Featured Trip Reports

High Sierra fly-in adventure

A Washington state pilot turns his Cessna 170 on course for the 2016 High Sierra fly-in with a play-by-play account of his journey to the 7th annual high desert backcountry event.

Sunrise on the Dead Cow lakebed Sunrise on the Dead Cow lakebed Darin Scheer

The trip south

The High Sierra Fly-in is an annual gathering of like-minded backcountry pilots and aircraft that takes place in October each year in the high desert region northeast of Reno, NV. Many have described this event as the "Burning Man" of aviation. This year I had the honor of being invited to be the guest speaker at the Saturday evening dinner and campfire. Yippee! Another reason to fly my C-170 across the Pacific Northwest and hang out with other pilots!

As luck always has it, a few weeks before this trip, I had a magneto start to go bad on me after nearly 600 hours. I pulled the mag and shipped it off for repair. While it was away, I took care of a few minor maintenance issues that are always present with a 59-year old classic airframe. I prepped the airplane and all the needed supplies for a 4-day flying/camping adventure while I waited for the UPS truck to arrive. Big Brown dropped my gift off Tuesday evening. First thing Wednesday morning we proceeded to install the mag. As all maintenance actions seem to, it took longer than desired to complete. Feeling the pressure of the incoming wx and the need to get out of town, I slowed down and made sure we were being thorough. By mid-afternoon, the mag had been installed, double-checked and test ran. The rest of the engine compartment items were finalized and the cowl secured. A quick test flight verified everything was working as desired.

My original plan had been to leave on Thursday, but wet, cloudy weather rolling into western Washington up against the Cascade Mountains necessitated getting out of town Wednesday. So with the high clouds rolling in, I departed Snohomish, Washington's, Harvey Field (S43), and turned to the east, following Highway 2 over Stevens Pass. The recent rains and snows had brought the numerous waterfalls along the route back to full strength, presenting quite a show. As I crested the summit, the vibrant and bright fall colors of the Leavenworth and Peshastin areas slid under my wings. An hour and a half after taking off, my wheels gently rolled down my crop duster buddy's strip in Moses Lake, WA. I landed feeling much more relaxed after a stressful few days wondering if I would end up driving the trip. My partner for the trip, my brother, was waiting for me. Mike is the third pilot in the family. He earned his private license less than a year ago.

Thursday morning presented itself with high clouds, but no true weather concern for our 445 nm run south to Dead Cow Lake. Our flight plan took us from Moses Lake to Pendleton OR (KPDT.) Strong winds aloft from the south kept these two farm boys happy to be flying low across the farmlands of Central Washington. Soon the Snake River slid below us as we transitioned into the dry land farming area that would lead us to our first fuel stop. The rolling wheat fields and desert sagebrush draws were providing us lots of deer to observe. Of course, it was during hunting season, so all the bucks were tucked away in their hideouts. We really didn't need fuel at KPDT, but this route didn't have many fuel options and due to our weight, we could only carry 30 of my maximum 37 gallons to remain below gross. Pendleton airport sits on a hill just west of this famous rodeo town. The former WWII training base even has connections back to the Doolittle Raiders of the 17th Bombardment Group.

Less than 20 minutes after landing we were airborne again for our second leg. An early 90-degree left turn from our runway 29 departure had us on course to pickup Highway 395 that we would follow through Eastern Oregon to John Day and Burns. The 77 miles to John Day introduced us to the ever slightly rising terrain of the high mountain plateaus, pine trees and prime fishing rivers that make this part of Oregon a sportsman's favorite. Immediately south of John Day, the scars from forest fires along Strawberry Mountain were evident. Thankfully, they were actively logging the areas, salvaging much of the wood and reducing future fuel loads as well as providing the local economy good jobs. We continued to only see 75-80 kts ground speed as the south winds lived up to the daily forecast. About the midpoint of the leg was a private 5,000' paved strip at the "Ponderosa Ranch." Ponderosa is a 120,000-acre private ranch that for approximately the last 20 years has served as a high-end dude ranch, with its own reversible 18-hole golf course, par 3 course, shooting clays and numerous other activities. The ranch also still runs 5,000 or so head of cattle. Another 122 miles of similar terrain led us into KBNO airport, located 7 miles east of the small rural town of Burns, recently made infamous by the standoff between the federal government, ranchers, and activists from several western states. The airport offers little more than the 100LL we needed.

