Winter in California brings interesting opportunities to practice instrument approaches when the entire Sacramento Valley is fogged in yet my home airport of Placerville is left high and dry. So Thursday morning Placerville was clear skies and I headed out for an hour to do approaches (six approaches are required every six months to maintain currency to fly IFR) at Sacramento’s Mather airport. I did three ILS approaches and one GPS approach before heading the short distance home.
Only to find that Placerville was gone. I knew I was in trouble a few miles out so I tuned in the weather and found out it was 1/4 mile visibility in fog. What the heck? That almost never happens – that the fog actually comes in during the day. And come in it did. By the time I flew to Georgetown it too was gone. Every foothill airport from Auburn, Jackson, Calaveras, and Grass Valley was fogged in. My only choices were either go back to the Sacramento area and shoot an approach or fly higher up in the mountains. I elected to fly up to Blue Canyon to be under blue skies and ponder my choices. How do I get home?
I waited all day at Blue Canyon. I got some work done for a while, but my iPhone was soon showing a low battery so I shut it off to keep the remaining power I had. The next day I was scheduled to fly a Flying Samaritans trip to Mexico and they were prepared to show up in Placerville, and it was looking very much like the plane wasn’t going to be there. I was starting to feel pretty stupid, and soon I was going to have to fess up to my wife that I was good and stuck.
While I waited I decided to use my superior survival skills to make some hot coffee. I figured it would be good to make sure the stove worked, etc. Good thing, because the stove doesn’t work. Surprisingly enough, even the waterproof “storm matches” wouldn’t light! My old trusty MSR XGK stove that is jetted to burn AvGas has apparently seen its last days. I even replaced the seals and plunger but all I got was a wimpy flame (I had a lighter as well as matches). I also thought I had some Starbucks instant coffee, but had to make do with the little packets of instant coffee they put in the military rations (MREs) that I bring for survival food. In addition, it turns out I didn’t include a coffee cup so the little pot had to do. So… warm water with bad instant coffee in a pot. In a true survival situation I guess I would drink that. But it wasn’t so I didn’t. I did eat an most of an MRE for lunch and that wasn’t bad. But not good either.
Later a guy showed up to work on the observatory there at Blue Canyon, and later he took me with him for snacks and hot coffee at Nyack. So much for my self-reliance and my survival skills.
I could walk to the very end of the runway and get Placerville weather on my handheld radio. I waited until dusk, walking back and forth, checking weather every 30 minutes. Placerville never broadcast better than a 200 foot ceiling which is too low to shoot an approach. So I gave up and went down to Mather to shoot another approach, where Betsy picked me up and took me home. Thoroughly defeated.