Another Epic and Pioneering Flight by Ron Clark

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editor's notes:

After a long wet sping we had (finally) a stretch of good XC weather over the Memorial Day weekend and Ron Clark was ready for it. Following is his account of the first XC soaring flight from Arlington to Walla Walla,which is also the leading entry so far for the Willy Burhen Cup (459 OLC points). The next day Ron flew from Walla Walla to Ephrata (another first), next day he made a "local" flight from Ephrata (441 points) and on the fourth day he flew home to Arlington with some major diversions in the mountains for 511 points! 

 This will stand as a unique achievement and is an imspiration for any soaring pilot in the Pacific Northwest!

A Cross Country glider flight from Arlington to the Blue Mountains

 By Ron Clark

This Spring has been particularly poor for Cross Country flying in the mountains on the west side of the state, so I decided when the opportunity came for a long flight I would take full advantage of it.  I have been thinking about a diagonal flight across the state for some time.  You have to set goals in this sport to keep the excitement level up.  I saw a facebook page for Walla Walla Soaring a few weeks ago and emailed Travis and Susan, the owners.  I spoke with Susan on the phone and confirmed they were up and running and would provide a tow if I were able to fly to Martin Field, the privately owned/publicly used (POPS) airport they operate from.  With that information, and a forecast for good weather, and Lawrence on deck for tows,  I got ready to go.  I had no chase crew, so I prepared for the possibility of hitting the dirt out in the middle of nowhere.  I brought extra tiedown ropes, extra water, extra clothing, food, cash, two credit cards, lightweight canopy cover, oxygen, battery chargers, therma-rest mattress, fleece blanket, tooth brush and crest, pocket knife, first aid kit, smartphone with external battery, and a personal locator beacon.  I'm lucky I got away and didn't land at Darrington next to the IGA supermarket with all this stuff.....

I got off tow at 12:30 over Mt. Ditney and had to work a bit to get high enough to go over the back at Three Fingers, but I could see it was getting good and with good clouds ahead I took a route between Skykomish and Lake Wenatchee airports.  With Cashmere airport in glide, I turned toward Mt. Stuart and flew past a Paraglider over the Dragon's Tail.  I gave him a wide berth and continued on, skirting the Yakima Firing Center and making my way across the Columbia River.  I had steered myself right into a big blue hole, and the cloudstreets to the south were some distance away, so with Quincy and Ephrata make-able (with luck), and the beginning of a good cloudstreet beyond Grant County Airport, I set off across the blue area.  Fortunately, I found a small climb that allowed me to get past Quincy, and around Moses Lake, finally intercepting the first wisps of the cloudstreet I was aiming for.

With 9000 feet altitude and good conditions I was able to take advantage of favorable winds and thin air to move along at a good pace.  Seeing the Blue mountains ahead I felt pretty good about my chances.  I crossed the Snake River near Joso and highway 261, feeling pretty lucky.  The cloudstreet led me into the Blue Mountains about 40 km NE of Walla Walla.  There were still good clouds far to the east into the Wallowa Mountains, and a few puffballs on my route to Martin Field.  Overcoming the temptation to "just keep going" I explored around the mountains a bit, taking in the snow on the peaks and the rolling green foothills below.

Finally turning toward the airport, I tuned up my radio and headed in to land.  The NE end of the field had a  green grass strip, but large wagonwheel irrigation on the other end.  I did a careful recon of the field and finally saw airplane tracks in the grass and no obstructions so I lined up and landed in a very smooth grass field right next to the airport office/pilots lounge.  I got out and looked around and it was very still and quiet.  Eventually a fellow from a neighboring house came over and helped me push the glider a few feet to a suitable tiedown spot.  Then another fellow showed up and said no problem staying in the pilots lounge overnight.  It was a very nice pilots lounge indeed.  I should say pilots house.  Kitchen, bar, living room with a fireplace.  Ed, who lives next door came over and turned on the air conditioning and offered breakfast in the morning. 

In the morning I met Travis and Susan, proprietors of the glider operation.  We had a nice conversation, and I met some of their students and tow pilots.  I took Ed up on that breakfast,  then got ready to go.  The nearest cumulus on my intended route to Ephrata were about 25 miles west with no airfields under the blue area, so I waited as long as could stand, and finally launched around 2:00.  I took a tow to 4000 agl toward the first clouds which were still 15-20 miles away and released into a murky inversion out in the middle of seriously unfamiliar terrain.  No devils to be seen.  Fortunately I stumbled into a very nice thermal that took me to 9000, then one more and made it to the clouds.  At this point I saw good cloudstreet to the north, so I intercepted it near Ritzville.  Now I was able to de-stress a bit since there is a string of airfields from Ritzville to Ephrata.  An easy cruise under good clouds with only 8-9 kts headwind allowed me to easily make Ephrata.  Bill Ling provided a bunk in his RV, and Chris and the Chef Steps crew put on a peerless dinner. 

The good conditions continued for Sunday, so I enjoyed a nice flight into the mountains, crossing Stehekin and flying nearly to Pasayton Airfield.  (an airfield in name only, you can't land there)

Monday looked to be the best and last day to cross the Cascades for awhile, so I gathered up my gear and hoped for the best.  When it comes to crossing the Cascades mother nature is the decider.  Fortunately she was of agreeable disposistion and provided high cloudbases and light headwinds.  I was able to cross without too much trouble, and had some good flying on the crest while favoring the west side just in case.  I flew to Ross lake and back south for a turnpoint at Heather Lake, returning north to Glacier Peak.  No ridge lift on the big mountain once again.  I suppose the cone shape allows the wind to just flow around rather than being deflected upward. I went north to El Dorado peak, then turned west for home.  With good altitude, I glided out to the south tip of Camano Island and flew over my house in Marysville where my grandaughter came out to the front yard and waved while I did a couple victory wingovers before landing at KAWO.  It was a memorable Memorial day weekend!