Saturday, October 24, 2009

Chelan Oct. 24

After a day of driving up from Bend, Oregon, yesterday, and no flying (it was cloudy and spitting rain in spots), we were ready to fly Chelan on Saturday. This was the weekend of the Halloween Women's Fly-in, which meant a lot of pilots were in the area (mostly Seattle pilots, with a large Canadian contingent as well).

Reports were of rather windy conditions on launch (10-12 mph from the SW) but doable, so a bunch of us went up to launch in Derek's truck. When we arrived there were a couple of gliders just launching, and they flew straight through a huge thermal right off Green Monster, so I knew it was working.

Got ready and launched between a bunch of people kiting, and went straight up in front of Green Monster. The first 20 seconds or so was quite slow, but once out front it got nicer and less windy, and it was nice thermalling/ridge soaring on the SW launch.

I flew for about an hour then decided to top-land to warm up. I had noticed Yaro out front and low on the next butte to the west, and after landing I heard on the radio that he was down in a gully and not moving. So Kevin White and myself got a truck together and went down to search for him.

When we found him he was walking around but not wanting to hike out unsupported, so 2 of us got his gear organized while the other 2 helped him to the truck. He went down the mountain and was pretty OK, except for a sore back, and went to get it checked out. Not sure what the outcome of that is yet.

Meanwhile back on launch it was getting windy so I packed up and went down for some lunch with Jim and Colleen, and when we returned a couple of hours later it was less windy again and launchable. This time I flew down to drop my bomb and try for the target landing, and it was windy enough in the LZ that I was able to hover into the LZ. Many pilots were landing short, coming in too far downwind and not making it to the target, and landing all over the place.

Over at the airport ridge a bunch of people were flying too. Alex, Robin, Martin, and Mia were there after it blew out on the Butte, and were having nice ridge/thermal flights there. We all met up later on for the party at the Chelan airport lounge.

As usual, the party was a blast and many colorful and crazy costumes. This year I didn't have a costume as we had been on the road for the past week, and no time (or room in the car) to get a costume ready. We had about 20 Canucks there, and the Barbie costume theme went off really well (Martina won for best costume: Martini Barbie).

Sunday morning it was grey and not windy, sledrides only we figured, so we opted to drive back to Vancouver early and beat the snow that was due in the mountain passes. I think some people stuck around for Sunday but nothing was really going on so we didn't miss anything by leaving early.

We are now back in Vancouver and probably no traveling for a while...time to get back to work and into Winter Mode. This last trip of the local season was fantastic; we flew all the sites we meant to fly, and only lost a couple of days due to weather or driving. I would highly recommend the sand dunes at Marina. You get a lot of kiting in, get better at your high-wind launching skills, learn a lot about your glider (energy retention, speeds, wanging around), and come back with a lot of sand in everthing! Just make sure to check the weather beforehand...you don't want to be stuck on the California coast when it's raining or blowing offshore.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Hat Creek Rim Oct. 22


After leaving Marina super-early, we arrived at Hat Creek Rim mid-afternoon. The site is very easy to find; using the online site guides and GPS co-ordinates we were able to find the LZ's and also the road up. Road up is an easy 2 wheel drive and you arrive to the main launch at around 4500' (the main LZ is about 3500'). It faces mostly west which makes it an afternoon site, and in fact the main attraction is the daily evening glassoff.

After watching the conditions for a while we figured it was OK to fly. Given that we had driven the car up to launch, and we weren't sure about the top-landing, we had to figure out who was going to have to drive down. Initialy we drew straws and I drew the short straw, but Robin decided he didn't want to fly, so I was able to.

I elected to be the test pilot and got myself ready. When doing the radio check an unfamiliar voice came on the radio and asked if we were pilots! Turns out it was the only local in the area, Page, and the local radio frequency is the same as the Fraser Valley frequency! He told us he would be up in 5 minutes but I was already launching, so by the time he arrived on launch I was over launch and at about 6000'.

Winds aloft were north but not too bad, but it was definitely a bit over the back. Initially it was smooth, but as the flight went on it got rougher and rougher, so I opted to head to the main LZ and play around there, before landing in the target bullseye after about 30-45 minutes of flying.

Meanwhile Alex and Robin were geting ready to launch; Page had offered to drive retrieve for us so all 3 of us would be allowed to fly. Cycles were getting light (it was almost 5pm) and they had to wait for some cycles, but got in the air and were soon at the altitudes I had been at previous. Apparently the conditions were a bit different for them vs. me; it was rougher and the winds were coming from all sorts of directions. They flew for about 45 minutes before coming out to join me in the LZ.

Hat Creek Rim is a beautiful place to fly; you have Mt. Shasta to the NW and Mt. Lassen to the SW, and you are in a secluded valley away from the main valley winds (in Redding it was strong north winds, while at Hat Creek it was very light). It's completely unregulated; just read the info on the online site guides and make sure to clean up your litter. Free camping in the LZ (or on launch for that matter) and you have the place all to yourself. Page said most people who fly are visitors, and they come for the glassoff, although mid-day XC is possible. But in the middle of the summer, he doesn't recommend flying mid-day as it will be too strong and unpleasant. But this time of year, mid-day flying is fine.

We are now making our way further north, and hope to fly either Chelan, Saddle, or Baldy tomorrow. Slowly making our way back to Vancouver!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Marina Oct. 21


Marina delivers again!

We didn't get up to launch until mid-afternoon as the winds were still light; we started at Sand City and it was too light, so we moved operations to Lakecourt.

It was still light but doable, and straight in which made the light winds OK. No signs of locals, even at the HG ramp up north, so we had the whole place to ourselves. Alex flew south to Sand City and back, kiting some sections, while Robin stuck closer to home just south of Lakecourt. I went north a bit and played at a section of dunes I'm quite fond of...a low sand cliff that people will write their notes in ("Bob wuz here", etc.) with a long sloping dune behind it to waga around in.

I played in this section for a while, doing my swoops and getting low enough to read all the notes that people had written in the sides of the cliff (which is only about 10' high). Whenever I got low I'd tank up on the dune behind me, and head back out for some more swoopage.

Back at Lakecourt and I landed to do some filming of Robin and Alex, who were back in the launch zone as the winds were lightening up. BTW, the "table" sand formation in the bowl south of Lakecourt launch (people who have been here before will know what I'm talking about) is now gone...it looks like somebody undermined it so it's now eroding to a barely recognizable stump, sans iceplants so it'll probably be totally gone by next year). It was getting late and the winds were switching more SW (they had been pretty much straight on W until now) so it was harder to stay up on the low stuff.

Robin and I opted to pack up next to the car, while Alex would try to fly back to Fort Ord, where we would pick him up (you can now drive into Fort Ord, which makes it a handy half-way spot to get picked up if you land out between Lakecourt and Sand City). Alex ended up landing on the beach beneath Fort Ord and hiked up where we found him later on.

All in all 2-3 hours of flyable winds, and we ended up with 3/4 days of flying (the missing day it was drizzling, so we went to Big Sur for a hike instead.). We are now on our way north, stopping at Hat Creek Rim, near Mount Shasta, and then onwards to Chelan for the Women's fly-in.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Marina Oct. 20


Today was sunny skies and NW winds, so we got ourselves to the Sand City launch around noon and met up with a visiting pilot, Andre, from the Czech Republic. It was almost on, but by the time we got our stuff ready, it was fully on and threatening to blow out.

Launched and it was so on and almost straight in that we decided to do the run to the HG ramp at the Marina Beach State Park (about 10 km one way). Alex and I opted to stay down low, while Robin stayed high. Initially Alex and I were staying local while doing some filming, but eventually we started making tracks north.

With the strong winds you had to be careful, if staying low, not to get sucked into a gap and the associated venturi, and most of the gaps I crossed just fine. But I misjudged on one, and had to land in the iceplants. Hiked down to the beach and kited my way back up the dune and continued flying north; Robin and Alex were now ahead of me while I had sorted myself out.

Robin reported, at Lakecourt, that he saw a couple "fully involved" as he flew overhead. One of the dangers of flying at Marina is what you see from the air! Nude sunbathing, sex, homeless people with makeshift camps, dead sea lions, we see it all.

Once north of Lakecourt the the dunes are smaller for a bit, and involved on my part some kiting past some low sections (on one of my landings, I kited my way past a sea lion who was rather unconcerned with my presence). The winds had backed off a bit so this wasn’t a problem, and I got myself to the ramp to find the HG pilots just setting up. I had brought my lunch so figured it was time to eat!

We could see a roll-cloud-type (in appearance only, not in actuality) coming in, and the locals said it would cause the winds to die off, which is what happened. As the roll-shaped cloud came overhead another one started to form offshore (see picture #2 behind Alex), and it was clear a wave effect was setting up, and the time to relaunch and get ourselves back to the car at Sand City was in between waves, when the winds were actually reaching the ground and not bouncing over us.

