Backcountry Airplane Camping at Johnson Creek, ID

When I pictured airplane camping in my mind, I always thought of the amazing photos I’d seen of people camping by their planes in Johnson Creek, Idaho. So, when Tim Olson asked us if we wanted to join him on a fly-in camping trip, Colleen and I were all in. Grandma was all set to watch EJ for the weekend, and Colleen and I were ready to go, after a trip or two to REI!



Tim and I kept a close eye on weather the night before we left. Weather across the great planes wasn’t very nice looking. The first challenge was going to be just getting out of Red Wing. The plan was to try to get out of Red Wing and just keep picking our way west. We got lucky and the Friday morning departure worked out. We met Tim with his RV14 and our new friend Patrick with his RV9 – at Red Wing airport.


 

 


The clouds ended up being plenty high the morning of departure, so we picked our first stop of Wayne, NE… on the northeast corner of the state. The flight to Wayne was smooth and comfortable, and we found that our first trip of any distance without EJ was actually pretty relaxing! We enjoyed our in-flight morning coffee, chatted with each other, and with the other two planes. This really is the way to travel!


 


Landing in Wayne, we refueled the plane, got refreshed, and launched to keep picking our way west. For this leg, our destination was Guernsey, Wyoming. We climbed over a low scattered cloud layer and flew below a higher overcast cloud layer. And again, it was a nice smooth flight in between these two cloud layers! However, as we flew west, the overcast above us got lower, and the scattered clouds below us got higher (I’m thinking that layer was rising as the elevation of the ground was rising.) About 45 minutes out of Guernsey, we were getting squeezed between the layers, and we had to circle down thru a nice big hole in the lower cloud layer.


 


After a WINDY and cold refueling in Guernsey, we again launched west. This time, our challenge was getting over Laramie range and into the central flat portion of Wyoming. The clouds were pretty low, and the elevation of the ground was rising, but we were able to follow a valley up the range with good forward visibility… but the hills on either side of us were in the clouds! It was a little tense, but we always kept the option of doing a 180 degree turn and coming back the way we came open to us.


 


Crossing the rest of Wyoming was pretty uneventful. We fought a bit of a headwind, and it got pretty bumpy across the western part of the state, continuing into the Salt Lake City area. The turbulence got to Colleen after a while, so she wasn’t feeling the best… but she was a trooper, and we arrived safely in Skypark (Salt Lake City) to meet up with Sean, Holly, and Dexter.

Another fairly quick turnaround, getting fuel and checking out Sean’s almost complete Just Aircraft SuperSTOL, we launched for Johnson Creek, ID as a flight of 4. It’s a pretty cool sight flying over the Great Salt Lake. In fact, the entire leg from SLC to Johnson Creek was beautiful. We flew over the big salty lake, ancient lava flows in southern Idaho, and up amazing mountain valleys. One of our biggest concerns were the many large forest fires across Idaho… not because we were concerned about a fire getting too close to us, but because of the tremendous amount of smoke these fires put in the air. Once we crossed into Idaho, it looked like it was a cloudy, hazy day… but in reality it was all just smoke. Smoke or clouds don’t really matter when it comes to safely flying the plane, as long as visibility held to safe margins. In the end, it wasn’t a problem.


 


The approach into Johnson Creek is pretty amazing. Because it’s a fairly popular airstrip, and because the strip is at the bottom of a pretty narrow canyon, the Idaho Aviation Association has published a procedure.

It can be found here:
https://idahoaviation.com/plans/JC%20SOP%20Revision%2014-01%20to%20send%20(3).pdf

Since I had read the procedures, and had an experienced Johnson Creek pilot leading the way, we got in with no issues. Flying the downwind, you’re right against the east wall of valley. It’s a strange feeling to look out the window and see trees ABOVE you!

Once we landed, we tied down the planes, unpacked, and set up our camp. We threw a hobo dinner I had made ahead of time in the coals of the campfire, had some wine, and in no time we were eating a good hearty meal. Afterwards, we all chatted around the campfire for a while before turning in to our tent for the night.

