Capt’n Karl and the Road to Austin

Here in his own words is the cut and thrust of Karl Sommer’s flight to Austin, NV last week – with Dave Raspet (SAS) as his wingman.


My smokiest flight! How about this for an unusual title?  Actually, could barely smell it.

Blipmap showed OD NE and E, strong winds at the Inyo’s going N. (Not all that bad, crews reported strong gusty wind pushing them up the Owens Valley)

I called a briefer to confirm all the active TFR’s all fire related.

So my expectations were fairly low, thought if we can have a nice dinner in Lone Pine we are doing good. Three of us PT, SAS and myself showed up to give it a try. SAS had the newest Blipmap that showed a good chance to leave Boundary Peak towards Gabbs.

SAS got towed first a few minutes before noon, I started a few minutes after noon,  I think PT got tangled up with school traffic.

Bradley and Dave (SAS) reported wave, I sure felt it on tow. Had some trouble to connect but then got it by thermaling a bit downwind of the swimming pool, got up to 10K, offset over the Devils Punchbowl, where I saw 12.7K and left for Backus.

Cruise was friendly not much sink, pulling up in lift to test some thermals W of Mojave.  I opted to try to connect with the hills  S of Jawbone when the altimeter showed 8K. Moving closer to Inyokern without finding good lift I thought I might have to land at Cantil (deja vu).  But over Red Rock Canyon things looked up for me, from 6K to 10K, then to the Isabella Junction flying up the spine to Boomer ridge, snagging a wild one to 11K.  Qwens Peak 12K, now we’re cooking.

SAS was checking out Inyokern Airport at 4K, hearing my report he switched gears and started chasing me, we also got periodic reports from JK (Jim Ketchum). I pressed on along the ridge and connected with a strong thermal at Olancha Peak to 15K.

Here comes the smoke W to E, abeam Manzanar it obscured the sunlight.  Could not see Independence.

So I  went straight through the smoke, was not as bad as it looked, to Mazourka at 9K, trashed around at a spot where I thought there had to be a thermal.  Thinking I might have to start back toward Independence, I moved W, ha, here it is, take it and don’t ask why.  Another “Bronco” to  12K.

On I went, Schulman Grove, down to 9.8K the cars were higher, heading W to not get trapped I walked into a “Humdinger” close to 15K, along the way to White Mtn.  Got up to 16K, then riding along the ridge to Boundary I did not find much so I arrived a mile short of the peak with less than 14K, was able to climb up to 16K at Boundary and decided to leave for some clouds ahead.

The Hawthorne fire was spreading smoke close to Luning and filled the Gabbs valley.  The fire at Gabbs was out, the airport in the clear.  We could see clear air towards Austin.

SAS passed me at Boundary and reported 17K towards Gabbs, over the 360 Hwy short cut, I made to 17.7 so we opted for Austin.

To the NW was heavy smoke and with the sun getting low and some clouds it got pretty cold. My wife and crew said she will guide SAS crew to Austin since it will be dark by then, that pleased Dave.

But there was a team paving the Gabbs road and our crews got stuck for 45 minutes, therefore arriving at Austin at 9 PM instead of 8PM.

From our view getting closer to Austin, something looked strange ahead, like a wall of dust.  Lucky for us it was smoke from yet another fire that stopped just short of the Airport.

I watched SAS land since he was a few minutes ahead, I landed 10 to 7PM. flight time 6:57 Hours 351M . Did that feel good or not? Not bad for an old 15 meter.

We congratulated each other and prepped our gliders for disassembling, then waited for the crews and the beer.

The newly acquired headlamps worked like a charm to get C3 boxed up in the dark, thanks Peter.

We overnighted in the rustic Pony Canyon Motel after we tried to get some sandwiches to no avail, at the only bar in town, at least we got some beer served by the “lightheaded” (not lack of oxygen) owner/bartender who entertained five of his same conditioned customers.


Karl C3

Thank YOU Karl, for another marvelous account of adventures too many pilots never even imagine!