Alex went first and kited/flew back to Sand City. I was a bit behind and made it as far as Fort Ord before landing, and Robin stopped at Lakecourt to play with another pilot who was in the area there. On the beach it was nice and sunny and warm, and I relaxed while watching the surf (sunny California!) until I figured it was time to walk out to the road and catch up with Alex who was getting the car (Alex says for me to put in here, that he saved our bacon).

In the end we flew pretty much all afternoon, and it was still on at the end of the day (it got stronger again, but I had packed up by then and was nicely ensconced on the beach, watching the sea lions playing in the surf). NW winds and warm temps all day (Robin opted to fly barefoot and in shorts, it was so nice!) made it a perfect day. We hope for more tomorrow!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Marina Oct. 18

It's time for our annual Monterey sand dunes trip!

This time it was Alex, Robin, and myself. Drove down in the Fit (cozy but efficient) and when we left Vancouver it was pouring rain. In fact it poured rain for most of Washington and Oregon, hydroplaning through Seattle and Portland. But by the time we got to Northern California the rain had stopped and it was dry again.

Arrived in Marina mid-day on the second day of driving, and it was SW and light, which is not the greatest direction but doable on certain aspects. We signed in at the ramp and then de-reserved our harnesses (not much point in having one, and you'll just get sand in it), and then it was off to play in the sand!

Robin and I stayed near the ramp while Alex ventured south towards Lakecourt. We played all afternoon in the winds, launching, surfing through the sand, running up the sides of the dunes, and basically getting sand in everything. So fun! A bunch of locals showed up but they weren't inspired to fly (they called the conditions "unflyable", too south for them), but we had a blast.

After it got dusk we headed to Papa Chaco's (our favorite Mexican spot) for our Mexican fix, and then joined up with the locals for an apres-flying beer. Suzie (one of the locals, a former HG pilot) invited us to stay at her house, which we accepted.

We are down here until Thursday, and then will make our way north to stop at the Chelan fly-in next weekend. Forecast is for sun and onshore winds for the rest of our trip so we hope to get more flying in. Stay tuned!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Woodside Oct. 8

The east winds were forecast to die off for today so it was time to take advantage. Alex, Ryan, and myself showed up at Woodside in the early afternoon to find several people on launch waiting for a band of cloud to pass through before launching.

Arrived on launch and Al was ahead of me in the launch lineup, so when I launched he was already in the air. The air to the south seemed to be working more than the north cliffs, so we all flew to the south knob and were able to stay up. If you sunk below launch height it was quite difficult to get back up, but if you were able to stay at launch height or above, it was much easier.

I was able to get to about 1000m and then I noticed that the winds at that altitude were very south and very strong. Al was headed over past the north cliffs and I saw him get flushed, to the point where I wasn't sure he was going to make it back. In fact he was on the other side of the north ridge and was forced to land on a sandbar and get a boat ride back to the mainland.

At the same time this was happening, I noticed a red and black glider in the trees at the bottom of Woodside, just above the lowest cutblock on the mountain. Mike was OK (he hadn't suffered a collapse or anything, just scratched too low and couldn't make the glide out to a LZ) and secured in the tree and using his rope kit to get down, and Jim phoned 911 to let them know he was OK and not needing Search and Rescue (the glider was visible from the road so we were worried somebody from the public might call it in otherwise). Mike had other help already to get the glider out of the tree so there was no need for the rest of us to land and rescue him.

I top landed after about 2 hours of flying, just in time for Jim and a new load of people to show up and fly again, and lent my glider to Alex for him to try. It was still flyable and thermally, and in fact it was better flying conditions compared to earlier in the afternoon. But the whole day the thermals were very snarly and not well-formed, not classic thermalling conditions.

Kevin and Brad Henry showed up with their new Ozone Swifts, and Ryan was on flight #26 or so. In the end there were about 10 people or so in the air at various times throughout the afternoon.

Back at the bottom of the road and Mike was still getting his glider out of the tree. A couple of trees later and it was down, at least half of it was. The other half was (is?) still in a tree, so if you are looking for half a glider, it's available at about the 0.8 km mark (look to your left).

Given the time of year and the fact it has been outflow for a while now, it was nice to get some inflow and thermic conditions for a change. It's getting colder and weaker sunlight now though. Time to start thinking of winter flying destinations!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Baldy fly-in Sept. 25-27

Rich Hass from NWP had invited the Canadians to attend the annual Baldy Butte fly-in, and as the weather was looking rather stable for the coast, I decided to check it out.

Looking at the weather ahead of time, I saw that Friday would be good with light and variable winds, Saturday would be blown out, and Sunday would be a good Saddle day. Leaving Vancouver about 5am I was able to get to the Baldy LZ on Friday morning to get the site briefing and sign the waivers (the launch is on private property).

Two locals are David Norwood and Bob Bunger, who live in Yakima. They were out setting up shop for the fly-in, and eventually there were about 10 of us heading up.

Baldy Butte has multiple launches for pretty much every wind direction (it is bald, after all), and the typical launch direction is S or SW. But on Friday it was more west (or at least the house thermal was causing the local cycles to manifest as west), so the south launch was rather cross (much like launching at Bridal...you have to be ready for your glider to possibly turn 90 degrees as you bring it up). I opted to head for the west launch (you hike down about 2 minutes to a grassy spot) and soon was in the air.

Nice thermals and it was hot, so it was pleasant in the air. There was a forest fire to the north, just outside Ellensburg, so the smoke was spreading out to the east and marking the inversion. To the east I could see into the Yakima Firing Range, and watched as the military guys shot off several missiles into the air and shot them down (it looked like miniature space shuttle launches going on, with the gout of flame on the ground followed by a plume of smoke as the missile shot into the air). This is a very good area to avoid flying over! In fact there is a lot of complicated airspace in that direction, and Dave was kind enough to show me the XC routes in that direction and where to fly to stay out of the airspace (for future reference!).

While watching the show in the firing range I was able to get to 5000' which is not quite enough for XC (you want 6000' at least, and preferably 7000'), but Meredyth and Dave Wheeler were heading out to see what would happen so I joined them.

The usual XC route in SW winds is to the NE, heading over the back to the north of the firing range (avoiding all the airspace). But with the low altitudes we were getting we weren't going to be going that way, so we decided to head north along the canyon road towards Ellensburg. We only went about 7 km or so before landing, as further than that you run out of LZ's until you reach the end of the canyon, and we weren't high enough for that glide. I landed next to Dave and met up with Meredyth who had gotten a ride and back to the LZ.

Those who elected to stick close to the Butte were able to stay up for several hours until it shut down at dusk. Then those who were staying for the fly-in set up camp in the temporary LZ (the usual LZ is across the road, but for the fly-in, we're allowed to camp and land next to the river). A beautiful LZ with green grass, right next to the Yakima river, with nice shade trees and right next to one of the numerous pull-outs the fly fishers use to get in and out of the river.

As predicted, the next day was blown out, so no flying locally. I kited a couple of speed gliders (Bullet 12 and XT-16) but that was about it, and most everyone went into town to get food etc for the big party that night. Later in the afternoon we were fooled into thinking the winds had backed off (at least they had in the LZ) so we all trooped up to launch, and in fact it was windier than earlier in the day! Back down to the LZ and it was party time, and the beer flowed and the campfire was roaring, and it was all good. I was among the last to leave the campfire and people were snoring away all around.

Next morning it was east winds at Baldy, and predicted to manifest as north at Saddle, so a bunch of us went up Baldy for a morning flight. Up on launch it was strong east winds about 25 kph and nobody was willing to launch except Robin and I. We both waited for a lull and launched no problems, and were soon ridge soaring the east side.

Initially it was purely ridge lift, and I was able to skim the slope just like at Marina or Sand City, except the terrain was big rocks and bushes instead of nice soft sand. Not a place to touch down when wagga'ing around! The ridge is kinda small, so Robin and I were using pretty much all of it, and had somebody else launched I would have given up my spot to let somebody else have it. But nobody else did launch, and eventually the thermals kicked in and we got high over the towers and there was all of a sudden tonnes of room for lots of people. But it was even windier on launch, and nobody else could get off, so we had the whole place to ourselves.

After about 1 hour I told Robin I was heading out as it seemed to be getting windier, and we both headed out for a nice landing in light winds in the LZ. Then it was off to Saddle Mountain!

Arriving on Saddle about 1pm it was already on, with several PG's in the air already, and about 30 more setting up. A couple of HG's joined in the fun too! Initially it was strong on launch and we were having to hold gliders down while waiting for lulls, but eventually it died off and was almost pure thermal lift at this point and not ridgy.

We had a super-fun time flying in the ridge lift and then the thermal lift, although I found myself flown out early in the day and opted to top-land and enjoy the midday sun (maybe the last really warm day of the year). Robin and Norm stayed up for much longer; Norm eventually bottom-landed as he had errands to do in Vernon, and Robin stayed up until the very end, top-landing to join me at the end of the day.

