Your Hosts are Real Alaskans with a Rich Heritage
Gary and Jeanne Porter, owners of Bald Mountain Air Service, are real Alaskans! This might sound strange but it’s rare to meet Alaskans who were born and raised here, much less be able to claim ancestors reaching back as far as the last Ice Age!
Gary and Jeanne are very proud of their Alaskan heritage and take great care to ensure that everyone visiting their piece of Alaska comes away having witnessed one of Alaska’s greatest treasures, the Alaskan brown bear. They believe in moving among Alaska’s wilderness inhabitants without causing disruption, simply observing and leaving no trace.
This philosophy is the foundation of Bald Mountain Air and defines the way it conducts its tours in remote Alaska. Gary and Jeanne invite you to come join them on their Alaskan Heritage Brown Bear Tours and explore the Great Land.
Meet Jeanne Porter
Jeanne’s heritage on her mother’s side comes from Inupiat Eskimos that inhabit the Northwest Arctic Coast of Alaska. These are the people that crossed the Beringia land bridge and migrated into North America possibly 14,000 years ago. They have lived and flourished in some of the most hostile environments on earth. They are Alaska’s first true naturalists.
The picture of the Eskimo women and the little girl shows Jeanne’s mother, grandmother and great aunt at their fish camp on the Arctic coast about 1934. The structure behind them is a traditional coastal Eskimo sod hut reinforced with whale bones and canvas.
Jeanne’s heritage has given her an instinctual connection to the cycles of nature, the land and its wildlife.
Meet Gary Porter
Gary’s family came to Alaska in the late 1800s, lured from Eastern Canada by the newly discovered goldfields of the Klondike. A family story tells of two great uncles that simply disappeared up the trail of ’98 never to be heard from again. The remaining family settled in Skagway and took jobs building the White Pass and Yukon Railway. In later years, part of the family moved to the interior of Alaska on the north side of the Alaska Range where they started a successful guide service using pack horses and mules.
The family has a long history of romantic adventure and some must have rubbed off on Gary. Bush flying was an important necessity in the years after statehood and the bug was easy to catch. The guide service used a small Piper Cub to supply the camps and the romance of flying it proved irresistible. Over 20,000 hours and 45 years of Alaskan bush flying later, Gary has intimate knowledge of almost every river and stream in Alaska.
Gary’s parents had a business giving visitors guided tours, and as a young boy, Gary had to wake up early and get the horses and mules ready for the day. The local pilot made a huge impression on him, he adds. “I can remember waiting for days in bad weather for our local pilot to bring us news and supplies from town. When he would finally show up, he was the most important guy around. Always clean-shaven and always with a candy bar. I would look at those mules and look at that airplane. I couldn’t wait to change professions! I did — and never looked back at those mules!”
Gary learned to fly when he was just 11 or 12 years old. His parents had a beautiful Piper J3 they used in their guiding business. “I just couldn’t keep my hands off it,” he says. “I was lucky and learned how to fly when I was just a kid. When I first flew into Fort Yukon I thought, ‘Wow, what a place!’ I could visualize all the tough people who had scrounged up and down these rivers and streams looking for gold. Men with big, dirty hands and skinny dogs.”
Gary remembers asking his grandmother if she knew Soapy Smith, the most famous bad guy in the Yukon. “Oh, heavens no,” she told him. “They killed Soapy in ’98 and I wasn’t even born until ’99. How old do you think I am anyway?”
Since those early years in the interior, Gary has hauled the mail, flown for the government, and taken thousands of people to thousands of places, doing a thousand different things in every part of Alaska. For the past 20 years, he’s been flying in southcentral and western Alaska doing just what his father predicted — flying and taking people to see their native country. His father also predicted that someday people would come to Alaska just to take pictures, enjoy themselves and “leave the hides on those poor old bears!”