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Pine Mt. Fly-In Central Oregon High Desert

Every year Phil and Frankie and the Desert Air Riders host the Pine Mt. Fly-In for paragliders and hang gliders.  It's known worldwide as one of the best events of it's kind and I just had to be there this year.

We very recently had our fourth child and my in-laws were gracious enough to help my wife out so I could have the kitchen pass to go to this "never miss" event.  Yeeaaa!  I only had a day and a half to do it though so no driving allowed!

Just leaving Sandpoint, ID is the Pend Oreille (prounounced "Ponderay") river with the little town of Priest River in the far background.


Further south is the end of the mighty Snake river as it dumps into the Columbia and then out to the Pacific.  If the Snake could talk it surely would have some incredible tales since it travels through some of the most rugged and beautiful country in America.   For a couple of college summers I was a raft guide on the Snake's headwaters near Jackson Hole, WY so it's definitely a special river to me.


As I get nearer to Central Oregon I have to cross over some wilderness areas near Fossil.  The canyons of the John Day river are noted for their unique geology and beautiful colored cliffs.  



Ah, my old stomping grounds- Prineville, OR.  I was pretty involved with EAA 617 when I use to live there (chapter president, etc) and we built the hangar in the center-left of the picture. 

I stopped and talked to some of the fellows and was very saddened to learn that one of the members (and a friend of mine) had died in an aerobatics accident the day before.  Flying is very unforgiving and aerobatics even more so.  It was a sobering reminder not take this sport (and life) for granted. 


Just south of Prineville and out in the high desert is the famous Pine Mountain.  Paraglider and hang glider pilots just love Pine because of its smooth slopes and perfect location.  In the daytime the desert thermals provide ample "rowdy" lift but in the evening the air cools down and the ground gives off a buoyant heat that travels up the smooth slopes and creates a phenomenally smooth lift called "glass-off". 

But first I had to get there!  Landing in the sagebrush is tricky because there aren't any real fields nearby and the roads are very narrow and bumpy.  

Big tires to the rescue!  I was able to carefully land on a road and then taxi close to "Frankie's Flying Farm".  The glider pilots got a kick out of seeing a "powered" guy drop in to their turf.

Now a note here is in order... I'm not some hot bush jockey with gobs of practice landing on postage stamps covered in basketball sized boulders.  I got away with this landing because of my aircraft and its ability to fly very very slowly and land in rough areas (so the tires absorb the bumps and don't knock you around).   Because this area was so open I was able to make several passes over the road, each time not intending to land.  With my vortex generators and some power on I'm able to slow down to the low 20s when in ground effect.  This comes in handy when checking out the suitability of landing areas like these since I can "drag" the area several times and when it feels good let the plane settle and then get on the brakes and stop very quickly.   The other thing I had going for me was that I knew the area and had driven the road lots of times and knew exactly where widest areas were and where the washboards were the worst.


The fly-in was as popular as ever and numerous folks were camped all around the farm having a great time.


But the real great time was up on the hill!  Paragliders were everywhere tearing it up in the ample lift. 


At Pine you drive and park (or fly and land in my case) at the bottom and then put your wing on your back (in a backpack) and hike up about 600 vertical feet to the launch.  

Here's my instructer from when I first learned to paraglide.  Phil Pohl is a paragliding legend and has been flying and instructing about as long as anybody in the country.  He's quite a pilot and one of the greatest guys you'll meet. 

Folks in the background are hiking up and to the top left of the picture you can see the Farm and just above Phil's head you can see the yellow dot where I parked.


Ah... airborne!  There's nothing like paragliding.  I love anything that flies but paragliding is right up there at the top.  It's about the purest form of flight you can do (nothing but you and about 20 lbs of fabric and cords holding you up).

It's very similar to three-dimensional snow skiing but with a "tactical" side.  You are constantly searching and playing with the unseen lift so that you can work your way up the mountain ("bench up").  Sometimes it makes sense to go out front and other times you need to stay in close and work the lift near the surface of the hill.  Like I said, it's very tactical- you are constantly making decisions about where to fly and how to best use the resources available. 


Oh yea, did I mention that while you're working the lift you're trying to avoid everyone else that's doing the same thing!  This is actually a rare scene, very seldom does Pine get this crowded.  The fly-in is a big draw so it's more of a party atmosphere up there rather than the usual tranquility.