In the end we had something like 10 Canucks show up for flying at Baldy and Saddle Mountain. Super-fun on Sunday, and a nice short XC on Friday to round out the weekend. Baldy has really good XC potential, and the Seattle locals fly it all the time in the spring. If you are thinking of doing some XC next spring and the Fraser Valley is getting boring, think about Baldy. It's only about 4-4.5 hours away and is almost always sunny (a good weekend road-trip destination), and every XC-able day there are people flying it. Dave Norwood and Bob Bunger live nearby and are always willing to do site orientations and XC tips.

Pictures of the weekend can be found here.

Here's a short video Dave Norwood shot of the flying this weekend!


Sunday, September 20, 2009

Woodside Sept. 20


Well today was looking like another good XC day at Woodside...unstable and cu's forming all over the place. This time I arrived earlier than a few days ago, and was up on launch by 1:45pm. But of course I got to talking with people and didn't actually launch until closer to 2:30pm. Kevin was waiting at cloudbase for me (which wasn't that high; about 1100m) and once we joined up we went over the back towards Agassiz Mountain.

I arrived at Agassiz Mountain lower than the last day; this time 680m, but I wasn't too concerned with the rocks baking in the sun and facing SW. Sure enough I got up there and then Daryl Sawatsky and Thomm McEchryn joined us so we were now 4.

Once again we weren't getting super-high at Agassiz, 1100m or so, and Thomm had left much lower than that, so he opted to land at Harrison Hot Springs beach. Kevin and I made it to the cliffs on Bear Mountain (XC tip: when crossing from Agassiz to Bear, head for the grey cliffs, NOT the red/brown ones!) and then waited for Daryl to join us.

At this point we were trying to figure out the best way to cross to the Bridal side of the valley. We weren't getting very high and I like more altitude when doing the crossing. Eventually, after dicking around on Bear for a bit, I finally got to 1300m and decided this was good to cross to Hicks with enough altitude to find something over there and not just grovel around, and do the crossing from there rather than from Bear.

(I didn't think we had enough altitude to do the crossing from Bear, which is a slightly longer crossing than from Hicks. The downside to doing it from Hicks, is even though it's less of a crossing, you have to do more cross-wind flying and possibly end up too far downwind to get up successfully on the Ludwig side. From Bear, if you're high enough, you can incorporate some downwind-ness and arrive a bit more upwind.)

On Hicks it was lame so when I got up to 1050m, I went for the crossing. I usually like at least 1200m, and prefer 1400m for a "comfortable" arrival on Ludwig, but I figured those kinds of heights weren't in the cards for today, and especially at Hicks. Arrived just east of Ludwig at 400m and groveled around for a bit, but it was quite windy down that low and nothing was quite connecting, so I ended up landing at the large grassy LZ at the Peter's Road exit on highway #1. Tracklog is here.

Daryl joined me 5 minutes later and we radioed to Kevin and Al (who had joined Kevin while I was doing the crossing), that it was a bit dubious to do the crossing from Hicks and from that low, so they opted to stay on the #7 side of the Fraser river and continue towards Hope. They never got high again, and ended up landing in Ruby Creek.

Rob Samplonius came by Hicks a few minutes later and we told him the same story, and he also opted to land at Ruby Creek.

Meanwhile Matt J. had not connected on Bear and landed in the swamp between the south side of Bear and Green hill. What normally would be a 10 minute walk out on dry land turned into an hour-long slog through waist-deep water before he got to a road and retrieve. When I saw him last he was in what looked like a spare pare of flight suit pants :) and barefoot.

Daryl and I now had the job of getting back to Woodside from the wrong side of the Fraser river. Using a tip I learned, I told Daryl to keep his helmet visible. I did the same and kept my radio harness on. The whole idea is to try to appear as "non-hobo" as possible, and no that's not our wordly possesions on our backs!, and appear interesting enough to entice a car to stop.

About 1 minute after putting our thumbs and helmets out, a car stopped. It was a shitty beat-up K-car, but with a pimped-out stereo system (with huge-ass speakers in the back windows). Driving the car was "Tiger". When asked what he does for a living, Tiger replied that he "gambles and smokes pot". He travels the world doing poker tournaments (last year he won $100,000 he said), and when he runs out of money, comes back to Vancouver to work enough to start another world tour. While in Vancouver he smokes pot. He illustrated this point by, when dropping us off at the #9 overpass at Bridal, opening up his glove compartment and offering (trying to sell?) us a bag of weed. In the glove compartment was bags and bags of the stuff; the entire glove compartment was full of bags of pot. We declined :) and as we hiked off to our next hitch-hiking spot, we saw him rolling a big fatty to tide him over as he continued to Vancouver.

Next up was a ride to the A&W in Agassiz courtesy of a couple of giggling girls, and then we hiked to the Vancouver side of the outskirts of Agassiz (just out of sight of the RCMP office :) for our final ride to Woodside. The guy was originally headed to Harrison Hot Springs, but after learning we were paraglider pilots, he wanted to find out more. We told him that if he gave us a ride to our cars, we could get him a business card for one of the local paragliding schools and set him up. So we were able to get a ride right back to our cars :)

Meanwhile the folks who had landed at Ruby Creek were slowly making their way back to their cars, and Matt J. was still making his way out of the swamp. Al was able to pick him up and also Rob and Nicolai; Kevin had gotten his own ride back to his car. So everyone was accounted for by the end of the day, with lots of smiling faces as another XC day came to a close.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Unexpected XC from Woodside Sept. 17

After 3 weeks off flying to let my knee heal, I was itching to get back in the air. The forecast turned unexpectedly good, so a bunch of us showed up at Eagle Ranch rather late in the day (after 2:30pm; people were already flying and Nicolai had already gone over the back) with an eye for some late-in-the-season XC.

We tossed around a few ideas, possibly crossing the valley to Bridal, flying to Hope, etc, but in the end we decided to see what would happen, but made a pact to land *anyplace* other than the usual LZ's around Woodside.

Since it was obviously good, I got ready as soon as I got up the mountain, and launched into a nice cycle which took me up to 1050m and I was on my way over the back. Kevin had launched before me and was leading out, so I was able to see what the sink was like. Not too bad, but leaving Woodside from 1050m is not very high, and I arrived at Agassiz Mountain at about 800m (the CYR is below 335m). Al was with me, and we saw Robin headed our way, so we waited until he joined us, and then continued on to Bear Mountain.

On Bear it was quite reliable and we started chatting about what to do at this point. We knew Norm was chasing us so we had retrieve all lined up; it was just a question of what to do? The winds still looked light enough for a run to Hope but the day was late (it was about 4:30pm by now and blueing up). So we decided to fly as far as Ruby Creek and see what would happen once there. This time I led off for the run to Hicks.

Dove around the corner of Bear and made the run to Hicks Mountain, arriving at the toe which was still in sun. We weren't getting as high as we had been at Bear and Agassiz Mountains, but it was enough to push to the bump just west of Squakum Peak (Robin led out this time) and above the Ruby Creek LZ.

At this point you kinda lose LZ's for a bit if you're not high, and the final push to a suitable LZ in Hope required a bit more altitude that we were getting (I could see Hope but wasn't quite high enough to get there!). Had we arrived an hour earlier at Ruby Creek, we probably would have found enough lift for the final glide, but it was too late and the stratus clouds were coming in. So we ridge soared on the bump above the Ruby Creek LZ to "decompress" from the XC portion of our flight, and landed at the LZ with Norm and Al waiting for us (Al had landed at the base of Hicks).

I want to give a big thank-you to Norm, who despite not being able to fly due to his ankle cast, still comes out to drive, and offered to come get us if we went XC. I know it must be hard for you, Norm, to watch us flying when you're grounded, and we appreciate it! One of these days, when you're back in the saddle, we'll do the same for you.

Meanwhile Nicolai had crossed the valley to Laidlaw (he had a 2 hour jump on us) and flown back to Bridal. Last I heard Miguel was driving over to pick him up.

Given the time of year, and time of day, we were unexpectedly treated to a late-season XC of about 25 km. Tracklog is here. It was very cool to fly XC with a bunch of my friends...when flying XC I usually end up flying alone (unless it's a comp), and always enjoy the gaggle-flying and swapping the leading-out job that comes with a group. Hopefully this wasn't the last XC day for the Fraser Valley, but these days are gonna get fewer and farer between!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

US Nats August 22

There was some discussion about cancelling the day due to possible high winds and the fact we've had 6 valid tasks already, but the task committee decided a 7th task was in order. I had volunteered as a driver today (my knee is doing much better; I can walk around on it now if I'm careful) so I took a load of pilots up to launch.

The original task was a short 49 km flight north to take advantage of the predicted south winds. However after the task was announced and everyone was suiting up, Mark called the FAA (his daily courtesy call to let them know what our route is) and was told that a brand new TFR (temporary fire restriction) had just now been issued for a forest fire directly on our courseline (this fire apparently was set last week during the t-storms, but only flared up now after a week of smoldering). That put the kaybosh on that task.

