Yesterday Tammy and I made the cross country flight that we’ve been planning for several weeks: we flew down the Columbia River Gorge past Biggs Junction, landed to a full stop in The Dalles, then returned to Hillsboro after sunset. The weather forecast looked promising in the days and hours before the flight, but when morning came the valley was covered in fog. We waited at the airport as the weather developed into low scattered clouds over Hillsboro. I commented that if I had my instrument rating we could have departed with an IFR clearance to VFR conditions on top, and we probably would have made it out of there by 12:30. As 1:30 rolled round the weather reports for everything east of us were clear, but Hillsboro was reporting 8 miles of visibility in mist with scattered clouds at 700 feet. When it appeared we had a pretty good sized hole in the clouds, we hopped in the airplane and climbed above the scattered layer. I picked up a transponder code from Portland Approach and flew ATC’s assigned vectors through the Class C airspace, then resumed my own navigation near the mouth of the gorge.

We observed Lenticular cloud formations over Mt. Adams and Mt. Rainier, which can form when a mountain wave pushes moist and stable air up causing the water vapor to condense, then pushes the air back down which causes the water to evaporate, resulting in the familiar lense-shaped cloud over the crest of the wave. We passed over the towns of Hood River, The Dalles, and Biggs. East of Biggs we spotted a wind turbine in the distance, then realized that the entire horizon was filled with them. As we descended, Tammy took pictures of the turbines, and I monitored the emergency frequency (121.5) in case the military chose to inquire as to why a Cessna 172 was circling around the U.S. electrical power infrastructure. Next we found the recreation of Stonehenge across the river from Biggs, so we descended lower and snapped some pictures while circling the monument. After we had our fill of Stonehenge I started us towards The Dalles.

There was a Beechcraft Bonanza in the traffic pattern at The Dalles, so I coordinated our movements with the other pilot on the CTAF frequency, landed, and taxied to the transient parking lot. There was a little cafe on the airport, so we decided to check it out. Inside we met the Bonanza pilot, a 300-hour pilot from Hawaii, and consumed hamburgers, chips, and diet cokes while we talked with him and his wife. The sun was starting to set, so we paid our bill and got back into the airplane. On our climb out from The Dalles we were presented with an amazing sunset, so in order to get some good pictures out of Tammy’s window we flew a couple of 360’s during the climb.

The visibility in Hillsboro was 6 miles in mist with the temperature at the dewpoint, so during the return flight I was considering alternate airports in case Hillsboro fogged in. As we approached the mouth of the gorge, east Portland and Troutdale were clear of fog, but the mist on the other side of the West Hills looked pretty thick, and patches of fog had already started to develop to the south. ATC gave us vectors as we descended through Portland’s airspace on a direct course to Hillsboro. Hillsboro Tower instructed me to enter a right base leg, then to follow another airplane on downwind. I spotted the traffic right away, but I was having a difficult time finding the airport in the mist. As I turned to position myself behind the other airplane, the airport suddenly came into view, and it became evident I had shot through the base leg. I informed the tower and we circled onto right downwind, then turned to base when we were abeam our traffic. There was no fog on the runway when we landed, but as we taxied back to our parking spot we passed through a couple of small patches. We were fortunate the events turned out as they did; had we arrived much later, we would probably have diverted to Troutdale and taken the light rail to Hillsboro. But it was still a great flight, and Tammy captured some of her most beautiful images so far.

Here is our course from Yesterday’s flight:
Our course for the flight

2 Responses to “Winter in the Columbia River Gorge”

  1. David

    Cool. Sounds like a great flight. As I was driving home from church on Sunday I thought it would be an amazing day for a flight… it was so clear. We went cross country skiing on Saturday and it was precipitating the whole time, and then the next day, totally clear blue skies. The winter scenery is neat. It was cool to see the photos of the snow covered mountains and the surrounding hills with patches of snow. :) Fun stuff.

  2. Phil

    I see you got your wind farm pictures you were hoping to get :) Cool.

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