THREE DIAMOND DISTANCE FLIGHTS

Karl Sommer

I was off first 11:31, then Sean, Richard about 50 min later, thanks go to Chris and Crew.

I left the Mountains a few feet short of 12k at 12:19 following Sean who got high sooner, and crossing the desert it started to get buoyant. Met up with Sean at Silver Queen. He went more towards Cal City, I opted to try the Kelso route, finding my low 7.5k there. Found better lift on the mountain W of Kelso, 12k running to Boomer, arriving at 12.4k.

Had no trouble running up the ridge to Olancha Pk at 12.8k. Clouds were too far W for my taste, and starting to OD on the Sierra. Connected strong lift at Inyos, 13.8k with nice cloud street to the Whites passing White Mtn at 17.6k.

I noticed Radio misbehaving, no more answers on my transmissions (new batteries ordered today).

Boundary Pk, 15.7K. By now, Sierras blowing up, and Hawthorne all clouded, but Gabbs looked still sunny. Then a small storm with rain in the hills NW of Gabbs. Back to 17k past the 360 Hwy intersection, sent a text to Rose and landed to the N in wind that looked like 12-15kts. Austin was in dark OD as promised by Blipmap.

Posted on OLC, a 6:17 Hr flight, not too many mistakes.

After a while Sean landed, and then Richard, 3 Pilots 3 diamonds.
We had a Visitor Ed Traub (Cowboy Hat, Pic Sean posted) who is drilling for Oil W of Gabbs.

Everybody packed up, Sean and Peter to Hawthorne, Richard Anna Bishop, Rose and I set up camp next to the Hangar.

Got the stove going, took a shower while Rose set the table and minded the cooking, Spare ribs and a Casserole my Mom used to make (Noodles, onions, smoked ham chunks, milk and lots of swiss cheese) Desert homemade plumb pie.

We relaxed by candlelight sipping beer enjoying the stars, the quietness, the balmy clean air, nobody around, no mask and having a good conversation.

Karl

= = = = =

Sean Eckstein

There were 3 X/C flights this Saturday, C3, TW and myself, we all made it to Gabbs airport.

The weather for this weekend looked really good.

I got towed at 11:45 to the second ridge and headed out on course above 12k at 12:15. Arriving at 6k south of Backus, there was very little scratching. The desert was working and I found a nice thermal that took me to 9k.

The mountains heading north to Olancha peak were working good, but there was some virga just west of Olancha peak, and the Sierra mountains were all in shadow with virga. I got pushed off the range just south of Olanch peak but found good lift working my way north, then headed towards the Inyos.

There were great looking clouds on top of the Inyos and no lift out front so I had to work in close. I kept my speed up and made a couple of S-turns gaining good altitude. Once I had the altitude to make a safe 360 I was able to climb above 14k, and there was a great cloud street all the way to Boundary Peak.

I left Sheep mountain just south of White mountain peak above 17k towards Mina with a huge margin. I encountered a lot of sink on my glide, but as I arrived at Mina the valley was working. I headed towards Pilot peak, climbed from 11K to 15k and had an easy glide to Gabbs airport.

There was some virga west of Gabbs, and also to the east towards Austin. I decided to call it the day and landed at Gabbs.

I got broke down and my crew and I headed to Hawthorn to get a couple of rooms, and to be safe dinner was plastic wrapped sandwiches from the gas station.

Congratulations to Karl and his dedicated crew Rose for another diamond flight.

= = = = =

Richard Smolinski

Thanks to Chris who got me in the air by the 1220, and after a single house thermal that took me to 11.5K I was on my way through the desert.

I got to Pontius at 6500 and I after a shear line arrived it took me to 8500k that put Cal City in range. A little bump above the 14 freeway intersection got me up to 9500, and having Cal City in range I kept going toward Inyokern. Another thermal above a mountain took me to 10K and I had Inyokern in range , and some clouds on the horizon became my target. Little bumps kept me going until I reached the mountains near Inyokern, and I just slid onto the ridges looking for better thermals on the west side of mountains. It paid off very soon to 14K, and I used a cloud street to get to Lone Pine. I started crossing, then strong valley lift took me to 11k, and In few minutes I was climbing on the Whites where the real ride began. I got to cloud base with max forward speed, to 17K, and from White Mountain, go for Mina.