So the task committee had to come up with a new task that didn't involved that TFR and yet was simple enough that retrieve would be easy (so everyone could be back in time for the party). So a 54 km task was set that would take people north but not so far as the fire, then turn around and fly south, and then goal would be at the school LZ directly below launch (so in essence a double OR).

By this time it was getting late and some high cirrus was coming in (the approaching front). But people were able to get high and cross Provo canyon no problem and get their way on course. I was assigned to the goal LZ to take people back to HQ as they came in, so I got to watch most of the flying as most of that particular course can been seen from there. We had about 15 pilots in goal I think. In the end the high cirrus came in and developed into some more substantial pre-frontal stuff, and most people sunk out around 6pm. It was a 1000 point day though!

The pig roast (a whole pig that had been simmering in a ground oven all day) and awards ceremony was at the north side of POTM. Lots of satisfied pilots there tonight stuffing their faces with food and beer, and at 10pm we had a visit from the police. Apparently in Utah you can't have parties or noise after 10pm so they were going to give us all noise violation tickets (70+ tickets!), but Brad convinced them to let us continue the awards ceremony (our cheering was considered too noisy).

I can't remember who all won what categories, but the overall results will eventually be found here. Surprisingly, I was able to get 3rd place in both the Sport and Women's categories, but fell from 22nd to 50th overall, despite me not flying the tasks for the past 3 days.

This was a very successful US Nats part 2. We had 7 flying days out of a possible 7 (a first for a US Nats I'm told), and a variety of flying conditions and routes to challenge us all. A lot of the local pilots were stoked about flying routes that they don't usually get to fly (either because of weather, retrieval issues, or just not enough pilots to gaggle with to make it easier). And the visiting pilots were blown away (myself included, and this is my 3rd time flying here) by the scenery and the awesomeness of the mountains here. If you are into strong mountain flying, I would recommend SLC as a destination (just check the weather beforehand, and be prepared to do other things if it's t-storming or gotten windy). Previous experience in Golden or Pemberton would be an asset, and you'll want to be comfortable on your glider and using your speedbar to cross the umpteen canyons with their associated canyon suck.

I'm off back to Vancouver tomorrow morning. I'll probably split the 16 hour drive over 2 days so I won't actually get back until sometime Monday. Hopefully by then my knee will be more or less back to normal for regular walking (fingers crossed), and we'll see what the recovery schedule to resume paragliding will be.

Friday, August 21, 2009

US Nats August 21

Task today was another long day, 104 km OR with the goal this time being the north side of POTM (the alternative task was a huge flight to the east, ending in Wyoming; ultimately the task committee went with the easier-to-retrieve option). As the temperature outside was 40C, I opted to stick to the air conditioning, get some work done, stay off my knee, and only went to POTM in the late afternoon in time to watch the lead gaggle come in. We had 33 pilots make goal (Ryan, Claudio, and Bernard all made goal) so lots of happy faces in the LZ. Climbs today were easier than yesterday, and higher cloudbase. One pilot reported getting to 15,000' at one point.

Kevin Ault flew here today. He and Judy, and Brad and Christine, are in the area for a hike in the Wasatch Mountains and decided to get a couple days flying in. He flew the south side this morning (I told him it would turn on by 7am; when he arrived at 7:30am it was already crowded with pilots soaring). This afternoon he flew the north side as the comp pilots were coming in and had a huge grin on his face after he landed.

US Nats August 20

Well I'm a bit gimpy this morning, and won't be flying anymore during this comp. At launch yesterday I launched with a bad tangle, and didn't notice it until after I had cleared the ground (about the same time the glider fluffers noticed it and yelled it to me). It looked bad enough that I opted for an quick top-landing rather than fly out to the LZ, as the whole hillside is pretty open and grassy. My right brake fan was all tied up in the knot which gave me zero flare authority on that side, so I landed hot and a bit downwind. This would have been OK except for the small pile of rocks hidden in the long grass that I stumbled onto as I landed.

End result is a sprained knee and I won't be flying for the rest of this comp. I'm a bit bummed as I was really in "the zone" and flying pretty well against the comp ships. In retrospect I could have probably made it out to the LZ and landed there OK, but on the other hand if I need to land quickly and there's something reasonable and closer (ie. a bald hill) I'll go for that.

The task for yesterday was an attempt at the Utah state record, 111 km OR to SLC University and back to launch. 3 people made it, and several more made it back to the LZ but missing the last TP (which was launch in order to close the OR, and they arrived too low to tag it, and there was no lift to climb back up and get it; this happened to Bernard who missed the last TP by about 50m!). The start looked very slow as the day was weak, but it eventually got better and if people could survive the first few km's (and many didn't, getting minimum distance) they could get at least half-way around the course. Josh and Brad came in within 3 seconds of each other, and Peter came in about 30 minutes later.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

US Nats August 19

We were able to get the fire restriction zone to the south made smaller (from 5 nautical miles to 1 nautical mile, below 9000') which made flying south possible. Given the NW winds which were setting up this was a good thing as we didn't really want to fly north again.

Task today was 87 km or so, via a few TP's downwind to Levan. A new TP was given to us to keep us on the flats for part of the route, and to keep us away from the 1 nm fire zone. The first part of the flight was easy...we've all flown it now and know where to tank up and where to push on. It was at Buckly mountain that we had to leave the mountains, tag the TP on the flats, and either return to the safety of the mountains or chance the flats for a while.

I was able to get a thermal out on the flats after tagging the flats TP, which enabled me to rejoin the group on the mountains just north of the windmill canyon. We were able to get to 10,000' (today wasn't a high altitude day) and then we had to cross the canyon. Everyone else in my group opted to head straight across. But I'm leery about crossing these canyons directly across, and always give their mouths a wide berth to avoid the canyon suck (and if you look at my tracklog you'll see it curve wide around in one spot for no particular reason). And this canyon was no different. My ground speed went to single digits as I pushed out front to veer around the mouth, and I was very glad to be out front with LZ's below me, and not the people back in the canyon who were crossing straight across, with similar groundspeeds and no easily reachable LZ's.

In the end the group that crossed direct, and myself going the long way, met up again at the other side, and at more or less the same altitude. Over the gun firing range we were able to climb up again and continue onwards down the range to the next crux at Payson (where I had my low save a few days ago). I got low again before this point, but was able to ridge soar my way out of there while Tim O'Neil and Cherie landed at the Dream mine.

At the jumping-off spot for Payson and the beginning of the next range we weren't able to get super-high, only 9000' or so, and it would be a close thing if we were able to make the crossing. Melanie and I started the crossing and part-way across we were able to find a flatland thermal which let us connect with the foothills at the base of the range. But unlike the other day, we weren't able to find the thermal necessary to get established on the range and ended up landing at the base of the foothills. Tracklog is here. A few people with a better glide across were able to get established and presumably flew further towards goal (I think once past this point it was all downwind and a fairly straightward flight to goal for the next 45 km).

We were prepared to wait a bit as people had landed all over the place earlier than us and the retrieve vehicles were all full headed back to HQ before they could return for us. But a retrieve vehicle came by as we were sitting in the shade (it was about 30C) which was originally meant for 2 other pilots they were searching for. But when they saw us they opted to pick us up instead, and leave the other 2 pilots for another retrieve vehicle. Score! This meant we were able to get back to HQ earlier rather than later, in time to watch the last 30 minutes of the ridge soaring fest that was going on at the north side of POTM (I was too tired and hungry to partake).

This task was rather fun and I liked the bit about making us flatland fly for a bit. It would have been nice to be able to connect back to the mountain range at Payson, as I think the route was easy after this crux, although it may have been touch and go for some pilots making goal in time (goal closed at 7:30pm and the task distance was the longest yet). About 10-12 people made goal; Mads rumored to be in 1st. Bernard and Claudio were among these!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

US Nats August 18

With the forest fire still burning south of us, with a 5 nautical mile restriction zone around it, we had to fly north instead. This wasn't an ideal direction given the wind direction for the day (NW) but we decided to give it the ol' college try. On a side note, on the news today the fire was said to be caused by arson. When speculated on who started it, one local said that all he knew was that the fire started up shortly after "all them hang gliders flew past yesterday". So once again we are equated with less-than-civil behavior (unless of course somebody was smoking while paragliding :).

Task was to fly north just past Point of the Mountain, tag a TP there (just south of Olympus), and then goal at the north side of POTM. Total distance about 53 km.

I launched and was able to climb right out to 12,000' up to Cascade Mountain behind launch, which gave me a great view of the Wasatch range and Deer Creek State Park (the lake in the distance in photo 1). Since we had to be within 3 km of launch after 2:30pm, and we were ultimately going to head north, I decided to wait for the start upwind, on the other side of Provo canyon, and then dash downwind to tag it (as the 3 km mark was right in the middle of the canyon), rather than have to slog upwind at 2:30pm when I might be lower.

