Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Three Amazing Days in the Owens

Mitch Riley and me at Benton Station - 100 miles from launch at Walt's
September flying in the Owen's Valley has been an occasional high point in my XC flying, over the years.  My first weekend in the Owens was in 2006 during my first season of XC flying on an old Sport 2.  I did my best to make goal each day, falling a few miles short, but flying 191 kilometers in the two flights.  Seeing the Sierras from the East side, while the sun set during my final glide to Independence made my weekend.  Setting two days of personal bests was gravy.

Flash froward to 2012.  The XC season had seen US records and state records fall so often that no one knew the 'latest' record. Meanwhile, because I had been unable to attend many comps this season, and the one's that I had attended had been skunked by winds or just unstellar conditions, my XC numbers for the year were the worst since 2006.  I went to Bishop with the hope that I could rekindle my excitement for the flying that had been my passion for many years.


I had planned to fly the NorCal XC league weekend Sept. 29-Nov. 1, but I met Jug and Steve on Tuesday night to do some flying before the league meet.  

Wed. we went to Walt's for a nice flight along the Sierras.  It was a rather low day, with climbs topping at 12,000' for the first 40 miles.  I landed in Bishop for a flight of 108 kilometers - 67 miles.
My flight can be viewed HERE 

100 Miler

photo by Sergei Gridnev
Thurs. we went again to Walt's.  Today I hoped to make "The Crossing."  After launching from Walt's, flying 50 miles North to Big Pine, then crossing from the West side of the Owens to the White Mountains on the East.  This would allow continuation of the flight North for additional miles towards the Nevada border. 

I launched early and headed out as soon as I hit cloudbase.  I never saw anyone else ahead of me, until I landed 6 hours later.  The flight along the Sierra went well, a bit higher in the climbs, and was quicker than the preceding flight a day earlier.  Abeam Big Pine, I pondered how to do the crossing.  I made the decision to cross (in retrospect) a bit too far along the courseline, which put me on a crosswind glide.  If I had begun the crossing to fly directly over Big Pine, I believe it would have been a quicker and much easier crossing.  As it was, I had to make a save from 600' AGL over "Big Ears" to get onto Black Mountain and continue my journey along the Whites.  The climbs were very sporty with some averaging over 1200'/min.  The winds above 12,000' were slightly East which created some interesting mixing near the tops of the climbs.  At times, just keeping the wing open was a full time job.  

click for larger view

The flying along the White Range was straight-forward with moments of excitement due to that pesky East aloft.  Once I reached the Northern end of the Whites it was decision time.  Head out into the boonies for 120+ miles with the prospect of a long, possibly very late retrieve (we had no one to drive and I didn't know the location of the other guys) or land in Benton for 100 miles and drink beer while hitching home. . .  Beer suck won out again.  To actually hit 100 miles I continued North until I saw 160K and then returned to Benton.  I was amazed to see another wing in the LZ.   Hot-shit it's Mitch!

As it turned out, Mitch had been stalking me for 100 miles!  I hate to admit it but I never saw him in the 6 hours we flew within 10 miles of each other.  This flight was a personal best for both of us.  It was great to clink beer cans at Benton Station in celebration of our great day.
 My flight can be viewed HERE

9 Mile
Friday we met up with Dean, Josh, Jimmy and a host of many other pilots at an obscure, launch that I would not recommend to the faint of heart.  The launch is about a 600' hike-up to a low angle bowl.  There is no LZ to speak of.  Anyone who doesn't get up is looking at a 5500' sidehill landing with the incumbent issues with rocks, cacti, and density altitude. . .

If you get up though, it's fantastic because all the standard routes that begin at Walt's are now 40 miles longer.  We launched at 10:30 am and I was cruising by Walt's at 12:30 with 5 more hours to fly.  Unfortunately the proceeding two days (11 hours) of flying hit me at around 5 hours and I was completely wonked.  I saw Big Pine and that became my destination, for 98 miles.
My flight can be viewed HERE

Three days in the Owens - 16:20 flight time - 275.5 miles.  I was stoked - and whooped.

Thanks to Jug and Steve for cajoling me into coming up early.  Thanks also to Mitch and Laurie for their enthusiasm and generosity.  It's a pleasure to hang out in the boonies with people of that caliber.