All this stuff about flying near the good earth might give some readers the willies, but should it? Solid ground has never been known to jump up and smack people; that’s more our kind of thing. Be honest, how many thousand times have you barely missed a freight truck, head-to-head on a two-lane road, at closing speeds over a hundred? If that doesn’t scare the squeezy outta you, you’re braver than me! Six hundred million cubic miles of bedrock is far more predictable than a highway full of complex machines and their distracted drivers. This is not speculation, empirical proof is everywhere.

But isn’t flying within five hundred feet some kind of violation? Let’s look at the FARs.

Sec. 91.119 — Minimum safe altitudes: General.
(a) Anywhere. An altitude allowing, if a power unit fails, an emergency landing without undue hazard to persons or property on the surface.

‘Power unit’— we got that covered. And if ‘emergency landing’ means RIGHT NOW with no second chance, it’s what glider guiders do every time we fly.

(c) Over other than congested areas. An altitude of 500 feet above the surface, except over open water or sparsely populated areas. In those cases, the aircraft may not be operated closer than 500 feet to any person, vessel, vehicle, or structure.

Believe it or not, that’s all the regs to say have on this topic, and I’m eternally thankful. For where we’re going (and where we’ve been), there are exactly zero persons, vessels, vehicles, or structures. That’s part of why we go there!

California’s White Mountains amount to one enormous ridge of naked rock running north and south. Its lowest saddle in one 25-mile stretch is more than 11,000 feet above sea level, high as the summit of Oregon’s iconic Mt. Hood. Exceptional as this range is, most pilots seek only to escape it, vertically and horizontally, in a mad rush to go somewhere… else. But where else would a soaring pilot rather be? This is the place. The Whites offer more than just a drag strip for number junkies or a jumping off place for your weekly pilgrimage to beautiful towndown Gabbs, it’s a full spectrum playground unto itself with more different ways to play, than the day has hours. Why so many rush past open palace gates to go shoot rats at the dump is a mystery. Different stokes I guess.

This joyride begins at Mt. Dubois, elevation 13,559 ft. (coordinates: 37.7832, -118.3434). Nothing more than a wide knoll a few feet higher than surrounding terrain, DuBois might be the flattest 13-K peak this side of Peru or Tibet. South of it, Pellisier Flats is as ‘sparsely populated’ as the moon, and offers a perfect venue for honing your nap-of-the-earth chops. Not precisely flat, but the smoothest ridgetop imaginable, it rolls languidly like sea swells ebbing after a storm. No trees, brush, or even a clump of grass in sight, just a carpet of frost cracked stones all the same desert beige, few more than inches in diameter.

The procedure is laughably safe and easy. Begin with the lowly outcrop of Dubois off either wingtip, flying southbound low as you dare somewhere between min-sink and best L/D. Hug the contour that keeps speed steady while an incremental drop of eight hundred feet over three miles makes getting too slow impossible. (This is one instance, however, where it wouldn’t cost much to have gear down, just in case… Use your imagination, that’s what it’s for!)

Half a mile in there’s a second knoll to dodge, left or right, in a skidded turn, which ground effect makes officially kosher. You can also hop straight over and down for a negative G fix, but please don’t try that the first time, and really tighten those straps when you do! Remember, this is all downhill, so any speed from fifty to VA is fine, provided you can hold your hand still. If too fast at the top, you’ll soon be way too fast. Chicken out when it doesn’t feel right, pull away to the west, find lift and fuel up for another try. No penalty for restarts!

The basic run seems to go forever, like waterskiing in heaven. Almost hypnotic, but textured enough to keep you alert. Careful not to catch a tip! After the ground finally disappears, slow up and consider what to do next.

You’re all of 26 miles from Bishop airport, but also 7000 feet above pattern height, so no worries there. Climb on up and proceed to Timbuktu, or turn a small gain into another run on those sexy flats. Or wander off and find some other sparsely populated hobby horse to goof around with on the vast and glorious Whites. Everything’s already paid for, and you still have all afternoon!

Going full monty on Pellisier involves more variables, less certainty, and double the fun. You can add at least a quarter mile beforehand by getting down early and fast, and zooming in ground effect up to DuBois. With experimentation, calibrate the optimum speed and start point, extending it further back north to where the ridge is flat only on one side and sheer on the other. How far you push this is between you and your mojo.