This worked great as I crossed to the other side of Provo canyon out front and was able to find a thermal over there to keep me up. I was actually 4 km away from goal, but the thermal was drifting me back to the 3 km mark, and I had 10 minutes to go until the start, so I let myself drift back in the thermal until 2:30pm came. I was still a bit upwind and outside the start, so I had to turn downwind for about 10 seconds or so, but I was able to tag the start along with the first 10 gliders or so coming upwind towards me, and was among the first to lead back out across the canyon.

Now this canyon is broad enough and has some LZ options in it that crossing it deep is not as bad as some of the other canyons we've had to cross. And the mountain we were headed for (Mt. Timpanagos) was directly into the wind, so I reasoned that if I could only get there, I'd be able to ridge soar up the face of it and not sink out. And there were plenty of places to land on the plateau below Timpanagos if you had to glide out (albeit with a mondo hike out). So I went for it and dove onto the face of the mountain. Everyone was following and doing the same thing and we all just dolphin flew our way back up to 12,000', not turning once, and flying the entire face this way. It was rather fun with all the gliders around me, all doing the same thing and the vario beeping reassuringly. I would have loved to have taken photos of this part of the flight, but I was close-enough in to the mountain face, and surrounded by gliders that weren't always behaving themselves, that I didn't want to risk letting go of the brakes to grab my camera.

At the other end of Timpanagos was another canyon. American Fork canyon is not as friendly as Provo canyon, even though it's a shorter glide across, since it's steep-sided, with no LZ's at the bottom, rocky cliffs the whole way to the road at the bottom, and very narrow so the wind just howls through there. This canyon is why the phrase "canyon suck" was invented. When I saw this canyon I knew it was trouble, and stayed on Timpanago to tank up for the crossing over. Problem is, Timpanago is set so far back that when you tank up, you end up so far back that you can't really cross straight over the canyon without getting sucked into it, with no place to land. You have to head out into the flats essentially in order to curve way around it and avoid the canyon suck (if such a thing is possible with this particular canyon).

I headed out to the flats from 12,000' in order to do the curve-around, but still I almost ended up in the canyon. The suck was enormous. Gliders that didn't curve around like I did and tried to do the crossing from further back were in even worse trouble. A couple of gliders landed up in the mountains at this point, either because of canyon suck, or too much wind to glide out, or whatever. Some were able to relaunch (although their flight for the day was ended as far as scoring goes since they had technically landed), and some stayed up there for retrieve. Apparently one person landed up high (~9000'), called for retrieve as there was a "road" nearby, gave his co-ordinates, but didn't mention his elevation. So the van that was sent for him ended up going up this serious 4 wheel-drive-only road, bottoming out, for 10 km, instead of going along a paved road they had assumed he was next to in the valley floor :)

I managed to get across American Fork canyon and on the other side it was working too, but it was getting windier and nastier. It was harder to get high now since the wind was trashing the thermals up, and we had another huge bowl to get to the other side of and over before we could tag the TP. I dicked around in this bowl forever, trying to get high to cross to the other side, and did indeed get to the other side finally. But once over there, finally at 12,500', it was extreme leesidedness. We still had to get over Lone Peak, which is about 11,000' high, and it was not gonna happen. From 12,500' we all hit sustained 8m/s down, with gliders all around me wadding up and falling out of the sky, and were flushed back into the valley we had just struggled out of (in the opposite direction we were trying to go). All that effort we had just expended down the toilet!

A few pilots were able to sneak across to the other side, but closer to POTM, and ended up landing at the north side of POTM as there was no lift on the windward side by now. It was so windy from the north that even the people who were 10 minutes ahead of us and at the TP, weren't finding lift on the way to goal (down/crosswind), and landing short. In the end about 22 pilots made goal, most of them people who had arrived at Lone Peak about 10 minutes before my group, when the wind was still more west and less north (which made for less leeside and thus a bit easier to penetrate).

Meanwhile those of us back in the lee of Lone Peak were being flushed to the ground. Fortunately at the base of Lone Peak is the town of Alpine, with lots of fields, schools, churches, etc. to land in. Pilots were raining out of the sky all around me. I found a field to land in, next to an intersection (International Way and Meadowlark Drive in Alpine, Utah, if you want to find it on Google Maps :), and on my final glide I saw that the actual T-intersection just short of my chosen field was wide enough to land in, was deserted (no car traffic), and had no obstacles like powerlines or trees. And the field I was about to land in was full of line-grabbing sagebrush which I envisioned taking hours to extricate my glider from. So at the last minute I opted to land in the intersection instead (had traffic all of a sudden appeared I would have just gone long and landed in the sagefield instead) and had a nice touchdown just past the stop sign. Tracklog is here.

This meant I got to pack up on a nice green mowed lawn next to the sidewalk, rather than a messy sage field with grasshoppers, and talk to the people who lived nearby who were out mowing their laws, BBQ'ing, walking their dogs, etc. Landing in SLC is much more civilized than landing out in, say Golden or Pemberton! Retrieval driver Marge was in the area so she picked me up and I took over as co-pilot, as she was a bit overwhelmed with driving, answering the radio, taking phone calls and GPS co-ordinates from downed pilots in Alpine (about 20 of us landed in the same vicinity), and using the Nuvi. We discovered that some of the subdivisions in Alpine were too new to actually be in the Nuvi GPS, so it took us a while to find those who were giving their co-ordinates as street intersections rather than GPS co-ordinates.

In the end we were able to round up everyone who had landed in the Alpine area, and back to the north side where we learned that 22 people had made goal. Others landed at goal, without tagging the TP first, since it was so windy that they couldn't continue upwind anyways. All in all a rather challenging day, and a bit dangerous in the lee of Lone Peak for those who got there a bit late. Not the best task for the day's conditions, but given the restriction on flying too far south, not much option. Hopefully the fire will be out soon so we can fly south more and north less :)

Apparently there is a tie for 1st place for today, Matt and Josh with something like 976 pionts each, but these are still provisional results and may change between now and tomorrow afternoon. Provisional results can be found here. And new pics can be found here.

Monday, August 17, 2009

US Nats August 17

Today's task was simple (at least to remember, not necessarily to fly!). Launch and fly south to Nephi airport, about 66 km away straight line distance. Winds were predicted to be NW so it would be downwind for the most part (in theory, anyways).

The wind techs weren't staying up, so it was up to Bill Belcourt to launch and get the rest of us motivated. I happened to launch just as a band of cirrus came through so I had to work hard to find lift and stay in it. But I managed to stay with the lead gaggle until the start (at 3pm), at which point we were all just outside the 3 km start cylinder, so we had to backtrack to tag it before we could get on our way.

Most pilots were flying deep in the range, but I didn't like the glide out if caught back there, so a few of us stayed out front instead. It was windy down low (as per) so the thermals were all broken up, but we got down to the spot on the range where you have to decide what to do next. Goal was actually still 45 km away or so, and in the flats, with the mountain range curving around towards it. This meant you could either attempt to fly the flats the whole way, fly the flats for part of the way, or stick to the mountains.

Ryan, Bernard, Andy Macrae, and myself chose the flats for the first part at least. It took us 2 thermals to get across to the other side, but by doing so we cut a major corner and were able to jump ahead of some people, and catch up to other people who had chosen the more roundabout way. But flying the flats requires a gaggle...I wouldn't recommend it here if you are flying alone!

We were able to cut a bunch of distance off at Spanish Forks canyon, avoiding the windmills and the huge gap to cross, with the associated canyon suck, and reconnect with the mountains on the other side. Back in the game!

From then on it was easier as I had lots of thermal markers all around me and the more familiar mountains to fly. As we passed by a large forest fire started up on the mountain just south of Spanish Forks, and was still burning as of this evening. Hopefully it won't impact our flying tomorrow and they put it out quickly. (Probably human-caused as there wasn't any lightening in the area).

At Payson was another crux. This involved a large gap jump into the west wind as the mountain range did a major right turn into the valley before continuing on south. I topped up at Tower Peak with everyone else and then we started the long slow glide into the wind. Depending on what line you took, it either worked or didn't. My line very nearly didn't work :) Jon and I found ourselves very low at the end of the bend in the mountain range, just on the last foothill, and not finding anything. We were getting ready to land, only about 35m above the ground with our feet out of our pods for landing, when we found a little 0.1m/s thermal. Since it was totally flat ground beneath us, and there was little to no wind on the ground, we decided to turn in it. Worst that would happen is that we'd fall out and have to land slightly downwind.

Fortunately we didn't fall out (!!!), and from that low save of 100' AGL, we gained 650m of elevation and were finally able to connect back with the mountain range. It's the lowest low save I've had in a while, and it felt great to pull it off (especially when other pilots came to the same spot and had to land; many pilots landed here).

Back to the mountain range where we were able to meet up with the other pilots who had made the glide a bit more easily, and it was time to start thinking about goal. It was still 25 km ahead of us, but out in the flats, and we didn't want to fly too far past it and then have to punch cross/upwind to make it. So I started planning my approach by staying out front, and making sure not to drift too far back into the back range.