Airborne for our third and longest leg of the day we headed mostly direct toward Lovelock, NV. Immediately south of Burns we climbed out over the Malheur Wildlife Refuge. Created in 1908 by President T. Roosevelt, somewhere around 58 species of mammals and 320 species of birds call these 293 square miles home. From a few thousand feet above, we spotted several flocks of birds, large and small. The skies ahead we quickly clearing, providing beautiful views, just as forecasted. Often rising to over 9,000' MSL, we were fortunate to be traveling parallel to most of the terrain in northern Nevada. One of those large terrain features is the Steen Mountains. When I was flying F-15C's out of Mountain Home AFB, we flew a low level that approached these west-sloping flanks, peaking out between 7,500 and 9,000 feet. As we would approach the mountaintop we would rapidly roll into 135 degrees of bank, execute a "ridge-crossing maneuver" and aggressively pull down the backside, which featured a very steep drop back down to the high desert floor.

If one has never flown through this part of the country, they really don't realize how big it is. Near the end of this leg, my brother commented: "We only have one dry lakebed to go before our 2 hour and 40 minute leg is complete." Unfortunately, he failed to realize this lakebed, Black Rock– home to the famous Burning Man Festival– was over 40 miles long. Eventually the lake passed behind us, leaving a few small hills between us and our destination.

Derby Field (KLOL), at Lovelock, NV was home to a WWII training base. A very neat little photographic museum next to the fuel pumps documented its proud history. As we pulled up to the fuel ramp we observed four different C-180/185s. I recognized one of the birds as a fellow Backcountrypilot.org member. Then I heard my name being called, only to turn around and see a fellow USAF fighter pilot friend of mine. He flew his 180 in from Tucson, AZ for the event. Fuel was not available on the lakebed, so we uploaded about 25 gallons for the 40-mile run westward to HSF. As we lifted off of KLOL, we faced a ridge 5 miles in front of us with tops over 4,000 above the airport elevation. As we started our slow climb at a density altitude of over 6,000 feet, I spotted a small dry lake that I suspected would be producing some rising air. Sure enough, as we passed over the north end, the VSI quickly confirmed what we were feeling in our seats. A left turn took us down the lake until the free lift started to wane. An immediate hard 180 put us back into the rising air. By the time we hit the north end again, we had enough altitude to point our nose directly towards the ridge and the fun that was soon to be ours.

Three perpendicular ridgelines slid beneath us presenting us with beautiful views of Pyramid Lake and the unique geological formations at its northern shore from which the lake derives its name.

We had been monitoring the CTAF for Dead Cow Lake and were building the mental picture of the traffic as we rounded the northern end of the last terrain between fun and us. Dead Cow Lake is over 5 miles across and even knowing where to look, it wasn't easy to see the over 100 airplanes and numerous RVs and vehicles that had already arrived. We flew south of the camping area, watching and listening for an opening in the pattern. When the timing was right, we joined the right downwind for a landing to the southeast. With my brother having never experienced a landing environment such as a dry lakebed, I explained the visual difficulties: lack of depth perception, lack of visibility due to dust, and other factors and how we would deal with them. A 30 degrees of flap approach with 5 mph higher than normal airspeed and a few hundred RPM allowed us to have a gentle descent rate as we approach the widely spaced cones marking the runway area. Once below 20 feet it wasn't that difficult to determine our height above the ground and soon our three wheels touch the white dusty surface. We decelerated, turned right and slowly taxied towards the randomly parked aircraft. It was time to set up camp, enjoy a cold one and start meeting new friends and admiring airplanes.

