I had flown west through Merrill Pass on my way from Anchorage, Alaska, to the Stony River country and needed to set up a tent camp on one of the small gravel bars along the Swift River, a tributary of the larger Stony. The camp would be used during an upcoming trophy moose hunt for one of our German clients. After making an exhaustive survey of the river’s meager bars, I finally found one that was suitable for the campsite. After landing and setting up the tent camp, I took off and was flying along the southern slopes of the Neacola Mountains, trying to spot a really large bull moose.
As I was flying around the north end of Caribou Mountain, I spotted a big bull coming down a wide draw above the isolated peak. He would move out of that draw, and it was now up to me to find a place to land on Caribou Mountain and to erect a spike camp, one from which we could hunt in a couple more days. The only place I could find on the low, tundra-covered mountainside was a relatively steep ridge marching up its northern slope. With the large 25-by-11-by-4-inch tundra tires that the Super Cub wore, I knew I could safely put it down in the deep moss, tundra and grass of that ridge.
The landing would be a bit unorthodox. I would have to fly directly toward the higher mountains, and just before smacking into them roll left more than 90 degrees for a very steeply banked 180-degree descending turn. While still in the steep turn, I would quickly yank on full flaps, roll out and then point the nose almost straight down toward the rising slope of the ridge. The required roll rate was asking a lot from the Cub’s notoriously small ailerons. I would monitor all this through the smoke-tinted Plexiglas skylight of the Cub while looking almost straight up in order to see the ground.
After the turn was complete, I came well back with the stick and quickly added power for the uphill landing. It required full throttle to complete the landing and rollout. Rather than stop on the steep slope, I elected to power on up to the relatively flat top of the ridge. My plan was to cool the engine and shut things down once I had reached the top.
What I hadn’t seen in the flat light of the heavily overcast day was a deep depression directly ahead of the airplane, right where the slope stopped and the flat area should have begun. By the time I saw that 10-foot-deep depression, at least 200 yards across, the Cub had already rolled over the edge, tipped its tail up and plunged down into it. I learned right away that the bottom of the huge pit was a series of huge granite boulders hidden beneath a thick layer of moss, lichen and stunted willows.
With the tail pointed skyward, the airplane’s prop was now useless. Vegetation had filled the engine’s air intake screen. The gear was damaged too, of course. Worse, though, was the right wing. I could see it was bent upward almost 20 degrees at the midpoint of the aileron. All in all, the little Cub was a mess. In real time, it was just another bush accident caused, as most are, by pilot error. I really should have stopped it on the ridge and, at the last moment, kicked in full rudder to turn the tailwheel 90 degrees and prevent the airplane from rolling back down the slope.
I climbed out and made myself comfortable on the soft tundra, and then pondered my next step. I was on the wrong side of the very impressive Alaska Range and, as a result, radio communication was severely limited. This is truly remote country. There were several choices, and I was mentally going through them all. It was just about then that I heard a helicopter.