This worked nicely until the group I was with found a ripper which was taking us past 13,000'. It had some drift to the backrange, but since it was taking us so high I decided to stick with it and see what would happen.

The thermal kept going past 13,000' (cloudbase looked to be about 16,000'), but it was starting to drift me too far back for my liking so I bailed and headed back for the front range. I looked back and everyone else was following me, and looking at the GPS I could see why...goal was now only 20 km away, cross/downwind, and available at 11:1.

I was averaging roughly 11:1 (it varied between 7:1 and 15:1), and the day was getting late, and it was time to start thinking about heading out into the flats anyways to not overshoot goal, so I decided to go for it. I got myself as skinny as possible and put the glider on a glide for goal, putting the arrow on my GPS straight ahead, and tried to move around as little as possible. It was going to be close!

Fortunately the lower I got, the more downwind it became, and the faster I flew. I still wasn't sure I was going to make goal until about 4 km out, but the last 4 km flew past as I was doing 75 kph downwind. My GPS chirped that I had arrived at goal and I had about 100m to spare (phew!), enough to turn around into the wind and elevator down into the field next to the airstrip.

Many people ahead of me, but also some people behind me arriving, so I'm not dead last :) It took me 3 hours 55 minutes to fly the course. Tracklog is here (even though the distance to goal was 66 km, I actually flew 77 km to get there), and pictures are here. There were about 20-25 people in goal which will make for a 1000 point day. Mads was in 1st, about 10-15 minutes ahead of the lead gaggle. He apparently flew most of the way via the flats.

I really enjoyed this task (and yesterday's as well). Technical and lots of decisions to be made, gap crossings, and a combination of flatland and mountain flying. Kudos to the task committee!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

US Nats August 16


The first day of the Nationals and we arrived on launch early to get the logistics sorted out. Weather was sunny but windy in the valley, although not much wind at launch elevation (yet). It was predicted to be fairly windy at the top of lift (12,000' or so) but from the west, which is a good direction for most of the range.

The task was not super-long, only 50 km or so, but it was very technical. We had to launch and fly south to a TP, then fly back north to tag launch again, and then turn around and fly south for about 30 km to a goal field in the flats. All along the route were several canyons with the dreaded "canyon suck" (venturi).

When the window opened at 1pm it was looking very lame (the wind dummies weren't skying out like we hoped) and the race start wasn't actually until 2:30pm, so it wasn't a huge rush to get off launch. Good thing, as the cycles on both launches were few and far between. (There is a lower and upper launch, and I had hiked to the upper launch for the extra space, no lineups, and the extra 200' it gives you...launch is only 1800'/550m above the valley floor.)

Eventually a cycle came through that I liked and I got off launch, and headed for the gazebo for the house thermal that some people were getting up on. Others were bombing out to the bailout LZ (relaunches are allowed at this comp) in the hopes of getting a quick ride back up before the launch window closed at 3:30pm.

Conditions were quite rough in general. The thermals were strong but not organized and there was HUGE sink in between. Apparently this is common around here the day after a cold front passes through; day 2 is usually much nicer which augers well for tomorrow. And up high it was windy as predicted...at 12,000' it was maybe 20-25 knots and directly from the west, which meant that everyone who got that high and allowed themself to drift back with the thermal soon found themself on the back range with a long glide out. And by the time they made it back to the front range they were back to the same altitude as the people who stayed out front. In fact the best lift was out front over the valley floor.

I stayed out front and down lowish to avoid the higher winds aloft, and made my way to the first TP quite easily. Getting back to tag launch was another story. Strong canyon suck made the return trip very slow and tricky, and many pilots bombed out on this section. Reports of strong winds on the ground made me not want to join them, so I vowed to stay high and out of the valley flow, and if the thermal took me in the wrong direction from where I ultimately wanted to go, so be it.

Eventually I tagged launch and found a really nice climb which got me back to 11,000' and then it was the 30 km down/crosswind to goal. At this point you have two options. Some pilots opted to stay in the mountains the whole way, but this route was very circuitous as it took you away from goal, involved a huge into-wind push at the very end, and involved some big canyon crossings. It was also late enough in the day that people who took this route risked not making goal in time for the goal closing at 6:30pm.

I, and some other pilots, opted for the more direct route. Rather than flying the long way to goal, crossing some big canyons with big canyon suck, lots of west wind, and then having to punch directly into the wind to make the goal field, we opted to fly over the flats down/crosswind and hope to make goal that way. All day along the mountains, it had worked better out front vs. tight in, so we reasoned that the flats would be good too.

Several of us went on glide from our chosen jumping-off point and started the glide into the flats. It was soon clear that unless we found lift, we weren't going to make it as the wind was a bit too cross for a true downwind dash. I wasn't too upset though...the flying up until now had been very tough with wind to deal with, and I was fine with some quiet time with my glider.

3 of us made it to within 10 km of goal before we landed. I managed to get a ride in a goal-bound retrieve vehicle and drove the extra 5 minutes to goal :) In goal were about 12 pilots (Claudio landed just as I arrived), most of whom had chosen the longer route with the into-wind push at the very end (all comp gliders except for 1 serial class glider). So I guess the longer route was the way to go, although the last person just squeaked into goal with 10 minutes to spare before it closed. I don't think I would have made goal before the closing had I chosen the longer route. In the end I made around 40 km. Tracklog is here. Results (provisional so far) are here.

To top it all off, while climbing the fence out of the goal field (I had climbed in to help people pack up), I disturbed a hidden wasps nest in the vines covering part of the fence, and got several nice wasp stings from essentially grabbing their nest. Good thing I'm not allergic, and the swelling has now gone down :)

There was some carnage along the courseline too. One pilot side-hill landed/crashed on the way back from the 1st TP as he got enormous sink and wasn't going to make it to a LZ (there were powerlines in the way). Another pilot crashed up high and was heli-evacuated with a broken leg. It was definitely a day to keep an eye out...for many pilots this was their first flight here, and the post-frontal conditions made their maiden flight an exciting one.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Salt Lake City August 15


I'm here for the US PG Nationals (part 2; part 1 was in Dunlap a few months ago) which start tomorrow. I drove down (16 hours, spread out over 2 days) while the rest of the Canucks flew down. Also here are Ryan Letchford, Bernard Winkleman, and Claudio Mota.

When I arrived yesterday the front was just moving through. Huge storm cells in the area and lots of lightening. There were multiple strikes as I drove down from Idaho and many forest fires were started. Looks like BC! But the front moved through this morning, taking the south winds and the thunderstorms with it, and the forecast is for excellent weather for the upcoming week!

Most pilots showed up today and a crew went to Inspo (Inspiration Point, in Provo, just south of Point of the Mountain) to check things out. They apparently had good local flights, landing at the local LZ in time to make it to POTM where the rest of us had been hanging out.

It finally turned north at POTM mid-afternoon (as the sun came out after the morning t-storms) so there were lots of people kiting their gliders, doing short flights, getting their harnesses all set up etc. The north side has changed a lot since I was last here in 2004-05. It's now a full-on flight park, with mowed grass, HG set-up pads complete with tie-downs, benches, interpretative signing for the public, bathroom facilities, webcams, and a windtalker. And of course most of the houses adjacent to the flight park are owned by pilots, so some pilots are able to launch right from their back yard.

HQ for the comp will be at the north side, in the backyard of one of the local pilots. Of course it'll be a party zone every night as beer is not allowed on the public flight park land, but is OK on private property.

Rides up are courtesy of some comfy-looking vans. They are all equipped with Nuvi-GPS's, so when we land (if not at goal) we can just radio or text our GPS co-ordinates to the retrieve drivers, they'll be input to the Nuvi's, and they'll drive right to our location. Things are looking super-organized and the weather is looking to co-operate, so we hope to have an epic comp!

The official website for the comp is here and you'll be able to keep track of the results and other blogs as they happen. Pictures from the comp will be posted here and I'll be adding new ones every couple of days or so.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Golden August 2

A rather windy day and I didn't like the conditions that much, so I landed early at the 15 km field. About 5 other people joined me, so there were 6 of us on the side of the road, trying to hitchhike. Since this was obviously not going to work, I got the other 5 people to hide in the bushes, as I would try to hitchhike solo, return to GEAR, pick up a vehicle, and return for the rest of the people.

After getting rid of the deadweight :) I stuck my thumb out and lo-and-behold, the first car whizzing by stopped to pick me up. Turns out it was a friend of Vincene Muller's brother! Back to GEAR and picked up a truck and returned for the rest of the hitchhikers.

