October 2020 - 74

ESSENTIAL EQUIPMENT
Camera gear in the wilderness

AN AERIAL VIEW of the Tokosha Mountains and Ruth Glacier shows the walls of

Pilots tend to be great observers of their surroundings and can often be amazing photographers. Paul Claus of Ultima Thule Lodge has
been flying in some of the most scenic country
of the world, including the Wrangell and Saint
Elias mountains. He includes his Sony A7RIII
camera in his survival gear. After all, his passion
for the natural wonders of his world may feed
his soul even more than the moose and salmon
dinners served at the Ultima Thule Lodge. -KW

top of the glacier. That is likely from the
warmer temperatures we are experiencing from the summers."
Talkeetna Air Taxi owner/operator Paul
Roderick, a world-renowned pilot who has
flown thousands of hours in the Alaska
Range, pointed out that the lower half of
large glaciers--including the Ruth, Tokositna,
and Kahiltna glaciers-are not moving as
they had in the past. He sees them melting
at a fast rate and, in many places, collapsing.
Roderick added that the landing zones in
the Alaska Range that air taxis have used for
more than 50 years are developing crevasses
and becoming unstable. "Approaches to some
of the climbing routes are more difficult to
access due to glacial recession and crevassing," he said. "The climbing season has been
narrowing for the last 30-plus years. In the
1960s and '70s, most expeditions climbed
through July and even into August. Now, we
try to pull everyone out by mid-July."
During the record-breaking heat of July
4, 2019, Kahiltna base camp temperatures
changed the takeoff and landing zones. The
snow became soft and sticky, making it difficult to take off. Roderick added, "The melt
rate of the snow on the glacier was certainly
extremely high and caused many massive
TOKOSHA MOUNTAINS

the glacier losing elevation (below). Pilot Paul Roderick said the lower half of
Ruth Glacier appears to have lost 20 feet in elevation in 20 years, with upper
areas of the glacier losing 5 feet. This image shows shrinkage of the glacier ice
where new streams form every year that eventually drain into the Ruth River
and then the Chulitna River (facing page). This large-scale melting adds to the
high water events on the Chulitna River that drains into the Susitna River.

rock and ice avalanches from
high elevation."
The Talkeetna flightseeing
business had one of its busiest
seasons in the summer of 2019 because of
the record number of clear skies and flyable days. While some may think, are these
air tours adding to the carbon footprint?
they also provide a hands-on experience
to witness the glaciers' unprecedented rate
of melting, which is backed up by scientific
evidence of ice core studies. 
"Passengers over the last five years are
much more accepting of climate change
and before we even mention this subject
on the tour, we are often asked about climate change," Roderick said. "It's sobering
for many to show them the physical evidence of lateral moraine depths and large
melt pools that did not exist just a year or
two ago. Also notable changes are fern line
elevation increases and large amounts of
rock fall from thawing above 10,000 feet.
All of these changes are real and easy to
see, which convinces our passengers [of ]
the reality at hand." 
Legendary bush pilot Paul Claus of
Ultima Thule Lodge, which is located
on the banks of the Chitina River in the
Wrangell-St. Elias National Park , says that
the most common question from lodge
guests is about the changes in the glaciers.
Claus has flown scientists around a huge

area of North America, ranging from the
mountains of British Columbia to the far
stretches of the Aleutian Islands. He also
works closely with NASA as well as glaciologist Chris Larsen. Larsen and Claus
have spent countless hours in an airplane
together flying back and forth to study
sites. Do they agree on the study of climate
change? Certainly not, and that keeps both
of them on their toes when it comes to
backing up their different belief systems.
"First of all, I live in probably one of the
most dynamic places there is on the planet,"
Claus said. "It's always changing. There's
changes going on all the time. So to say what's
[changed] the most, and I've seen huge
mountainsides collapse with billions of tons
of material come down and change the whole
face of a mountain. I've seen how glacial terminus has changed. But you know, things are
always changing. So it's a very, very dynamic
place to put up to quantify what's the most, I
don't know if I can do that." For glacier pilots,
the day-to-day decision of landing zones is
also very dynamic. "You got to be flexible to
go to different places," Claus said.
Observations from pilots such as Jim
Okonek, Paul Roderick, and Paul Claus
are not recorded as scientifically as those
of Brian Brettschneider, Erich Osterberg,
and Chris Larsen. Yet, general aviation
pilots' observations of the Earth hold tremendous value that adds to the climate
change conversation.
Whether you are an aviator, a weather
forecaster, a climatologist, or a photographer,
these groups can combine their various levels of expertise and "eyes above the ground"
in the study of climate change. In addition,
the collection of weather data that has been
important for the safety of pilots can also
play a bigger role in the study of climate.
With all of us working together, collecting
data and sharing information, we can find
solutions to adapt and respond to global
changes with greater efficiency.
AOPA
KATIE WRITER is an Alaska pilot and journal-

ist who enjoys documenting the seasons
from her Piper Super Cub. In addition to
journalism, she's also passionate about
photography, art, and the environment.

katiewritergallery.com
74 | AOPA PILOT October 2020


http://www.katiewritergallery.com

AOPA Pilot Magazine - October 2020

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of AOPA Pilot Magazine - October 2020

Contents
AOPA Pilot Magazine - October 2020 - Intro
AOPA Pilot Magazine - October 2020 - Cover1
AOPA Pilot Magazine - October 2020 - Cover2
AOPA Pilot Magazine - October 2020 - Contents
AOPA Pilot Magazine - October 2020 - 2
AOPA Pilot Magazine - October 2020 - 3
AOPA Pilot Magazine - October 2020 - 4
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AOPA Pilot Magazine - October 2020 - Cover3
AOPA Pilot Magazine - October 2020 - Cover4
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