Temperatures have really dropped off lately, as only one week remains before the last official day of summer.  Within that, we’ll see a mild ‘warming’ trend for the weekend (all the way up to the low eighties) and thermals not much higher than our local mountaintops.

Last weekend, two Crystal Squadron stalwarts made a run north under comparatively low ceilings.  Their adventures are presented below.  Though neither captured the coveted Diamond, make special note of each story’s final line…


CROSS COUNTRY, September 9


Dr. Jack predicted cloud bases around 10k to 12k along the entire route, and a lot of cloud coverage.

Arriving at Crystal I had a few chores that needed to be handled before getting a tow, low tire pressure, wing dolly tire puncture, etc. I got into the air at 12:00, later than planned. Even though the mountains were mostly in shadow, the climb out in the mountains was not difficult, I was able to climb to 10.5k before heading north towards Bishop. The sky had cloud coverage most of the way across the desert, but nothing worth turning in.

I struggled at Backus (Pontious) before getting enough altitude to glide to the mountain range, and once in the mountains again I was only able to climb to 9.5 K. Even though there were low cloud bases along the way, most were only decoration. I could see virga south of Inyokern moving towards Boomer, the local house thermal. It was a race to get there before rain moved in. Bradley (ES) was further behind and determined he would not be able to get there in time. I was able to get to Boomer and concluded it would be safer to not stick around and work the lift, so I pushed forward with more clouds ahead hoping they would give me altitude to stay above the ridges. Plan B was to backtrack to Inyokern approaching it from the north side. If that was not an option I would go to Plan C and land in a known farm field.

Well the clouds ahead worked. Not enough to keep me above the ridge, but high enough to make the next alternate in the valley, Cinder Cone Dry Lake. I worked north up the valley and across to the Inyos arriving at an altitude that didn’t leave much altitude for searching, but got lucky and was able to climb above the ridges. I made it to Bishop, but pushing any further north with cloud bases around 12k would not be high enough to make a glide from Boundary Peak to Mina, NV.

After being grounded for 2 months, I really enjoyed the struggle and rewards of this flight.

The day started with my radiator giving up the ghost on my drive to Crystalaire. I figured no way I’d be flying this weekend. Luck, some fast thinking and an awesome crew had me launching on time. PV and I were the only two to go straight-out on this marginally forecast, low ceiling day. We launched shortly after noon into an over-developing sky.

A shout out over the radio from our sniffer Dale Masters was much appreciated. ES left the second ridge at 11,000 and headed North a little behind PV. This was more cloud cover than I’d flown XC in and it immediately became apparent that my route ahead was completely shaded. The usual landmarks were all but obscured by darkness.

When I arrived at Silver Queen and was working a nice thermal PV radioed that the mountains weren’t working. As I climbed through 9000’ I looked down and saw PV coming in on the deck. I alerted my crew that Mojave would be my next alternate and turned toward the mountain looking for sunny areas to provide a chance of getting back to cloud base. That wasn’t working, so with enough reserve I called California City as my next alternate.

Each time I flew West to the mountains I found nothing and returned to lift over the Honda Track. There I climbed to 9000’ cloud base and had enough altitude to just make IYK. I headed North with enough margin to return to California City. The low ceiling, squall cells coming from the South and my lack of comfort with the off field landing sites ahead sealed my fate. I radioed my crew and landed at California City. We had ES in the box just as the rain and wind started.

With trailer in tow, my crew dropped me at the repair shop in Van Nuys, which had replaced my radiator and I was good to head home. Not a great straight-out XC day, but I learned much more than on an easy booming one.  


Still haven’t heard how the Crystal Squadron fared last Saturday (maybe they’re still aloft, in which case it’ll be some very long flights indeed). Anyway, until we find out if they ever landed, here’s another true yarn from deep in the desk drawer:

Two buddies were up soaring together while one was getting to know his newfangled camelback. It was still half full of Gatorade from a prior flight, so he smartly kept it in the fridge, topping off with some fresh on his way out the door several mornings later. A penny saved.

Midday, when he finally took a swig, the stuff had long since lost its chill. He mentioned it tasted funny and his pal said, “Warm Gatorade from rubber bag, who knew? Have some more, you might get used to it.”

At that point they were tigertailing a honcho boomer through eleven thousand, twelve thousand, thirteen five… Suddenly, louder than necessary and with uncharacteristic syntax, Mr. Camelback declared that the brew was tasting better each hit, more or less, but made his lips numb.

“Say again?”

Take two was garbled and trailed off…

You guessed it, the poor guy was bombed on fermented Gatorade at high altitude under a zenith Mojave sun. And this is someone who doesn’t drink… How lucky was he, having a trusted friend there to squire him safely down?

Back on the ground, everybody had a laugh of course, and all agreed on who should drive home. Before they reached the highway, as they tell it, Mr. Camelback had fallen sound asleep (i.e. passed out cold).

About the next day’s headache, report pending.


Hard to believe it’s now only two weeks from the official end of summer, though of course we can still expect nearly two more months of fine thermal soaring just about every single day. There will be a cooling trend through this weekend however, and a forecast of south flow could even mean WAVE…