About five miles north of downtown Squamish, British Columbia and situated alongside the Squamish River, Don Patrick Field or simply known as Squamish Airport, is home to a small-scale aviation operation including the likes of chartered flights, flying clubs, and private aircrafts. It’s a humble little airport, but the scenery surrounding it is grand. Various types of pine, spruce and evergreen trees serve as the immediate backdrop at sea level and then extend far into the distance and up the alpine face of the Serratus Mountain and Mount Tantalus. But the best part of the view? A handsome Cessna 185 Skywagon Amphibian sitting on the tarmac waiting to take to the skies.
The Cessna 185 Skywagon is a single engine aircraft that was first produced in 1961 with only 4,400 made until production ceased in 1985. It’s based on the Cessna 180, but equipped with a larger fuselage and a stronger engine that can reach up to 300 horsepower. These aircrafts were, and still are, primarily used as bush planes to access remote airstrips, snowfields, and various bodies of water including rivers, lakes, and in certain scenarios, the ocean. The Cessna 185 Skywagon, just like the one on the tarmac that sat in front of me, can be fitted with floats to make these types of water landings and gives the plane that adventurous go-anywhere-land-anywhere aesthetic.
Photo Via @Artisan. Assets
Nothing screams adventure more than a sea plane, especially one equipped with amphibious floats – meaning the floats have retractable (or fixed) landing gear allowing the aircraft to land pretty much anywhere, given it’s on a hard-surface runway or a calm body of water. I’ve always associated these types of aircrafts with exploration because there’s no boundary to where you can go. I’ve watched these planes in movies and read about them in stories many times. The main character is usually taking off and landing at exotic locales, not restricted by landing at a major city airport, and usually stepping out of the plane with shades on and a duffel bag slung over their shoulder. That image to me just oozes cool. I’ve always wondered what the experience would be like to fly in one of these things.
The reason why I was north of the border and back on Pacific Standard Time was because Citizen was hosting a three day long event that explored their Promaster Collection through a series of land, air, and sea experiences. The Promaster Collection has been the companion for professionals, explorers and adventurers for more than 30 years and is no stranger to exploring these elements. And what better location to create our own adventure where all three elements are fairly accessible then British Columbia, Canada. The day prior, we had attempted the “Sea” component of the Promaster experience, which consisted of a whale watching trip on the Strait Of Georgia. This was the perfect time of year to spot Orcas due to the higher number of seal pups in the area. Humpback and Gray whale sightings peak around this time as well. But in true unpredictable B.C. weather fashion, high winds on the strait limited us to cruising on the Fraser River. All was not lost that day, as I was able to spot a couple of Bald Eagles in their natural habitat for the very first time on our river run. For the “Land” component, we trekked through the Whistler mountain backcountry on utility terrain vehicles or UTVs, navigating rocky trails, running streams and observing the sudden changes in landscape up close. Finally, the “Air” component, which led us to Sea To Sky Air, a company that specializes in aerial tours of Squamish, and is where this OOO picks up.
The cabin of our Cessna 185 Skywagon was unsurprisingly tight, with barely enough room for my lean 6 foot frame to fit behind the pilot’s seat. After I fastened my seat belt, I unhooked the headset hanging in front of me and threw it on. There’s a certain feeling that arises anytime I put on a headset in the cockpit of an aircraft. It’s like transforming into a superhero and is akin to the feeling I get anytime I zip up my wetsuit prior to a surf session.
50 Shades Of Blue
The plane taxied to a lane perpendicular to the main runway. As we sat there, we watched each plane build up speed as they past us, making their way towards the end of the 2,400 foot runway, then effortlessly, like magic, take off. With the runway now ours, the plane made its way to the end and turned 180 degrees. After a couple of exchanges between the pilot and Sea To Sky Air control, a staticky voice comes through the speakers, “Cleared for takeoff.” After performing the last visual checks, the pilot advanced the throttle, increasing power to our Cessna 185. The plane jerked forward and picked up speed, blasting down the runway. And before we knew it, we were underway.
The view from outside of the cabin 7,500 feet was just breathtaking. Squamish is home to dramatic landscapes and various unique geological features that span as far as the eye can see. Jagged peaks, distinct rock formations and the occasional glacier are seen throughout numerous mountain tops, and the Strait Of Georgia along the horizon. Just below, the valley filled with lush green trees was split by the meandering Squamish River. Inside the cabin, the temperature had shifted, being much cooler thanks to the higher altitude compared to the 90 degree temperature on the ground. Being in a smaller aircraft provides a more intimate experience in the air. Each and every bank of the plane (and the occasional crosswind) was palpable. I could actually feel the air gliding beneath the plane’s wings. And when my gaze wasn’t pulled into different directions looking outside of the cabin, it was locked in to what everyone was wearing on wrist.
