Mountain flying represents a real challenge for most flatland pilots. At the same time the rewards are tremendous, offering very spectacular sceneries and views. It also means that the pilot needs training, develop skills and knowledge to fly safely in such an environment. We provide some basic knowledge on this subject, but this is no substitute for real training in the actual environment.
Getting ready for a flight in the mountains means you need to be prepared for the all possible conditions and informing your passenger about what they can expect.
You need to establish your own personal minimums for mountain flying. These should be higher than for normal flatland flying, depending on your own experience of course. Recommended minimums: 5 mile visibility, 2000' ceiling, winds less than 20 kts and no precipitation.
Get a thorough weather briefing and make sure you get the latest NOTAMs for the area. Check to see if any navigation aids are not operating at the time of your flight. Weather in the mountains can change very quickly, be aware of any trends will help with that (keep checking the weather days ahead of the flight helps detecting these). In the early morning flying conditions are generally better than in the afternoon when clouds and winds usually pickup.
When checking for the weather make sure it is up to date as weather in the mountains can change very quickly. Try to grasp the big picture of what is happening and look for trends. Actual reports from people in the area are one the best sources.
When flying in these circumstances do inform your passengers to bring practical footwear, warm clothes in spite of warm weather at the airport you depart. Do the normal passenger brief but give details about flying in the mountains and its effect on the aircraft. Especially about the danger of loose objects in the aircraft should you enter turbulence. Show them how the seat belts operate and the location of airsickness bags, emergency equipment, ELT or personal locator beacons and survival gear.
VHF radio signals are limited to line of sight. This can be a problem when flying in these areas. Behind a mountain radio reception is shielded off. Like the shadow from the mountain by the sun. LF signals also have tendency to be reflected by mountains leading you to think that a NDB beacon is in that direction.
When closing flight plans by radio make sure that you are at a high enough altitude which allows communication with air traffic control. Closing by phone may not by possible if cell phone coverage is not available on the ground and not everyone possesses satellite communications equipment.
This one cannot be said enough: Get current VFR charts for the area. If you insist on having and using a GPS based navigation system, keep that one updated too! Prepare a good navigation log for your trip and keep it updated as your flight progresses. This way getting lost is much more difficult if not impossible.
Think about the route: over flatland a straight line should work if you keep airspace limitations in mind. In mountain areas this is not always possible. Talk to other experienced mountain pilots, find out what routes they normally use. When it comes to surviving a forced landing, it helps to fly a route close to populated areas.
See if the terrain you fly over allows a forced landing and adjust accordingly. Plan to fly at such an altitude that a glide to a decent landing spot is possible and survivable, this means basically flying as high as possible.