What are basic mountain route planning considerations?

Loren French, with Alpine Flight Training, teaches an introductory mountain flying course aimed at piston-engine pilots navigating below 12,000 feet in VFR conditions. His guidance is to develop a strategy that puts conditions in your favor. Loren’s route planning strategy includes these four basic topics listed below:

Basic Mountain Route planning considerations:
Foreflight VFR chart Rocky Mountains with user defined waypoints, photo credit wikiWings
ForeFlight VFR chart of the Rocky Mountains with user defined waypoints, photo credit wikiWings

Survival: Avoid routes over inhospitable remote terrain were it would be difficult to survive at least one night waiting for rescue. GPS direct is usually not the safest route in the mountains.
Terrain: Children of the magenta line beware.  Mountain flying below FL120 involves user waypoints – points in space – not predefined aeronautical intersections. Only fly terrain routes compatible with your aircraft and your capabilities. You’ll want to be knowledgeable in reading topographical maps. Plan your route over the correct passes, valleys, drainages, etc.
Performance: Understand the performance of your airplane and develop critical decision making skills for takeoff, climb and landing at mountain altitudes.
Weather: What are your go – no go mountain flying weather minimums?

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