Sunday, February 12, 2017

Trip to Colombia Winter 2017!

For the past few months Alex and I have been planning a return trip to Colombia.  We've both been there before, and I've been wanting a nice vacation for a while!
Our hammock abode in Minca.

Misty mornings on Agua Panella.
Instead of just doing "Rolda", we decided to mix it up a bit and toss in some coastal exploration as well as some smaller mountain towns.  On the Caribbean coast we visited many towns, including the very nice town of Minca, up in the mountains above Santa Marta, and Cartagena, tourist-central.  It was super-muggy and we very much appreciated any air conditioning we could find as well as the ocean swims.  The highlight of this portion of the trip for me was the snorkelling we did in the Rosario Islands...not as spectacular as Tobago, but nice to get away from the hustle and bustle of the cities and into the bathtub-warm waters!

Ronda was a bit wet this year!...
From the coast it was inland to Roldanillo where the weather wasn't playing was much wetter than usual, although still plenty flyable every day, so long as you were willing to wait out the rain and/or land when you saw rain coming.  Fortunately the Cauca Valley is wide and open enough that you can see storms coming from a long ways away, and in any case there were minimal gust fronts if they happened at all (especially compared to Golden!).  Lots of flying up and down the west mountain ranges, not so much on the east side since there were airspace issues to contend with.

...But still plenty flyable!
Fortunately you could see the rain from a long ways away!
After the first Rolda comp we relocated to Piedechinche (nearer to Cali) to sample the afternoon side of the valley, and were treated to a rare (?) ride up to 3600m on a blue and stable day.  I suspect this site shades-out quite a bit as it's a big mountain behind launch, and any clouds which form are going to spooge out into the valley in any east wind.  And that's what happened on other days; even though it's an "afternoon site", you can definitely fly it in the mornings, and in fact, it's probably best to fly it earlier rather than later if you want to go XC.

Getting high at Piedechinche!...
...And flying fire thermals!
Travelled north to find some less-busy flying spots, and opted for Apia and Jerico, both small mountain towns with epic roads up steep winding roads glued to the mountainsides!  Both Apia and Jerico were a welcome change from the heat and business of Roldanillo...we were pretty much the only gringos in town each time, and the launches were much less busy, although the tour groups were everywhere (probably doing the same thing as us, finding sites less busy than Rolda).

The Canadian crew in Roldanillo.  Photo courtesy of Kevin Ault.
Jerico and the new launch, opening next year.
If I was doing the trip again and wanted to focus on flying in Colombia, I would probably start with the non-Roldanillo flying sites, and do Rolda at the end.  There are so many sites in Colombia!  Pretty much any mountain in the coffee zone is a candidate...there are paved roads and busses to many of the towns, and plenty of cleared land, that you can fly from almost anywhere!
Back in the land of snow and ice!

Friday, October 14, 2016

California trip September/October

With the winter rains approaching and some free time, Alex and I decided it was time to revisit Marina and get some sand-dune flying in.  Marina in the fall can be quite nice, especially if you time it correctly to get the onshore winds.  But don't leave it until too late, otherwise you'll start getting the offshore winds!

Alex getting his new glider sandy.
Arrived to Marina to find it on already (the forecast had showed it being on for the past few days) so we immediately started flying from the ramp at Marina State Beach.  It was a tad on the light side (~9-10 mph) but doable, and we could see a group at Lakecourt.  Turns out it was Dave Turner with a tour group of Russian pilots of varying skill levels.

Point Lobos Nature Reserve, just south of Monterey
It had been a while since I had flown the sand dunes, but it came back quickly and much less sand in my glider vs. last time!  Crossing the gaps is fun if you are at all competent with kiting, as you can just kite your way the last bit across, and start flying where the dune starts rising again.

Some of the local HG's came out to play!
The next four days it was on every day starting around noon (W or NW 12-15 mph), and the last couple of days it blew out by 3pm.  But that's plenty of hours to surf low, do the Sand City run and return, or kite your way through the gaps.  We had company most days (in fact it was busiest I've ever seen at Marina) of both PG and HG, including a local HG who was a pleasure to watch...his launches and landings next to the ramp were butter-smooth.

The view into Yosemite Valley
Even though Marina continued to be flyable for several days after, we decided it was time to move on and we went to Yosemite National Park to do some hiking etc.  Despite it being early fall, it was still very busy in the main valley and even in Tolumne meadows and Tioga Pass.  Some days it was sunny, other days it rained or snowed, depending on how high you were.  Nights were below freezing!