When one pulls into the High Sierra Fly-in, the first thing you notice is that there is a random organization to it. What the heck does that mean? Well, there is no defined parking or tie down area. There are campers, airplanes, semis, helicopters and other vehicles parked along the edge of the playa and desert vegetation landscape. Other groups are tied down in curving lines, further from the edge of the lake, wingtip to wingtip, while even more are arranged in a group or circular type of patterns. Some prefer to be close to the central bonfire area and others are nearly a half-mile away. There is no right or wrong. You just need to park your plane, set up camp and start socializing. When we arrived it had been a long day of flying with our headwinds, so we were ready for a cold one or two while we contemplated which direction to set our tent doors. This fly-in is a self-supported event with the exception of firewood, the Saturday evening dinner and the Sunday breakfast.

Photo: Darin Scheer

The PIREPs over the last few days had talked about the standard wide temperature swings that one experiences in the desert. Reno forecasts had been calling for highs in the mid-70's, lows in the mid-40's. I suspected it might get a little colder, being further out in the desert and further removed from the Sierra Nevada range. Because of this I brought two sleeping bags, a cold weather bag and a medium weather bag. As the sun set, you could feel how rapidly the temperature changes in the dry air. Luckily the 5½ cords of split Ponderosa Pine was prefect for the social campfire and warmth.

Friday fly-outs

Friday morning we awoke to a crisp 19 degrees and light frost on all the aircraft. I crawled out of the sleeping bag, slipped on long johns, a couple layers of clothes, hats and gloves and it was time to fire up the jet boil stove and make some coffee. Before heading over to the fire, we untied N4497B and turned her around, exposing the wings to the rising sun. Kevin Quinn, the mastermind and host of this event held a daily safety brief and outlined the planned flying activities. A breakfast fly-out to a private strip in the Sierra Nevada range along the CA/NV border was planned. Those that chose not to participate had near limitless options to explore on their own.

The breakfast destination, BODAD, is a 2600' long grass/dirt strip located in the northern end of a valley at Frenchman Lake. It sits at 5900' and is considered a one-way strip; land over the meadow to the north, takeoff south. With the day's forecast of sunny skies, light winds and high pressure, the aircraft would be experiencing density altitudes of 6500-7500'. I know my airplane's capabilities at light loads and low DA's really well. I am also pretty comfortable with it at high DA's and heavy weights as well. It seems like the only time I really fly at high DA's is on long trips where I usually operate at max gross weight, so I was really anxious to see how my airplane would perform at lighter weights at these high DA's.

With my brother and I, and 20 gals of fuel upon landing, I knew getting into the strip wouldn't be any problem and I was pretty sure I could take both of us out, even with my stock 145 HP engine, aided with the climb prop and my proficiency. My plan to make sure was to do a departure by myself after breakfast to get a performance baseline. Around the campfire that morning I had already talked to fellow northwest pilot, he had an extra seat in his big-engine Maule for my brother if I wasn't comfortable with the performance margins in mine.

Satellite imagery of the BODAD airstrip

People started leaving the lakebed around 9:30, climbing to the west in search of food. The organizers had set up discrete frequencies for deconfliction, based on either a west or east of the lake flight. This safety plan was beautifully executed as 30 some airplanes of differing performance, experience, and plans all headed for the same destination over a half-hour period. The multiple position calls ensured a safe orderly arrival for all in BODAD. The low spot in the last ridge headed west set us up perfectly for a left downwind over the towering ponderosa pines and yellow meadows.

The meadow on the south end of the strip provided a nice clear flight path to the runway. Looking for the bridge where the creek flows under the runway, I picked out my touchdown point just past it. There was lots of runway, so no real reason to get that slow, 30 degrees of flaps and 60 mph made for a nice roundout with minimal float before touching down. I added power from mid-field and beyond to reach my parking area at the north end turnaround and shutdown, ready for breakfast.

