Sunday, August 4, 2019

Pemberton Aug 3-4

After last week's Canadian Nationals I was ready to do relaxing sightseeing flying!  We were forecast to have light-ish winds and from either the north or east...that usually means drier air and higher cloudbase, with little chance of an afternoon Whistler Express.

Sugarloaf Mountain
Saturday the north wind was a bit more than I was hoping, and the climbs were a bit ratty and all over the place, so I ended up turning around at Goat Mountain rather than continue over the Hurley Pass and to Spindrift.  But it was kinda fun to use the north wind to drift over the back at Copper and Goat, and not have to worry about getting too far back and not able to make it back out to the nice LZs!
Rhododendron Mountain and glacier.

Sunday the wind switched to very light east winds, which I find to be a nicer direction vs. north.  It was a bit of a late start however...I didn't launch until around 1:30pm and it took ~30 minutes to climb out, but when I did, it was to 2500+m and an easy glide to the Miller side of the valley.

Big climbs on the Miller side to 3000m and it was easy cruising over the glaciers and Sugarloaf Mountain to view the alpine lakes and the Pemberton Icefield.  I'm glad I was wearing my puffy pants and jacket as it was close to 0C that high (even though it was 30+C on the ground)!

Rhododendron Mountain, Mt. Miller, and part of Ipsoot Glacier.
Over on the miller side it was actually SE winds, which meant coming back on the Miller side would be into the wind, and it was starting to blue up on the Miller side (while there were still cu's on the MacKenzie side) so I jumped over to Camel Hump, grovelled there for about 20 minutes (until I found a climb I thought I might have to land out and thumb my way back!), then jumped over to Copper for the return flight.  Even though it wasn't a long flight, it was certainly scenic!








Saturday, July 27, 2019

Pemberton Canadian Nationals July 27

Yesterday was a cancelled day due to the forecast showing too much (30+kph) winds all day and at all altitudes.  And it's a good thing we didn't fly (even though the clouds looked awesome) since a pilot who hiked up Mount Currie reported back that it was blowing 50-60 kph at around 2200m!

Today it looked terrible in the morning: raining, low cloud base, everything was wet, and we had to wait an extra hour to even go up the mountain in order to deliver the gliders to a dry-ish launch, and any earlier and the shuttles wouldn't have even made it up the slick road!  But the rain eventually finished and up the mountain we went, an hour behind schedule.  It was forecast to be 20-25 kph from the SW, which is not great for holding a long task in Pemberton (if we had been free-flying we probably wouldn't have bothered even going up), but we hoped the wind forecast would be wrong and actually be a bit less, and if so, we wanted to be on launch, ready to go!

We had to wait an extra hour for the road to dry out, and we still had to push the shuttles through the first cross ditch!
We (the task committee) spent probably an hour going over options and building a task which would be safe, short enough to finish early enough to hold the awards ceremony, but doable by the majority of the field.  Guy also wanted (if possible) for the goal field to be at the Meadows Golf Course as he had permission for us to land on the fairways of holes 8 and 9, and had arranged for the Pemberton airport to be closed to all air traffic except us between 3 and 5pm since we would be transiting around that time.  So in the end we chose a 62 km task which would take us out to the Hurley Pass, back to the Barbor area, and then back to a large "wall" around Spindrift which could be tagged at any point along the wall's edge in case of too much wind along the mountain route.  We also put a control turnpoint in at the Cell Towers (close to upper launch) to force pilots to arrive back to Pemberton high (since you can't tag this turn point if you are too low), in case there was a Whistler Express happening underneath(which only extends to roughly 700m altitude on most days so we'd be passing overhead that) and then a goal at the clubhouse at the golf course.

As the ground dried out from the morning rain and the sun came out, the cu's were popping and it looked to be strong conditions out there, and the cycles on launch confirmed this as some rippers came though.  Several pilots were concerned about the strength of the cycles and whether we should shorten the task, or change it to elapsed time, or cancel it altogether, and after a brief meeting between the task committee, safety committee, and meet director, we opted to leave things as-is.

