Dan Colton soars the Whites with Tim Gardner
On July 16th, 2016 I had the distinct pleasure of sharing a 503
km cross country flight with Tim Gardner as my XC mentor. The flight was a
raffle prize generously donated by Laurie Harden of Soaring NV at the Pacific
Soaring Council awards banquet last winter. Thank you Laurie and Tim.
My soaring cross country experience started last summer and since then I
have logged a little over a dozen flights in the 200-300 km range and I was
thrilled when they pulled my name out of the hat for this cross country
mentoring flight up at Minden in a Duo Discus.
I scheduled the flight and watched the weather with great anticipation as
our date approached. It is a 4 hour drive to the Minden airport from my house
in San Carlos, CA. But this was well worth the effort given the huge learning
opportunity I was looking at. I arrived at KMEV at 10am and met the staff at
Soaring NV. They were polite and professional and I felt right at home.
Tim showed up shortly thereafter and we discussed the weather, TFRs (what
would flying the Sierra be without at least 1 forest fire TFR), airport
procedures, and chose our route of flight and outer turn-point. Based on the
forecast we opted to fly South to the Whites and get to at least Bishop before
turning back and we agreed that 4pm would be the latest we should turn back in
order to make it home before the lift shut down.
Lucas was working the line and helped up get the glider ready and
out to the line. We were number two for tow and were in the air at noon. We
took a 3,000’ tow because it was completely blue, the local lift wasn’t very
good for getting out of the valley the day before and the forecast for today
was about the same. Our first climb got us 13,500’ and the optimism to run down
the Pine Nuts and try for the altitude needed for the jump to the next range.
But we got stuck at the end of Pine Nuts waiting for the lift to get
After thrashing around for over a half hour working week/disorganized lift
we made it to just over 14,000’ near Farias Wheel Airport and headed South to
the Pine Grove mountains where some clouds were starting to form. A couple
thermals later we were over 17,000’ and charging on past Baron Hilton’s Ranch
and Lucky Boy Pass (I took this as a good sign). All along the way Tim was
pointing out airports, waypoints, decision points and xc strategy. I was
impressed and grateful for his wealth of knowledge and teaching
Now we were cooking and making good time. We worked a couple thermals
along the way and were able to stay above 15,000 and with over 17,000’ had a
comfortable altitude cushion for the 35 km jump to our next goal, Boundary Peak
and the White Mountain range. The flight thus far was an incredible experience
and I was a sponge absorbing all the information along the way. My prior cross
country flights were in the area to the North and West of Minden between
Truckee, Air Sailing and Nervino and this was this was my first time flying out
of Minden and to the South. As we approached the Whites I was awe struck. Tim
said that soaring the Whites is a great experience, but all that much better
when you have to fly a hundred miles to get there.
We started off ridge running all the way to White Mountain where Tim
showed me how to thermal a canyon from below ridge top. I let Tim take the
controls for this lift and was impressed with his skill and a bit nervous every
time we turned into the ridge as this is a skill I had not yet developed. We
were climbing like the proverbial bat out of Hell when Tim asked if I could see
any hikers on the ridge-top path. There were about a dozen and Tim decided it
he wanted to give them a photo opportunity. So it was time for full spoilers
and we spiraled down a couple thousand feet back down to the ridge were he gave
them a high speed pass “up close and personal”.
Now it was back to my turn to get that altitude back and off we went South
across the valley, over Bishop and beyond to just pass Coyote Flats. We got
there low, at around 11,000’, and it was a struggle getting back up. Another
glider was reporting a strong convergence over the Sierra to the South and West
of our position and asked if we wanted him to wait so we could join him. We
could see the cloud streets from where we were. However, it was going to take
us too much time to climb out so we told him to keep going as we again
struggled, waiting for the thermals to cycle.
Our persistence paid off but it was now around 3:30 pm and close to our
agreed upon turn-back time. Since the clouds to the North were starting to
dissipate we agreed to head back and had to make our next decision. Do we cross
the valley back over to the Whites where the lift was still strong and marked
by a cloud street all the way back to Boundary peak or head off on the more
direct path toward Mono Lake.
Although we saw only two cloud markers we decided to go direct to Mono Lake.
It was 35 km to our next good climb and then we crossed a big blue patch with
no lift for about another 55 km. This lift was a bit disorganized but we again
persisted and got the altitude we needed for the next jump to Mono Lake.
Choose wisely grasshopper
We chose well and reached just South/East of Mono Lake at 14,000’, found a
climb to 17,000’, and were off on our next jump North.
Our next struggle was above the old ghost town of Bodi in weak/disorganized
lift with only 1 knot on the averager. Our second thermal in that area was much
better and at about 15,000’ we encountered wave and were blessed with smooth
6-8 knots lift to 17,999 and had final glide in the bag. Our glide back was a
straight shot of 95 km at 120-130 knots ground speed and was very satisfying
after such a challenging day.
By the numbers we did 503 km, soared for 5.5 hours at an average ground
speed of 90 km/hr, and used 41 thermals to get around the task. It was an
amazing experience and I would recommend it to anyone wanting to kick-start
their cross country soaring training.
And lastly, I cannot end this tale of good fortune without again praising
the staff, tow pilots, instructors and line kids and fleet of SoaringNV. This
type of one-on-one training cannot be passed up.
So give a big Hello to Laurie and the rest of the crew from me next time you
are out at SoaringNV and take them up on their offer, whatever it may be. You
will be glad you did.