Wahatis Peak Slope Flying

Posted by Chris Erikson on Apr 12, 2003

Chris has done it again. An excellent description of what looks like a great slope called Wahatis Peak located in central Washington on the Columbia Plateau, about 9 miles S of Vantage.

Wahatis Peak (Saddle Mtn East)

Copyright Chris Erikson 2003

Location: Central Washington, 20 Miles SW of Moses lake

Driving Time: 3.5 hours from Seattle

Wind: WSW to S to ESE

Weather sites:
Forecasts and current conditions

Text, current conditions and record for last 24 hours:

Satellite Image of WA, updated every 15 minutes

Access: Dirt road

Season: Year Round. Best March – May and Sept-Oct. Very hot in summer, very cold in winter.

Vertical Relief: 1500 feet

Skill level: Easy

Saddle Mountain is located in central Washington on the Columbia Plateau, about 9 miles S of Vantage.

It is a very large and isolated structure, composed principally of a single ridge running nearly perfectly east/west, about 33 miles long, 6 miles wide, and roughly 2000 feet higher than the surrounding desert. The Columbia River defines its western boundary at Sentinel gap, and to the east it gently shrinks in relief and turns southwards until it blends into the surrounding desert and farmland.

The North slope is defined by the Crab Creek drainage, and to the south the Wahluke slope runs gently southward to the Columbia 5-10 miles distant. Access to all sites is from the state highway running east-west on the Wahluke slope from Mattawa, then N onto one of two access roads. (See Sentinel Gap for details on western site).

Saddle is ¼ owned by the BLM and is managed as an unimproved recreation area, ¼ of it is a National Wildlife Preserve, and the other half (in the central region) is privately owned.

The maximum elevation is Wahatis Peak at about 2692 feet, a spectacular and steep minor summit of layered columnar basalt with a road to the top. Unfortunately for RC’ers, the summit is the site of several large microwave antenna farms guaranteed to swamp even the best RX’s. Luckily for us, the slope site we use is slightly east of here and there is no problem with decent FM RC systems.

Saddle Mountain’s immense length and relatively large height in such an isolated and flat region make Saddle visible for miles in every direction; it’s easily recognizable on the southern horizon while traveling I-90 to Moses lake.

It also means that if a puff of wind is blowing anywhere on the plateau, it’s hitting Saddle and going up!

The Wahatis slope site is the easiest to reach site on Saddle. A nice paved road leads to the summit ridge, a left (to the west) leads to the Wahatis peak site. A few more S wind sites and a few N wind ones can be accessed from the road itself or with a short hike. Please do not fly on the Wildlife Preserve!

There are rattlesnakes in this area; it’s smart to wear boots. On one trip we saw three in one day. Be very cautious around rock outcrops.

Typical Weather:
Many windy days. Snow sporadically Oct-March, usually melts off after a few days. Temperatures climb into the 60’s in late March, and by May it can be 75-90+ degrees on the summit. Summer days are extremely hot here, and there is NO shade whatsoever, and no water, so be prepared.

Slope Terrain:
Entirely open, large, steep slopes. Dirt with flowers, cheatgrass, sagebrush, baseball to gravel sized rocks in soil, a few boulders and outcroppings.

With a SE to S to SW wind, the lift is very good. Luckily, this is the most common wind direction. The more the wind swings to the E or W, the harder it is to fly this area because of the numerous humps and minor summits to the E and W which create problems. The unobstructed views and open hillside provides great sight lines for wide open big air flying.

The basin to the W towards the Wahatis summit is immensely entertaining to fly when the lift is pumping. You can run the rim for as long as your nerve lasts, or go way, way down into the basin and pop back up like it’s nothing. The lift along the basin rim can be glass smooth and tons of fun.

On calm wind days, enormous thermals come up the hill from both N and S due to the surrounding desert and large areas of basalt outcroppings found on the lower slopes.

Landing zone:
Easy. The top is totally flat, merely fly downwind of the site and then drop down onto the flats. My approach is to fly the western basin and then run the lip back E toward me, allowing my plane to be blown slightly inland/downwind, then drop onto the turf right at my feet. (In my dreams!)

Walk of Shame: No problem. Open slopes dotted with sage. Beware of rattlesnakes!

No camping permitted on National Wildlife Reserve, or private lands surrounding BLM land. Camping is permitted on BLM land, no facilities whatsoever, no cover either.

Slope Etiquette:
As you all know, land for sloping is now at a premium in many places and unless we act in ways that do justice to where we are allowed to fly, we can be, and are, banned from great sites.

Please do not fly on the Wildlife reserve, which is anywhere E (a right turn) from the end of the paved access road and also includes all land anywhere short of the gate between the reserve land and BLM land, on the way to the site. Rangers do patrol the reserve, and we have personally been officially warned not to fly there.

All land surrounding the reserve, and the BLM land, is private. If you pass through any gate beyond the one gate you are permitted to pass through (to get to Wahatis), you are on private land and again risk our access. The landowners patrol their land by motorcycle, have had problems with poachers, and being caught does not improve our relations. Do NOT camp, drive on, or fly on private land, please!

And lastly, please pick up every scrap of tape, foam, balsa, wrappers, or anything else you drop or find there. Let’s keep this one of a kind site free of hassles!

Road Conditions: Old pavement from highway 24 to ridgeline, dirt to site.

Getting There:
Take I-90 to Vantage. On the east side of the Columbia, exit and head S on Hwy 26. In one mile, exit S to Hwy 26. Continue S on Hwy 26 through Sentinel Gap, then in a few miles turn E to the town of Mattawa.

Travel E from Mattawa for about 12 miles until the junction with Hwy 24. Turn left to continue E on 24, continue 7 more miles, watching on the N side of the road for the well marked access road. There is a large BLM sign facing the highway with rules for use of the area, turn there.

Proceed N on pavement until on top of Saddle’s ridgeline. Turn left onto obvious best road, follow it 1 mile to the gate to exit the Wildlife Reserve, then another 3 miles until final plateau just below the Wahatis summit. Stop ¼ mile short of radio tower on plateau. Site is due S a few hundred feet.



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