Icy water in Tolumne!  The only reason it wasn't iced up was because it was flowing...
On the east side of Tioga Pass was Owen's Valley, a welcome change from the cold in the Pass.  It was a stable period with it being difficult to get above the 12-13,000' peak, but we were just happy to be warm and dry!  Met up with Kari and Cookie and Brian, plus a visiting pilot from Oz and a couple from Monterey, so we had a good crew most days.

Hilltop Hot Springs, near the Mammoth Airport
Finally it was time to return home to the wet NW for work, just in time for the first major rain- and windstorms of the season.  Until next time!

Beautiful fall colors around Convict Lake

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Grouse Mountain September 10

We had a fairly large group at Grouse today...a bunch of guests, regulars, and the tandem operation.  Strong-ish west wind aloft and weird clouds forming, but it was easy to get to the clouds at 1500m and play around.  Peter and I started going to Crown Mountain but turned around since it was looking too shady.

Capilano Reservoir is low now.

 Lots of lift over the city as the clouds were forming out there too, and strong west wind until the last 100m or so, at which point it switched to the usual SE flow at ground level.  Capilano Lake is very low at this time of year!

Some instability forming out front in advance of the approaching north wind.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Miller Ridge Aug 23

Hiked up Miller Ridge with a few friends to try out the launch on the morning side of the Pemberton valley.  During the drive up to the end of the road we saw where the new powerlines are going in, and the possible new launch from the road!

Miller Ridge launch meadow.
Short 45 minutes to 1 hour hike, depending on your hiking speed.  The top part of the hike is quite flat and in the open, which is nice.  The old cabin is falling apart but the new ones looks nice!

Launch is quite high at 1800m and is in a nice alpine meadow just below the new cabin.  North wind aloft so it wasn't the best conditions, and in fact after getting up a bit on the Miller side I ended up crossing over to the MacKenzie side, where it was equally lame.

However in the shade I was able to get up to cloudbase (3000m) and played around on both sides of the valley, making the crossing multiple times.  At the end I crossed to Mt. Currie but it wasn't very good over there either so back to good 'ol MacKenzie and the LZ.

Miller Ridge flight.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

2016 Can-Am fly-in Aug 20-21

Surprising as it may seem, I've actually never flown from Black Mountain in WA state.  Flown by it from BJ, but never launched from there!  With the fly-in this weekend and hot and sunny weather, I decided it was time to head down there.

Upper launch at Black Mountain with Silver Lake below.  Vedder and Sumas Mountains in the background.
~40 pilots had signed up for the event, but of the Canadians it was only Alex, myself, and Derek.  Where was everyone?  In any event, Saturday flying was quite nice with strong-but-launchable cycles and a choice of either the regular LZ, or the Silver Lake group camping LZ (which has been mowed for this event).  Having a lake directly below launch makes it easy to see the wind strength and direction so we were able to keep an eye on when the valley wind switched from the morning south flow to the afternoon north flow.  The earlier launchers got to 2000+ meters and later on it was more like 1700m, but I personally found it a big punchy and lots of holes in addition to the strong lift. 
Launch with a view!
A honkin-big BBQ with smoked ribs and chicken plus salads galore so everyone was groaning with full bellies as the sun set.  Then the telescope came out and we were looking at the various planets in the sky...a very red Mars and Saturn with its rings were easily visible.  We had a bit of a scare as, some time after we had lit the portable propane fires, a firetruck came into the campground with its lights flashing...we thought we were about to get fined or something (even though we had permission to have open flames for this event).  But nope, they were simply lost and asking for directions to another campground!

Mt. Baker is right there; the day before a pilot flew from Black to Baker and return.
Sunday morning we had a pancake breakfast and then it was time to decide to go flying or not...I had seen a few days ago that Sunday was likely to be blown out, and it was indeed as the wind picked up in the LZ, leaves were being torn off branches, windlines were starting up on the lake, and the spaceship lenticular clouds came out to play.  Alex and I decided it was time to swim in Silver Lake while (I believe) some pilots went to Blanchard in hopes of a soaring flight (although I think it would have been blown out there too).  As we drove back to Canada the area around Mt. Baker had completely OD'd and it looked like it could actually rain in the Cascades.