The conditions were forecast to be good enough for us to set our goal to fly to Mount Whitney and back. There are only a few dozen days a year when the conditions are good enough to do so. And the day delivered as promised.
I had only been to Mount Whitney, the highest point in the contiguous United States at 14,505 feet, two other times. The first time was with Gavin Wills in July, 2009 (see First Mount Whitney Flight), and the second time was with Devin in July, 2010 when we couldn't get enough height to actually reach the summit and didn't quite get back to Minden (see Second Mount Whitney Flight).
We needed just two thermals after getting off tow to be high enough to get out of the Carson Valley and get on course. We flew southwest to the Sierras where we found a line of convergence lift that was clearly marked by clouds and off we went. Convergence lift is great because it allows you to fly straight without circling, and still climb! The clouds extended all the way to Mammoth Lakes, but the airmass was dry the rest of the way to Mount Whitney. So while the convergence lift was working all the way down, it was more difficult to locate without the benefit of clouds. We only made three pit stops to get down to Mount Whitney, and three more to get back to Minden. We stopped to thermal in only the very best lift. Why can't every day be this good?
Here we are heading south at Mono Lake.
This is looking east from the Sierras into the Owens Valley, just south of Bishop. I always love the varied colors of the terrain on the mountains.
Mount Whitney is the highest point off in the distance in this photo. It is still 40-50 miles away. We flew straight to it in the convergence line from here. Did I mention that convergence lift is great? It is. That is if you can find it and stay in it out in the blue!
About 20-25 miles away now.
We've arrived! The summit of Mount Whitney is in the middle of the photo. The Smithsonian Hut is the little speck at the top. It was built in 1909 to house an astronomical observatory. The hope was to be able to detect water on Mars with the telescopes placed there. Today it serves as a refuge for the weary climbers who make the two-day trek to the top.
You're having trouble seeing it? Well, let's go in for a closer look! There were quite a few hikers up there this day.
I particularly like this shot looking south along the jagged precipice that leads up to the Whitney Summit. The hut is just out of the photo on the left.
Here we are just starting out on our return home and passing Tulainyo Lake. There was not nearly as much snow as there was when Gavin and I came down on my first trip in July, 2009. We made pit stop #1 of the return trip just past this lake.
There is so much to see on the journey to and from Mount Whitney that every time you go down you see things you haven't seen before. The dam on the lake caught our eye this day. It is called South Lake and it is due east of Big Pine.
The varied colors of the waters in the Sierra lakes are on par with the varied colors of the terrain on the mountains. I'm not sure which I like better.
Here we are approaching Mount Tom, which is northwest of Bishop and southeast of Mammoth Lakes.
We made pit stop #2 of the return trip on the northwest flank of Mount Tom.
Here we are at the volcanic flows near the Mono Craters just south of Mono Lake.
We arrived back at Mono Lake and started searching for another gas station. Notice our height relative to the airstrip, which is the Lee Vining airport.
We moved a little farther north and found the pump that was dispensing high octane gas and filled up. This was pit stop #3 on the return trip and the last fill-up we needed to fly the remaining 90 miles back to Minden without stopping again. Notice our height relative to Lee Vining airport now.
We passed this interesting cloud formation near Mount Patterson. The noticible step up on the right side indicates an area of strong lift. I wanted to go check it out, but it was pretty far off course and we didn't need any more gas to get home. Besides, Devin's butt was sore!