Day 7, Leg 2: Along the Cascades to Seattle

Mount Saint Helens

Mount Saint Helens

After lunch in Medford, we hung out for a bit at the FBO — mostly so we could let all of our electronics charge! Keeping an eye on the weather, we saw the beginnings of afternoon thunderstorms forming over the Cascades, so we modified our route a bit:  first, to nearby Crater Lake, then to Eugene and up the Willamette Valley (west of the mountains and the isolated storms) to Portland, followed by Seattle.  Jean-Baptiste was still our pilot in command, so we could even out our time in the left seat, and we took off and turned northeast, back into the mountains.

We leveled off at 9,500 feet, just below the cloud bases, and Crater Lake put on a gorgeous show: unbelievably blue water contrasting with scattered low clouds and snow-covered peaks.  The lake, formed when a volcano erupted over 7,000 years ago, is the deepest in the United States at 1,943 ft.

Leaving Crater Lake behind, we turned northwest toward the relatively flat terrain of the Willamette Valley, passing row after row of logging sites (many with young, recently-planted trees) along the way.  We followed the valley north to Portland, enjoying great views of many mountains poking through the haze off our right wing: the Three Sisters, Mount Jefferson, Mount Hood.

Crossing the Columbia River and heading into Washington, we could already see our next two waypoints:  Mount Saint Helens, and far in the distance, Mount Rainier.  Mount Saint Helens, which erupted spectacularly in 1980, is almost otherworldly from the air — the top of the mountain is simply gone, and what’s left of the peak (now at 8,365 ft) is surrounded by lava flows and landslide debris.

It seemed like we spent a long time actually flying to Mount Rainier (14,410 ft).  Unlike Mount Shasta earlier in the day, which is only a few hundred feet shorter, less haze and a better angle with the sun meant that we could see Rainier from almost 75 miles away!  The peak was partly in the clouds, and there was some serious thunderstorm activity just behind it, which made for a great view.

Seattle Approach cleared us into their Bravo airspace, with the caveat that we stay at least 12 miles away from Seattle-Tacoma International (KSEA), and we descended into Paine Field in Everett, Washington — home of Boeing’s wide-body factory.  On downwind to the runway, the landing traffic ahead of us (on the parallel runway) was a still-green 747 on its very first flight! We flew right over the Boeing factory on final, which seemed so gigantic that it felt like the ground instead of just a building, and taxied to Castle & Cooke Aviation, where 7CF would spend the next two nights.

After unpacking our gear, the line crew at Castle & Cooke was nice enough to drop us off at the rental car office, but we arrived just minutes after they closed for the night!  Thankfully, the line crew was happy to take us to our hotel, then retrieve us in the morning — saving us a day’s car rental in the process!  We grabbed a quick dinner and settled in, looking forward to an easy day exploring tomorrow.