2010 Owens Trip
Written by Mumbles (Rick Devlin), who's too humble to take credit for it. I didn't get to go this year so the I in this article is attributable to him. -don
There I was. On a beach in Kauai with my family, mai tai in hand. The kids thought I was nuts to leave this and head for the desert. I took a red eye home Thursday night July 8th, 2010, then did a reverse valley crossing at Big Pine Friday morning (via Phoenix, go figure) and looked out at mid morning Owens Valley sky conditions from 35,000’. Not a cloud in the sky, it’s going to be a great week. I’d be back here in a few hours.
After getting home, I ditched the Hawaiian shirts and sandals, and packed frantically for the desert. Kept the sunscreen. Hoping I’d not forgotten something important, I showed up at Paul Clayton’s house in Los Gatos a little late.
The Owens crew was a bit thin this year, only Paul and I were heading out. Due to my late start we hit traffic getting out of Dodge, but still made it to Sonora Pass in daylight. We went to have a beer on Dave’s “God’s Rock”, but without his spiritual guidance we came up short and settled for the nearest high rocks to watch the sunset. That was a mistake. On the way down, Paul lost his footing and took a hard fall. A bruised back knocked him out of flying for most of the week. Apparently we were on “Devils’s Rock”.
The next morning, we went exploring to try to find a road down without backtracking the way we always have. The road was good and going in the right direction for a while, but then took a turn down toward the “Mountain Warfare Training Base”. Uh-oh. I’d almost landed there 10 years ago and didn’t really want to test their security post 9/11 with missile like bags on the roof. But it was now really far to backtrack and there weren’t any signs telling us to stay out.
We ended up in the base across from a guard station. Trying to avoid that, we followed a convoy of huge trucks , which ended up taking us deeper into the base to the tarmac where 300 Marines were doing morning exercises. Hmm. We turned around and had to talk to the guards at the post. They didn’t seem real happy but let us go, and we were back on Rt 108.
We got into Bishop before noon and found Larry Fleming from Fresno and Steve Chevront from Salt Lake City already at the J Diamond. We set up camp and looked at the sky. Hopelessly over developed already. So much for my “great week” prediction 24 hours earlier. We went to the Laws Railroad Museum, took a swim in the “Beaver Hole”, then gorged at BBQ Bill’s and checked out the movie theater. Great, “Eclipse” & “Sorcerer’s Apprentice”. Not exactly our usual Owens fare, so we hit the sack.
The next day, the morning sky didn’t look great, but did look possible, so we rolled down to Lone Pine to try to beat the OD early. By the time we got to Lone Pine, it looked like doom. Looking for something to do, we drove to Keeler to poke around. We found the “Owens Lake Resort” with several derelict buildings and the following painted on an old surf board:
“This view brought to you by Los Angeles Power & Water”
“Wear Hazmat suits at all times”
“Pay first, have fun”
We then went to the old Keeler train station. A women hailed us from a distance and walked over to chat. Not too many new folks to talk to in these parts. Pretty soon, “Bullshitter Bob” (as the woman told us) drove up in an old Ford pickup to also chat. His conversation drifted to politics and how the country was going to hell what with all these foreign imports and such. He then mentioned Paul’s Japanese truck. Time to go.
Next, we found “Lone Pine Station”, the old railroad station a couple miles east of town. It’s now restored as a private residence. On to “Owenyo”, the site of the train depot where the narrow gauge Carson & Colorado line met the standard gauge line. Nothing left but foundations. After that we went to the old fish hatchery, where we instigated several fish riots. The trout swarmed so thick on the surface, it looked like you could walk across their backs. Then we visited Driver Babe in the care center. She was witty as ever.
Monday morning looked better and we drove up to Walts. Paul’s back was still bad, so he was driving. Wind at launch was typical early light Walt’s stuff. After my last Owens launch, I wanted more wind and decided not to set up. The only other one there was that Arizona pilot along with Bill, the retired US Marshall as his driver, and they joined our frequency, to our later regret.
Larry & Steve launched their T2s. Conditions weren’t great, Steve landed at Lone Pine Airport and Larry made it past the rest stop to land in a big open area with no sage where Mark Thomas had landed a couple times. We’ll have to call it the Mark & Larry LZ now.
The next morning looked promising, but had a low ceiling. We went to Walt’s again. Bob Stoecker from the Bay Area had joined us, Paul stayed in Bishop to get a back massage, and Larry drove. We arrived at Walts to find a large truck, various other vehicles, and an odd device set up near launch. Turns out it was the Navy testing some comm device.
I had decided to bring my ancient RamAir and set it up. Steve set up his T2 and Bob his U2. We all launched. The saddle was working and we all got up. There was lift on every spine, but there was a low ceiling below 12,000’, so you couldn’t put too much in the bank. It was a pretty Sierra run, and easy to stay above 11k. By the time I got close to Tinemaha, the ceiling had risen to 13,000’, but that’s still quite low to start a valley crossing. Steve was out front, and we’d lost Bob on the radio about an hour into the flight.
