Day 3, Leg 1: Crossing the Rockies

Looking southwest from Salida, Colorado

Looking southwest from Salida, Colorado

Today is a big day: we are crossing the Continental Divide! Neither of us has ever flown ourselves above 10,000 ft, or used oxygen. We’re crossing Marshall Pass (10,845 ft) and planning to cruise at 14,500 ft, using a portable oxygen system per the regulations (and common sense! Special thanks to Mark Sanford for lending us his system). We take off from Boulder around 8:30 am, before the mountain winds kick up and solar heating causes turbulence. First we head due south, leaving Pikes Peak (14,110 ft) to our left and Thirtynine Mountain (11,548 ft) to our right. The scenery on the snow-capped mountains is breathtaking. While the Mooney struggles to climb, we turn plug into the oxygen system at 10,000 feet, and instantly feel more awake!

After Waugh Mountain (11,710 ft), we turn West towards Salida, Colorado. The Mooney has made it to 14,500 ft, but only barely — even with the throttle wide open and the propeller speed at the redline, the engine is making less than half of its 200 rated horsepower. As we head west, finding not just a pass, but the pass is difficult in unfamiliar terrain; we’re glad to have Foreflight and the Stratus, to help us find our way.

Just after Salida, we turn south and first cross Poncha Pass, then west to cross Marshall Pass. Mount Ouray (13,971 ft) is just two miles off our right wing, and the view is spectacular.

After Marshall Pass, the terrain quickly drops to 8,000 ft or so, and we follow the valley towards the Montrose airport (KMTJ). The scenery is also completely different, with light brown hills, almost no human presence, and beautiful canyons.  As we descend into the Montrose airport (5,759 ft), the automated weather report announces a wind variable at 5 knots — maybe true at the surface, but we ride through some pretty serious turbulence on final approach. Jim does a great job landing the airplane in those conditions, and we taxi to Black Canyon Jet Center, whose main business is serving jets bringing clients to Telluride ski resort, for fuel and a check of the weather before heading on.

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