Provided by Citizen watches, the pilot was appropriately wearing the new 2022 Blue Angels Promaster Skyhawk A-T. To his right, another fellow watch journalist was rocking the Promaster Nighthawk. As for me, on wrist I had the Promaster Altchron. On the day we were supposed to tackle “Air” & “Land” I thought the Promaster Altichron would be the perfect companion. Although the Promaster Altichron is a part of the Promaster Land Collection, it looks every bit the part going 100 knots in a plane flying thousands of feet off the ground.
The Promaster Altichron is a beast of a watch on my 6.25 inch wrist. The compass bezel, various elevation displays on the rehaut and on the dial, and thick white sword hands resemble that of a flight instrument gauge you’d see in a cockpit. The two features I thought would be neat to fiddle around with while on land, and in the air, were the built-in electric compass and altimeter. The electric compass is controlled by the pusher located at 10 o’clock. Once the pusher is activated, the small red skeleton hand moves around the dial attempting to find “true north”. Once the hand has identified which way is north, that’s when the rotating bezel comes into play, with the zero or “north” marker aligned with the skeleton hand providing a sense of where you are and where you need to go. The altimeter is activated by the crown at 8 o’clock and uses both the small and larger skeleton hand. Understanding how to read it might take a minute (or two) but once you’ve got it down pat, it’s a fun thing to keep an eye on, especially when you’re steadily increasing in elevation. The larger skeleton hand uses the display within the rehaut to track the first 1000 feet of elevation. Once that hand has made its revolution around the dial, the smaller skeleton hand moves on the semi-circle display. This continues until you’ve reached an elevation of 10,000 feet, in which then you’d see the hand in the subdial move to “1”. It’s pretty remarkable that the altimeter sensor, sitting in between the pushers on the left side of the case (similar to the depth sensor on a Promaster Aqualand), can measure up to 30,000 feet in elevation.
The Promaster Altichron Playing The Part In The Air
Although not quite 30,000 feet, Rumbling Glacier stands at a modest 6,300 feet (8,556 feet closer to the top of Mount Tantalus) and was the first of many glaciers we would come across. Being that we were flying in the Cessna 185 Skywagon, the fastest plane within the Sea To Sky Air fleet, we were able to fly much closer to the glacier than the rest of the group. I was unaware of the flight maneuver, or maybe it was the sheer vastness of Rumbling Glacier, but it seemed like the plane was just hovering over the mountain of rock and ice. The stark white color and ice blue accents of the glacier were just unreal up close. At that moment I was literally living a National Geographic documentary. Just over the Rumbling Glacier, the landscape changed drastically, displaying a sea of trees in the valleys and deep blue lakes, some of which are inaccessible by foot (buy by plane, maybe, depending on the pilot), poised at the top of peaks.
On Approach To Rumbling Glacier. Swipe Through For More Action!
Up Close And Personal
Lakes For Days
On Approach To Opal Cone
Opal Cone: A Product Of An Ancient Eruption
Caught In Action Via @markkauzlarich
As if the glaciers weren’t mesmerizing enough, the crystal cerulean blue waters of the glacial lakes were just yet another sight to behold from the air. The vibrant color comes from a build up of fine-grained particles of rock created by glacial erosion that gets carried to the rivers and lakes. This particular sediment adds a sense of depth to the body of water, and as the sun refracts off of the particles, blue and green wavelengths are emitted and the spectacular colors we see.
Other natural wonders that we were able to observe were the unique rock formations sprinkled throughout the Squamish area. Table Mountain was among them. As the name suggests, its peak is a wide plateau, and the mountain itself remains a part of the Garibaldi Lake volcanic field. Its distinct shape has been said to be formed by magma from a volcanic eruption that melted and settled within a vertical tube of the Cordilleran Ice Sheet (a very large sheet of ice that spanned Canada and North America 17,000 years ago). According to the pilot, the last time Table Mountain was summited was in 1949 and has not been summited since then due to the deteriorating rock conditions. Opal Cone was another formation that was a result of an ancient eruption and its teal glacial tarns, as well as the red and black volcanic ash could be seen clearly from above.
As the flight was coming to a close, the runway appeared into the distance. We made one last pass by the Brackendale Eagles Provincial Park where over 800 Bald Eagles were spotted and accounted for within the past year. The pilot made his approach and like he has done over the course of his 20 year career, smoothly landed the Cessna 185 onto the runway.
The plane taxied back to its rightful spot on the tarmac. The single propeller was no longer spinning and the engine no longer screaming. The soundtrack of Squamish nature had returned. Hoping to recreate my own “cool” exit out of a sea plane, I stepped out of the cabin, and jumped off the float, camera in one hand, and a camera bag slung over the opposite shoulder. As I walked away, I looked back at the Cessna 185. Yet again, another successful run for the trusty Skywagon – a piece of machinery that, very much like the Citizen Promaster Collection, can truly hold its own in the air, on land, and at sea.
Thomas is a budding writer and an avid photographer by way of San Diego, California. From his local surf break to mountain peaks and occasionally traveling to destinations off the beaten path, he is always searching for his next adventure, with a watch on wrist, and a camera in hand. Thomas is a watch enthusiast through and through; having a strong passion for their breadth of design, historical connection, and the stories that lie within each timepiece.