Tenquille Lake on a strong day!
Once the race times were announced there was the usual hoopla of pilots racing to get their gear ready and get into the air, compounded by the fact the cycles were quite strong, and pilots who were not on their "A" game were getting pulled up prematurely, dragged to the side, etc, until Launch Marshall Pete stepped in and had pilots hold for the strongest part of the cycles and only launch during lulls.  That worked well and pretty much all pilots were in the air, and slaloming around at cloud base with oodles of lift, by the time the race started at 3:05pm.  There were a handful of pilots who chose not to launch, which ends up devaluing the day by a small portion of point since a DNF is an informal way of declaring the task unsuitable for them, and thus shouldn't be fully valid.

The start was fast and furious, and in fact most of the entire course was fast and furious until some shade came in over the Hurley Pass for the slower pilots and they had to slow down from race mode to survival mode.  We did have 2 reserve tosses in the Barbor area, within 2-3 minutes of each other (I think the second toss happened before the first one had even landed), and both landed just fine in the alpine, and both (I believe) hiked to a better spot and relaunched and flew down, so no rescue was required for them.  As I was watching the first one drift down under reserve towards the lake behind Barbor I was a bit concerned in case he had the bad luck to land in that cold glacial water, but he missed it by a lot and landed on the scree instead.  I'm hoping he was thinking the same thing and was at least checking for his hook knife in case he needed it at the last minute!

Meanwhile the course was shading out near the Hurley Pass but most of us were beyond that and slowly making our way back to launch and the Cell Tower control turn point.  The SW wind was quite significant but the reports in the Pemberton LZ were of light winds, not yet Whistler Expressing, so it was "just" upper-level meteo winds.  Tagging the control turn point was a bit tough for me as it was windy enough that I was having to crab by it, and the radius was so small (we had left it at 400m) that I kept missing it and having to turn around, re-crab my way past it, and hope to tag it.  It took me something like 3 or 4 tries, while other pilots seemed to have no problems tagging it first time around and were passing me.  Annoying!

Anyhoo I ended up getting it eventually and then it was on to the golf course and goal.  The strong SW winds were quite significant over the airport and golf course, and Guy was advising pilots to tag goal and then land at the airport instead, rather than try to put down on the fairways.  It was also converging a bit over the runway (lucky me) which meant it was hard to get down, and there were maybe 6 of us who were on big ears but still going up.  From tagging the goal to actually landing probably took over 30 minutes, and as I was coming in to land the windsocks on the runway were actually blowing 15-20 kph from the east, completely opposite to the winds a couple of hundred feet higher!  It was certainly...interesting...to hit that shear layer and discover that what was upwind was now downwind, and vice versa.  Of course about 10 minutes after landing things on the ground went back to the "usual" direction...

The goal field under a strong SW layer of wind.
We did have one pilot tag the control turn point a bit too low and have to land short, but other than that, I think everyone who tagged the control turnpoint made goal and landed at the airport.  I was pleasantly surprised to get the task off...the day started off so unpromising, and turned on so strong later on, that I was expecting it to be untaskable.  Fortunately Guy had volunteers stationed all over the course line to give wind reports on the ground and keep all the competitors in the loop, and had several pilots call out their opinion on safety conditions "level 1", "level 2", "level 3" (it was all level 1's) before the race start.

In the end we had something like 55 pilots in goal, with another group landing at the Miller Beer Farm after getting shaded out by the Hurley Pass region, and a 3rd group of pilots who DNF'd and drove down.  So it turned into an almost fully-valid day, with no injuries, and 2 self-rescues, pretty standard for a Pemberton task, really ;). I was very glad to have gotten a task off successfully, but I was also fully aware of the difficulty of managing a safe task for everyone and also considering my own personal safely, and trying to reconcile the two.  It was a bit of a pushy task in terms of launch conditions, but once in the air it was actually quite nice, and after a week of windy-ish tasks, most of the competitors had become "used" to the idea of flying in wind.  Had we had those conditions on the first day things may have turned out differently in terms of a cancelled day or numerous reserve tosses.