Mid-way, I found some weird lift with no clouds, just a steady 4 knots plus that took me to 18K, and I was on the way to Gabs with a lot of backup. I though of going to Austin, but decided to join the bunch at Gabbs AP to celebrate Karl’s achievement.
Great day and great company…

Let’s do it again.

GAIA’S OWN OVERSHOOT

As a distinctive place name, Coyote Flats is right up there with Deer Creek, Fish Lake and Pine Mountain. Seems there’s one of each in every local area. Coyote Flats airport, though, is unique. A mil-spec landing field exactly 10,000 feet above sea level hard beneath year-round snowcaps, it was highly obscure even in its heyday, and has now become forgotten trivia. After construction in 1958, it was officially closed and removed from sectional charts by the turn of the century, yet still lies there in the wilderness, tempting as ever even now.
Its original purpose, in that time of unlimited budgets, was not transportation or defense, but high altitude research and testing. Army, Air Force, Marines, and Forest Service all had turns at the place, so there must be rich info somewhere in official archives awaiting proper research. The most I’ve found so far is this one item on a website folks like us ought to be familiar with, Abandoned & Little-Known Airfields:
Nothing flashy, but draws you in the further you scroll. One surprise, forty some years ago this runway was paved. Imagine the logistics and cost, either hauling all that asphalt and equipment up miles of 4X4 roads, or airlifting it 6000 feet above the valley floor! Not a scrap of pavement there today.
How do I know? Do what I did and see for yourself. First, on Google Earth, locate 37.205, -118.478, and stimulate it so to speak. Then go there in the air and do it for real… Dare ya.
Anyone with the capability to reach Coyote Flats in soaring flight can easily make a low pass there, inspect the runway, and regain enough in the zoom to continue on. It’s a trick likely performed hundreds of times over the decades. My first try, a hay bale X at the north end loomed large on video, but that was it for seXy footage: a close-up of some hay bales! Having to glide farther than expected for lift and then work out a laborious save bought time to rethink the concept and deduce what’s outlined below, which for the price of only a little more altitude guarantees a jewelry box of bingo visuals you’ll never see any other way.
The key is to never pull up! (Well, except when you really need to now and then.) This is not a touch-and-go mind you, but an uultra long missed approach with more than one twist. Call it Gaia’s Own Overshoot. And its easy as falling into bed.
Coyote’s rectangular boundary is no longer well defined from aloft, but midfield surely is, and that’s your aim point. Approach SE to NW – runway 31 if there were numbers – and carry only a little more speed than usual. You shouldn’t need the extra punch, but may as well have it up your sleeve out of respect. Going too fast, on the other hand, shows a dangerous lack of respect! Simply fly a normal final until one breath before flare, then close spoilers, lock ‘em, and settle in for… mile after corrugated mile combing the gnarly nap of the good earth!
Even if you’ve already flown a zillion landings and more than your share of low passes, it still feels chez peculiar to neither land nor pull up. The closer you fly the more energy you’ll absorb, so use these first seconds as the runway slips behind to calibrate a careful blend of proximity and speed. You need something between, say, fifty knots at fifty feet AGL, or eighty knots at ten… Exceeding either only makes the effortless difficult; higher forfeits the power of ground effect and lower is downright deadly. From here on it’s mostly zen.
The overrun fades off, matching L/D for five hundred yards before a dry streamlet creases the surface, drawing everything a few degrees right. The little creek descends three hundred feet in its first mile, good for another knot or two, plus a bit more separation that’ll soon vanish spanning the next full mile, a swampy headwater nearly level but hardly smooth. The challenge is making yourself do nothing, holding steady as stone while the bird whispers on and on.
Margin narrows, eyes widen, and pucker begins to factor as you close on the brow of a wide bluff where the ground finally gives way, revealing panoramic Owens Valley. Even if you’ve managed to remain stupidly suitably down and dirty to this point, you still have twice the juice needed for your failsafe, Bishop airport. Only after exploring the entire mountainside at close range down to the 7000-ft profile out of sight below, need you pull away to find lift and set up another run. Think whole buckets of Silly Putty, your choice of flavor! (BTW, there’s no tow service at Bishop, so unless you do intend to dig it out and eventually soar home, the most sensible time for this caper is day’s end — and there’s no better way to finish any flight than flying the camera into your shadow, video on request😜)
This next leg is more like floating through the woods on skis than soaring in the sky, so long as you hold your speed down. You’re apt to have gathered a surprising amount of it by now and, honestly, it’s important to be SLOW at the top of this pitch. Don’t hesitate to crack spoilers, maybe circle back once, before… ‘jumping in’ as powder hounds say.
Suddenly ravines multiply and deepen between stony knolls, a tangled staircase that like all righteous ski runs, steepens halfway down. Where it plunges too fast, cut across the fall line, damping speed with traverses to hug your scratchy margin. Skip to adjacent ravines, or warily over and back in a ridgetop kind of dutch roll. Even turn uphill for a beat to contain the inertia, just don’t get sucked into a dead end!
As between trees or moguls, or on a chessboard, you’re always either two moves ahead or falling behind, and these aren’t fir boughs rushing by, they’re rocks. In this realm sky is not the limit, they are. When their pace exceeds yours, pop up like a retriever in high grass to reconnoiter, then swoop nose first into some other underbrush. Or not. The mountain merely sits, a sanguine Buddha, as ready to let you die as set you free. Both at once? Depends on thee.
It’s easy to lose yourself in this vertical labyrinth and even more fun when you do, ‘cause it won’t matter either way! All paths lead to wherever you happen to be when the altimeter nears 7000 and it’s time to bail. From there, Bishop is straight ahead easily in range, with height sufficient to hook any lift you find, climb all the way back up and go for another missed approach…
So, you in?

