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Colorado to California – Backcountry Skiing

April, 2014

My last blog post was the windy flight to Salt Lake City for a meeting. Well, after the meeting I had a choice. Fly home, or fly on to Colorado to meet some friends in Vail, Colorado for skiing. I decided to fly on.

The weather wasn’t that great, lots of clouds with tops around 14,000 feet. I don’t have de-icing on my plane so I have to be very careful in the clouds. There was only scattered snow showers around, so I knew there wasn’t a lot of moisture in the clouds. I decided I would be OK for a short while in the clouds, but wouldn’t put my self in a situation where I would be in them for a long time.

What I did was fly VFR clear of clouds and found a way up through them and flew above the clouds to Vail. The clouds got higher, and I ended up at 15,500 feet to stay on top of them. I called up and got on an IFR flight plan for the descent into Vail Eagle airport. That was fun, though a bit intense – too intense to get any photos. The GPS approach starts about 14,000 feet, and you wind your way between mountains on your way down, and in my case in and out of clouds and through some light snow showers. For me, very thrilling! There was only a fine dusting of ice on my wings, so no problem there.

I had a great backcountry day at Vail Pass while I waited for my friends to show up, then a great day skiing at Vail. I flew out before weather came in, which also meant I missed some good powder skiing. But I flew home to Betsy, and we had a great backcountry ski day by skiing off the backside of June Mountain (and up through the hourglass to San Joaquin Mountain.)

Interesting that the photos from Colorado and California are similar:

Colorado Backcountry, Vail Pass

Colorado Backcountry, Vail Pass

Fresh Colorado tracks

Fresh Colorado tracks

California Backcountry (San Joaquin Mountain)

California Backcountry (San Joaquin Mountain)

California fresh tracks

California fresh tracks

Betsy on top.  Ritter Range in distance.

Betsy on top. Ritter Range in distance.

Windy, Gusty Flight to Salt Lake City

April, 2014



The above was the wind component of the weather report for Salt Lake City airport for much of the day as I waited in my California hangar for the wind to die down.  Deciphered, it reads, wind from 310 degrees blowing at 36 knots, gusting to 48 knots.  Later I learned peak gusts hit 60 knots and blew a chartered Pilatus off the runway.  Heck, my stall speed is less than 58 knots, which means my plane starts to fly at 58 knots, which means my plane and a lot of other small planes would fly away without a pilot in 60 knot winds (they usually don’t fly far).


So I waited.


The weather forecast was guessing that the winds would start to die down between 6 and 7 pm, so I took off at 4:00 pm, about 2 hours flight away.  The winds were still strong at SLC, so I was really hoping the forecast was right.  As I got closer, I became anxious as the ground below me was literally getting blown away in a dust storm.  As you can imagine, the ride was not smooth, and I slowed down to maneuvering speed (turbulence penetration speed) for the last 100 miles.  I didn’t mind slowing down because it gave the winds time to die down as it got closer to sunset.


Fortunately the winds were only 20 to 30 degrees off the nose the airplane coming down final.  At that point the winds had died down somewhat, but were still blowing 25 knots, gusting to 35.  That is at the surface, and typically the winds are much stronger aloft, and sure enough when I powered down as normal when on final approach, it was taking forever to get to the runway and I was getting low.  My airspeed was normal at 100 knots, but my GPS groundspeed was 55 knots!  I powered back up to get to the runway.


Thankfully it was a long runway at SLC International airport, so I was able to take my time and push in rudder (my right foot) to straighten the plane out (I had approached in a severe crab), then use ailerons (your control wheel) to drop the upwind left wing down, slicing into the wind and literally causing the plane to land on one wheel.  As the plane slows and stops flying, I kept turning the control wheel left to put downward pressure on that upwind wing so that the wind wouldn’t catch it and flip the plane or push it off the runway.  I slowed to a crawl and limped over to parking, thankful it was over.


However my day wasn’t completely over.  In my focus on flying, I had forgot my suit jacket in my car.  My meeting was at 9:00 the next morning and it was an important one.  Fortunately, Google maps showed me the way to Macys, which didn’t close until 9:00 pm.  Problem solved and I made one lonely Macy’s salesperson very happy. 

Sandstorm down below - not what you want to see

Sandstorm down below – not what you want to see


SLC HDR2 (Large)

Glad to be on the ground in Salt Lake City

Crater Lake Photo Sphere

March, 2014

Lee at LightHawk pointed me to Google’s Photo Spheres, which are pretty much like Google’s street view where you can turn around, look up, down, etc. except you can create your own.  Creating your own usually means using your Android phone with an app and turning around in circles.

It seemed possible to do one with an airplane.  Well, it turns out you can, but it was a lot harder than it looks.  First, I tried to do one near Mt. Baker, Washington near South Twin mountain.  I used my motor driven mount to do a 360 degree pan while I flew between North and South Twin.  But that doesn’t give it enough up/down resolution for a Photo Sphere.  You can see it turned out pretty cool, but it doesn’t do a complete, seamless 360.