Link to my flight

Photo courtesy of Sea to Sky Paragliding
Once everyone was back at HQ it was time to do up the scores, eat, and get the awards ceremony out of the way, so those pilots who needed to travel could get south of Whistler before the Ironman Triathlon shut down the highway.  Guy and Ricardo had several neat raffle prizes to give out (each competitor had one ticket with their entry fee, and each volunteer received one ticket for each day they volunteered, so the number of tickets in the raffle were skewed in favour of the volunteers, which is entirely fair since they were the ones doing all the grunt work this week!), including a Mt. Currie heli-drop, Mexican para-vacation, and a Belize sun vacation!

The winners of the various classes:

Photos courtesy of Sea to Sky Paragliding
Photos courtesy of Sea to Sky Paragliding


As the winner of the female class, I want to give a special shout-out to Claudia, who for the second time has come in second place and is keeping me on my toes ;). I'm so happy for Claudia (and her husband Peter who came in 2nd place in the sport class) as it's so nice to have other female pilots flying well in Canada.  I would also like to say well-done to Kaylyn as well as she hasn't flown in Pemberton much, so doesn't have "home ice advantage" ;)

Photo courtesy of Sea to Sky Paragliding















I also want to give a special shout-out to Guy Herrington, the meet director, for putting on a safe competition and dealing with all the issues that come up with being the Person In Charge, but still maintaining a smile and a kind word for any pilot who approached him with questions or concerns.  Guy you did an awesome job and I'm sure many pilots (including myself) appreciated your hard work!

Pemberton is a beautiful place to fly, with many pilots referring to the flying here as a "slice of the Alps", but it can be intimidating at times, especially in wind, and with the lack of infrastructure in the backcountry, if things go wrong you can be stuck in the wilderness for a long time before being rescued!  Many of the visiting pilots I spoke to raved about the scenery and the potential for long distances and vol-bivying, and many are keen to return next year, either for a comp or to free-fly!









Thursday, July 25, 2019

Pemberton Canadian Nationals July 25

We had high hopes for today and had planned a long task which would end us at the Rodeo ground in Mount Currie, but the weather gods had other plans!

Guy and some of the volunteers!
Initially it looked like the cloud would burn off, and Canada RASP was predicting the same.  And it did start to break open, but the wind technicians we sent out to test the air reported very little lift, so we continued to wait.  And then the cloud reformed and it went from kinda-sunny to mostly cloudy.

We had a meteorologist on launch today, and he was explaining that the clouds were indeed dissipating as they dropped off the east side of Vancouver Island, forming a blue hole visible on the satellite images, but they were reforming on the upwind side of Howe Sound and creating the schmoo we were seeing.  South of Squamish it was beautiful (and Alex and James were indeed having an epic flight at Tunnel Mountain near Lions Bay, Alex landed in Coquitlam next to the Skytrain station, very civilized!), but north of Squamish it was cloudy, and not expected to dissipate until late in the afternoon.

This is the final version after 2 longer tasks were ultimately rejected due to deteriorating weather conditions.
Because of safety limitations in a comp, we can only push the task so far into the afternoon before we have to decide on a "go, no-go" time, so if there is an accident or incident, we have enough daylight to deal with it, but with the shortening of the task, we decided to push things to the last minute (in this case, 3:30pm) in the hopes of getting a task of some sort in.  We ultimately shortened it to a 45 km back-n-forth along the Owl ridge with a goal in Pemberton (no Whistler Express was forecast, and in fact free-flyers were reporting NW wind there instead).  And also due to the weather and the fact it was going to be tricky to get the timing of the task right, we opted for an elapsed time start, rather than a traditional race start, to give pilots the chance to decide when they thought would be the best time to get on course line.

There was a patch of sun approaching so a bunch of us decided to take advantage of it and launched and got barely to 1900m, and then we started working our way west.  Behind us the patch of sun had disappeared to be replace by yet more overcast, and the late launchers were basically on glide from launch.  We were able to keep up with the patch of sun to Fraser Peak, where it fizzled for pretty much everyone, and then everyone left in the air was scratching around on Owl Peak, fighting for every meter of altitude before pushing out into the valley to tag the CamelHump TP and then turning around to get some distance to the next turn point.

