Today my instructor and I flew from San Jose to Pine Mountain Lake, in the Sierra foothils. Pine Mountain is about 3000 feet, nestled in among mountains.
Runways are 9/28, with 28 being the usual. Inbound we heard no traffic on the CTAF. Overflying the airport we saw only a limp wind sock.
So we tried runway 28. To my dismay, I came in too high and did a go-around. So next time I set up on a longer final. All looked good . . . but once again, too high, and a go-around.
On our third pass we looked at the GPS during the downwind leg — and it told the real story. The wind at pattern altitude was 10 knots . . . IN THE WRONG DIRECTION! That is, our groundspeed on the downwind leg was 10 knots slower than the KIAS. So downwind was not downwind at all. We were trying to land with a 10-knot tailwind, on a downhill runway no less.
I was flying a new 172SP (not a bad plane, by the way). The problem would have been worse in the aerodynamically dreamy SR20/22.
Bottom line: GPS is really useful for determining wind speed in the pattern! It can save your butt in the mountains, with typically tricky winds that can lead one to fly a downwind final.