Woodside October 28-29, 2023

 What a fantastic weekend for the end of October!  It was lightly thermic for ~4-5 hours both days, and given that it was a weekend, lots of pilots were out.  We had 25-30 on Saturday and 10-15 on Sunday, and most had 1-2 hour flights!

Relocating the Bridal LZ weather station to Woodside launch.

All the bald eagles were out in force this weekend with most of them hanging out on the SE corner of the south knob.  The prevailing winds were light east so it made sense, and that's also where most of the pilots found the best/most lift.  The conditions on the Saturday were too east for top-landing, and on the Sunday it was difficult to get back to launch height in the first place.

Thanks to Bev, Norm. and Ascent FV Guides for the shuttle service this weekend!

And thanks to Tom Gregg for installing the not-being-used Bridal weather station at Woodside instead, to tide us over until we get newer weather stations sorted out.  Now the Zak-o-meter is working again!

Blanchard October 26, 2023

 The forecast was calling for unstable conditions, but too much north for the Fraser Valley, but Blanchard was looking like a possibility as the north wind wasn't forecast to kick in there until the following day.  So a group of 5 Canadians made the trek across the US border.

The RASP for Blanchard showed light north, OK when it's otherwise unstable, with stronger N wind the following day.  So today was going to be the day, if at all!

Oodles of pilots out, 19 in total, and the north wind was in evidence but very light, so it was flyable on the west side.  Hard to get high, launch is at 390m or so, and the highest I was able to get was 580m.  So lots of traffic and had to keep your head on a swivel in order to avoid other pilots.

Fortunately lots of birds around the NW side to help us out, but I don't think anybody got to cloud base.  Eventually landed after 1.5 hours as my hands were getting cold!

Light WNW on the water on the way to the LZ.

Mt. St. Benedict September 30, 2023

The forest fire at Mt. St. Benedict was (finally) out so lots of pilots out today to enjoy one of the last warm summer days.  North wind up high so the clouds were forming over the back and then spreading out in front of launch, creating lots of shade.  But if you could get up, you could get high and then fly the shade/sun interface all along the Mt. St. Benedict-Dewdney range!  And cloud base was somewhere in airspace, but it was cold enough you didn't want to get that high anyways! 

RASP for Mt. St. Benedict September 30, 2023.  North wind up high.

The LZ had Danny Virtue's stunt horses inside, so they were not bothered by us landing at all, but there were lots of "horse presents" to avoid when packing up :)  And it was very warm and peaceful in the LZ!

Lots of lift despite the cloud cover and north wind.  Photo courtesy of Alex Raymont.

South Okanagan September 8-9, 2023

 Headed to the South Okanagan for some late-summer flying as the fires had (finally) died down in the area.  However after arriving on Upper Ripley, we discovered a new fire just behind launch and helicopter traffic.  In the end I decided not to fly.

Upper Ripley, with a new fire starting up just the takeoff.  I decided not to launch.

The following day the local pilots and myself decided to head to Anarchist instead as that was outside the restricted flying zone of the Upper Ripley fire.  Note there is no official LZ for Anarchist at the moment...the golf course apparently does not want us landing next to the clubhouse.  However there are several other nearby options (just not as convenient/nice grass!) or you can always go XC.  Which is exactly what we did :). It was difficult to get higher than 1900m (launch is at 1100m) but that was enough to head north to Inkaneep valley and then fly over the Oliver racetrack.

The original plan had been to land at the Oliver airport, so long as we arrived after 2:30pm.  Rob had talked to the folks there and learned that at 2pm there was going to be a flyby of small military aircraft to honour a local airman.  However unbeknownst to us they were running late...

It was coming up to 3pm, Rob had just landed in a fallow field just short of the airport, and I was on glide for the airport, thinking of going for their nicer grass to pack up on, when I noticed a formation of planes taking off.  Guess I'm not landing at the airport after all!  So I had a front-row seat to the formation flyby below me (their first pass) and then above me (their second pass) as I quickly landed next to Rob to clear the skies for them.  One of the highlights of that road trip for sure!

20km flight from Osoyoos to Oliver.  

Woodside September 4-5

 A mostly-cloudy day but rather unstable, a good day to fly, top-land, and directly compare gliders as I was further-test-flying a Lynx2.

Woodside RASP showing the overcast but concurrent instability.

Ultimately decided against the L2 as I didn't find it that different, performance-wise, from my current Swift6.  So at this point better to stick with my current glider and keep looking.

Kevin and myself flying under the overcast skies.  Photo courtesy of Alex Raymont.

The next day was a clearing one, forecast to blow out by early afternoon, and with the winds, looked like a possible "glass off" at the end of the day.  First flight of the day, Martin N and I got off the hill early and flew to Agassiz via Cemetery Hill which was quite turbulent, most other pilots stood down as it got too windy on launch.  For the second flight at the end of the day it was indeed glassing-off.  Lots of happy pilots in the LZ!