The temperatures had been all over throughout the day. It had been about 70 when we left Red Wing. About the same in Wayne, NE. Guernsey had been a WINDY low 50’s. Then at Salt Lake City, it had been in the low 90’s. Now at Johnson Creek it was a beautiful 70, but at night it it got down to the low 40s!
Colleen, being known as a freeze baby, got a 0 degree rated down sleeping bag. Well, we found out that if she wears long underwear, clothes, jacket, two pairs of socks, and a stocking hat, her 0 degree bag is just barely warm enough for her at 40! I, on the other hand, was comfortable in a 40 degree sleeping bag with pajamas, a hat, and a light fleece blanket thrown over everything!


 


Saturday morning, we woke up to a beautiful sunny mountain morning. We stoked the campfire, cooked up some scrambled eggs, and stole some coffee from Sean. Once everyone was ready for the day, we decided to hike up to “the tub”. Apparently, quite some time ago, some locals decided to lug an old fashioned CAST IRON bathtub half way up the side of the mountain. There is a natural hot spring up there, so they made a small rock dam, and ran some plastic pipe from their little holding puddle down to the tub. How they got that tub up there, I will never know, because this flatlander was breathing pretty heavily just walking myself up there!



After the morning hike to the tub, we all went to Yellow Pine, the nearby “town” (more like a few houses around a few dirt roads)  for lunch. We had some great food at “The Corner“. After lunch, we went on another hike looking for an old abandoned mine that the airstrip caretaker told us about. It was just 1/4 mile north of the airstrip. After walking MUCH further than 1/4 mile, and stumbling into some strange old buildings with old chemical barrels scattered around, we cut our losses and headed back to camp. Once back at camp, a nice hot shower, and I was feeling like a million bucks.

Another great night was spent chatting around the campfire, eating some camp food, and having some camp wine (the kind in a box!), and tucked in for the night.



Sunday morning, we got up with the sun (I can’t sleep in once the sun is up… in a tent), and made some breakfast, and started packing up camp. We loaded up the plane, said goodbye to Sean, Holly, and Dexter, and headed out. We stopped by Cascade, ID, fueled up, and started heading east. It was a calm, sunny day, so we chose to plan the flight direct over the mountains to Yellowstone, WY, and then up to Powell, WY for our first fuel stop. Over southeastern Idaho we could see plumes of smoke from forest fires in the distance. As we flew over Yellowstone, we descended to a few thousand feet, and did a few laps around the Old Faithful area. Well, we must have timed it perfectly, because as we were circling, we were treated to Old Faithful erupting! We saw a few of the picturesque hot springs, and then we headed east again, over Lake Yellowstone, up the mountain pass at the parks east entrance, and on to Powell.


 


A quick fuel turnaround in Powell, and we were off. Crossing over the Bighorn range, we had a little inflight lunch. The weather was nice with smooth air, no clouds, and a nice tailwind. We stopped in Aberdeen, South Dakota on the way home for another fuel stop, but I had more than enough fuel to make it home from Powell without stopping. The RV9 and RV14 flying with us had smaller tanks, had a little less range, and were a little slower than our RV10. So to stay in loose formation with them, I was able to pull power back a bit more than I normally would. That said, it’s a lot of fun to travel cross country with a few other planes! I’d gladly give up a little speed for the added company!


 


And that wraps up our first backcountry camping trip. We had a wonderful time with great company in an amazing location!

Trip Stats:

  • Miles Flown: 2500
  • Hours Flown: 17
  • Gallons of fuel: 180
  • Planes in formation: 4
  • States landed in: 6

And finally, here’s the trip video! Enjoy!

3 thoughts on “Backcountry Airplane Camping at Johnson Creek, ID

  • December 21, 2016 at 12:47 PM
    Permalink

    Looks like an amazing trip!
    Thanks for continued motivation to keep banging those rivets!

  • December 21, 2016 at 1:30 PM
    Permalink

    It really was a great trip. Our favorite one to date!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *