Monday, April 15, 2019

Woodside and Bridal April 15

It was an awesome-looking day with beautiful cu's, but there was a bit of north wind forecast, and you could see it in the slightly-bent-over clouds in the Fraser Valley.  But we were hoping it was manageable and would allow us to fly XC (usually north wind in the Fraser Valley means XC won't be as good, or rough).

The new launch carpet looks fantastic and covers pretty much the entire launch area, many thanks to the crew who installed it last week!

It was cold up at 1300 m (cloudbase at 12:30 pm) and the first people to fly west to Sasquatch mountain reported it was very rough and turbulent, as well as windy from the north, so it didn't sound too fun.  But a few people braved the roughness and flew to Dewdney or Mt. St. Benedict and back, while I turned around at Harrison Knob to slowly climb back up over the construction site and back over launch.  Cloudbase was slowly climbing, but the north wind wasn't backing off, in fact it seemed to be strengthening, so I imagined a run to Agassiz Mountain or Bear Mountain would be as rough as Sasquatch Mountain was.

But cloubase was getting higher as the afternoon went on, and with the north wind we realized that we would have a pretty easy flight to Bridal, direct, simply by getting high at launch and pointing at the Bridal launch.  Finally got to 1850 m over Woodside and did the direct line to Bridal launch with Alex and Peter, while a crew drove over to Bridal to join us.

Mighty Mt. Cheam with a coating of fresh snow.
Upon arriving at Bridal Alex reported a hang glider on launch (!), shortly thereafter he launched and flew down to the Bridal LZ, where he clipped the windsock and bent/broke a downtube.  Apparently he is a novice HG pilot from Agassiz who had heard of HGs flying from Bridal back in the day, and found the launch after some wrong turns on the logging roads up.  It's too bad there aren't more HG pilots locally for him to learn with and he's more-or-less forced to DIY.  Even flying with the PGs would be useful for him.

It was still north wind at Bridal but a tad less rough vs. the Woodside side.  Cold though!, and spending hours at 1600+ m and my (admittedly expired) hand-warmers stopped working about halfway through the flight.  Cheam was spectacular with the fresh snowfall and the trees still had snow in the boughs, it's still winter in the mountains!

With the return of spring comes the return of bald eagles mating and finding spots to nest.  There are lots of juveniles out this time of year and they are very curious and will come right up to you when thermalling if you remain predictable.  An immature bald eagle joined me near Archibald and we were wingtip to wingtip as we thermalled up to 1800 m.  I actually had to fly a bit faster than usual to keep up with him/her but it was great fun to be banked up, going up, with a friendly eagle only a few feet away.

There is still plenty of snow above 1000 m!
Finally after almost 5 hours I was pretty cold and tired and ready to land, and Paddy's truck was on launch, needing to be driven down since we didn't have a driver, nor a retrieve vehicle arranged.  Both Alex and I looked at top-landing, but with the strong NE wind it was tough to come in low enough over the rock to make the landing...we kept getting boosted up at the last minute by the abundant thermals coming off the cliff face.  You needed to come at it almost from below launch and use the lift to pop up at the right instant.  Unfortunately if you get it wrong you're in the trees or cliff, since doing a top-landing approach

from that direction involves coming over a sheer cliff instead of more friendly trees if you are coming in from the traditional side.  So after a few tries we gave up, at which point Peter did a few tries and managed to get it in (not prettily, but it did the trick), saving us a walk up to get the truck.  Many thanks Peter!

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Mt. St. Benedict March 30 and 31

What an awesome period of weather we just had!  Usually when we get several "sunny" days in a row, it actually stables out and becomes less good after day 1.  But this time it stayed unstable, at least in the Miracle Valley, for 3-4 days.

Saturday we had a bit of overdevelopment deep in the backcountry, but nothing too serious out front, so it was a good day to work out the kinks and look longingly to the north.  Really stable out in the Fraser Valley, you could see the haze and inversion as soon as you left the Miracle Valley.  Cloudbase was somewhere above the legal airspace limit of 1981m, so it was tough to stay below that if you weren't careful!

Sunday was The Day however.  Similar conditions to Saturday, but no OD in the backcountry, and the winds remained light, and the cloudbase was somewhere around 2300m.  This time I resolved to head north and explore some of the more remote peaks.  Fortunately because it was a weekend there was oodles of traffic on the backroad FSR's...I could see lots of quads and trucks and bikes, so if I had to land back there I had a reasonable chance of getting a ride back to civilization.