Woodside RASP for September 5 showing the possible glass-off.

Enjoying the smooth lift as the sun was setting.

Bridal Falls September 2

 A very stable day and hard to get away from launch.  Climbed out to 1000m at one point, who-hoo!  A good day to work on stable scratching skills...a group went to Cheam and had better flights.

Bridal Falls August 19

The day started out fine at Bridal with some light smoke and north wind.  Usually Bridal north wind = possibly Cheam altitudes so we had a big crew out, and we were indeed starting to get high, but the north wind also brought in the smoke from the inland fires, which started to impact thermic strength.  Those of us at the Butterfly had to be patient to get high enough to make it back.  The lower we got, the thicker the smoke got and the less thermal strength, if we could stay high we were OK.

Unstable at Bridal with north wind forecast

A really interesting day of observing how the arriving smoke impacted thermic strength.  

 Smokey day at Bridal.

Smoke is worsening, time to land!

Pemberton McKenzie to Copper Mound overnight Vol-bivy August 3-4

Alex and I embarked on a short road trip and with the RASP showing light SW winds and it being the height of summer (so less snow up high) we decided to do a Copper Mound overnight vol-bivy.

But it's a short flight to the vol-bivy site, so you don't actually want to fly there too early.  Earlier in the day it'll still be nuking and very difficult to top-land.  So instead a bunch of us decided to head towards Whistler.  However the south wind was a bit stronger that anticipated, getting up on Signal Hill was slow with the climbs hard to find, and once up at cloudbase around 2950m, flying south over Rutherford River was also slow.

MacKenzie RASP for Aug 3.  Unstable and high!

Those ahead of me reported strong south winds so were turning back, so I did so as well, enjoying the snowfields on top of Ipsoot and flying the Miller side to Camel Hump, where I jumped the valley over to the MacKenzie side and climbed up to Copper.

It was still pumping there and Paddy had managed to topland but I opted to land in the amphitheatre down below.  Even getting down there was a struggle and was definitely advanced-level active piloting, as it was strong enough to be ridge-soarable on the small ridge leading to the lake, and if you allowed yourself to get blown back, you would be in the rotor and dragged into the sharp rocks and water...and to actually get down required lots of wingovers and keeping the glider open as the gusts came through.

At the Rutherford valley looking west.  Photo courtesy of Alex Raymont.

Eventually though I got down followed by a handful of other pilots who were also planning to vol-bivy.  And once up at the camping spot (where Paddy had landed) it was indeed too strong to safely land, it was only 4:45pm and we were expecting things to stay strong until at least 6 or 7pm.

Flapping it in to the amphitheatre below the vol bivy site at Copper Mound.  Photo courtesy of Alex Raymont.
Flight From Pemberton to Rutherford valley and then to Copper Mound.

It was a beautiful sunset (as usual!) and the mosquitos were actually not that bad for early August.  Had an awesome sleep in the alpine and discovered grizzly bear tracks the following morning at the amphitheatre lake, fortunately they don't usually appear at the vol bivy site and prefer to stay lower down in the subalpine where there is more greenery.

Sunset at Copper Mound, closing in on 9pm!

It was a slow start to the day as the SW wind was taking its time arriving, and we didn't launch until just after 12pm (usually we would launch anytime after 9am)!  But once in the air we were able to stay up on the south sides of the various ridges, and leapfrog our way to Mt. Barbour and cloudbase at 3100m.

Hurley Pass RASP (closest to Copper) for August 4.  Another light wind day!

Alex was ahead of me and had crossed to the Miller side, and was reporting that is was not working very well over there; I was partway across myself when I heard, so decided to turn around and continue on the MacKenzie side.  That early in the day, the only spot really working would be around Owl Peak, and after searching for a few passes I was able to get up high enough to make the glider to the LZ and the car.

Other pilots who came after me did get up on the Miller side and continued to Whistler, so it turned into quite a good day for them.  I wasn't really bummed however as I was quite hungry after spending the morning on Copper, so was happy to go for a swim, eat, repack my vol-bivy gear, and relax in the shade in the LZ.  A nice chill way to end an alpine sky-camping adventure!

Evening soaring session at Copper Mound and the vol bivy site.

Bridal Falls July 27

 A stable day at Bridal as there was more cloud shading the sun than we expected.  But after 30 minutes I was able to get high enough to topland and save Rob S from having to retrieve his truck.

After I top landed, it actually got a bit better so Tom was also able to topland and retrieve the other truck that showed up with a second load of pilots.

Macedonia July 11-16, 2023

After a week of flying in Drama, it was time for us to relocate to Krushevo in North Macedonia for a week of unstructured self-guided flying. 

Krushevo is the highest town in North Macedonia, and one of the highest in the Balkans.

