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Pilot Getaways - My Life-Changing Adventure

We’re kicking off our first “Reader Getaway” with a submission from our own Technical Editor, who has been with the magazine since 2006.

Pilot Getaways has undoubtedly enriched the lives of many of its readers, but I have a hunch that, aside from the magazine’s founders, John and George Kounis, nobody’s life has been changed by it more than mine. Long before my professional association with Pilot Getaways, the magazine introduced me to a whole new lifestyle, and something I read in it eventually led us to move from Southern California to Idaho.

Memorial Day in Montana - Day 4

Click here to read about day 3 of this adventure.

Cowling off in the rain

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.

Memorial Day in Montana - Day 3

Click here to read about day 2 of this adventure.

Flying along the Chinese WallRamona had never had professional photographs of her airplane, so she talked us into flying over the Chinese Wall for air-to-air photography. We had flown 477 nm from Battle Mountain to Schafer; Ramona had flown 300 nm from Caldwell, but she took a circuitous route due to weather, so we were both low on fuel. The fuel situation limited our air-to-air time, but we still hoped to get at least a few publication-worthy images.

Ideally, a photo shoot should be conducted at sunrise. In fact, we often take off before sunrise in order to catch the first rays of sun striking the mountaintops, which occurs a few minutes before the sun rises in the valleys. In this case, however, the group operated at a more lax pace, and we took off around noon. The midday turbulence limited our ability to maintain a tight formation, but we were able to get a few photographs at the Chinese Wall and in the pattern at Schafer.

Memorial Day in Montana - Day 2

Click here to read about day 1 of this adventure.

The morning in Battle Mountain dawned clear and calm, and we were excited to embark on our flight to the Idaho Backcountry. The weather was quite variable and the forecast had been changing all week, but our last-minute briefing in the morning confirmed that our destination, Moose Creek, Idaho, [featured in our Summer 1999 issue] was forecast to have passable weather for the long weekend.

Sky Chick Portrait We conferred with Ramona Cox, aka "Sky Chick" (see, who planned to meet us in the backcountry and camp with us for a few days, and we agreed to meet at Moose Creek.

Memorial Day in Montana - Day 1

Loading the Cessna 185


George and I recently completed the Sierra Club Wilderness Travel Course. The dedicated instructors and staff taught us all about snowshoeing, snow camping, rock scrambling, wilderness first aid, and having a great time in the backcountry. Last weekend, we had an opportunity to reciprocate by taking Caroline Lee, one of the staff members, on an airplane camping trip to the Idaho and Montana backcountry. An avid hiker, climber, camper, and backpacker, Caroline had never been airplane camping, although she did like to fly with me. (See the Fight Plan section of the May/June 2013 issue for a description of her first airplane flight over the Sierra Nevada mountains).

Normally used to backpacking, we reveled in the luxury of being able to carry more weight in my Cessna 185. We took our big tent, a two-burner stove, laptop computer, and even the kitchen sink—literally (we had Sea to Summit Kitchen Sink with us). When we stacked the daunting pile of gear next to the airplane, we feared we may have gone too far. The loading process entailed weighing each item and paring the gear down until we achieved a maximum weight of precisely 3,358 pounds. My Cessna 185 has a gross weight of 3,350 pounds, but there is a 1.4-gallon (8.4-pound) allowance for engine start and taxi, so we even had 0.4 pounds to spare!