Views: South Twin by Ney Grant

So, next I flew over Crater Lake (on the way home) and did a 360 with the plane, except this time I didn’t use the motor mount.   I wagged the wing up and down in order to capture a lot more area as I did the 360.  Later, on the computer, I created a composite photo consisting of more than 60 individual photos.  It didn’t turn out perfect, but not bad.  Click on “View Larger Map”, then zoom in, out and pan around.  Its pretty cool.

Table Mountain: Climb, Hike and Fly-over

March, 2014

Even with the low snow year it is difficult to find a good place to climb during mid-winter that is out of the snow.  I did some research and came up with Table Mountain near Jamestown, California, home of the Grotto, a wonderfully strange climbing spot that is very much like a grotto than a wall.  You are surrounded by three walls, one of which has  hexagon structure to it.  Belyn, our daughter, led a stunning climb up the hexagon wall.

That was on a Sunday, and coincidentally enough, I had a meeting scheduled in Santa Monica and that meant flying down the foothills and on down to the LA area.  I decided to do a flyover of Table Mountain and check it out from the air.  It was interesting to see the two vantage points – one from the hike across Table Mountain, and one from a few thousand feet above it.

By the way, you don’t have to be a climber to enjoy Table Mountain.  Apparently the wildflowers in the spring are beautiful, and views from top are wonderful.

Belyn Grotto2 (Large)

Belyn Leading

Hiking on top of Table Mountain

Hiking on top of Table Mountain

Flying over Table Mountain

Flying over Table Mountain




How to Start an Avalanche

February, 2014

First, this isn’t quite a stupid as it looks. Kinda dumb though.

Dropping a cornice is a known way to test the avalanche conditions in the backcountry if you don’t have dynamite like ski patrol does. There are some safe ways to do it, including sawing through it with a knotted rope or cutting it with a snow saw on a ski pole. You can kick if off, but you should be on a roped belay because you can’t really be sure where it is going to break. In fact, I was clearly surprised when this one broke right at my foot.

However the consequences here where not going to be that great. Here is a shot an hour later near the top of Mt. Ralston, and I didn’t go anywhere near that cornice!

A Cornice I didn't kick off

A Cornice I didn’t kick off

You can see it really break right at the ski.

You can see it really did break right at the ski.

This illustrates Ande's intelligence is higher than mine.

We didn’t want Ande there, but once there he sat for photos.

Star Peak – A Great Day Not to Fly

February, 2014

As the old saying goes, “Its much better to be on the ground wishing you were flying than in the air wishing you were on the ground”.

We drove out to the Humboldt Range in Nevada to climb the highest in the range, Star Peak.  We should be skiing but there just isn’t any snow around.    It was forecast to be a windy day so we drove out there, and windy it was!  It had to be 90 mph or more at the top.  In fact, we didn’t even make it the last little bit to the top because we feared for our dogs eyes with the screaming wind and stinging bits of ice hitting us.

Other than a long night on Mt. McKinley with Betsy many years ago, I’ve never experienced winds like this.  Well, except for sticking my hand out the window of the plane.  I am SO glad we didn’t fly out there.

The dark clouds above were just screaming by.

The dark clouds above were just screaming by.


Uh oh.  Dust storm coming.  Its going to get even windier.

Uh oh. Dust storm coming. Its going to get even windier.

Bodie pointed into the wind.

Bodie pointed into the wind.


Whoops. Ande stuck his head up and almost flipped over.  Time to go home.

Whoops. Ande stuck his head up and almost flipped over. Time to go home.







Best GoPro Videos of 2013

January, 2014

As a follow up to my “best of photos”, I’ve gone through my videos and selected the best, in my opinion, of 2013.  First, you can see all my videos on vimeo at my video page:

Here are my picks for the best of 2013:

I can’t help but put this at the top, it is pretty obvious it means a lot to me – it also got me into being a presenter at Osh Kosh and free gear from GoPro and others:

In Celebration of 100 Flying Adventures

This one gets a lot of attention because of the swivel mounted camera. I wanted a song with a strong beat – and I got it – but I know its a little strong for some.

GoPro Aerial Tour of the West – Flying over Mountains, Valleys, Coastline and Deserts

I like this one because it tells a story, and its an attempt at some humor. It helps if you are a kayaker, but hopefully you’ll laugh regardless.

California Kayakers Do Idaho

The rest are here because they are among my favorite moments and memories of the past year:

Fly, Bike, Ski Expedition to Ellery Bowl – A first Ascent?

Baja Whale Petting at San Ignacio Lagoon

Narrated “Scary” Flight To Schafer Meadows USFS Airstrip

Like adventures with dogs? Check out our faithful (like, go-anywhere-faithful) companions Bodie and Ande:

Bodie and Ande Climb Mt Agassiz

Bodie and Ande Go Canyoneering (Hiking in Utah Canyons)

Bodie and Ande Ski a Mountain


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