Looking down at Hemlock Ski Resort on my way to the Chehalis FN community LZ.
Heading north to Statlu Peak I had Kevin, Claudia, and Rod Frew in tow, but after getting low on Statlu they opted to turn around (I think Claudia headed to the Norrish Valley to join up with Peter).  But I was hungry for some more north-action so after topping up I jumped even further back to Jasper Peak, at which point I was beyond the lower airspace limit, and allowed to legally get higher than 1981m.  I took full advantage of that by going to 2300m under cloudbase and then headed east towards Chehalis Lake where I could see a steady stream of vehicles heading in and out of that recreational area.

The clouds in the Norrish Valley were getting a bit large, and once getting to Chehalis Lake the 1981m airspace restriction kicks in again, making it tougher to successfully fly west back to Stave Lake.  Flew over the Hemlock Ski Resort and a nice landing at the Chehalis First Nations community, where Martin N offered to retrieve me.  Many thanks Martin for doing that!

Meanwhile Alex had flown to Mt. Judge Howay and return for his own epic flight, and Igor flew halfway up Harrison Lake before returning to the Fraser Valley to close his 100km triangle.  It was an awesome day at Mt. St. Benedict, one of the few where the winds and cloudbase conspired to give almost-perfect conditions.

March 31 flight.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Woodside March 23

The winter in Vancouver has been long and the snow has stuck around for quite a bit, so the launch access has been delayed a couple of weeks while the snow melts.  But today was the day to get some XC in!  It was a sunny weekend day and it was so nice to see everyone out after a long 3 month hiatus.

But flying was calling and it was tough to figure out where to go.  Cloudbase was going to be quite low, something like 1300m at best, but it was also going to be very light winds, which is always nice when you are trying to make valley crossings from low down.  Also there are lots of sandbars to provide flatland thermals, and LZ's if need be ;)

Coming over Harrison Knob with Woodside in the background.  Lots of sandbars are available now!

Going west to Deroche was OK but the low cloudbase made thing challenging, although coming back via Harrison Knob was a nice touch.  Going over the back to Agassiz Mountain was easy, but there was some NW wind which made getting up at Bear difficult for those who arrived low...if you arrived above the bench you had a much better chance of getting up.  Lots of people crossed over to Ludwig and then Bridal/Gloria/Elk/etc, but I decided to go to Green Hill and try it out.  The clouds were cycling there so it was a nice challenge to stay alive between cycles.  I eventually got high at the Bear end, high enough to re-cross back to Agassiz Mountain, and then ride the spine back to Woodside, just squeaking over the ridge behind launch and into the 15 kph headwind.

The day started off quite shady but by the end of the day, it had blued up nicely and was possibly flying in the bigger mountains.  Cloudbase never got above 1400m so well done to those who flew to Bridal and back to Woodside successfully!

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Mexico winter trip December 2018

I like to go traveling in the winter every so often, to get away from the Vancouver rain/dark and get some nice sun and flying in.  Mexico is always an easy's close, cheap, and reliable flying.  But in the past I've usually gone to Valle de Bravo, and after years of doing the "same old", I wanted to try something different.

Flying over Tenancingo with the LZ to the far right.
Enter Sea to Sky Paragliding's Mexico Tours!  I have been to Tenancingo before but that was years ago and this time Alex and I thought it would be nice to have someone "take care of everything" this time around.  Guy's tours certainly fit that bill!  Besides staying and flying in Tenancingo, we also got to fly in Taxco (famous silver mining town), Iguala, and visit some ruins and caves nearby.  Back in Tenancingo, there are multiple sites for morning, mid-day, and evening flights, all within an easy XC of Tenancingo.

Bistro launch is the morning site near Malinalco.
Bistro is the morning site near Malinalco and boasts an easy run to the south towards the Monastery and the backside of La Malinche.  From there you can fly back and forth along the east-facing ridge, or jump to the east to the cliffs overlooking Chalma or the smaller hills overlooking Malinalco if you want to do a triangle flight.  You can also fly upwind to La Malinche, just in time for that afternoon site to start working, topland to wait for the evening glassoff, or keep flying towards Ixtapan if you like.

La Malinche launch is the afternoon and glassoff site with Tenancingo over the back.  Pilot accommodations are available in the orange-roofed building.
Down to the south are the flying sites of Taxco and Iguala.  Because you are dropping away from the Toluca volcano the further south you go, you start from lower down and it's a lot warmer.  Be prepared for heat and insects on launch, and keep long pants on so you don't get chigger bites!

Exploring the ruins at 
When flying Iguala one of the common flights is to launch and go over the back into the Buenavista valley.  An easy flight, and if the cloudbase is high enough, you can potentially fly all the way back to Tenancingo.  But during our time there in early December cloudbase was still a bit low for that kind of flight, so we did more local flights instead.

