Mountains don’t seem to mind anything we do, but they always insist we do something. After finishing our silly slalom run with no scratched pylons, the smart money would pull up in the very lift we’d been limping toward these last many miles and work that spur back to the top. Those friskies we felt on its south side were budding thermlets, capillary roots of an invisible blue monster no doubt roaring overhead. Smoothness on the north side was an equally obvious warning to steer clear. I knew these facts, so surely that turning the wrong way made me grimace. Then why do it, you ask? Blame crook number one.

No, blame me. Only tried to steal a peek, but it was already too late. I had rocks on the brain, and neglected several fundamentals of mountain soaring I’d taught for decades. Even prolific terrain will be of no use if it’s above you, and that sheer face I’d been lusting after now stands entirely above us. Air that lifts you must come from below, duh, and everything beneath our new objective is blanked by the larger spur we just left. Even worse, big canyons are storm drains where mountains shed their sink, and this one I’ve put us in happens to be the biggest around…

The ventilation chills noticeably in this flush. Our headlong dive and 2-G zoomie toward the far wall produce an E-Ticket ride, old school. In seconds we’re washed up against an incline like the flying buttress of a vast cathedral, lower still. Careful what you lech for.

Yet even eighty miles from home… no, especially eighty miles from home, coaxing a glider hand over hand up big steeps has got to be the most fun you can have on this planet. If there’s lift, that is. We begin with a tentative duckwalk, straddling a spine in tight little figure-8s resembling shoelaces looped over both sides of a foot. And to the amazement of all, it works as well here as back home!

Scootching hup this roughest of bannisters becomes our first actual climb in most of an hour. Cause for revelry? Not unless we want to jinx it. (For the superstitious this single decision could be the shrewdest of any flight; to the rational it might mean nothing. What does that tell us? Don’t answer yet.)

Either way, the neat little duckwalk recoups our losses, topping the buttress at 10,000 feet, a false summit underlooking the naked bedrock of Olancha’s entire southeast face. Topography like the backs of those armored dinosaurs, vertical ranks of crenelated battlements, knuckles and knobs, and between them dark shafts like trees standing dead too long. Grab a branch to haul yourself up and the whole limb breaks off.

Soaring is at its best a mental exercise, and nowhere more than here. Yet conceptually our challenge is simple. Choose routes that pass over the most exposed outcrops, not beside them, and avoid those hidden in shade. Having few choices means fewer over which to fret. Meanwhile though, interrelated factors morph continually from point to point, and nothing is certain but gravity.

Fifteen, twenty traverses we venture across this scarp, some long, many short. Amazing how different each can be. Even the luckiest gambler drops a hand sometimes. One extended series we see the same teetering boulder from lower a second pass, then from much higher the third. Why? An open secret the ‘big boys’ never mention is the subtle advantage that a hair more speed buys for higher performance ships. Where shuffling slowly through patches of variable junk nets incremental loss, the same path a couple knots quicker, dolphining gently, might yield a worthy gain. Again, just like back home!

Finally high enough to peer over the crest from a thousand feet under the peak, fixing to dive across, circumambulate the summit and top out at last. Now may we celebrate? Glance straight uphill as if to implore Gaia… and if not strapped in I jump right out of my seat. Never been one to see whimsical images in clouds or rock formations; sacred portraits on toast make me laugh. But I must confess, an anatomically correct fifty-foot leopard staring down at you while you’re airborne can induce a gasping double take.

Voila! Crook number two. Turns out it’s an undisclosed landmark venerated by only the few soaring pilots who know it’s there, affectionately dubbed The Cat. Coordinates: 36.2625, -118.1170 (four decimals may seem cartographic overkill, but they put you right on the spot). A tortured crag really no different from others, rendered by chance in classic art deco style like the iconic Oscar statuette, this granite feline really does seem poised to pounce!

Soaringwise, not much to do here but glide by at close range and admire nature’s artistry. Take a long look and a blurry picture, memorize how to find it next time, then be ready to move on. We of course try for a second pass and shoot ourselves in the other foot. The indifferent lee-side breeze that got us here curls under as mountain air always will, and it’s time to scram pronto. While we’re cutting our next hard one-eighty downwind into sink, the Cat dissolves into its gunmetal camouflage as if never there. Another case of you asked for it. But hey, this latest self-defoot catches us half a mile higher than the last one. A kind of progress, you could say.

So, do we take our meager winnings (ass in hand) and run for daylight? Nah, it being still me at the helm, let’s angle down across where we just came from, hug those same rocks ‘cause it’s too fun to quit, and second-look the route in case there’s ever a next time.

Don’t be ridiculous, there’s always a next time! Others may have sped a hundred miles while we were fooling around down here, but we’ve bagged a priceless hour of intensive air work and lurid video that cruising high in booming lift can never match. Heck of a bargain.

Shooting back across the false summit atop our lowly duckwalk, we turn the corner scarcely any higher after all this, but now with a full load of speed… pointed straight at crook number three. Video on request 😯


Congratulations this week go to Michael Freed who flew his first glider solo!

Moving now into late summer, we can expect each day this coming week to be about the same. Temps ninety-something and moderate southwesterly wind, stronger each afternoon. Blue thermals good to great (no guarantee how high), and if a south wind picks up, shearline in the desert and maybe wave.


