Three written descriptions last Saturday’s cross-country efforts involved surprisingly different circumstances en route, making it that much more satisfying that all four pilots landed together at one of their more popular Diamond Distance goals, Gabbs, NV. Barry McGarraugh (01Q) had missed much of this season, so it’s his turn to tell the story.
After a month of bad back problems, a bad cold and questionable weather, I was finally able to get a flight in last Saturday. Bradley Baum was gracious enough to let us launch before him, and that extra time was greatly appreciated at the end of the flight. I launched ~12:15 and got off in moderate lift over Tony’s Corner that took me up to ~8.5K. Karl (C3) had previously reported that he was able to get up to ~12K over Morning Mtn, so I followed his lead and was able to climb up to ~12.5K before getting on my way to Rosemond. The air was kind over the desert, with some weak/moderate thermals near the SW corner of Rosemond Dry Lake that kept me in the 7-8K range, and on to Mojave. Just to the south of Mojave, I connected with a good thermal that pushed me up to ~12K and on glide to Inyokern. Some food for thought: During this climb, an F-16 launched out of Mojave and got my undivided attention as he climbed out underneath me. I had my transponder on, but I have no idea if he ever saw me or not. There are some fast movers in that area, so be aware.
The air was pretty soft during the Mojave/Inyokern transition, and I got down to ~6K at the Hwy 178/14 intersection. With the winds predicted to be out of the west/south west in the Inyokern area, and the buoyancy shear ratio on the edge of being workable, I decided it would be best to get as high as possible to get solidly over to the west side of the ridge line on Boomer ridge. PT, C3 and SAS were all reporting weak/disorganized lift on Boomer Ridge and were struggling a bit, so I was happy to find a good thermal right over the highway intersection. As I was working this thermal, Sean (PT) was running out of the mountains and came in underneath me. This thermal strengthened, and we were able to climb up to ~12K and get on our way to the southernmost clouds on the Sierras abeam the Cinder Cone/Coso Junction area. I connected the first cloud I could reach, and it buried my variometer and pulled me to cloud base at ~16K in short order. When I looked at the flight last night in See You, portions of this beast produced solid rates of climb between 15-19kts all the way to cloud base! As I followed this cloud street up the Sierras at a comfortable altitude and in moderate lift, I heard Karl and Dave struggling a bit in the blue sky on the Inyos. Since the Sierras were working fairly well, I decided to bypass the Inyos and follow the clouds on the Sierras as far north as possible before I crossed over. The Sierra cloud street dissipated just south of Big Pine and I left for the clouds that were working on the White Mtns at ~16K. By the time I got to the clouds just to the north of Westgard Pass, Dave was reporting good lift to ~17K in the White Mtn area. Clouds to the east looked straggly and disorganized, and other pilots were reporting low cloud bases to the east, but clouds along the western flank of the Whites pulled pretty good up to ~14-16K. Once I got to Boundary Peak, heavy smoke from the Rim fire was obscuring the Hawthorne/Yerrington/Fallon area, so I took the get high, stay high, philosophy and climbed to 17.2K and headed for the clouds over the Mina area. 70 miles out of Gabbs the Oudie indicated that my arrival altitude was ~600-700’ above my safety altitude. There must have been a bit of a tailwind because my arrival altitude slowly increased to ~1.6K as I approached Mina. I could have pushed on, but I decided to climb up another 500’ for good measure in a good thermal just to the north on Mina. I headed for Gabbs and arrived over the airport at ~6:15 (~6hrs after TO), but still was at 8.5K MSL and had to drop the gear and open the spoilers to burn off the extra altitude that I had accumulated on final glide. As I orbited down, I watched Karl and Dave push their gliders to the disassembly area and suddenly became aware of the wicked glare from the low angle sun and the smoke from the Rim fire. I considered landing to the east to avoid the glare on final, but the visibility improved as I descended, and landed to the west without incident ~6:30. Sunset was a little after 7, so I greatly appreciated the extra 20 minutes that Bradley gave me by letting me take off ahead of him. Thanks Bradley!
My crew got there about 45 minutes after I landed, and we got the glider back in the box just as it was getting dark. SAS and C3 left for Hawthorne about 10/15 minutes ahead of us to make sure we all could get something to eat at the Refinery restaurant before they closed at 9. We got there at 8:50, and enjoyed a nice dinner and cold “Icky” beer, so named for the ichthyosaur fossils found in the great basin area. Another great way to help close another soaring season!