One of the frequent topics that comes up during our mountain flying courses is what is the correct elevation for pass crossing. I’ll attempt to make the answer as straight forward as possible however there are several considerations.
The first thing to remember is that we should always keep our airplane in a position to turn towards lower terrain. Now as you approach the pass, many valleys narrow – each one will be different, but the basic premise of pass crossing is that you shouldn’t cross the pass until you are at an altitude that is sufficient to allow power off glide to the pass or ridge from your position, at the same time you should not put the airplane in a position where it cannot turn towards lower terrain. So as you approach the pass or ridge, if you arrive at a point where you must turn away from the pass in order to (1) keep the plane in a position to turn towards lower terrain, then you would do exactly that and turn away from the pass because you are (2) not at an altitude that is sufficient to allow a power off glide to the ridge. As you come around again after a circle to gain some altitude you can now see you are high enough to glide to the ridge top, then you can continue up the valley to cross the pass. As you cross the pass, do so at a 45 degree angle if it allows so that you have the option of reversing course back to the side of the pass you came from.
Keep in mind I’m not saying we cross the ridge power off – that’s simply the means for determining if we are indeed high enough to warrant continuing towards the pass to cross.
Alpine Flight Training offers a variety of mountain flying clinics, ideally suited to all skill levels. Call 970-401-5105 for more information.