I dinked around taking pictures and got too far out front once and ended up sinking out and having to land.  Neverless I still got about an hour flight and had an incredible time.  Some of the other guys were getting 2-2.5 hour flights in the evenings and more than that in the daytime going cross-country (thermals).  Sure beats the high price of gas when you want to get some air under your feet!


A great example of the standard landing sequence... fly into the wind towards the landing zone, slide out of the sitting position until you hang from your harness, and then pull your brakes for a perfect flare and a feather soft touchdown. 

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A very typical Pine Mountain sunset over the Central Oregon Cascades.


The next morning it was time to take off for some more fun! 

But first I had to get out of that narrow road.  Let's see, pace off 150 feet and see if you can get off before the green sagebrush (just below my left wingtip's trailing edge).  I had a little help because it was slightly downhill and I was fairly light on fuel but it was still pretty short by most general-aviation standards and my S-7 would have probably made even a few Alaska Cub drivers proud (especially considering the altitude compared to Alaska).


 Now this is more like it!  Piece of cake, right?  Well you still need to be careful.  It's long but very rough and soft/sandy and the only real places to set down without getting into small Juniper trees are the two swaths left of centerline.  Did I mention that it's full of motorcycle ruts? 


A very typical Central Oregon strip.  Hot, dusty, and surrounded by Pines and Junipers.  The good news is that is literally across the road from some extremely good fishing.


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Fall River is like Disneyland compared to Idaho backcountry fishing. The section across the road from the airstrip is right next to the fish hatchery and most of the fish are planters.

There are gobs of people that fish this section and the fish and are very use to seeing flies.  Even the small ones will refuse anything but a nice pattern with a drag free presentation.

The hatchery itself is very popular.  Here is the "show pond" with some HUGE trout.  The picture doesn't do these monsters justice- they are BIG.


The stream itself is extremely clean and *filled* with fish.  It's quite a teaser because you can see all those fish down there but unless you're right on your game you won't get many to strike.  Even when they do strike they are so use to flies that often they won't let you set the hook.  It's uncanny how smart they are- you can literally bump your fly off the big ones and they'll just ignore it.

Here a fellow from Portland has hooked a nice little Rainbow.


The weather is getting hotter and it's time to get out of there before the thermals kick up too much.  Time to head north and back to the family.

But first I have to fly over Lancair (Bend) and see how they're doing.   Let's see, 17 planes outside- they must be selling a few Columbias.  Good for them!  Even though I don't particularly like glass planes I'm happy that Lancair (and general aviation as a whole) is doing so well.  As they say, "these are the good 'ole days."


Here's a new golf couse they're putting in between Redmond and Bend.  Central Oregon has more golf courses per capita than any place in the world.

A lot of this acreage use to be owned by a friend of mine named Tim.  He had a little 1200' dirt airstrip here that I landed my little Ercoupe at once.  That was a pretty short strip for an 85hp Coupe :)  Good thing Junipers don't grow too tall.

One day Tim was driving home and a nicely dressed fellow stopped him and offered to buy him and his neighbors out.  Of course Tim said "no, it's not for sale" since he had put an incredible amount of work into building his home, hangar, and airstrip (not to mention going though the process of getting the strip approved). 

The developer had a big meeting and offered a crazy amount of money but on the condition that if any of the neighbors held out then the deal was off.  Talk about peer pressure!  Needless to say Tim did OK and was able to live the "American Real Estate Dream" :)  Way to go Tim- now finish that RV you're supposed to be building!


North of Redmond is Smith Rocks.  This famous climbing area was the first place I ever rock climbed.  Later I went on to pay most of my way through college by guiding and teaching climbing so these rocks are pretty dear to me.


Madras, OR has a fair bit of agriculture and the patchwork of colorful fields is beautiful with Mt. Jefferson and Mt. Hood in the background. 


Back through the John Day River area.  I wanted to camp at a little strip called Checker Flats but the wind was up and I felt it was better to climb high and try to make it to Sandpoint without stopping for fuel. 

After getting to about 11,000 feet (the tailwind kept increasing the higher I climbed) I realized that all my warm clothes were in the baggage area and all I had on my legs were shorts and sandals.  Brrr!


But I made it and just slightly after sunset.  The trip home from Redmond only took me three hours.  It would have taken about three times that long if I would have drove (and I would have burned more fuel). PM090.jpg

This kind of trip was what I built my plane for!  What a great option for getting away for a while and having some fun!