Sean Eckstein:

My turn to fly again, Peter has been nursing a back problem for the last few weeks.

This Saturday looked good for a long flight, the weather blip maps showed there would be high altitudes all along the route, and also some weather to deal with.

I got air born at 11:15 thanks to Chis. I took a high tow because the mountains were mostly in shadow, and the light grayish clouds that were developing were looking like they would soon let loose with some virga. I climbed above 13k and headed toward the upwind leading edge of the clouds on course. As I was leaving the mountains the cloud above me let loose with some heavy rain but I was close enough to the edge I didn’t loose much altitude.

Gliding across the desert was very smooth, but I made good time with the tailwind. Arriving at Silver queen at 7k there still wasn’t a bump, not even a teaser bump. I could see all the clouds in the mountains straight ahead just out of reach, and only one wind turbine turning on the desert floor indicating lift. I flew toward it hoping there would be a thermal, and as I arrived it stopped. (Murphy’s law) Luckily there was still lift that allowed me to get into the mountains.

I climbed above 11k close to Cache peak and headed toward Kelso airstrip in the high ground. The hills SW of Kelso had virga and I ran into some heavy sink until I connected with a thermal east of Kelso, climbing above 13k.

From Kelso to Olanch peak was a blast, strong thermals, cloud streets with no turning required. The Sierras ahead had heavy virga and pilots were reporting some lighting. I left Olanch peak above 15k and angled across the valley towards the Inyos arriving just below 12k.

The Inyos were working great. I connected with a thermal, climbed above 15k and headed to Westgard pass. Now heading toward the Whites I could see some virga, easily avoidable by staying on the west side of the cloud street. Arriving at Boundary peak above 17k, I had to avoid some virga and pick my path toward Mina.

On course to Mina I kept looking toward the west, it was solid gray, and I couldn’t see any sunlight reaching the ground. To the NE was clear and sunny with more good weather. Arriving at Mina I had Gabbs made and headed head toward Pilot’s peak hoping I could connect with a cloud and take a straight line towards Austin. Well that didn’t work, and now I’m lower.

I decided rather than risk a sure thing, Gabbs, I better head towards a small line of decent looking clouds in the hills north on Luning dry lake. The virga to the west was not an issue yet and was moving very slow. I worked a thermal that took me from 12k to above 17k, I had Gabbs made and altitude to try to work my way past Gabbs.

With everything in shadow, gliding toward Gabbs was smooth as expected. Once I arrived at Gabbs I looked toward Fritzs dry lake which I had enough altitude to reach. Smiths and Fritz dry lake were in the sun, but the hills north of Fritz had a line of Virga, and I would need more altitude to make Austin. I didn’t want to land on Fritz with the chance of a gust front, so I pulled spoilers and landed at Gabbs at 5:27.

Temperatures during my flight were very comfortable, I kept my vents closed most of the flight because being at cloud base in shadow got cool. A big thank you to Peter (6PK) for driving during the heat wave, over 100° on the ground.


Richard Smolinski:

Day looked interesting from the beginning.

Thanks to Julie and Chris to get me in to air around 11:30 just ahead of the rain that start when I was taking off.

I got to Mt. Lewis and started my claim but was interrupted by thunderstorm coming from the east. I made mistake going west and it caused me to end up at 10K on Lewis again. Big loss of time.

I got up to 14.5K and start the desert hop. On the way not even a bump. Get to Silver Queen at 7K and after making another 1k, head up toward mountains with nice clouds on top.

Another little lift by Cross Mt. got me to 9k and keep moving north. At Smugglers, finally got to 12k and keep going toward Inyokern. North of Owens peak lift got me to 16K and overdevelopment start growing so I made my jump to Whites by Lone Pines. Conditions were excellent. I climb to 16k and start racing Whites toward north. Lots of Virga and other gliders on the way.

Past White mountain and seeing that weather deteriorate fast, I decide to go toward Mina before reaching Boundary Peak. There was Virga coming from the north and from the south so I sped up. Unfortunately I got pulled into the clouds and hit hard by hail and rain, and after10 minutes have to dive to the deck feeling ice start building up on the controls. I lost few thousand but made it to the sun part. Behind me a wall of clouds.. Got to Mina at 11k and kept racing Virga from the south east. Finally decided that with margin of 2K it was not worth the risk to push forward to Gabs.

I needed to wait out wall of dust storm on the ground, and my crew warn me about strong gusts on the ground, so I waited it out and finally landed.


This past week for us was all about the crazy weather, fires and fire fighting aircraft flying near our field. Hope you’re all staying cool out there!

We’re still scheduling through e-mail request. If you have a Schedule Pointe account please check availability first (for Fri/Sat/Sun) then e-mail us your reservation request. Include your cell number. Do not schedule reservations yourself, until further notice.

Please bring a mask and your own water with you to our field!

After a month of cloudless WX, last week debuted our usual late summer ‘monsoon’ period. Classic thunderstorm activity brought rapid changes in wind and temperature, hot calm spells feeding big buildups and cold gust fronts from sudden downdrafts.

The pattern has continued, and probably will through the coming week, monsoonish humidity (haze), and every afternoon the chance of a spectacular shower. Remember to say a prayer for fire season!

Stay safe and healthy and wishing you good spirits,
The Soaring Academy Crew