Now, it’s difficult to get from Drama to Krushevo via public transit…there used to be trains and a bus, but since Covid those have gone away, or involve an all-day ordeal of bus transfers and missing connections.  And since North Macedonia is not in the EU (whereas Greece is), most car rental companies will not allow you to drive between the two countries.  So you either have to fly from Thessaloniki to Skopje and then backtrack via bus/taxi anyways, or hire a driver to take you directly.

Flying the flats north of Krushevo.  Photo courtesy of Alex Raymont.

I contacted the local school in Krushevo, “Paragliding Macedonia”, and got the contact for a local driver, who drove to Thessaloniki airport to pick us up, and drove us back across the border to North Macedonia and onwards to Krushevo.  For this service (up to 3 pilots in the car) it was a total of 150 Euro.  It was a great decision as our driver spoke the local language and was able to get us through the land border with minimal fuss (although there was a lot of gesticulating and animated language between our driver and the border guards…not quite sure why!).

If you show up at Krushevo in the summer, chances are you'll run into a comp!  
Photo courtesy of Alex Raymont.

Krushevo itself is situated up high above the Pelagonia valley at 1350m ASL, which means you can be a bit cooler, temperature-wise; as well you are already at launch altitude and it’s a short 10 minute drive to the main takeoff.  Many pilots stay at the Montana Palace Hotel, but this is situated outside the main part of Krushevo so you’ll be walking for any restaurants/food/groceries/ATM, so I think it’s better to stay closer to the town centre.  Most pilots will eat at the “Skar” restaurant (which does breakfast as well as lunch and dinner), located in the town centre next to the church.

Arriving back at Krushevo after a triangle, to topland in the fields behind town.

There are 2 takeoffs just outside Krushevo, and any taxi can take you there.  You can usually find a taxi near the “Roma” pizza restaurant, or inquire at the local paragliding info centre to see if they have any shuttles.  It’ll cost around 300 MKD / 5 Euro.  The main takeoff faces east and is the main comp/XC launch, with space for ~10 pilots to launch simultaneously, shade and benches to hang out under, and often a vendor selling water/snacks.  There is also a bathroom and water spigot which is unlocked for comps (and chances are, if it’s summer, there will be a comp going on!).  If, for some reason, it’s blowing over the back, or you want to fly later in the day, you may need to visit the other side of the ridge, facing west, where the smaller alternate takeoff is located.

Lots of clouds and pilots to mark the thermals on the flats!  
Photo courtesy of Alex Raymont.

As Krushevo is mainly an XC/comp flying site, most pilots fly out-and-returns to the south or north, or big triangles to the other side of the valley near Prilep.  There is also a flying site just below the Treskavec Monastery above Prilep for afternoon/west wind.

Lake Ohrid swimming.  Photo courtesy of Alex Raymont.

You have the choice of either mountain or flatland flying, or both, depending on stability and cloudbase.  Most pilots opt to fly the mountains first, and then when the first Qs start popping out on the flats, head out there, before returning to land at one of the LZs at the base of the road leading back up to Krushevo.  While we were there (late June) the flatland lift was plentiful even if there were no clouds to make things obvious.  You can fly quite far north until you hit the mountain range bordering Skopje, at which point you can commit to going deep (maybe for vol-bivy) or follow the curve of mountains around to the east.

Typical triangle flight from Krushevo.

Lake Ohrid launch in Galicica National Park.

If you want a change of scenery, you can always head to Lake Ohrid for some freshwater beaches or the resort town (we hired a local driver); there are actually flying sites there too!  The one we went to is in Galicica National Park; there is a small kiosk at the bottom of the road up and a person charging entry (I think it was 100 MKD per pilot). Stop at the St. George chapel on the side of the road, and launch will be anywhere in the meadow below the hairpin turn.

Lake Ohrid: the border with Albania just ahead of me.

Be aware there are powerlines to the north of launch and if you get up and behind launch and then low, you may need to topland back there.  Not a big deal, you can just relaunch from there, but it is in a bit of a venturi, so if it’s forecast to be windy, it’ll be windier here.  Plan accordingly!  There is an official LZ in one of the few fields between the mountain range and the Lake, or there are 3 beaches at the south end of the Lake.  According to the local tandem pilots, don’t land at the closest beach.  Choose the farthest-from-launch, and be prepared to avoid sunbathers, cars, bushes, etc.  But it’s very nice to land and be able to just jump in the water to cool off!

Lake Ohrid flight.

The beach landings at the south end of Lake Ohrid.

Watching the lenticulars form at the end of the day.

If you are looking for a place with reliable and varied flying, and want some infrastructure in place (other pilots to fly with, cheap busses/taxis, moderate climate), you should consider Krushevo.  Given that there are usually several weeks of comps in the summer months (I think for 2023 there was something like 6-in-a-row!), it's gotta be one of the more reliable spots for XC flying.