CROOKS AND NANNIES

News flash: turns out going for big numbers is not the only thing you can do in a modern sailplane. There’s no actual regulation requiring sacrifice of all other imperatives to a constant press for maximum distance or speed. It’s okay to slow up sometimes and smell the polemonium eximium (worth googling, trust me). Soaring avails so many things fun to do, and fascinating ways to play!

Compare your favorite kind of flight to a day in the wilderness. Could be a romantic stroll, a competition, an endurance test, or if you can afford it, profound contemplation on the nature of things; opportunity to experience immeasurable nuance in complex surroundings not accessible to everyday life. You can choose to be aggressive or passive, or anywhere between, but however you play it, what’s important is you’re HERE. As you become part of it, it becomes part of you.

And you don’t need to evade it by always climbing high as possible, either. Glider pilots tend to fixate on gobbling altitude any time they can, but why bother topping out when down below happens to be where the treasure is? If it’s a race to Timbuktu, you’ll probably win whether you fly fast or not. I’m more like a dog in the woods, distracted by urgent priorities that spring up along the way. Suddenly I’ll wanna see how close I can get to a peculiar formation in the back of some canyon, and forget about Timbuktu. Such blissful liberty may be impossible to enjoy, however, if instead you’re rushing to leave.

In all my journeys among pathless mountains, I am never lost.
Providence guides through every danger
and takes me to the truths I need to learn.

John Muir, in a letter to his mother

In coming weeks we’ll examine a cache of under-appreciated roadside attractions around the majestic Owens Valley, unique eye candies you have to get down with, ‘cause you’ll never even notice them from high overhead. Each of these has ground my speed to zero for giddy hours at a time on occasion, just because. I think of them as my own personal Crooks and Nannies. Old friends not seen for years, sad to say, but that’s alright. Knowing they’ll outlive us all kinda thaws that last remaining cockle in my heart.

