Idaho: Mike Dorris, Backcountry Bush Pilot
Updated: Dec 12, 2019
by Andrew Slough
HIGH WINDS, BLOWING SNOW, BAD WEATHER FOR SMALL PLANES BUT THE MAIL MUST GO THROUGH ...
La Nina is raising hell with Mike Dorris. Foul weather has grounded Sawtooth Flying Service for the past week and Dorris, who holds the U.S. Mail contract for the western half of Idaho’s Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness Area, needs to fly. Under most circumstances, neither wind, rain, snow nor hail can keep the U.S. Mail from it’s appointed rounds, but during the night, all four have raked McCall airport and Dorris now contrasts the long range forecast to the intermittent patches of blue sky and realizes, if he doesn't fly now, he won't be able to fly for another four days . . . if then.
Dorris, however, faces greater pressures than the mail. Ranch hand Tim Hall is overdue at the South Fork of the Salmon Ranch and the snowbound mining town of Warren, Idaho needs supplies. Dorris squints at the western horizon then shakes his head. It’s clear he isn’t happy with his choices but says, I’ll give it a try....and if the weather falls apart, we’ll have to turn back.
Tim Hall quickly squeezes into the back, I climb into the right seat, Dorris starts the engine and taxis onto the runway. When the temperature gauge rises off the stop, he opens the throttle and we start to roll between five foot walls of snow.
We have barely cleared the eastern ridges when the weather socks in around the high wing Cessna. The promising patches of blue suddenly close as the wind hits us from three directions at once. Surrounded by black thunderheads dragging white veils of snow across Idaho’s Salmon River Mountains, the Cessna is hammered by riotous cross currents that drop the nose, lift the right wing and make the six cases of beer, five boxes of food, a box of mail and three wide eyed passengers shake, rattle and roll in discordant harmony.
Dorris squints at the western horizon then shakes his head. It’s clear he isn’t happy with his choices but says, “I’ll give it a try....but, if the weather falls apart, we’ll have to turn back.”
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