I started my crossing from the spine before Tinemaha on a line South of the big cinder cone. I hit the usual heavy sink leaving the Sierras, and wasn’t hitting any lift out further. No valley crossing today. I did a base leg right over the southern most houses of town and landed right by the “Big Pine” sign on 395. Bob landed in the same field shortly thereafter. His batteries had died and he’d been keeping me in sight for the last hour. We quickly broke down and headed North. Steve made it almost to Bishop and landed near Keogh Hot Springs. We congratulated Steve on making it that far and headed into Bishop.
On Wednesday, the clouds were mostly gone, but we headed to Walts again. No ceiling today and we finally had a full truck with 5 pilots. Paul’s back was better after the massage, but not yet airworthy, so he drove. Larry, Steve, Bob and I launched.
The saddle worked for me as (almost) always and I got to 11,000’. But that was my last good thermal. It was all struggle after that, with little good lift. “Where’s Bob” was again frequently heard on the 2 meter as he apparently had a new radio problem. Coming up on Whitney Portal above 9000’, I planned to follow the road to the west of the Alabama Hills out to 395. But there was massive sink from the Portal, and I was forced down Whitney Portal Road. No good landing options. I was trying to make it to a cross road where I’d run a stop sign years before (in the glider), but saw I’d be a 100 yards short. I found a narrow gap between boulders and landed across the fan. Not pretty, but nothing broken. The fetal position saves down tubes.
Bob landed a few hundred yards further down the road in a better spot. Steve got low and wisely landed at the airport. Larry made it out past Manzanar for the day’s best. Not a great day. That evening, we decided Bob would make a fine Tarantula and we came up with 2 potential names for him: “Where’s Bob?”, or “Radio Free Bob”.
On Thursday morning, Radio Free Bob offered to drive, but Steve wanted to drive after 3 flying days, so Where’s Bob headed back to attend his son’s wedding. The sky was blue, and we headed to Piute before noon. Fortunately, Paul now felt good enough to fly. We launched a little after 2:00, lift was good, and we all got up. I got to cloud base at 17,999+’ at White Mtn and dolphin flew the Pellisers. High at Boundary, I looked toward Luning. High cloud street. I looked toward Tonapah. Blue hole. North then.
Not much lift in Nevada, but I’d left Boundary with 18k and got to the middle of Dust Devil valley at 15,000’, trying to follow the cloud street. I had Luning and then some on a glide. No sign of the dreaded North wind we often hit about now. But then massive sink for miles. I had to scrape and claw just to get over the low range into Jackass (Garfield) Flats, where I’d landed once, and had a low save once. I tried to make it over the last ridge into Luning till the last minute, but it was going to be option 1 today. I pulled out a precious smoke and pulled the chain. Stuck. Pulled again. Chain broke. Threw a streamer. No time to watch it. OK, now I’ve got just enough altitude for 1 360 to find the drift. Got it right and managed to have a good landing.
I looked around. Nothing but sage for miles in a big basin surrounded by mountains. Couldn’t raise anyone on the radio, but I’d gotten my position out while still airborne. As I broke down enjoying the desert solitude, my cell phone rings. I can’t believe there’s service here. It’s Duane Deister. We chat, then I call Steve. After they arrive, we test a smoke device Mark made. The smoke worked, and it could also double as a thermal generator.
Meanwhile, Larry landed next to 360 near Candelaria on the road to Mina Junction, and Paul makes it to Luning and takes the day despite a still hurting back. Steve picks everyone up and we go to Mina for dinner. The restaurant we’d eaten in before had shut down, so we tried the “Desert Lobster Café”, housed in a large boat that looked a bit out of it’s element. Despite the big OPEN sign, it too was closed. We ended up in the Mina Club for frozen pizza. When we walk in, there’s 1 pool table, 1 slot machine, and 1 very old bar keep and nobody else. Larry tells him a joke. Willie Wolf just stares at him. He tells us he’s 93 and we don’t doubt it. We order the pizza, Paul orders a gin and tonic, and I order a beer. After some cajoling, I finally get my beer and we get the pizza started. It was the best frozen pizza I’ve ever had in Mina. Now, a gin and tonic requires a glass, ice, tonic, and oh yes, gin. Willie wanders off to find ice, but comes back with only a blank expression. We look at the extensive array of bottles on the shelves. No gin. Willie tells us that gin will kill you. He also relates that he took his son to the 1939 Worlds Fair in San Francisco, that he used to own Sopher’s Casino in Montgomery Pass, and a number of other rambling stories. Paul never did get a drink.
Paul and I had planned to leave after flying Friday to attend the service for Rex on Saturday, but Friday morning dawned with heavy cloud cover…, and rain. We packed up camp and left, stopping at our usual spot in Tuolomne Meadows, then said goodbye to Larry & Steve.
Many thanks to Paul & Steve for using their trucks. No epic days, but the Owens is always interesting. I got what I went for.