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Markleeville Fall Colors

October, 2014

There are two river hikes from Alpine County airport in Markleeville – a hard hike to the hot springs along the river and a much shorter one.  I’ve done the hot springs hike and it is a very tough cross country five mile hike.  But I had never done the more straightforward hike down to the river.

It is far easier than I thought.  I had heard there was a “fishermen’s trail” to the river which I equated to something like a game trail but there is a nice trail with a parking area and sign-in log for fishermen who use the trail.  To get to the trail, head south out off the pilot’s campground and down a four-wheel drive road to the parking area.  There I met some fishermen getting ready for the hike in and they asked if I came in the red jeep, the only other vehicle in the area.  I said no, I came in a tan Cessna and they thought that was hilarious, which was nice because I wasn’t even trying to be funny.  They asked if I could do a beer drop for them later in the day.  The trail starts at the parking area and ends at a campsite with fire pit at the river.  It can’t be more than a mile and a half total, maybe less.

The fall colors were nice, a few fishermen were out and a group of friendly pilots where camping at the airport.  A nice day out.

East Fork Carson River

East Fork Carson River

A leaf

A leaf

Red goes to the river, yellow to the hot springs (bring a GPS, its a long way)

Red goes to the river (easy), yellow to the hot springs (bring a GPS, its a long way)

 

The King Fire: We Almost Burn

October, 2014

We got close, very close to losing our house.  An arson started a fire near our home town of Pollock Pines.  When the rains finally put it out weeks later almost 100,000 acres had burned and the fire set records for the number of resources and the number of retardant drops.

A few days after it started I was returning from a business trip so I stayed at 12,500 feet, well above the fire TFR to show our myself and our neighbors what we had been hearing – that the fire was burning down-canyon and away from us.  We felt some relief.

 

Our house is way to the right and not in the photo.  Terrible fire, but so far we are safe.

Our house is way to the right and not in the photo. Terrible fire, but so far we are safe.

Another view of the flame front

Another view of the flame front

Whoops, not so fast.  The winds shifted and all of sudden we were in danger.  The fire made one run at us and we were given an hour to evacuate on Monday evening. I had actually decided to jog out to the edge of the canyon to take a look and luckily I was smart enough to take the hand-held scanner with me.  Part way there I heard them give the command to evacuate our neighborhood, saying that if the fire jumped highway 50, they would not be able to stop it.  I turned around and sprinted home, then started throwing stuff (we had pre-packed stuff on the front deck) into vehicles.  The fire had roared up the canyon to Camp 5, a canal maintenance camp below us near highway 50.  However the firefighters successfully kept the fire from jumping the canal.

The next day I snuck back in even though technically we were still under evacuation orders.  I listened in fascination to the aerial fire-fighting channels as they used DC-10s, DC-8s, S-2s and other attack craft along with over 20 helicopters.

Pryocumulus clouds from Safeway store in Pollock Pines

Pryocumulus clouds from Safeway store in Pollock Pines

From the road I live on.  Not looking good.

From the road I live on. Not looking good.

At one point I went down to the end of a spur road (Crystal Summit Drive) in our neighborhood and the smoke was thick and it was obvious the fire was close. The fixed-wing guys couldn’t work it because of the smoke but there was a constant stream of helicopters.  But it was dusk and they couldn’t fly much longer.

Nothing but smoke...

Nothing but smoke a few yards from highway 50. Time to go.

The sheriff came through out neighborhood again to make sure everyone was out, but we were gone by then.  One neighbor that stayed until dark said there were sparks flying above the trees and a red glow filled the sky. He emailed everyone to say he didn’t think our homes would be there by morning and then he fled.

The firefighters had 35 engines practically bumper-to-bumper down on highway 50 and they battled all night, at times fighting a crown fire fully engulfing the trees.  The fire jumped the highway several times and they put it out.  They lit backfires to try to burn out the undergrowth.   They sprayed each other to keep cool.  They pumped water out of the canal and water was flowing inches deep in places on highway 50.  They dropped trees that were on fire back down-canyon into the fire.  They overflew with planes equipped with infrared and recorded hot spots in our neighborhood.  It sounded like it was a full-blown battle and they won.

When it comes to protecting structures and homes these guys are truly amazing.  Wow.

Had the fire jumped the highway and took hold our neighborhood would be gone, there isn’t any doubt.  Perhaps a few homes would still stand, but not the trees.  This was driven home by the fact that they dug a fuel break behind our neighborhood.  If the fire jumped 50 they were going to run back behind our neighborhood and try to make another stand there.

