Every summer there are several events that take place at a special spot within the Idaho backcountry. A remote airstrip affectionately called “Johnson Creek” is a perfect landing area surrounded by thousands of acres of National Forest in central Idaho’s Sawtooth Wildreness Area. This 3500 foot airstrip is a bush pilot’s dream, located within a narrow drainage with Johnson Creek flowing through, and the grass runway is almost as manicured at the Augusta National golf course. With full camping facilities and airplane parking up and down each side of the runway, this place is the perfect site for a big fly-in party. Every year in late June, one of the biggest events of the summer hosts some 200 airplanes at this backcountry oasis for a three-day meet up and fundraiser.

FullSizeRenderThis specific affair is an annual tradition that raises awareness for backcountry flying and supports important causes that keep these prized recreational resources available and maintained. Pilots converge to meet one another and take part in a special kind of camaraderie. There are well over fifty other landing strips within a short flying distance from Johnson Creek, and each one is unique and presents its own set of challenges and opportunities for bush pilots. Some are located along the Salmon or Snake Rivers, some are situated within picturesque mountain meadows, and others atop the high crags of the mountains. Pilots will often band together to fly and explore a number of these places in a day, checking off their list which ones they’ve seen and experienced. Once you land at a place, there are a multitude of great recreational pursuits on the ground. These include hiking, fishing, boating, wildlife viewing, and pretty much anything else you can think of. There are a handful of remote lodges that own several of the airstrips that pilots can fly into. These historic lodges accommodate airplanes for meals or overnight visits.

This year I flew up in my Cessna 185 Skywagon, with several friends from Colorado. In total, we had a crew of three airplanes and a helicopter flying together. We departed early on a Thursday to arrive in Challis, Idaho for lunch before heading into the backcountry. From Challis Airport it was about twenty minutes until we were planning our arrival into Johnson Creek. The area was already buzzing with planes and once we landed there were easily 100 aircraft lining each side of the airstrip. We parked our aircraft in a nice area by the creek and set up our camp. The rest of the afternoon was spent meeting others and looking at the variety of airplanes that were there. Many of these planes have been highly modified to give better performance in backcountry situations and on short, unimproved landing strips. By nightfall another 50 airplanes had arrived.IMG_3080

The next two days were spent meeting fellow pilots and flying into some of the coolest airstrips there are in the lower 48. This area of Idaho is beautiful and to see it from the elevated perspective of an airplane is jawdropping. What we saw in a couple of days would take a backpacker or boater an entire summer. Its really amazing all the places you can drop in and explore.

On Saturday night the SuperCub.org, the non-porfit that organizes the fly-in, holds an event at the airstrip campground, serving homemade chili and craft-brewed beer. After the dinner some big announcements are made and then a raffle giveaway for all the attendees is kicked off. This event is the pinnacle of the weekend, and Mountain Khakis was generous enough to sponsor it and donate items for the raffle.

IMG_6287This year’s event was one of the biggest yet for support raised and dollars donated. This comes at a very critical time, when backcountry airplane access is being threatened and one of the most popular fly in lodges needs rebuilding due to a fire. Thanks to the generosity of the sponsors and pilots as well as to the thoughtful efforts of volunteers, the awareness for backcountry flying is growing, access is continuing to be protected, and groundbreaking has begun on the re-construction of the Big Creek Lodge. This is an event and cause I will continue to attend and support, as I hope the next generation of backcountry aviators can carry the torch forward in a way that allows this beautiful environment and unique activity to flourish.

For more information on backcountry aviation, check out the following:IMG_1353

Recreational Aviation Foundation: An advocacy group dedicated to the preservation of backcountry airstrips and bush flying through education, legislation support, and funding. More at http://recreationalaviationfoundation.org/

SuperCub.org: the organizer’s of the fly-in event and a group of pilots of the Piper Cub type airplane. A supportive coalition for backcountry flying. More at http://www.supercub.org/

True West Aerial: A small company owned and operated by the author offering aerial photography and land survey from small aircraft, focused on land conservation and stewardship. More at http://www.truewestaerial.com/

Big Creek Lodge: A remote fly-in lodge that is considered an Idaho treasure. The lodge sadly burned in 2008, but with our support is being rebuilt for the 2016 flying season. More at http://www.rebuildbigcreek.com/

Here is a link to a video from my 2013 visit to Johnson Creek: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YieE-2Acme0