Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Third and Fourth Minden Flights of 2009

I paid my third visit of the soaring season to Minden, NV and flew on Saturday and Sunday, July 25-26, 2009 with SoaringNV on the final two days of their first annual cross country camp. They conducted the camp in a lead and follow manner. That is, one featured instructor would fly with a student in the lead plane, and up to two solo "students" would follow the lead plane. I say solo "students" because they weren't really students at all, but rather accomplished pilots in their own right.

The featured instructors I flew with were the world renowned Gavin Wills of Glide Omarama, New Zealand; and Devin Bargainnier, the young gliding phenom whom I flew with on my first Minden flight of this season (see first post below). Devin was just back from the World Gliding Championships held in Finland where he participated as a member of the U.S. Junior Team. We flew in the Schempp-Hirth Duo Discus X on both days.

Day 1 - Saturday, July 25, 2009

I was scheduled to fly with Gavin on the first day, and we would have one follower. The plan for the day was for a flight to the East since they had been going to the South on the first three days of the camp. I explained to Gavin that I had really had my hopes set on a flight to the South to Bishop. He agreed that that was the logical progression for me based on my previous cross country flights and changed the plan to go to the South again. But rather than go to Bishop, we would try to make it even farther South to Mt Whitney!

Here, we are flying low and in weak lift over two reservoirs close to the airport at the beginning of the flight.

We eventually made our way onto the the Pinenut Mountains to the East of Minden. Here, our follower is joining us as we are about to head South out of the Carson Valley. Lake Tahoe can be seen in the distance.

Here, we have progressed South to Mono Lake along the Eastern edge of the Sierras.

These two lakes are Twin Lakes and are just Northwest of Mono Lake.

The next two photos show the beautiful reflections of the clouds off of Mono Lake as we "put some gas in the tank" while awaiting our follower.

Our follower arrives at the "gas station" to fill up before we head farther South.

These are volcanic cinder cones just to the South of Mono Lake. Gavin explained to me that they are relatively young in geologic terms. An internet search reveals that the area was volcanically active as recently as 350 years ago.

These are three of the four lakes in the June Lake Loop. Grant Lake is on the right, June Lake is on the left closest to us, and Gull Lake is just beyond. The fourth lake, Silver Lake, is behind the mountain peak between Grant Lake and June Lake.

The lakes in the next two shots are to the West. On the sectional chart it says "numerous small lakes". There are literally hundreds of these lakes dotted along the Sierras.

This is looking West into Yosemite National park.

Here we are reuniting with our follower in the vicinity of Mammoth Mountain.

More "numerous small lakes".

Looking East across the Owens Valley to the White Mountain Range, which we would end up flying on during the return trip.

To borrow a line from Buzz Aldrin, "Magnificent desolation"!

This is Tulainyo Lake, just North of Mount Whitney. It is within the Eastern most boundary of Sequoia National Park. We found another "gas station" here.

Our follower arrives to fill up.

The lake is breathtaking in the reflection on the wing.

Finally! Mount Whitney. It is almost in the center of the photo. A little above and to the left of center. You can see the Smithsonian Hut Shelter on Whitney's summit. Mount Whitney is the highest summit in the contiguous United States with an elevation of 14,505 feet.

We progressed back to the North and decided to cross the Owens Valley while we were still South of Bishop. Here, we are looking North up the Sierras and heading East to cross the valley.

We progressed North on the White Mountain Range to White Mountain Peak and then headed West to Glass Mountain which is a little South of Mono Lake. We ran into a bit of trouble there, and Gavin had to work really hard for a save. Once we had enough altitude, we headed North again past Mono Lake. The late afternoon sun on the lake was gorgeous.

After that, we needed only one more small climb near Mount Patterson and then we were on final glide for home! We cruised all the way home at 120 knots and still had a thousand feet to spare when we arrived. Here we are upon arriving. Can you tell that I am happy?

This is our GPS trace from the flight.