We couldn’t “re-populate” for 4 more days but the fire at our end of the fire area was pretty burned out and we felt that unless the wind shifted again we were safe.  A few days after that I had a business meeting so I took these photos on the way out:

Our neighborhood is right above the two large white buildings along lower edge.

Our neighborhood is right above the two large white buildings along lower edge.

Pollock Pines

Pollock Pines

 

Nothing but smoke...

Nothing but smoke…

At the end of our driveway.

At the end of our driveway.

A neighbor blew up one of my photos and put it on a poster-board.  She drew a line to each house and we all were able to say our sincere thanks on the huge thank you card.  We found out later they showed the “thank you card” at the morning King Fire briefing at fire camp.  Really cool.  And easier than baking 8,000 brownies, one for each firefighter.

North Ridge of Mt. Conness

September, 2014

We’ve spent a lot time on the east side of the Sierras this summer and soon I’ll have to get the blog caught up on some of the flights and activities.  Betsy and I had a great time climbing the north ridge of Mt. Conness and I thought my friend Graeme would enjoy it also.  I was already camping at Lee Vining with my plane for another flight (which I’ll share) so Graeme showed up with his car for the ride up to Saddlebag Lake where we got the last campsite.

We got a good “alpine start” at 4:30 am and reached the climb at 7:30, which gave us plenty of time to enjoy the fun ridge climbing and get to the top by lunch time.  It was cold and windy but lot of fun.

I was worried about the wind because I had to fly home that afternoon. You can see from the shot of Mono Lake it was indeed windy.  Luckily the cross wind take-off wasn’t too bad.  Because of the wind I headed south to Mammoth Pass and up to 12,500 feet so I wouldn’t get rocked too badly.  It turned out to be a good plan and the turbulence was manageable.

Dawn

Dawn

The north ridge of Mt. Conness.

The north ridge of Mt. Conness.

Kicking back.   I figured that rock had been there a long time and probably wasn't going anywhere.

Kicking back. I figured that rock had been there a long time and probably wasn’t going anywhere.

You can see the rope being blown by the wind.

You can see the rope being blown by the wind.

Wind pattern on Mono Lake

Wind pattern on Mono Lake

 

A Year in Tahoe: Video

August, 2014

I’m working on a writing project and needed a video on Lake Tahoe.  I didn’t actually “need” one, but it would be nice and I knew I had a bunch of footage laying around from taking friends up for rides, while testing my video setup and because we live and play in the area.

Enjoy:

 

Centurion/Sprinter Journey: High Mountain Access

August, 2014

We did our first combo-trip using the Sprinter as an airport car.  In fact, at the time of this writing it is now parked about 100 NM from home as the Cessna flies, or almost 175 miles via roads.  Next weekend we’ll fly and pick it up for another adventure, and maybe leave it at another airport.

This trip Betsy drove the van to Lee Vining while I shopped, wasted time and generally took my time before I took off nearly 2.5 hours later than she did.  As I was downwind Betsy was turning onto Airport Road.  We then drove the van up to Tuolumne Meadows were for the first time in years we actually had actual campsite reservations for the ever-popular Tuolumne meadows campsite, but when getting to our camp we discovered someone had poached it and occupied it.  No problem, they fessed up right away and were nice about it, and since we were staying in the van and then leaving at 3:30 in the morning anyway, we let them stay.

We got the early start to do the North Ridge of North Peak, and then climbed the North Ridge of Mt. Conness.  All in all a fantastic day in the mountains.

First climb the left-most ridge then up and to the next ridge.

First climb the left-most ridge then up and over to the next ridge ending near right of photo.

Rendezvous

Rendezvous at Lee Vining

North Peak at Dawn

North Peak at Dawn

Betsy on Ridge

Betsy on Ridge

Occasionally use of Rope when needed

Occasionally use of rope when needed

Very fun and exposed

Very fun and exposed

 

 

The Ideal Airport Car: A Sportsmobile Sprinter

July, 2014

Betsy and I like to drive or fly to the east side of the Sierra Nevada for climbing and hiking adventures.  We’ve camped, slept in the plane and in hotels.  But last Fall we decided to get an adventure van.  Sure, it will go places on its own, but we also plan to use it as a mobile airport car – for example we’ll use it in the Bishop area for climbing, then fly home and leave it for a week, returning to use it again the next weekend.

At least that is the plan.

