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Celebrate with a Cross Country to Pikes Peak

After completing the requirements for my US Glider Certificate (an add-on to my Private Pilot Rating), I wanted to celebrate with a nice relaxing flight. I was at Peak Soaring in Colorado and their 2-33 was rented for lessons, so I needed another plan. I talked to several local pilots for ideas. John Duprey volunteered so I decided to rent the Grob 103 and see if we could get to Pikes Peak. We got our gear ready including oxygen cannulas, water and energy bars for the long flight. Pic #1 is us getting ready to go. I thought John was overly concerned when he got a few extra seat cushions and had me sit on them.

We took a tow and released in what seemed to be a good thermal. We got skunked and had to land, it was disappointing. Not wanting to head home without a long flight, we opted for another try. On the second tow, we had a nice view of our goal, in Pic #2 you can see Pikes Peak over the right wing of the tow plane, it sure looks far away! We towed a little higher and waited for a better thermal before releasing. This time we were going to at least have a fair chance. After starting slow and rough, the thermals would smooth out and get slightly stronger as we worked our way up. I continued to watch the terrain below us and cautiously picked out every field I considered to be landable. As we gained more and more altitude, I decided I was wasting my time. Pic #3 shows some of the landscape below us as we flew towards the peak.

After we were at a safe altitude, John turned the controls over to me. I have to admit that I did a poor job of balancing the rudder with the aileron inputs. The Grob needed more rudder than anything I have previously flown and I oscillated between over and under correcting with the rudder as I closed in after each large aileron change. As I got better, I was able to work the lift and we started climbing. As we passed 13,000’ we put on the cannula’s and I dialed in my flow. It was my first time on oxygen and the sensation was odd. It tickled my nose and had a slightly dry effect. I pondered where the air I was breathing came from.

In working the thermals heading for the peak, there was a time where we were back at about 10,000 feet when only half way there. It was interesting to see John’s strategy -vs- mine. When I gave up and asked John for help, instead of heading for home as I would have, he put the nose down and at 80 knots flew through the sink onward towards the peak. Sure enough he was right and there was lift on the other side of the valley. I learned that faith and confidence in previous experience and your equipment is required for flying cross-country.

Pic #4 shows our view as we approached the peak. We were still low but almost there. We headed for a radio tower complex to the SE on a lower ridge and sure enough it was kicking up something. Judging by the wind on the lakes below, were were probably getting a little slope lift too as it was rough. We worked it for 10 minutes and only maintained. We headed out looking for something better. Pic #5 shows the best we did over the smaller ridge. Pic #6 shows how were were below the top as we arrived. We moved to the west to work up in the ridge lift we hoped would be there. We slowly moved up the ridge and kept working it until a bunch of birds pointed the way to a thermal. The thermal took us over the top and really got strong Pic #7 shows the observation area on the top as we gained enough to easily clear the top. Pic #8 shows my panel as we kept moving up in a very steady +600-800 fpm.

Pic #C is a final wave good by as we depart and head for home. As you can see in Pic #D, the home field sure seems a long ways away. It’s after the end of the mountains in that valley you can barely see!

John sounded very happy, so I snapped a shot of him by holding the camera over my head, this is Pic #E. You can see Pikes Peak off his right shoulder as we head for home. I flew home and other than circling twice in what turned out to be very little lift, we made the airport very easily. We had plenty of altitude and flew another 15 minutes around the airport in 200-400fpm afternoon lift taking more pictures of the area.

It was the most incredible flight of my life. One I will no doubt remember for years. I learned many things I hope to carry with me and use to improve my personal skills. I also learned that the pressure points on my posterior were not used to sitting in such a position for 2-hours. By the time we landed I was very sore and in need of standing up to get the pressure off my hind side. I was also glad John had insisted on the cushions, and that I had packed my camel back with the camera and several rolls of film as I used them all.

Dale Taylor
Lindon, Utah

This page was updated Monday, June 14, 2004.

98,99,2000&01 Dale Taylor, soarwest.com, contact via email.