Meanwhile there had been 2 incidents. Louise had drifted over the back in a thermal and found herself pinned behind the range just past Harrogate, where the range splits. She was unable to penetrate back into the valley and landed on the backside of the range, high up, but OK. Another pilot tossed his reserve about 35 km downrange at about 2300m after flying into massive rotor (it was windy!). As there was no radio contact with this second pilot a helicopter was dispatched to rescue him. A bit of a cluster with the heli as it was a long weekend and the longline person was away, and some other issues with GPS co-ordinates of the downed pilot. In the end it was something like 2-3 hours post-reserve-toss that the heli actually left. In the meantime the pilot had hiked down and out on his own and had been picked up on the highway. So the heli was called off that rescue, and since Louise was still on the wrong side of the range the heli went to pick her up instead.

So in the end all ended well but I think there will be some changes made when a heli is called out for a PG or HG rescue on the range.

Some pilots flew far. Robin and Gray flew to just past Invermere and towards Fairmont (Robin 118 km, Gray 130-ish km). Many pilots at Harrogate and Brisco, but I don't think there were any out and returns today due to the strong winds.

Awards ceremony was held in the Events Pavilion and we had an awesome catered dinner and then the prizes. I can't remember who won what, but the results will eventually be posted here.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Golden August 1

I was still pretty tired from yesterday's flight so I was happy to do a short flight and land at the LZ. Conditions were similar to yesterday's which meant it didn't really turn on until later (3-4pm) but then people went far! Flights to Invermere and Fairmont, and several out and returns byt the HG's.

Flight of the day goes to Fiona, who did Spillimacheen and return to Nicholson, only to see the approaching storm/gust front (it was really hazy so hard to see the embedded cu-nim coming from Revelstoke). She turned tail and outran the gust front, doing 140+ kph downwind (her chase vehicle was doing 130 km on the road and she was pulling away) until she found a field that the gust front hadn't reached yet, landed, and about 3 minutes later the 80 kph winds hit. Serge had a similar landing in Parson, landing just before it hit and partially disassembling his HG to survive the winds. Jason Dyer flew to Invermere for his new personal best both distance-wise (previous best had been about Harrogate) and time-aloft-wise.

Serge says this week has been a training camp for spotting and surviving gust fronts :) Lots of stories which will hopefully make it to AIR magazine next issue.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Golden scratchfest July 31


I wasn't too inspired by today's conditions, since they looked very similar to yesterday's, when we weren't really able to get high and go XC. But I decided to go up anyways to see what would happen. After yesterday's windstorm there were lots of trees down on the road up to launch, so we brought a chainsaw and Glenn Bitterman took care of the trees that we encountered. In the end it was convoy of trucks headed up as we all got backed up at the last tree which took a while to remove (photo 1).

Up on launch it still wasn't very inspiring, but I launched anyways (if I sunk out, so be it) and flew to the Pagliaro side of Mt. 7 to see what would happen. After the usual grovelfest at the toe of Mt. 7, I finally got a nice climb to 2500m and decided that was as good as it was gonna get, so I went for the Pagliaro crossing.

Downwind which was nice, but at the cliffs there was nothing, so I continued around the corner and it was the same thing. The first 2 spines behind the back of Pagliaro never work for me, while the 3rd one usually does, so I booted it to the 3rd one, skipping past some people who were sticking with the 1st and 2nd spines, and got another climb which got me within range of some convenient LZ's.

A tandem was in the area and we teamed up for the next 20 km or so, taking turns pushing out to look for lift, and then hop-skipping downrange at less than 2000m. The whole time we had a LZ within glide but there wasn't much space for scratching in the same spot and possibly getting even lower. So as soon as we got low (1800m or so), we'd leave and continue downrange looking for something nicer.

The tandem and I parted ways as he turned around at Parson while I continued downrange. The rest of the field was behind me and scratching like mad on Mt. 7 and Pagliaro, and reporting the same conditions I had encountered earlier. The lift wasn't that good anywhere until around Harrogate so I just kept moving in the hopes that something better would come up.

I continued in this fashion until Harrogate when a bunch of cloud shaded the sun, and I had to hang out at the forest fire ridge for about 10 minutes, ridge soaring in the NW winds, until the sun reappeared to light my way south. That must have triggered something, as I got my best climb of the day so far as I was headed out land, and beamed (relatively speaking) back to 2600m and was back in the game (photo 2).

With such low heights I was gonna take the front range for sure and I was just happy I was gonna make Brisco at this point. I didn't really aspire to anything further south until I noticed the clouds were getting closer (I was getting higher) and the lift was actually getting easier to find. With the range a bit narrower there it was easy to ridge soar my way up the NW sides of the ridges, fly downrange, and repeat at the next NW ridge I came to. I started to get excited about possibly making Spur Valley, or even (gasp!) Radium.

I came to the dreaded Spur Valley gap and decided I was gonna commit to the crossing and hope to ridge soar my way up the NW side of the Edgewater cliffs range, or else have to land on a logging road and do a bit of hiking out. The gamble paid off and I was off to the races on the Edgewater cliffs with Radium in sight. Edgewater to Radium was pretty easy as I was at peak height or just below now (2200m).

At Radium I was still high and could see Invermere (photo 3). Could I make it? The NW wind had died at Radium, to be replaced by a SW wind (lake breeze from Lake Windermere), and I was now bucking a headwind. And it was getting late in the day, about 7pm, and the thermals were dying. I decided to go for it and slowly pushed my way upwind towards Mt. Swansea and the 100km mark. As I watched the GPS pass 100km I did a little yippee and wondered just how much farther I could go. It was starting to glass off and there was light lift everywhere, but the headwind was making forward progress slow.

I made my way to 106km and then looked for a place to land. Saw a nice empty lot in the subdivision south of the airport, and came in for a nice landing across the road from some people BBQ'ing on their back porch. One of the ladies came over and introduced herself as a friend of Max and Penny's, and offered me a ride to Spur Valley. Yay! After a quick stop at the airport to say hi, we hit the road hoping to meet up with Robin who had landed just past the Spur Valley golf course.

Of course he had gotten a ride by then, but I found another ride in the form of a couple from France, visiting Canada, who were actually from Annecy and knew what the PG bag on the side of the road meant! They were on their way to Kelowna so gave me a ride all the way back to Nicholson which saved me from having to get somebody from the LZ to come get me, as it was party time and they were all drinking already anyways :)

Back at the LZ to find Karen and Doug's 30th wedding anniversary in full swing, and got there in time for the champagne and the leftover bratwurst from earlier in the evening, courtesy of Vincene Muller.

Other notable flights were Robin (77.7km), Louise (Harrogate), and an unknown PG I saw landing at Spillimacheen as I was getting my ride back (the car was full at this point so we didn't have room for you, sorry!). The day was really light and scratchy, and I think this was my hardest Invermere flight yet. It took 5 hours to get the 112km (106km straight line from launch), and most of it was spent below peak height and always thinking of having to land. But very satisfying to accomplish the mission on such a shitty conditions day!

Tracklog is here.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Golden July 30

Lots of wind predicted for today so most people weren't too inspired to fly. No issue with ODage or T-storms, just too much wind up high from the NW. Weirdly enough, it was strong south down lower and on launch we were all launching off the shale south side.

It also looked pretty stable down low and people weren't staying up very high, so we waited until later in the hopes it would get better. It didn't.

Finally I launched and it was indeed stable and bumpy at the same time. Yay! After a couple of hours of flying in the vicinity of Mt. 7, not getting very high (8000' maybe) and being subjected to bumpy lift (especially at the interface between the S and NW winds), I decided to head out to land. It just wasn't worth the effort to cross to Pagliaro and fly into the lee when it's stable. Robin's statement was the best of the day "It's leeside everywhere!", as he joined me to land at Nicholson LZ.

Most other people also landed at Nicholson rather than go XC. Lots of smiling faces in the LZ once again.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Golden July 29


Today was looking like a good day so the plan was to go downrange as far as possible. But there was a lot of cloud around (it took me a while to get high, and in fact I had to fly to the Pagliaro cliffs and hang out there for a bit before Keith showed me the way) which was going to make this difficult.

Downrange we were able to fly about 35-40 km, just past Parson, and from then onwards it was a solid wall of overcast and no sun anywhere. No big cu-nims...just too much cloud to realisticly continue onwards. Robin, Al, and Fedja got really high at 35 km and decided to go for it, while I decided to turn back and try for an out and return. (I had watched a couple of gliders venture into the shade and eventually land due to no lift so I wasn't optimistic about their chances).

Turning around it was much nicer to the north so I flew back to launch, getting low only once at Pagliaro, and then topped up to 12,000' over Mt. 7. To the north was very yummy so I continued north into the headwind to Moberly. I had a cloudstreet the whole way there so I was able to stay high for the crossing over the Trans-Canada highway and skip over Sugarloaf.

At Moberly I wanted to venture into the Blaeberry valley but it was nuking NE winds there (and the whole time downrange the prevaling winds were NE). At one point my GPS said. 0.0 kph groundspeed, and when I turned around it went briefly to 93.6 kph (although I think that was partially due to the steep banked turn I was in at the time). But my downwind speed out of there was 75+ kph so I knew there was no going into the Blaeberry today. Too bad...I've always wanted to fly up to the glacier there.