The hosts have a small, simple cabin with a large deck. The kitchen aroma told the tale of hotcakes, bacon, sausage and eggs. OJ and coffee rounded out the menu. The great food, sunshine, view from the deck and conversation made it very tempting to kick back and spend the whole day at this mountain retreat. As the last of the guests were sitting down, I headed back down to my airplane for my performance test. A rolling takeoff to line up with the runway and 10 degrees of flaps had the airplane feeling ready to fly in about 700', a gentle pull to 30 degrees of flap and she gently lifted off. A low ground effect acceleration until flaps-up and a good climb speed by the end of the strip confirmed I had plenty of performance margin for both my brother and I. I performed a quick right 90, left 270 back to final and landed. My brother and I watched a few of the many Cub types and big Cessnas depart and then we climbed in, fired up and waited for our turn. At the 1,000-foot mark I pulled flaps as the left wheel lifted off, but the airplane immediately told me that was slightly premature as she mushed along. Slight forward yoke input placed the mains back on the runway for another 300 feet and she easily flew off. We cleared the fence with 70 mph and slowly but safely climbed over the trees at the south end of the meadow. A J-3 Cub was the only other low horsepower aircraft to go into BODAD that morning, but flown properly, just about any aircraft is capable with a qualified pilot at the controls.

Upon departure from BODAD we started a slow climb towards Truckee and Lake Tahoe. As an avid skier and snowmachiner, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to circumnavigate this beautiful landmark. The water was as "Tahoe Blue" as ever. The radio silence broke occasionally with a position report from other aircraft also touring the lake. There was a two-ship of Cub-like airplanes ahead of us down low, and a few faster guys that passed us overhead, opposite direction. I had never landed at South Lake Tahoe Airport (KTVL), but today was not the day to do it. The south winds had picked up and were gusting up to 20 mph. While doable if need be, I didn't need to go combine turbulence and high DA performance just to snag another piece of runway. As we exited the lake back towards Truckee, we descended down the Truckee River, along Interstate 80 as both hooked a hard right towards Reno.

We continued northward around the hill and landed at Reno-Stead for fuel. I have been to Stead during the air races; it was weird to see it so quiet and lonely. As we taxied out to runway 28 I pointed out Hoover Hill to my brother and explained how Bob would dive below the hill, out of sight of the fans during his performances in years past. Little did I know that we would lose this aviation great in a few short days. The last time I saw Bob was a couple years ago as I performed at the Reno Air Races with the Patriots Jet Team. Bob was a friend of the team's and it was always an honor to have him in our debriefs, giving us valid advise, or simply hanging out. He was even more of a gentleman than he was a great pilot. RIP Sir!

Once airborne, we flew backwards around the second half of the race course up the Valley of Speed, before continuing our climb northbound back to Dead Cow Lake. We landed after about 3 hours of great flying and exploring new places and proceeded to fire up the BBQ and tap into the cooler.

Saturday STOL

Saturday was STOL day and a balmy 25 degrees at sunrise. The fly-in features both a traditional STOL competition and a STOL drag race event. Following breakfast and coffee, all the competing pilots met at the campfire for the day's safety and race briefings. Following the briefings I went out across the playa and practiced some racing techniques and burned some fuel to be lighter for the competitions.

Photo: Jim Raeder

The STOL races were the first event. This features two aircraft starting from a stationary position at the start/finish line. Competitors takeoff and fly 3/4 of a mile to the turnaround line. They must land AFTER the turnaround line and come to a complete stop on runway heading. Once they stop, they execute a left 180-degree turn and takeoff, racing back to the start/finish line. They then must land AFTER the finish line and once again come to a complete stop on runway heading. If they land early they incur a time penalty. Not coming to a complete stop on heading, or violating any other safety rules results in disqualification.