This post is a pictorial story of how we got and built the van.  We flew down to San Jose on January 1st and bought an empty cargo van.  We played with it for a few months (added tires, suspension, painted part of it, added graphics, lights, etc.).  Betsy designed a custom interior and then the van went to Sportsmobile West for almost 4 months for the build-out.  On July 3rd we final got our new van.

Here’s the story:

Betsy walking over from airport to buy van.  I don't think many people walk in without a vehicle and buy one.

Betsy walking over from airport to buy van. I don’t think many people walk in without a vehicle and buy one.

Pick your color

Pick your color

Pretending it's a camper van

Pretending it’s a camper van

Belyn adding vinyl graphics we designed to lower panel

Belyn adding custom design vinyl graphics to lower panel

 

It's a rope.  Awww - how cute.

It’s a rope. Awww – how cute.

OK, too cute.  Back down guys.

OK, too cute.

Painting some panels black (too much white)

Painting some panels black (too much white)

On a business trip I stopped by Aluminess to get front bumper rack

On business trip I stopped by Aluminess to get front bumper rack

 

Larger more aggressive tires and powder coated black rims (and heavy duty shocks/suspension)

Larger more aggressive tires and powder coated black rims (and heavy duty shocks/suspension)

Still pretending its a camper van but not yet

Still pretending its a camper van but its not – yet.

Prewire for lights before going into Sportsmobile.

Prewire for lights before going into Sportsmobile.

From Sportsmobile (SMB) factory: Cutting out windows

From Sportsmobile (SMB) factory: Cutting out windows

SMB photo: Paneling and wiring in.

SMB photo: Paneling and wiring in.

Shower stall, cabinets going in.

Shower stall, cabinets going in.

We flew to get delivery of the completed van.  I felt a little bad for the plane, but we'll still do plenty of trips in it!

We flew to get delivery of the completed van. I felt a little bad for the plane, but we’ll still do plenty of trips in it!

Finally, its done. Ande likes it.

Finally, its done. Ande likes it.

Bodie likes the storage under the bed.

Bodie likes the storage under the bed.

First weekend at Sonora Pass to check everything out.

Sportsmobile Sprinter. First weekend at Sonora Pass to check everything out.

Interior.  Designed for windows, not counter space.

Interior. Designed for windows, not counter space.

Front seats swivel, and a table can be set up in "living area".

Front seats swivel, and a table can be set up in “living area”.

This is what it is all about!

Turns it is a magic van too. We no longer have to hike to climbs – it just takes us there.

 

 

Cliff Dweller’s Airstrip and Soap Creek Wash River Hike

July, 2014

I noticed on a map that the Cliff Dweller’s airstrip in Marble Canyon is right next to a wash (canyon) that leads down to the Colorado River.  I called the Cliff Dweller’s Lodge, made reservations for the night (a side trip on a business trip to Phoenix) and asked about the dirt airstrip. It turns out it isn’t theirs, but is owned by the Hatch family that runs Hatch Expeditions river running. So I called them and they said, “Land at your own risk, have fun.” Thank you, Steve Hatch! I really mean that.

The strip was a little soft and bumpy at the start but smoothed out right away. There are chains at midfield, but there was loose gravel beneath them and I couldn’t push the plane by myself there and I didn’t want to taxi in. But there seemed to be enough room, it just meant my plane wouldn’t be tied down. I rode my folding bike to the Cliff Dweller’s Lodge which is nice enough and the outdoor porch dining was perfect.

Early the next morning I headed back to the plane to drop off stuff and grab a day pack. The hike literally starts midfield across from the plane! There is a small drainage ditch that heads off perpendicular to the runway. It gets deeper and deeper until it’s a full-fledged canyon with walls hundreds of feet high. There are two places, one in particular, where you meet another canyon.  The canyon involves a lot of scrambling over boulders and rocks, but it isn’t technical except for one 30-foot drop with a knotted rope.  (On the way back I noticed you can skip the rope with a side trail).

It took me about two hours to reach the green/blue Colorado. I hung out in the sun on a big flat rock and almost went to sleep, then hiked back out. It’s pretty cool that when you’re still fairly deep in the wash, the first thing you see that tells you that you’re nearing the end is the windsock at the airstrip.

Cliff Dweller's Lodge Airstrip

Cliff Dweller’s Lodge Airstrip

Soap Creek Wash

Soap Creek Wash

Overflight of Marble Canyon

Overflight of Marble Canyon

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