You can also tack on an amusing coda by artfully long jumping a mile off the far end to a gorgeous trap that quickly becomes the head of a corkscrew canyon. Follow it on down if you want, or try to, and break out at any time by simply slowing up. From there Bishop’s still in range, with probably gobs of lift on the way… Now doesn’t that sound more interesting than cruising straight at sixteen grand?

(Granted, safe nap-of-the-earth requires benign atmospherics, and this particular mountain churns up some of the world’s liveliest air, but as at the Rock Garden, if wind aloft is light and the hilltop broad enough, air low over it can be remarkably soft. And when it is dynamic near the surface, you’d scarcely be able to get down here, much less stay…)

So, back to our original question of crook or nanny. It’s possible to be two things at once, and Pellisier Flats is further proof. You can shoot yourself down there, or save a flight two hundred miles from home. I’ve done both, and like everything else, if I can do it you can too. Either way, whenever you’re in that neighborhood take a run or two on the deck, and see if it doesn’t alter perspective on which kinds of foolishness are more worth your time.


Rounding that false summit above the duckwalk, we press down onto Olancha’s gently sloping northeast shoulder low and fast. Straight at crook number three alright, but we don’t know this yet ‘cause it’s still a couple miles away. That edgy hour of flying close order at min-sink makes settling into ordinary ground effect a cozy relief. Feels good to be back ‘on course’ again, too… until I look up and realize we’re running out of places to point the nose.

Close on our left, alpine meadows barely below eye level lead into the Golden Trout Wilderness and entire landscapes above timberline. Inexpressibly appealing, but as they say in old New England, we can’t get there from here. Down to the right, defeat, and a stretchy glide to Lone Pine. But directly ahead across a snaggletoothed void waits the next high ground and guess what, way more nap of the earth.

This half-minute mile along a rolling sidehill leaves us near VA where the ground drops off, but no reason to pull up here. Just ease back to eighty and aim right at the nearest broken tooth, strafe it for a (dubious) aerodynamic boost and continue what amounts to a long shallow dive clear across the gap and on down to the far beachhead, back on the deck with ample juice to ride upslope in ground effect once more, skip off this next false summit and slow again to min-sink alongside what’s really been my fondest wish all along, our own little sun-facing cliff.

And presto! stumble into the first actual thermal in more than twenty miles. Almost as if someone saw it coming. It’s a spooner, not a boomer, but at this point two knots up feels like Heaven’s veranda, and buys more time to inspect this new neighborhood for possibilities.

As we loft above the near horizon, what sinks into view seems at first too vivid to be real, an erratic display of natural statuary not visible from anywhere below. Anomalous stone structures, giant cairns of precariously balanced boulders, exotic hoodoos drawn from artists’ conceptions of an alien world. A miniature badland in the sky graced with ancient pines stunted by altitude and wind. Zen watercolor with a sci-fi gestalt. In a region where rock gardens are so common that none have names, if you hear a pilot absently refer to “…the rock garden”, this is probably where they mean. Introducing crook number three, coordinates: 36.324, -118.103

Folks rushing by far overhead may never look directly at this spot, or see it for what it is. From up there it’s just another bony hill. But at close range it commands hushed reverence and fascination the way antique cemeteries entice passersby to wander among relics and contemplate mysteries of the past. These ghostly spires are not monuments honoring the forgotten, they’re solid cores of contemporary fact reduced to its purest essence by weather’s never ending creative force. Live stone standing.

The formation runs a full mile, wide enough for multiple routes crossing through in different directions. A horizontal mogul field for glider porn, it tempts, lures, begs us to grab a closer look. And we’re down for that, naturally, but then what? Though a legitimate 10,000-ft mountaintop, this is no potent lift source. Too flat to focus solar energy as sharp peaks do, and choked off from inflowing air by surrounding terrain, its beguiling midriff is a spooky cipher. Ideal for strolling among timestones perhaps, but fly in too slow and we might not come out! If only…

Meandering around the margin in minimal buoyancy as if we’re the crooks, we peek in windows and feel for places to climb. Each hundred-foot gain sets up a deeper exploration, three hundred maybe two. Not what we deserve, but this is Paradise after all, where familiarity breeds only comfort. And practice makes the imperfect less so. When our first end-to-end run pays off with another the opposite way, this party is officially on. Oh yes, video on request😜

We stay and play until the shadows say to go, but nothing’ll keep us from coming back next week if there’s time. Or next year. Aways more time later, right?

