Green Mountain to Mount Baker

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By Ron Clark

Friday March 27th was a good wave day for our part of the country.  On the way to the airport I got a good look at the amazing lenticular cloud hovering over Mt. Pilchuck that Dan Housler had told me about earlier on the phone.

I was fortunate that my glider was already rigged and tied down on the flight line from the previous day and all I had to do was towel off the dew and load my oxygen cylinder.  There was already a light breeze from the south and Phil towed me into the air at about 11:30.  We encountered hardly any air movement on the way to the mountains, and I could see the big lennie from earlier had dissipated markedly over Pilchuck, so I asked Phil to change course slightly to the sharper edged wave cloud over the Green Mountain ridge.  We seemed to be climbing pretty well, and when Phil mentioned he had very little power in I took the hint and released well upwind of the edge of a very healthy looking wave cloud. 


It took me a while to find the 3kt lift, but finally I mapped it out (GPS is a huge help here) and climbed to 15,625 ft.  The view was spectacular and the air was velvety smooth.  After reaching my maximum altitude I turned downwind to see if I could find any downwind ripples.  I got a little bump near Three Fingers Mountain, then another for a small altitude gain near Whitechuck Mountain.  The wind at altitude reached a top speed of 51kts.  Continuing north, It appeared that I could no longer count on any wave action for continued lift, but could see some raggedy clouds out in front of the  south side of Mt. Baker. 

Mt. Baker (10,785 ft) posseses a certain mystique for Arlington pilots, and I made a decision to go for it to see if there would at least be slope lift, or if physics had decided to take a day off.  I cautiously glided across Baker Lake near the Upper Baker Dam as I gauged my glide to Concrete.  As I glided up the big volcano I was now close enough to see the shadows of high speed cumulus clouds moving up the snow fields, giving a good indication of wind direction and speed.  The snow was blowing hard over the top and down the north side.  A little intimidating, especially with the rotor turbulence as I made a couple of cautious turns in front of the intensely bright snowfields.  After climbing a few hundred feet the air smoothed out, and now I could enjoy the view as I climbed over the top. 

After some exploring to find the areas of best lift on the mountain, I took a look at the LK glide computer, knowing it was nothing but lies, but it told me what I wanted to hear so I struck off for home.  A couple of miles south between Loomis Mountain and Mt. Baker I found some sort of wave bounce from some undetermined ridge upwind which boosted me a little higher to 12,800 ft.

Of course, I was above the clouds crossing the hills between Concrete and Higgins Mountain, and when the time came to descend below the clouds I was forced to open the airbrakes near Deer Peak and give away some valuable altitude in order to get under a wide band of clouds.  Fortunately the headwind was now a manageable 25 kts and I made it back to Arlington with good pattern altitude. 

The wave days here are difficult (at least for me) to predict, but when everything comes together, the otherworldly experience provided by the mountain waves in our area is a rare treat.  Even a slope soaring day on Mt. Baker is worth pursuing, and probably somewhat more easily forecast.

Good luck, and let's see who is next to be in the right place at the right time.


Comments by the editor:

This was a day with strong southwesterly winds increasing from maybe 20 kts at 5,000 ft to over 50 kts at 15,000 ft.  The wave cloud that got Ron to the unheard of altitude of 15, 625 ft was located directly over the Green Mountain ridge (with a maximum elevation of 3610 ft) located 5 miles downwind of Mount Pilchuck (5351 ft).  This was obviously the primary Mount Pilchuck wave which has been encountered previously (in lower wind velocities and closer to Mount Pilchuck) and yielding up to 12,000 ft altitude.  Later in the day  the Green Mountain area was no longer accessible because of cloud cover.  Ron used perfect timing, a well prepared sailplane with oxygen and a lot of courage for this history making flight – the first serious XC flight from Arlington in wave conditions (and some ridge lift).