Mount Ditney or How to Get Away from Arlington

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One of the reservations that some pilots have about going XC from Arlington concerns the difficulty of connecting with lift and getting sufficient altitude to get going.  This is especially true in late summer when the flat lands around Arlington and even the foothills further east offer only marginal lift and altitudes that make even staying up a chore.  These conditions look even less inviting when there are no clouds to indicate any convection (which happens quite often).  What is not apparent in these cases (even with Dr. Jack’s predictions) is the fact that the higher mountains, starting some 15 to 20 miles further east  from Arlington, quite often offer great thermal conditions.  The south and west facing mostly rocky mountain slopes soak up the afternoon sun and create enough convection to overcome the stable thermal gradients and inversions that dominate the conditions closer to Arlington. The higher the mountains the better this works, making the central Cascades often better for XC soaring than even the Columbia Basin.  Needless to say, that good lift goes along with serious sink in places and keeping enough altitude for safe fly-outs is essential.

So how does one get into these enticing conditions?  By trial and error, long and high tows to Mount Ditney have been proven to be the most promising approach.  Mount Ditney (4,435 ft) is located some 14 miles straight east from Arlington airport and an altitude of 5,000 ft appears to be the minimum to contact thermals (if there are any).  This is also a safe altitude to make it back to Arlington (or Green Valley or Frontier) for any ES glider except the Blanik.  And if conditions are sufficient to climb up to at least 6,000 ft, one can be confident that they are getting better further east.  That opens up at least the Threefinger / Whitehorse range for further exploration.

For serious mountain soaring this is only the beginning.  Flying further east the little mountain airport of Darrington becomes the main “safe harbor” back-up and White Chuck Mountain and Mount Pugh across the Sauk River become the stepping stones to try reaching impressive Glacier Peak (10,541 ft).

An example for such a scenario was August 11 of this year, when Ron Clark made one of his noteworthy mountain flights, as shown by this OLC trace.


 RC8_11.JPGAfter a tow to 6,500 ft over Mount Ditney Ron climbed to 8,200 ft above Whitehorse Mountain, crossed the Sauk River valley to White Chuck Mountain, climbed to 9,700 ft, then on to Mount Pugh, reaching over 12,000 ft and then on to Glacier Peak.  He then flew as far north as Jack Mountain and then south beyond Skykomish, reaching altitudes of over 13,000 ft before gliding back to Arlington when conditions began to soften for a total of 392 OLC points (216 miles in about 4.5 hours).  No extended local flights were made at Arlington.

Long tows to 6,000 ft are not cheap but cost less than two 3,000 ft tows and offer the possibility of exciting long flights instead of two sled rides.  This may not be for everybody and getting the required competence and confidence takes some time.  But it also offers some of the most interesting and scenic flying in the Pacific Northwest.