Day one totals: Flight time - 5.8 hours, Distance covered - 425 miles

Day 2 - Sunday, July 26, 2009

I was scheduled to fly with Devin on the second day and we would have no followers. Instead we team flew with another of the featured instructors, Gordon "Gordo" Boettger. Gordo is an accomplished wave pilot with many extreme flights, including one where he flew from Minden to Colorado on a single flight.
We decided to head for Mount Whitney again and see what the day held in store for us. The Carson Valley was slow to start on Sunday, so we took a long tow to the Southern end of the valley where we had heard reports of lift. Devin did a magnificent job of getting us up to 10,000 ft MSL very close to the mountain. I took over from there and got us up to 15,000 ft MSL and we proceeded to where Gordo was reporting very strong lift.
Here, we are joining Gordo and heading South near Topaz Lake.

The next several shots show us flying in formation with Gordo as we progressed South. Notice how hard it is to see him in the next shot as a glider presents a small profile even while turning.

I particularly like this shot as Gordo's glider is reflected on our wing.

This is looking West into Yosemite National Park. The line of clouds that we were flying under had an extension to the West. So we decided to penetrate out into Yosemite. At our Western most point, we were more than half-way across the Sierras and we could have flown out into California's central valley (although we would not have been able to get back).

Devin described the area we were flying in as "no man's land", and that if someone had to land out here, their best choice would be to land in one of the "numerous small lakes".

After running as far West as the clouds allowed, we returned to the East. In the next shot, Gordo is getting low and he called over the radio "HELLO!". We soon found, and notified him of, an 8 knot "gas station" and he quickly came over and filled up! An obvious benefit of team flying.

When we resumed on our original Southerly track to Mount Whitney, we found that the route was effectively shut down at Mammoth Mountain due to rain. Notice the fantastic rainbow!

We decided instead to return a little North and cross the Owens Valley to the White Mountain Range and head South to Cerro Gordo Peak, which is Southeast of Mount Whitney and just outside of the Western edge of Death Valley National Park. Gordo decided not to join us as he had a dinner engagement that evening. This was the last shot we had of him before we went our separate ways.

Once we got to the White Mountain Range, we headed South and did not stop once to thermal in the next 100+ miles at an average groundspeed of over 100 mph.
Here, we have almost arrived at Cerro Gordo Peak and are looking to the Southwest at Owens Dry Lake.

We then turned the Cerro Gordo Peak and headed back North for home. Along the way, we noticed fresh snow (or maybe hail) on one of the peaks that had not been there when we went down.

We decided to leave the White Mountain Range in the vicinity of White Mountain Peak. Here, we are headed to the Northwest towards Glass Mountain.

We arrived in the vicinty South of Mono Lake and found that the conditions were detiorating. We worked a weak line of convergence lift around the East end of the lake and considered our options. We could possibly make Bridgeport, or Mammoth, or Bishop. But, Lee Vining (at the Southwest edge of the lake) seemed to be out of the equation as the virga was reaching the ground (i.e. rain), which can be seen in the next two shots (another case of I couldn't decide which photo I liked better).

We finally found good, solid lift to the Northwest of the lake and the flight was on again! This is looking West as we started to progress North again over the Sierras.

We made one more climb over "numerous small lakes" and we were home free.

On final glide for home, we passed Highway 108 which leads to the Sonora Pass. It is hard to see, but the Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center is in the next photo a little left of center. I drive by it on every trip I make to Minden when the Sonora Pass is open.

This is looking West across the Sonora Pass. The plume of smoke is from the Mount Knight fire, which had only begun a few hours earlier. It is only 10 miles North of Twain Harte, where my parents live. As of this writing, on August 4th, 2009, the fire was only 50% contained and had consumed 5,612 acres.

We continued North to Minden and took a little detour into the Hope Valley, flying over the HWY 88 nad 89 intersection and Sorensen's Resort, before returning home to Minden.
This is our GPS flight trace from Sunday.

Day two totals: Flight time - 6 hours, Distance covered - 455 miles
Two days of flying with world class pilots, a top notch glider equiped with the best avionics (including a transponder!), 11.8 hours in the air, 880 miles flown over the most spectacular scenery in the world - PRICELESS!!!
What an awesome experience this was for me! A very special thanks to Gavin and Devin for the two most incredible flights of my life!

Thanks also to Fred and Laurie of SoaringNV for putting on their innagural cross country camp that made it all possible. From the daily weather briefings and guest speakers, to the proffesional binders with excellent cross country materials, to the breakfasts and lunches and the Saturday evening banquet, you two did a fantastic job of pulling it all together! I look forward to doing it again next year.

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