So is there a crook number four?
Daren’t ask.


Congratulations to Jean Paul Jansen who earned his commercial add on last week!
We’re still scheduling through e-mail request. Check availability first (for Fri/Sat/Sun) then e-mail us your reservation request.
Please bring a mask and your own water!
Stay safe and healthy and wishing you good spirits.

This week’s weather will remain consistent day to day, much like last week, but with temps down to around 90 with more light northerlies and more fine (mostly blue) thermal conditions. Their strength and height will be declining from now forward, but we can expect summer soaring conditions to continue well into the near future…


Peter Kovari’s report: 
The forecast for Saturday looked outstanding most of last week, then of course the morning of turned a little less than great, but still very good despite the forecast hot temperatures and possibly poor visibility due to smoke. We did contemplate flying Sunday instead of Saturday as both days looked good but as it turned out Saturday was the right choice. Sunday had near IFR conditions due to the wild fires and smoke. I planned to launch by 11 am both for an early start as well as trying to escape the forecasted heat.
Brian Neff (A1) and I were the only ones going and thanks to Chris for getting us off right away.
I usually take a high tow, but this time I released just about 7k in what I thought was good lift. It turned out to be a sucker thermal and got skunked. Scratched around what seemed a long time before I was able to get above Mt. Lewis and there under some clouds quickly climbed to 12.5, and time to leave. Good tailwind and kind air got me clear across the valley to Three Sisters where I met up with Brian on the ridge.
Soon a good climb at Cache Peak, back to 12.5k and on the way to Boomer in great air. Owens Peak, climbing to 16k and once again the same altitudes to Olancha Peak where the smoke started to thicken, large columns of smoke clearly visible just west of the Olancha TFR .
Just south of Mt. Whitney the smoke started to form a kind of overcast, likely killing the lift, so I decided to cross the valley to the Inyo’s. A blue run, but still very good conditions all the way to the White’s where cu’s marked the crest of the mountain and good lift to 17.8k. Decided on the Mina/Gabbs/Austin route as conditions and winds favored this direction.
Both Brian and I arrived at Austin around 5:30 and called it a day. We fueled up at Austin both with gas as well as awful gas station sandwiches and snacks for dinner, and after a long late drive we got to Hawthorne to spend the night. Sunday we were treated to near IFR conditions on the ground (it looked like brown fog) nearly all the way driving back as mentioned earlier. Great weekend flying through!
Brian Neff’s report:
First a big thanks to Gus McCarthy for crewing and Peter and Sean for connecting me to Gus. The day started quickly with a tow to Morning Mt. Good lift and a fast climb to 15k between 2nd ridge and Morning Mt. Then headed direct towards Rosamond dry lake but found the best route was east of that so I called Joshua and got a clearance to cut the corner and fly directly toward Cache Pk. Got to Cache about 9500 and figured a quick climb and north. The area around Cache Peak turned into a big sinkhole, so bad I had to run back to the foothills between Mojave and Cache, and was wondering if it would end at Mojave or Cal City after screaming across the valley. Had to scratch long enough that Peter was able to catch up and he started climbing right about the time I finally figured out where the lift was. It kept getting better, higher and farther towards the west side of Kelso and it was then a quick run to Boomer. Sierra was getting everyone to 15k or 16k. I decided to stay as long as possible on the Sierra and finally crossed just at the north end of the Inyos. Strong on the Whites, and 17.4k at Boundary Pk. Not much working until near Mina, and found some 3 to 4 k lift that got me enough for Gabbs. Near the VOR between Mina and Gabbs, Peter and I were seeing a dust devil that looked like a small tornado. I went to it and it took me to around 14k. At Gabbs we found real good lift and Peter suggested we go for Austin. I asked him what the landout between Gabbs and Austin was. I then said I had Fritz and was going that way. Not much of anything until hills east of Fritz, then strong enough to cruise to Austin at 95 indicated and hardly coming down. Landed after 6 hrs 15 min. Parked on the ramp and a few min later Peter landed.