What makes this race format so exciting is that often the first plane back to the finish line isn't the winner, because it takes them too long to get stopped. The races featured a Beaver, Cubs (of all sorts), Huskies, Kitfoxes, T-Crafts, a Vans RV, a SuperSTOL, Cessna 170/182/180/185/206, a Fly-Baby, Carbon Cubs, Highlanders, a Wilga, a Tri-Pacer, a Bushhawk, a Bearhawk, and others. The racing is truly a crowd favorite and really fun. I raced against a Yamaha-powered Highlander flown by the eventual champion, Idaho-based Steve Henry. The Highlander not only takes off and lands in shorter distance than my 170, it's always faster, so unless Steve made a mistake, he was going to win. Steve doesn't make many mistakes in his airplane. He beat me by 10 seconds, but I was pleased with how I flew. There's always next year! The championship race was a thriller between Steve and the world-famous Bobby Breeden from Alaska flying a borrowed Carbon Cub. The Cub got back and landed first, but Steve out-braked him and came to a stop approximately one second earlier.

Next came the traditional STOL completion. It was run as more of a demonstration than a true competition, because of the limited number of competitors in relation to the normal performance categories. They ran a Light Sport Class with Cubs/Rans/Highlander and a Touring Class with my C-170, a C-180, a C-185 and a Maule M-7. Due to the dry conditions the takeoffs were kicking up too much dust to be seen and judged, so it turned into a STOL landing contest. In the end it really came down to Bobby and Steve. Bobby put down two consecutive 99-foot landings to take first place; not bad for a calm day at over 7000' density altitude! All four competitors in the heavy class were pretty close, posting landings between 260 and 300'. The winning score ended up being 257' flown by the C-170.

Photo: Drone Promotions

Up to this point it had been a wonderful day of fun, exciting flying, but people were hot, tired and dusty! It was time for a few hours to relax before dinner. The aromas from the catering company's efforts were drifting over the playa as people socialized getting to know new friends. A great dinner was enjoyed by over 400 people as the campfire continued to grow. The temps were once again dropping rapidly as the crowd settled in to have some fun with the drawings and gifts so generously donated by the fly-in's sponsors who make this wonderful aviation event possible.

Photo: Darin Scheer

The guest speaker then shared an inspiring, entertaining, and educational presentation about surviving a supersonic ejection from an F-15 fighter jet. Full disclosure: That F-15 pilot is me! I was honored to share my tale with such a group of like-minded pilot brethren.

The wonderful evening was capped off with a fireworks display that would put many public displays to shame!

The author presenting his supersonic ejection story at the campfire Saturday night

Sunday departure

Sunday morning was the warmest yet at 27 degrees and frost-free! The lakebed was abuzz with activity as crews tore down their camps and loaded their planes. The first airplane, a Luscombe, was airborne just after sunrise. With our camp torn down and packed into the bird we wandered over for our last meal with friends and helped toss the very last of the firewood on the blaze. The forecast was calling for strong tailwinds the entire way home for us, so with excitement we said our goodbyes, looked over the plane one last time and climbed in. We joined the steady but orderly departure of planes and turned north towards home. HSF 2016 you rocked! See you next year.

A fly-in attendee pre-heating their Cessna's engine with a portable heater in the chilly morning temps

The original plan was to run up to Susanville, CA (KSVE), to top off with fuel Saturday afternoon, prior to the BBQ and evening festivities. The quick 20-mile flight to the northwest would leave us full of gas and ready to immediately turn towards home on Sunday morning. But after flying in both STOL events, the 80 degree sunshine and the later than expected time, I just wasn't feeling that would be the most prudent thing to do. So Sunday morning when we lifted off to the southeast, leaving one last curling trail of white playa dust behind us, we turned right crosswind, stayed very low and proceeded to the nearby KSVE for a little petrol.

