If you’ve ever been to Leadville, CO, you know it’s a small town, with a small airport, surrounded by Pike National Forest in the middle of the Rocky Mountains. What you may not know, however, is that the airport is North America’s highest (public) airport. We’re starting at Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport, KBJC, at 5,673 feet, and flying 70 nm southwest to Leadville’s Lake County Airport (KLXV) at 9,927 ft., in a Maule Orion.
The question isn’t can the Maule power us up almost 5,000 feet in 70 miles. The real question is can it climb over (or around) the 12,000 foot mountains in those 70 miles? This is our next adventure.
I used SkyVector for my chart. This was a simple flight on paper – a straight shot – but navigating around mountains is tricky. I set NAV1 for an outbound course on the 222 radial of the JEFFCO (BJC) VOR. The weather was good so Metro tower gave us 29R for departure.
I wanted to do a power-takeoff, near-zero-length takeoff, but the takeoff roll was longer than I thought – that’s a bad sign. As I rolled on to the 222 radial and headed for the mountains it become clear that this Maule wasn’t going to top the 12,000 foot peaks in front of me. It struggled to climb to 10,000 feet.
I had to make some tough decisions – which mountain passes do I take. The VFR sectional isn’t crystal clear where the box canyons are or how the passes are shaped. Throw in Flight Simulator’s variable terrain generator and it becomes a guessing game.
There were a couple times I got boxed in and had to turn around. Luckily it’s only 70 miles. I drifted from one valley to another until I was almost on top of Leadville. I made a gliding decent while calling position to local traffic. Soon enough I was on the ground in Leadville wondering what’s next and how am I getting out of here.