Part 3 of 3
The 10 day weather forecast was rain or snow every single day so when we had a possible weather window the next afternoon we headed to the Cancelgar airport. If we could sneak out we would, otherwise stay and ski until April or June.
A small patch of blue sky shifted around above us for an hour, which gave me the confidence that if we launched it wouldn’t likely go away immediately. I fueled up, took one last look a patch of blue and we took off, and I also advised Graeme we may be coming right back. I followed that moving clear patch of sky out through the clouds. But then we had to land at an official border crossing airport (Oroville because Spokane was fogged in) and again I got lucky with a clear patch over a lake, which allowed me to fly under and land at Oroville WA for customs (not a soul at the small airfield, but a couple of agents drove over from the highway border crossing to check us back into the US).I was a little anxious. One, I thought I needed a discrete transponder code to cross the border (you do in Mexico) and I was flying too low to get anyone on the radio. I finally relayed a message through a commercial flight flying far above and they relayed that I was OK. But was I? Two, I had a very good chance of not being able to land for customs at Oroville, and I was planning on just flying into the US and asking to land at Portland for customs. I was hoping that being a safe pilot would get me out of the $5,000 fine for not following the border crossing procedure. Thankfully I was able to land at Oroville.
On takeoff the layer wasn’t thick and the valley was long. So I may or may not have looked for a hole.
It was late but we wanted to get home so we flew into the darkness with no moon. Over the northern Sierras my plan was to head over to the relative safety of the central valley so I set the airplane’s nose on the lights of Red Bluff, keeping Mt. Lassen to my left using my Avidyne 540 and Foreflight charts. Then the lights went out. Not the cockpit lights, but Red Bluff disappeared. I turned on my landing lights and it was obvious – I had flown into a cloud. My luck had run out. I slowly turned the plane around and we exited, but the lights straight ahead didn’t come back on. I turned on a flashlight and again the obvious – the windshield (and leading edge of wings) was covered in ice. Oh my. We could see out the side window, but not straight ahead. But yes, that is what airplane instruments are for. I am instrument rated which came in very handy, but I didn’t want to file IFR and fly in the clouds because of ice.
I tried to navigate a more eastern path towards Susanville but again we hit a cloud. With no moon to see anything it just wasn’t going to work. I gave up and we headed towards the lights of Alturas. By the time we got there the ice had sublimated off the windshield so I could see to land the plane. The airport was deserted but there was an old 1980’s cop car Crown Victoria there for pilot use. I called a number, found the keys and we went to a cheap motel.
Flying your own plane is unique because within hours everything around you has changed. You are in California and within a few hours you are at a ski resort in BC Canada Fantastic!. Or you are in Canada and within a few hours you are checking into a cheap motel in a small California town having driving in in a old Crown Vic with police spot lights still intact. Weird!
Its an adventure!
We got to the airport at dawn the next day to continue the cloudy flight, but this time with the clouds in plain sight. I dropped Graeme off in Truckee and headed home over the Sierras to Placerville.