Our flight would take us directly over the Sierra Army Depot. I have flown over this massive weapons storage area and its associated Amadee Army Airfield, a 10,000-foot long runway. From 37,000' in the cockpit of my Alaska Airlines 737, it looks like one of those military locations that I have no desire to ever visit, let alone be stationed at. But down at 500 feet, flying around the area was great. We passed well to the southeast of Restricted-2530. Ahead and to the left were numerous rail lines, each terminating along the dozens of huge warehouses full of war materials. Directly ahead and to the right were hundreds of ammunition bunkers. We quickly climbed to 1,000' AGL as we approached the complex. There was no reason to make them nervous. It was then that we were surprised by something I never realized was at this facility: Acres and acres of tanks, artillery, and trucks were parked below. Sierra Army Depot is home to one of TACOM's (Tank-automotive and Armaments Command) units. The Command's job is to manage the life cycle of these weapon systems. Much like the USAF's boneyard at Davis-Monthan AFB in Arizona, I suspect that Sierra is a resting place for weapons that are in long-term storage.

Susanville is right on the eastern slopes of the Sierra, with a valley containing small farm fields, pine trees amongst the sagebrush, and a small friendly town. Traffic was light so we set up for a right base entry to runway 29. Just before turning base we realized the dirt runway would lead us directly to the fuel pumps! Plus, I wasn't ready to start landing on pavement again. We pulled up to the FBO, as the lone attendant was finishing fueling a C-180 that was also leaving the fly-in. Thank you to Susanville Aviation for their support of the fly-in and fuel discount they gave to all participants. If you are in the area, stop by, grab some fuel, and use the courtesy car or just socialize.

With the tanks full, we took one last look at the weather and winds. We were forecast to have strong winds aloft from the south! Initial long-range forecasts of winds up to 80 kts and the turbulence that would be associated with it were still several hours away, but we could expect 20-30 kts of tailwind and mostly smooth rides! We lifted off from runway 11, after admiring the beautiful Ercoupe that had been flying patterns. At 400 feet I turned left towards home and turned the airplane over to my "autopilot," my brother. I slid my seat back, reclined my chair and relaxingly watched the world go by. Mike cruised climbed us to 8,500' where we enjoyed a strong tailwind giving our little Cessna Businessliner-Lite a 136 kt groundspeed! With a course set towards John Day, Oregon, navigation was easy as the 9,900' Eagle Peak of the South Warner Wilderness Area in northeast CA would pass just off the right wing. A low saddle north of the peak allowed us to easily shift to the east side of the range and pass over Cedarville and up the dry lake beds to Fort Bidwell and the NV/OR/CA border. Back in the PNW!

Photo: Don Barrett @FlickrHart Mountain

Hart Mountain was our next visual landmark 40 miles north. At the west base of this 8000' mountain were dozens of man-made dams, securing the ever-vital water that flows off the slopes in the area each winter and spring. Many of the low berm dams were several miles across. As the Ponderosa Ranch and the town of Burns once again slid past, we were still carrying a very nice tailwind. It was obvious we didn't need to land in John Day for fuel. So at John Day we once again intersected highway 395 and started following it north towards Pendleton. The terrain had changed from the flat desert of the NV area back to the high plateau mountains of northeast Oregon. The road below provided a safe landing spot in the event of unexpected problems. The tailwind had decreased slightly by now, but we still had clear skies, smooth air and 115 kts across the ground. Did I mention how well my "autopilot" was working? We weren't sure if the tailwinds were going to continue with us, but as we neared Pendleton they started to pick up again, pushing us towards home at 120 kts. It quickly became evident that we had enough fuel plus reserves to go all the way home non-stop. This time we stayed up at altitude across the farm fields riding the southerly flow, until we set up a descent into Othello, WA (S70.) Topping off the tanks at Othello, just 20 miles from where I would drop my brother off at Fred Meise Int'l airport would give me all the gas I needed to get home over the Cascade Mountains plus several hours reserve if I needed to pick my way around weather or delay.

Othello is a great easy in-and-out fuel stop, but unfortunately, today the fuel pumps were out of order and no NOTAM had been posted. When I talked to the airport manager on Monday, he said that the day before our arrival, someone had smashed the emergency shut-off button, disabling power to the pumps. This was a great lesson for my brother, a newly minted private pilot: Always land with enough fuel to make it to another fuel stop if need be. I have again talked to the manager, they are awaiting parts, and yes, a NOTAM has now been issued.