What we had to work with in the end!  Notice the rain up by North Creek.
I was able to get the CamelHump TP no problem, and then it was a giant glide for me to see how far I could get to the second TP before having to bail to a safe LZ.  There were pilots ahead of me going for the mondo-glide, and they were going to end up in Riverlands, which is a big no-no.  With 2.5km to go to the next TP, I decided to bail and turn around to the safety of the Miller Beer Farm, since I didn't want to be "that person" that gets the comp in trouble for overflying Riverlands low and landing in the parts of their property strictly off-limits to paraglider pilots.

The Beer Farm was hopping with pilots, and it ended up turning into the unofficial goal field with pilots hanging out to have a beer before getting shuttled back to HQ and scoring.  I believe the most distance today was something like 28km (out of 45) and I was around the 18km mark.  The day will probably not be worth much, points-wise, but at least we flew!

My track log from today.

Today's results and overall results.






Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Pemberton Canadian Nationals July 23

Yesterday we were on launch for most of the day waiting for the conditions to improve enough for a task, but it stayed too windy and too south to be safely taskable, so the day was cancelled.  About half of the field chose to ride down, and half of the field chose to free-fly.  As I was with the film crew we chose to fly and get some additional footage, and the conditions away from the mountain were butter-smooth and big easy climbs to 2800m and a nice landing at the Miller Beer Farm, but it was windy close to the mountain and had we had a task, I'm sure there would have been tree-carnage due to some pilots' propensity to tree-surf in an attempt to stay in the game.


Today was lighter winds and the forecast was for it to shade over somewhat in the afternoon as a front was predicted to move in, so we set a task to take pilots past the Hurley Pass and to Zorah Peak so they could see some spectacular scenery, and then to a large TP near Barbour, with a final TP at Goat and then to the VanLoon's goal field at the base of the Hurley Pass road.  Once again the start gaggle was well-behaved with oodles of lift, lots of clouds, and no crowding or competing for start-altitude.  It was fast and furious to Goat Mountain, where pilot tanked up for the crossing to Zorah and the clouds were popping all over the place, the clouds were starting to get a bit big as the frontal system approached!

I got a bit low on the way back from Zorah and had to scratch around Pauline for 10 minutes or so, before getting high enough to surf the ridge all the way to Barbour, where I went from too low to too high quite quickly as the clouds over Barbour were growing quickly.  Tagging the TP I was on full bar with big ears, trying to stay below 3000m and the airspace penalties (mission accomplished!).  Other pilots around me were doing the same and it was full bar in smooth lift all the way to Goat, where it was a 180 degree turn into the valley and continuing pulley-to-pulley to the ESS.  Pilots were coming in way too high due to the late-day cloud suck and it was about an extra 30 minutes for me to actually land at the goal field.  And it was raining paragliders all over the place!  In the end we had something like 80 pilots in goal, and lots of personal bests from many pilots!

We did have 2 more reserve deployments, one from the same pilot as the day before, and they were rescued via helicopter again (after most pilots had landed in goal already, so no need to stop the task), and one more from a pilot near the goal field.  We watched him drift onto the mountain about 600m up and was able to be rescued with little drama by Hawaii Pete and Thomas Sloss since there was a road and trail very near him.  Neither pilot was injured and both were back at HQ by nightfall.  There was an additional pilot who got off course line (??) and ended up near Birkenhead Peak (nowhere near the course line we had set), he was also OK.

Results from today.

My tracklog from today.





Sunday, July 21, 2019

Pemberton Canadian Nationals July 21

I'm in beautiful Pemberton for the 2019 Canadian National Paragliding Championships!  This is the 3rd time hosting it in Pemberton, and every year we get more visiting pilots as previous years' visitors rave about the scenery and flying and pass that information on to their flying friends :). It's so fun having visiting pilots experience the scenery and awesomeness of the mountains here...it's just breathtaking with the ice, cliffs, and sheer prominence from the valley floor!

