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John Kounis's blog
At EAA AirVenture Oshkosh, we spent a lot of time touting the joy of airplane camping to our pilot friends. Some, like Ramona Cox, a.k.a. "Sky Chick," are avid airplane campers who have pitched their tents in remote corners of the world. Others were new to airplane camping and just wanted an introduction. So we hatched a plan to host a fly-in at Kernville Airport (L05) by Lake Isabella, California as an intro to airplane camping.
Kernville Airport was featured in our Fall 2001 issue as a fly-in camping destination less than an hour's flight from Los Angeles.
I have always had a passion for astronomy. In fact, it was that interest that resulted in my admission to USC, my job at Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and ultimately my membership in the Aero Association of CalTech where I trained for my pilot license. So when Rhonda, a friend of mine with the Valencia Hiking Crew Meetup Group mentioned the opportunity to spend a night observing through the 60-inch telescope at Mount Wilson, I couldn't resist.
I have often flown over water in a single-engine aircraft. Sometimes, the flight is short, like 22 nm to Catalina Island, but other times, it has been as far as the 600+ nm over cold North Atlantic waters from Goose Bay, Labrador, to Narssarssuaq, Greenland. On every flight, the life boat on the back seat and my life preserver or immersion suit gave me the confidence that I was prepared for a potential ditching.
But could I really react to a ditching, exit the aircraft, inflate the raft, and climb into it in rolling, frigid waters? I thought so, but I had never even inflated the raft. In fact, the last time I had even seen it inflated was at AOPA Expo 1997 in San Jose, where I bought the raft from the Winslow Life Raft Company.
The May/June 2012 issue Flight Plan section covered a pool course I took with the H2O2 Foundation, a company that conducts self-rescue courses for pilots. This weekend, I had a chance to take it to the next level with their Advanced OCEAN course. This involved going out on a boat and performing exercises like donning life vests, boarding a life raft, firing flares, and dyeing the water on the open ocean.
The last day of our trip was dominated by flying—lots and lots of flying—to circumnavigate weather, and to get Caroline home in time for a 7 a.m. meeting she had the following day. Again, the weather approaching from the northwest pushed us eastward, fortunately toward more scenic terrain.
We took off from Idaho Falls under clear skies, but soon encountered an overcast deck at about 8,000–9,000 feet with scattered rain showers and visibility down to 5 miles. Although that may seem like a high ceiling, most of peaks along the route are between 9,500 and 11,500 feet, meaning we were confined to the valleys. Departing Idaho Falls, we proceeded direct to Tigert Airport in Soda Springs, Idaho. From there, we followed U.S. Highway 30 about 45 nm to Cokeville Airport in Wyoming. With surface elevations of 6,000–6,500 feet and the peaks around us shrouded in clouds, this was perhaps the most challenging leg of the trip. Ramona was not familiar with the area, so she clung to my left wing like a little duckling following mama duck through the clouds.
The end run around the front worked. After Cokeville, the coulds became increasingly more scattered and the ceiling rose to 10,000, then 12,000, then 14,000 feet. Flying south out of Wyoming across Utah, we were enjoying the dry air that comes from being in the rain shadow of the mountains. Unfortunately, the drying of the air comes at a cost: As the air dries, it heats and accelerates. Wind gusts were up to 30 knots, and the turbulence was continuous.
The "afternoon and evening thunderstorms" I had expected turned out to be stronger and more persistent than forecast. Rain pelted the tent the entire night, resulting in mud patches and puddles in the campground. A check of XM weather revealed that the heavy rain would abate for a couple of hours between 10 a.m. noon, and then return with a vengance and hang on for the next couple of days. We decided that the best course of action was to make an escape as soon as the weather permitted.
There was some stress in the group as the bad weather stubbornly hung on, and it was still marginal at noon. Fortunately, the weather did end up clearing by around 2 p.m. As soon as the skies cleared, a big-tired Maule landed to pick up his friends, our campsite neighbors the bear hunters. The pilot had seen the same forecast as we had and wanted to get his friends out of the backcountry before they got trapped for a few more days.