We still had two hours of gas to make it eight minutes so we were good. Growing up flying with my dad on the farm it was common practice to buzz the house. My mom always hated when we did that, so my brother and I were both a little surprised when we received a text message from our mother asking us to fly by the house on the way to Fred's. We looked at each other and laughed, simultaneously announcing that Mom wants us to buzz the house. Well we didn't really buzz it, but we did give it a good crop-duster fly-by, waving at her down below on the back porch. I think she just wanted to see that her two boys were safely home and having fun. Love you, mom.

Six miles later and we passed over a private waterski lake with water nearly the same color as Lake Tahoe, and slipped the wheels onto Fred's 20 foot wide runway a half mile to the north. Before we left HSF, the good boys at Crop Jet Aviation in Gooding, ID gave us two of their cropdusting company's hats. George Parker, and his crew are friend's of Fred and they couldn't pass up the opportunity to rub it in that Fred didn't make it down. His excuse was he had to leave on Monday for Pennsylvania to pick up a C-185 he just bought. Needless to say, Fred busted out laughing when we climbed out of the airplane next to his fuel pumps wearing our new Crop Jet Aviation swag! Fred swears he will be at HSF 2017.

While I topped off the tanks, my brother unloaded his gear and told Fred to put the fuel on his account. I love the way the agricultural world works.

Looking to the west, I could see the mid-level clouds coming into the Puget Sound area and Cascade mountains. METARS and weather cameras showed I should have no problem completing the last 1.5 hours home. Once airborne I reversed my first leg's path back over the Columbia basin, along the Columbia river and Wenatchee, and followed the Wenatchee river past Leavenworth and proceeded along highway 2 up Stevens Pass. As I approached Leavenworth, there was a dark rain cloud just south over the Chiwawa river drainage. It wasn't very nice looking weather, but knowing the area and that my route was just to the north, I comfortably proceeded. Five miles later as the rain slid past my left wing with only a few light drops displaying on my windscreen, the skies brightened and I could easily see the remaining 60 miles to Snohomish. The avalanche-prone areas of the mountains are home to beautiful deciduous trees and bushes that were ablaze with color. They looked like a waterfall of orange and yellow.

The avalanche-prone areas of the mountains are home to beautiful deciduous trees and bushes that were ablaze with color. They looked like a waterfall of orange and yellow.

The early snow at the top of Stevens Pass ski resort teased me with the fun of winter that would soon be upon us. I was fortunate to still have a slight tailwind on the westward leg so I again stayed high until just before Harvey Field slid below my nose. A high-speed descent onto the 45 entry, coordinated with the further out inbound traffic, followed by an aggressive slip and short landing had me shut down at my hanger in time to watch a nice landing flown by the classic taildragger behind me.

The tach showed a trip total of 19.1 hours of flying time, the smile on my face showed so much more. I have been to Oshkosh, Sun-n-Fun, AOPA, and other fly-ins. The High Sierra Fly-In by far has been the most enjoyable, rewarding, and resulted in the best new friendships from folks around the country. While most of the airplanes were sporting several of the more poplar backcountry mods: big tires, VG's, STOL cuffs, etc, the lake is more than safe for anything from small business jets, to tiny-tired aerobatic aircraft, to the powered parachutes we saw flying around each morning and evening. You don't have to be a highly experienced backcountry or mountain pilot to safely fly there, but I guarantee you will leave with valuable experience and wonderful memories. Mark your calendars for October 2017!


Jon "Jughead" Counsell

Jon "Jughead" Counsell is a Washington State native, Alaska 737 captain, and former USAF F-15 pilot. In 1994, he endured a high speed ejection from his F-15 over the Gulf of Mexico. If you're lucky you'll catch him at a speaking engagement and hear the tale. These days he mostly enjoys flying his Cessna 170B around the Washington backcountry.

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