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Alaska is never boring and always different


Paul Claus dares to go places and do things pilots never dreamed of doing.

“Want to land some cool places?” That’s his opening question to those who arrive at the lodge deep in the wilderness of Alaska’s Langer-St. Elias National Park and Nature Preserve. With that question in mind, he offers the chance to land on the surface of a glacier, a grassy ledge 1,000 feet above a valley, an isolated lakeshore or a secluded beach along the Gulf of Alaska.

“The type of flying we do here has to be some of the most interesting in the world,” Krause said. “It’s never boring and always different.”

In 1959, his father declared ownership of the five acres of land that would become the Rangel St. Elias National Park. Together, the family built a rustic hut – which they named “Ultima Thule,” the ancient Greek mapmaker’s name for the northernmost point of the earth – -and a bush plane service that transports hikers, climbers, skiers and general tourists around the vast reserve, created by President Jimmy Carter in 1978 (and officially designated as a national park in 1980).

“There were still a lot of people on this valley at the time,” Krause recalls, “but no one bothered to make an official statement. They thought my father was crazy. But when Rangel became a national park, we were the only people allowed to keep our land. Now we’re the only people living on the entire drainage.”

With his father on the throttle, Klaus flew over Rangel St. Elias before he could walk. “For as long as I can remember,” Krause says, “we had an airplane parked in our front yard.” He earned his pilot’s license at age 14 and purchased his own plane shortly thereafter. Flying became second nature, as familiar as snowmobiles, trawlers or hot rods to other Alaska teens.

Today, the family air force squadron includes a Husky de Havilland Otter, a Cessna 185 and three Piper Super Cubs. with all of the Cubs’ electronics (including batteries, generators, starters and lights) removed, the plane is almost as light as a microlight and able to float up the steep places where Kraus likes to land. When all this excess is removed, Krauss explains, the plane’s seven-to-one glide ratio is “as good as a hang glider. The oversized, underinflated tires speed up landings over rough terrain.

“A good bush pilot can tell if he can land there by looking at the terrain,” claims Krauss. “It’s partly intuition and partly experience.” But the real secret to Krause’s success as a bush pilot lies in exploring the park on the ground. “I spent a lot of time walking and skiing on the same terrain. That way, you get to know the different types of snow and ice and learn what the ground is really like. I’ve skied the entire Bagley Icefield – more than 400 miles in 40 days – and camped on snow and ice every night. How many pilots can say that?”

Another factor is his unbridled enthusiasm for the other residents of the park. He has a keen eye, an uncanny sense of spotting wildlife camouflaged in the rocks and woods of the park. Want to see a grizzly bear from the air? Bet Klaus can fish for salmon in the Chitina River or browse for berries at Ross Green Lake.

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