Back towards Mt. 7 and a nice tailwind into the LZ. Robin, Al, and Norm were already there from their open distance flights ~45-55 km downrange (Harrogate to Brisco area). Al had a bit of an epic as he had a collapse in rotor between Kapristo and Willi's knob, right up against the cliffs, and had to stall it out next to the rock faces. Fedja managed to get 70 km OD in, landing just short of Spur Valley, flying in the shade. Rob Clarkson flew to Invermere and made it as far back as Spillimacheen, for about a 140 km flight. Andrew and Evelyn did their first XC flights, landing in Parson for about 25 km. Raul landed out and met a bear on his hike out, prompting a cell phone call to 911. He hiked out OK but forgot to cancel the helicopter which was dispatched. A bit of confusion until SAR was notified that he was indeed OK and to send the troops home.

My total distance today was 91 km out and return, 4+ hours airtime. Even when you can't go far downrange, Golden rocks!

Tracklog is here.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Golden July 8

Not a good XC day as it was very windy from the NE and lots of high clouds around. A window appeared mid-afternoon so a bunch of us went up for a local flight. When we arrived it was lightly blowing up and mostly overcast, so Norm and I launched off the NW side rather than drive back down.

In the air it was a bit bumpy near the mountain (leeside) but out in the valley it was nice and smooth. But it was windy...lots from the north meant we had to be careful not to thermal too far downrange if we wanted to make it back to Nicholson LZ. With a rain cell in Parson (and moving further south) it wasn't really possible to go XC so we just played around and made sure to stay upwind of the LZ.

Eventually I watched as a rain cell developed to the NE and started moving south towards Nicholson. The rain was slanting at the bottom as it hit the ground, indicating a probable gust front ahead of it, so we both landed before it got too close.

After a while it did indeed gust front from the north (it blew a tree down in the RV park), and a HG was still in the air when it hit. But he was at 2000'+ and above the wind, so he just stayed there while it blew through, and landed afterwards. But he got rained on pretty good so we were concerned about his mylar leading edge, but he pulled off a perfect landing and no stall issues.

Later on everyone else went back up for an evening glass off, and flew in light lift until 7pm and then aimed for the tarp we had put in the LZ for a spot landing contest. About 20 gliders came in by the end, and lots of happy faces in the LZ this evening. Tomorrow is looking good, with possible ODage in the late afternoon (6pm-ish) around Golden, but nicer down south. Perhaps a day to do open distance and not risk coming back into potential ODage.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Golden July 27


Yesterday was a write-off as far as flying went. The skies went nuclear before noon and a severe T-storm watch was in effect all afternoon. It finally blew up around 3pm with lightening and rain. People went to Cedar Lake, Banff, Invermere, Radium Hot Springs, etc.

Today the weather was looking better but still very unstable, so it wasn't looking like a great idea to do long XC. A bunch of us went up to fly locally, as there were giant cu-nims to the west, east, and south of us. North was the only clear air (and looked fabulous) but that wasn't really an option since it was rather strong NE winds aloft. The forecast was actually for light NE winds so I think the strength of the wind aloft was partially because of the huge cell to the SW of us, sucking all that air into it to grow.

Anyways, it was light SW down low, and then switched to NE at around 7000'. At the interface it was very rough. Robin, Fedja, and I were soaring up the NE side (backside) of Mt. 7 and getting to 9000'+. But we could see all around it was going off in a big way so we decided not to go anywhere and land at Nicholson. My flight was around 1.5 hours or so.

Fedja and I landed at Nicholson and Robin landed near the CP railyard in town. The huge cu-nim across the valley slowly moved south but we could see a bunch more lined up behind it. It finally OD'd and started to rain and thunder around 7pm local time. In Golden it was blowing 40 kph from the NE, but once south of the gravel pit it was actually south about 20 kph. I think the NE winds were venturi-ing through the gap between Mt. 7 and Table Mountain (where the Trans-Canada goes) but not able to bend around to head down the valley towards Nicholson.

Meanwhile Rob Clarkson flew downrange and ended up in Canal Flats (~150 km). Ken Nicholson landed near Brisco (~50 km) and reported landing 5 minutes before the wind switched 180 degrees. Guy landed in the river 8 km south of Nicholson (flying his HG) but is OK. Igor made it to Invermere (100 km). Norm, Keith, and Ryan opted not to fly.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Golden July 25


The first day of the Willi and it was a hot sunny day. After getting the preliminaries out of the way we went up to launch arriving around 1pm.

There was a glider already soaring so I got myself ready after giving Al a short site briefing and where not to land etc. With the east wind up high and the south wind down low (but light) it was a perfect out and return day. My plan was to head south for a bit, and then return to launch, and then continue north, and then return to launch, for a double out and return.

I launched off the south launch and immediately went up, and made my way over to the south ridge where everyone else had been getting up. There was one PG in front of me but I caught up to him quickly and I was on the way south towards Harrogate. Al was right behind me and we traveled together for the most part. With the east wind up high I was actually flying the east side of the range, staying between 11-12,000' or so, while Al was staying a bit lower and on the west side of the range.

At Parson I could see a bit of OD down towards Invermere and it looked like it was gonna be in our way soon. I radioed to Al that I was gonna turn around at Harrogate. The cu-nim was slowing getting bigger down by Invermere and coming north, so we turned around at the 43 km mark (the forest fire hill from a few years ago) and started running away from it.

There were a bunch of people chasing us but they weren't able to penetrate as far as we did as the cell was moving north and cutting off their route. Meanwhile Al and I were returning to Mt. 7 (it only took about 1 hour, vs. the 2 to get to Harrogate against the wind) and cloudbase was getting higher and higher. I got to 14,700' at one point, and cloudbase was still about 300' above me! Thin air up there and I had to make myself take deep breaths as I could feel myself getting a bit hypoxic and wanting to hyperventilate.

Once over Mt. 7 I flew back over launch just to close out my out and return and then decided to head to the LZ likkidy-split as the cell was now at Harrogate and still coming north. From 13,000' it took a while doing spirals etc, but I managed to land in about 30 minutes. As I got closer to the ground I could see a gust front coming up the valley...the water on the ponds was all smooth and glassy around Nicholson, indicating calm winds (which Bev confirmed at the time), but further south I could see the water was getting ripply and looking different.

Then I landed in calm winds and about 10 minutes later Randy Parkin got a call from somebody in Parson that a gust front had gone through at about 50 kph. Since Parson is only 30 km south, this meant the gust front would be here in about 30 minutes, give or take. I got on the radio and told the pilots still in the air to get on the ground quick as a gust front was coming up from the south.

Most pilots were able to get on the ground before it hit, but there were still about 10 pilots still in the air when it hit. All of a sudden gliders were parked over the LZ, going backwards, and going all over the place. A bunch of PG pilots all of a sudden found themselves unable to penetrate; some of them turned tail and raced to Golden to find landing spots there before the gust front hit there, while others stayed parked over the LZ trying to get down. Meanwhile HG's were parked over the LZ not going down or forward too. It was a mess.

Several pilots in the swamp to the north of the LZ; Fedja managed to stay dry even though he landed back there. He did an amazing job keeping his glider open. Other people weren't so lucky...a pilot broke his tailbone trying to land in the soccer field in Golden. 2 HG pilots (Serge and Doug Keller) broke parts of their HG's after hard landings (Doug came down like the hand of God smacked him down like a pancake; amazingly he walked away). A couple of pilots managed to land at the Golden airport with it's nice long strip that they could back into, backwards. A few pilots still in the air outran the gust front (Brett Yeates) by flying into the Blaeberry valley (off the main valley) and having uneventful landings there.

All in all a bad end to a great day. Al and I managed to do an 88 km out and return; Robin did 82 km OR. Some HG's went further south then us so they got maybe 100 km OR.

My tracklog is here.

Weather for today looks similar to yesterday. Chance of storms and gust fronts near the storms. We'll see who flies and who doesn't...I imagine a lot of people are now spooked.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Pemberton July 20

After yesterday's long flight I was in the mood for a mellow XC, and I had promised Magali that she could test-fly my glider when she got off work at 4pm, so I decided to only do a short flight. Got a ride up with Bill Nicolai and his wife Linda, and I launched about 1:30pm. It was more stable than yesterday, no cu's, and the climbs were slower. But it was nice air nonetheless, and I did a short OR to Fraser Peak and back (about 27 km).

At 3:45pm I tried to top-land but it was a bit too lifty for my tastes, so I went to the Community Center LZ where Magali, Oni, and Marty were waiting. Drove them up to launch and it was just starting to turn tail on launch (but still soarable out front) so they scrambled to get off launch. A bunch of high cirrus (which XC Skies had predicted) moved in which just made things nice, less bumpy all around. Not the epic day of yesterday, but still nice climbs to 9000' at Fraser Peak.