Smooth flying to Mammoth (and back)

This may have been the smoothest flight I’ve ever had through the Owens Valley and over the Sierra Nevada. I accompanied two pilots on our FLIT Sunday to Mammoth Lakes, California.

Approximate route flown

You can investigate the route in more detail on RunwayFinder

As has become more common, we took off on runway 1 at El Monte in the morning with calm winds. LM had us soon climbing direct towards Clear Creek. That route keeps us in the shadow of the Verdugos, relative to Burbank’s radar, so radar identification took a while with SoCal Approach. We turned more directly towards Mojave, as we were able to see over the San Gabriels toward Edwards AFB; crossing into the Antelope Valley, we stayed on the west side of the 14 freeway to remain clear of restricted areas. Joshua Approach advised that both R-2515 and R-2505 were hot, so no overflights of Edwards or China Lake this time. We leveled at 10,500′ and leaned out for cruise with the Tehachapis off to our left

Windmills toward Tehachapi

A right turn at MHV and a left turn before IYK to kept us west of the 395. Established in the Owens Valley we could easily see Lake Isabella to the west and many of the volcanic formation in the valley.

Evidence of California's vulcanism

We pulled out the pulse oximeter to check how we were all doing and tried breathing techniques to increase oxygenation. We pulled out the out the oxygen to see its effect; despite being 2000′ below the altitude where oxygen is required, LM saw a 5-10% increase. We had great views of Owens Lake, Mt Whitney, and the Owens Valley Radio Observatory as we approached Bishop and angled towards Mammoth and Crowley Lake.

Dishes at the Owens Valley Radio Observatory

At MMH, winds were favoring a downwind approach to runway 9. We had a smooth touchdown and taxied, following the golf cart from Hot Creek Aviation. We were led to an easy pull in parking spot and the line gus had the wheel chocks in place soon after shutdown. Inside, we asked for a top off and arranged for an Enterprise rent-a-car. Maybe 10 minutes later, we were on our way into town for some food and a little touring.

The weather in Mammoth was perfect – temps in the 60s (F), light winds, and crystal clear blue skies. We stopped for lunch at the Village. We were a little surprised to find the Smokeyard, Lakanuki, and the Auld Dubliner were all closed on a beautiful Sunday afternoon (an indication of the off season and economy I guess). We decided on Gomez’s and enjoyed a good meal in the shade on the patio, followed by our requisite caffeine stop.

Back in the car, we headed towards the Mountain and the Minarets overlook to compare the view on the ground to the view from air. Back through town, we drove to Twin Lakes and the Tamarack Lodge. I hadn’t been that direction in a while and was impressed by great bike trail all the way – I’ll definitely have to try that out in the future.

Minarets Overlook

We made a quick stop at Schat’s Bakery to pick up some goodies and then back to the airport. Pay for fuel (a bit of an ouch at $7.77/gal, but it waived a $15 ramp fee and avoids another stop), preflight, and shuffle pilots/headsets and we’re on our way. Winds still favored runway 9, so DN executed a wide downwind departure around terrain and headed towards the road to Lee Vining. With an 8900′ density altitude, full fuel, three people and our stuff, we aren’t climbing fast, but we are climbing; we took advantage of some terrain and winds to find lift, slowly making our way north and to 12,000′ before we finally start up the canyon to Tioga Pass. Mono lake is clearly visible off to the right.

Mono Lake

Eventually we start to see over the eastern side of the Sierras to Tuolumne Meadows and even the central valley beyond. We level off at 13,000′ as we orient to find Half Dome. We cross over into Yosemite Valley near Olmstead Point. We circled well above Half Dome.

Half Dome from above

We spotted Vernal, Nevada, and Yosemite falls; then headed west, then south, seeing El Capitan, Wawona, Coarsegold and Bass Lake on our way towards Fresno.

We leveled at 11,500′ for our southeast trip along the central valley and the Sierra foothills, talking first with Oakland Center, then Bakersfield Approach, LA Center, and finally SoCal Approach. We were on approach to El Monte, just in time for sunset and DN greased our landing.



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