Pilot breakfast on Sunday.  Photo courtesy of Alex Raymont.
As part of the task committee, it's our job to make sure the tasks are fun but safe for everyone, and given the range of skill level at this event (from first-time comp pilots to seasoned PWC pros), this can be a bit of a challenge!  We aim to make sure everyone is having a good time, to get a lot of people in goal, but make the race day short enough that if an incident/accident does occur, we have enough daylight/time to mount a rescue operation, so nobody is left on the mountain overnight (and these are big and remote mountains).  So we aim to have the races finished by 6 or 7pm, which gives us ~4-5 hours of race time available to us each day.

Forecast for today was for moderate south winds, reaching up towards Hurley Pass, which is a bit unusual as normally it would transition to west up at that end of the valley.  With this in mind, we set a 70km zigzag around Goat/Barbour/Camel Hump/Pauline area to keep us away from a possible Whistler Express and have goal at the Miller Beer Farm.

Also at this comp we are hosting a film crew from River Road Films, which is producing a TV series in collaboration with the Nature of Things and CBC on Wild Canadian Weather, set to air in Fall 2020.  For their filming in Pemberton, they are hoping to get some filming of paragliders thermalling up under a cloud, to illustrate the human equivalent of what raptors and other birds of prey do.  So for today's task, they were also in the air on a tandem (with Kevin Ault PIC) to film the start gaggle and part of the course line.

Film crew getting their tandem camera gear ready!
Nature cooperated and we had an awesome start gaggle at cloud base, right over the takeoff, with 100+ pilots milling about waiting for the start, and then we were off to Goat Mountain!  The flying was pretty fast in that downwind direction, and it wasn't long before we heard of a 2 reserve deployment, one close to launch, and one over the Owl lakes region.  The close-to-launch pilot was unhurt with their gear on the ground next to them, and were able to self-rescue and walk back to launch.  The Owl-lakes pilot was unhurt and hanging in a tree, so the task continued while the safety team organized a SAR helicopter to retrieve her, since there are no roads that reach that far in the Owl gap.

The crux for many pilots was the crossing from Goat Mountain to Camel Hump and back to Barbour, since Camel Hump had not much lift so it was a "tag and turn" kind of turn point, and many arrived back on the Barbour side of things quite low.  There was a lot of tree surfing below Copper before several thermals broke off and we were able to get back up to ridge height and continue the race, but many pilots were forced to land early in the fields below Copper.

I made a technical mistake on the final climb at Barbour before committing to my final glide to the Miller Beer Farm goal LZ.  I was watching my glide to goal ratio and when I had 3:1 I went for it, forgetting that that glide indicator was actually to the ESS part of the race, and not the actual goal field.  And since the ESS was 4.5km outside the goal field, that meant I was off by 4.5km!  Usually that wouldn't be an issue (3:1 is normally ridiculously conservative) and I would have just arrived at the goal field lower that I expected, but the south wind around the corner of Owl peak was creating enough of a headwind that going around the corner was more like 2:1!  So crap, I landed within the ESS zone, but 1700m short of the actual goal cylinder, along with about 10 other pilots!

The wing truck delivers your glider to launch, so it's ready to pick up when you arrive!
I wasn't too bummed out however, as we are using FTV of 25% which means I can toss out part of my worst day of the comp, so it's not an all-or-nothing competition where you are out if you mess up even a tiny bit.

Meanwhile the task was ongoing and was only stopped around 5:30pm when the SAR helicopter was en-route to rescue the Owl-lakes pilot and any remaining pilots in the air needed to land to give them room to operate (SAR had to contact and pick up one of their techs trained in tree rescue which took some time).  This was actually a great move by the organization as helicopters can sometimes take hours to mobilize, especially if the rescue-ee is OK and not in any immediate danger, so there's no point in stopping the race prematurely.  So in the end it was a very valid task with a lot of happy pilots in goal, and a large of slightly less-happy pilots just short of the actual goal field ;)

A great start to the comp and we're hoping to get some tasks out by Lilloet Lake when we have a less windy day so we can have a finish either at the rodeo grounds, or at the airport LZ to put on a show for the Pemberton townspeople!

Canadian Nationals Website with results and schedule

My track log from today.