I looked at X-C Skies the night before and decided that it looked like I had about a 60% chance of reaching Las Vegas.
Considering the thermal altitudes forecast, it would have been my preference to take the Sierras north to Lone Pine, then cross to the Inyos and Cerro Gordo Peak and work the high ground north of Panamint Valley enroute to Telescope Peak. However medium west winds were forecast for 12k and above. This meant a strong potential for leeside downwash and the possibility of wave north of Olancha. So I decided my odds were a little better if I could go through the Trona Gap, then hopefully work the west faces of the Panamint/Telescope range for triggered thermals and/or ridge lift. I held a bit of hope that downwind of Telescope Peak I might find wave. I even looked at and waypoint-marked the better high ground points east of Death Valley toward Jean, in case I would just need to thermal that leg. I was fairly confident that the toughest leg would be the stretch from Garlock across the Searles Valley beyond Trona to Telescope Peak.
I rigged in the morning and had a casual breakfast figuring it would be workable at the Sisters by about noon. At 11:30 I took a binocular look at the windmill ridge south of Cache Peak and was pleasantly surprised to see an easterly flow. I immediately told the tow pilot that I was going to finish loading and take off intending to take a three thousand foot tow to the First Sister.
I declared Middle Knob to Jean and launched to the west at 11:50, telling Derek to go straight out to the Sisters. I arrived at the first Sister at 5500-ft. MSL and requested that Derek make a hard right and I was off tow. One sweep over the first peak and I found a reasonable core that averaged 3 kts to 8,600 MSL. I went through my declared start at Middle Knob and headed for Chuckwalla Peak. I got to Chuckwalla at 7,000 MSL and found 2.6 kts to 9,000-ft. before pressing on toward Garlock.
Enroute to Garlock I noticed what looked like a soft lenticular in the Owens Valley. Now at Garlock at 6,300 MSL I milked 1.4 kts to 7,300-ft. while reminding myself that this was a completion task not a speed task. My next stop was on the peaks north of Goler Wash where several weak cores got me up to 9,800 MSL.
Now came the interesting part over the flats through the Trona Gap. I must say that you would not typically find me 24nm south of Trona Airport at 7,000 msl still heading north. I figured my best hope was in skirting the alluvial fans running east from the eastern edge of China Lake’s R-2505.
When I was 5nm SW of Trona at 5,500 MSL it was not looking promising, so as a last resort I called to see if I could get cleared to work the peaks just inside the eastern edge of R-2505. Maybe it was the desperation in my voice, or my transponder or that it was a Sunday, for whatever reason ATC allowed me to work just inside the Eastern edge. To my dismay my pass along a 4,700 ft. peak was fruitless. Now I pushed on toward the next bump knowing that if it didn’t work I would be landing at Trona (locally known as the armpit of California).
As I crossed a small valley I felt something and the vario chirped. Getting really serious, I worked 1.4 kts to 6,300 ft., then shifted slightly closer to the peak for 2.2 kts to 8,900 ft.. From here it looked like I had a good shot at making the 15nm to the 6,000-ft. peaks 16nm south of Telescope. Half way there I stumbled onto 1.8 kts and thankfully tanked up an extra 1000 ft. to 8,100 MSL which gave me a bit of breathing room.
I arrived about a thousand feet agl on the Panamint range, and I faded to the best south facing bowl to take advantage of what had up until now been a light southerly flow. The bowl did work giving me 3 kts to 10,700 MSL, but the drift was now showing a southwest flow. I could now see a soft Lennie over Las Vegas, but nothing downwind of Telescope in Death Valley. As I pushed on, about 9nm south of Telescope I got 2.7 kts to 11,000. Decision time. Historically I have found the best climbs right over Telescope Peak, but I’m already level with the peak and it’s another 9nm to get there.
Considering that Telescope was the wrong direction for course line, and that I was then about 2,000 ft. over glide for Shoshone Airport, I decided to go downwind toward Shoshone. I faded slightly toward being downwind of Telescope, just in case there was unmarked wave. After all, I could now see a nice lennie in the Owens and over Las Vegas, so there was some wave hope. I decided that at the first hint of lift I would assume it might be wave and immediately 180 into the wind to visually mark the spot and work it with finesse.
At 7.7nm downwind of the Panamints’ crest, the vario chirped and I one-eightied. It was about the right place and it was soft, but after about 7 minutes I had gained 1000 ft to 10,400 MSL. Thirty-two minutes later I was at 15,700 and admittedly there was relief in my voice as I reported that I was two-thousand feet above a two-knot glide for Jean.
This was the first radio call acknowledged by the home-team in a few hours.
After passing directly over Shoshone at 11,000 msl, I slid to 31nm out of Jean at 8200 msl. Although the computer said I was now slightly above glide, I could see the five-thousand foot ridge lying 6nm west of Jean that I would need to clear. I felt it prudent that I fade a bit south toward one of the 7,000 msl peaks I had marked the night before as a potential lift source. That peak was kind and gave me two knots climb rate to 9,500 msl which now put me reasonably confident about clearing the ridge with 1500 over glide for Jean, even though I could not see the airport or Casino!
As luck would have it about 24nm out of Jean at 8,000 msl I stumbled into 2.3 knots to 10,400 msl for a twenty-five hundred foot AGL arrival at Jean. This allowed me to phone-call Cindy, my crew, and report the completion of the Alby delivery to Jean, while also loitering to allow the Las Vegas club Pawnee to launch a 2-33.
Someone radioed up and asked if this was an Alby flight to which I replied, “Yes indeed! The Alby is here.” After tying the glider down, I accepted congratulations from numerous club members while we took several pictures of Alby and 11W at Jean. I handed Alby over to Jay McDaniel for the next leg of his trip. Jim Staniforth and Misti Harth shuttled me to a nice pub in Vegas and bought me a fine dinner.
It took us three attempts to deliver Alby to Jean. The first attempt was May 5th by me in wave that fell apart in the Owens Valley near Hiawee reservoir, ending with a landing back at California City. The next attempt was May 8th by Christian Mackin, with AS-W 27 ‘33’, who made a valiant attempt with a landing at Furnace Creek. He was rewarded by one of the best dinners he has ever had in California and a retrieve by Cindy Brickner. It was quite rewarding getting Alby to Jean, but I’m glad he is now their responsibility.
By Martin Eiler
(The Alby crew had dinner at Jean, then got to ride along and hear the flight story recounted enroute to home. Arrival home was close to 3:15 a.m. Thankfully, Monday wasn’t another Caracole business day, and together we got to rest. -- CB) Harth shuttled me to a nice pub in Vegas and bought me a fine dinner.