Topping this all-star roster is California’s highest and bluest swimming hole, the always frigid Lake Tulainyo, elevation 12,818 ft. (coordinates: 36.60, -118.28)

Imagine being 2000 feet above timberline surrounded by giant unsolved Rubik’s cubes tossed into piles, an igneous funhouse sprinkled with archipelagos of jigsaw lakes in every shade of aqua from white to black. Amid this superreal stonescape Lake Tulainyo is set like a jewel in its hemispheric bowl, one shore up against the triangular face of a sheer pyramid beside a saddle of boulders so finely combed by countless snows they look smooth as suede. Around the lake’s other half curves a rib of frost-cracked granite you could straddle like a horse. One leg would dangle off a breath-sucking cliff, the other toward a dazzling cube of ice lolling gaily in the lake. Ah, summer in California! At the end of this semicircular rim is a square bench of level bedrock like the spout of a pitcher, a stone’s throw above the drink. Over millennia, how many Pleistocene cataracts have thundered across it into space? Today it’s dusty dry.

You may drive out nature with a pitchfork,
yet she’ll be constantly running back.

Horace, Roman poet (65–8 BC)

The blue emitting from this lake envelops everything it sees, pulling us in. Straight down from a diving turn we fall into our own reflection and level out to hurtle across the surface a cool 200 feet per second. Droves of glittering wavelets radiate from the berg as we chase our shadow toward that ledge, now above us. It looms ominous in foreclosing. Then… forward pressure released at the very crux frees wings to leap, flung between the uprights of a stone slingshot, slowing sensually as we loft away. Video on request!

We’re up and looking back in time to see a glassy stripe across the lake where our downwash suppressed those ripples, visible proof of ground effect framed by the parallel wakes of wingtip vortices. In seconds we watch newer ripples erase that signature forever — until we carve it there again. After all, nothing says good science like reproducible outcomes!

The real question is not how to get from here to Timbuktu, but how to get from Timbuktu to HERE.

MORE CROSS-COUNTRIES

JULY 4, 2020

Sean Eckstein, to Cima dry lake, 142 miles:

The July 4th weather looked good for a repeat of the Las Vegas to Arizona direction. If you could get past Clark mountain there would be good lift with cloud markers toward Arizona. The challenge would be getting to Las Vegas.
Lift in the mountains was a bit broken but allowed pilots to climb above 12k. The glide to Apple Valley was kind, and I caught a good thermal over the mine. Leaving Barstow around 9.7k toward Harvard, the air changed. It was the beginning of long stretches of sink, but there were a few good thermals that kept both Richard (TW) and myself pushing forward.
I climbed to 9.7k in the mountains south of Baker and headed toward the towers to the NE, where I found lots of sink, and when I doubled back to Baker there was even stronger sink. I ended up directly over Baker airport around 5.5k just in time for a thermal to break off and take me to 10k. As I was climbing I could hear Richard (TW) commenting on the sink heading toward the towers, and amazingly, commenting on the sink as he headed back to Baker.
With good altitude again, I chose to take a different direction, keeping to the SE of the mountains with the towers and Hwy 15, where there is gently climbing terrain with a few foot hills. There I found less sink. For the glide to Cima at the base of Clark mountain I had enough margin, but strong sink had me watching my sink rate and altitude closely.
Gliding towards Cima, I didn’t encounter the strong sink, or any thermals. By now the clouds past Clark mountain were gone, and it had taken me 4 hr. 45 min. just to reach Cima. After basking in the blazing heat of Baker (108°) and with the clouds gone I was ready to land.
I circled Cima field looking it over and chose my aim and touch down point, and set up a pattern. When I touched down I had to back off breaking because the soil was really soft, and I came to the shortest roll out I think I’ve ever had.

Richard Smolinski, to Baker, CA — 15 miles:

Not much to add to the report from Sean.
I tried to reach Cima 3 times and was shut down with sink on both. One time it was 18kt down. Impressive.
The day was getting late and I tried the east side, but thermals were like bubbles appearing and disappearing with no consistency.
Finally I decided to land in Baker (now I know why they name that place this way) in 120F temp.
Planned to have burger and cold drink with Sean and Peter, but here was another booo. All restaurants closed there, so we headed home.
Good thing: I learned new ways, and put another new landing place on my list..