Iguala launch is near the top left on this peak.  Buenavista valley is visible to the very top left.
Tenancingo itself is quite nice, quieter than Valle de Bravo with less people, although just as much of a nightlife with a carnival in town, nightly food market, etc  You can land right in town, about a 5-8 minute was from Casa Del Piloto, and will almost certainly be surrounded upon landing by the local kids if it's a weekend!

Landing out near Chalma.
After 10 days in Tenancingo we caught a ride with Derek and Mike Miller to Lake Chapala, where Derek had rented a house for the winter (house rentals are insanely cheap in Mexico!).  Here the flying is less structured as there seems to be less pilots, and if you choose to base out of Lake Chapala you'll for-sure need a car if you are trying to fly solo.  Fortunately for us there was already a community of Canada-based pilots in the area so logistics were easy.

The LZ on a weekend market day.  The alternate LZ are the nearby soccer fields.
I'd been to San Marcos before but there is now a new lower launch in addition to the original launch, the lower launch is much closer to the turnoff and less driving required, and it's still high enough to get away from easily.  Also a good option if the upper launch is blown-out.

En-route back to the La Malinche ridge.
When it's blowing east we go to Tapalpa.  Both launches face NE-E-SE and are off a paved road, and there is pilot accommodations nearby and bus service, so you could theoretically get by without a car.  While we were there it was a period of high pressure so very blue, no clouds, and not the greatest XC conditions.  But when it's on you can very easily fly from Tapalpa to San Marcos and onwards to Lake Chapala.  Note: Tapalpa is quite high compared to San Marcos, so if you choose to base out of Tapalpa, bring warm clothes, as it can below freezing on the plateau!

El Toro launch overlooking Manzanillo.
If you want to warm up a bit, go to Colima (next to the twin-peaked Colima volcano, an easy paved cobblestone road up to launch), or head to Manzanillo if you want the full Mexican beach experience!  That's what we did...spent a week or so at the beach: flying the morning site El Toro, go swimming in the 28C waters, or fly Pelican Bay in the afternoons.

Ah, tropical air!....
El Toro is a high mountain peak overlooking Manzanillo and has an epic road up, during our time there is was very washed-out and several trucks were reportedly stuck at several times.  There is also a gate so you need the key to gain access...fortunately we knew of someone with a key and he also agreed to shuttle us up to launch, eliminating the need for retrieve!  Launch itself is placed just below the saddle facing the ocean, facing SE, and the W afternoon seabreeze will often shut the site down after 12pm, so you want to be on launch early and ready to take off, rather than having to pack up in the heat and hiking/driving back down.  We made that mistake one day after spending the morning cleaning up the site, only to have it blow down on us after we finished, gah!

...and a perfect place to pack up.  The sand is just below this grassy area.
And if the west wind blows in enough, go to Pelican Bay and ridge soar the beaches and cliffs to the south of Manzanillo until dark!  The launch is situated on an as-yet undeveloped housing development, and given the state of Mexican bureaucracy, it could stay undeveloped for years to come, providing us with a perfect spot to lay out gliders and topland.  Mind you, landing on the beach isn't so bad either, as it's only a few meters below the takeoff with an easy road back up to the top.

Alex trying out a new site at the condos.
All in all, it was a wonderful trip to a sunny destination, with lots of new sites but the same great food and people!  If you go to Mexico a lot for flying, and are getting tired of Valle de Bravo, and aren't afraid to explore some new sites which have less infrastructure than Valle, then definitely explore some of the other great flying sites Mexico has to offer!

Friday, September 28, 2018

Kiona Sept 28

Kiona hiking trail, road up, and landing zone.
I had never been to Kiona (next to Benton City in WA state) but was in the mood for trying a new site with all the north wind we've been having lately.

Kiona ridge looking east with the road access visible.
Kiona is an easy hike up (1 hour) or 2-wheel drive to the top (it's toplandable), and you can pretty much launch anywhere depending on wind strength and finding a sagebrush-free spot on the slopes.

Kiona ridge facing NW.
Wind was predicted to be on the stronger side, if not blown-out, but at the end of the day the wind dropped enough to launch safely.  There's about 6 km of straight NE ridge, and an extra ~2km of more N ridge next to the antennas.  Just pick a slope that faces into the wind!

Over-the-back is pretty flat and would make for interesting XC!
Once in the air you can see that over the back the terrain is basically flat...kinda like flying at Chelan, but without the canyon crossing!  I'm thinking that in a light north wind and on an unstable day it could be an interesting flatland XC site.