ATTAINING ALL NEW HEIGHTS, PART I

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Vern Stanfill, one of our two adventurous pilots.

A couple hours later we fly to Minneapolis, where we wait anxiously for several more hours before boarding the late flight to Missoula. Mike meets us as planned, and two hours later, we arrive at the Homewood Suites in Kalispell–late, but we’re here.
Early the next morning finds us at the Glacier Park airport, meeting with our helicopter pilot, Jim Pierce, who informs us his bird is down for maintenance. I’m concerned, but only for a moment, as Jim introduces Vern Stanfill and Jordan White, two highly skilled pilots offering their time and aircraft to help keep this venture on track.
Together, we review plans and are briefed on various safety issues and conditions, then led to the pad where we load an electric auger, sonar units and some basic ice tackle into one helicopter, filming gear in the other. The weather looks good, so the plan is to scout some potential waters where we’ll be able to film with our contest winners, Nancy and Jim, the next day.
Several higher elevation lakes have already been eliminated–those within avalanche warning zones and too dangerous to fly into, for example. Other waters may simply have heavy snow cover, and the combination of deep snow and slush could make fishing difficult, if not altogether impossible. But there’s only one way to find out!
We decide to fly east of town first, where we’ll check some lakes around the 6000 foot elevation. Snowpack may be a problem there, too, but we won’t know unless we check. I strap myself beside the pilot and stretch on my headset, listening as motors fire, rotors hum and crackling voices exchange words within the headphones, then, looking down through the glass beneath my boots, watch the ground disappear below as Vern’s aircraft begins to rise.

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Here’s my view from the Chopper as we leave Kalispell and head for the mountains.

We’re soon high above the airport, looking across the Kalispell valley, with Flathead Lake visible to the south, and a broad, looming mountain range ahead. We continue rising, with each ridge passed giving way to new scenery–mile after mile of vast, rugged, snow covered mountains. It’s a tremendous thrill, like watching an IMAX movie, but live!
Vern, our pilot, had explained his love for flying before we left the airport. “Now I can see why you love this so much,” I comment. Vern nods acknowledgement as we glide over yet another steep ridge, jostling as we ride the associated air currents.
Ahead, on a distant ridge, I notice an open, flat white space—a secluded body of water, almost certainly unvisited since late summer or early fall–with the only practical access since that time available by helicopter. I’m listening in though crackling headsets as Vern and Jordan discuss wind direction and velocity, carefully determining the correct angle to approach for a landing.

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Tom Gruenwald

Tom Gruenwald

Tom Gruenwald is truly passionate about the outdoors and is recognized as one of the world’s foremost authorities on the sport of ice fishing. Throughout the years, his expertise has been sought for in-depth ice fishing presentations, seminars and advanced contributions to various outdoor periodicals throughout the world. He’s appeared as a guest on numerous radio and TV shows, authored four ice fishing books and now hosts his own TV show, “Tom Gruenwald Outdoors,”. TGO is the first program of its kind dedicated solely to ice fishing. 

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