Thursday, March 1, 2012

Primal Wilderness Rambling From Three Sisters

Was it actual bush flying? Or just an unsanctioned flight around the peaks and through the valleys of the Three Sisters Mountains of central Oregon? I asked myself such questions when I sat down to write this. Regardless, it was a wild ride. I don’t pretend to know a lot about aircraft. Yet, I love flying. When a pilot from St. Louis offered to take me up in his 1957 Cessna 172, I jumped at the opportunity.

A January day in Bend Oregon - the kind of day when the sky is white with pregnant snow clouds and the Deschutes River rushes its ice-cold water forward with big angry leaps. The bush pilot (a gangly guy called Blake) hand-cranked the propeller and hopped in. I was already buckled into my seat, naive and excited. He told me we were just taking the "old girl" out for a spin. We took off from Bend Municipal Airport and headed West. Flying over central Oregon at low altitude was fun, but my heart started pounding as we made our approach to the Three Sisters.

The siblings under discussion are three volcanic peaks in the Cascade Mountain Range. Approaching at a relatively low altitude, I got a breathtaking view of Deschutes National Forest. The tops of thousands of Douglas-fir trees formed a solid blanket of blue-green. I wondered what would happen to us if the plane were to give out right then and there. No place to land. Blake kept flying us toward the Three Sisters.

I started to really wonder. Blake’s words blurted through my headset, “Are you ready?” That’s when the mountain peaks started to get bigger and bigger. We began to climb in altitude up the side of the northernmost peak. The air became thick and misty. The Cessna’s engine sounded rough but steady, a small comfort. Inside the cabin, I shivered from the cold but barely noticed.

I couldn’t believe it when Blake sharply turned the plane into the ravine between the middle and North peaks. The Cessna seemed to struggle for breath as we passed through, low enough for me to see rocks and sprigs of plant life that peppered the snow-splotched caps. When we came out on the other side, Blake spun the aircraft South and circled the northernmost peak so closely that I could view details of the landscape. Have you ever seen the film The Mountain? Spencer Tracy gets stuck on a peak after a brutal airplane crash. I wondered momentarily if I was headed for the same fate.

Once we cleared the mountains, Blake stalled the airplane and we nose-dived, plunging toward the forest. I felt a mixture of exhilaration and fear. With my stomach sufficiently relocated to my mouth, Blake pulled the plane out of its stall and flew over the Deschutes National Forest, mere feet above the tree tops. For a final thrill, he pushed the Cessna to climb out of a canyon and up a small hillside to the North. As we rose in elevation again, the engine sputtered a little. Blake didn’t seem to worry, so I didn’t either.

Back up at a safe elevation of around 10,000 feet, Blake and I flew over Bend then landed safely back at the airport. This trip was nothing new for him. I didn’t give much thought to my mortality on that flight, but looking back, it was a bit risky. The air was cold and wet, the plane was old, plus we had no special landing gear. Still, I don’t regret it, although I wouldn't suggest it.

What I do suggest is a trip to Typhoon, where I went after my flight. This is an Asian fusion restaurant in the Los Angeles area, with a spectacular view of the Santa Monica Municipal Airport. Typhoon’s menu is imaginative, including adventurous dishes such as Taiwanese Crickets and Singapore Scorpions, if you are so inclined. Live jazz is abundant and New Castle draft is on tap. Standing out on the deck with a glass of wine in hand, watching airplanes land just yards away, I reflected on my crazy pseudo-bush-flying adventure. No matter where I go, Oregon memories are never far away.

Aimee Conner crawled out of a cave in a remote part of central Oregon. She can play the old-time fiddle and work the ancient magic of baking. She has now joined "civilized" society in Los Angeles, where you can't shoot the animals, but the animals sometimes shoot at you. She's the author of the psychological thriller Scrapbook.


  1. I think I would have thoroughly enjoyed a flight like that, Aimee!

  2. Anyone that craves a thrill definitely would and it sounds like you do! Thank you for reading William.

    Aimee Conner

  3. I like the photo of the mountain because i like how it looks with the snow and the blue sky and very clear
    Eduardo Muriedas Le Royal

  4. Eduardo,

    Thank you for reading! Yes I wish the sky had been clear the day I went up, but it was very grey. It was interesting the way the mist hovered over the peaks, I felt like I was flying in the clouds. In a way, I was! ;-)