Saturday, February 21, 2009

Back at good ol' Woody

So after 2 weeks decompressing in Vancouver, it's time to get the obligatory February Woodside hike-n-fly in. The forecast was calling for increasing clouds as the day went on so I wasn't very hopeful of actually thermalling (even though people have been doing so the past few days at Woodside), but was rather looking forward to socializing with people I haven't seen since before Christmas.

Arrived at Eagle Ranch to the usual full parking lot of pilot cars, and a few pilots hanging out, while another load was just arriving on launch. The road up is in pretty good shape until the 3.5 km mark, at which point it goes from bone dry to 1' deep snow instantly. The tracks in the snow tell how far each vehicle has made it before sliding out or getting stuck. Each time you can get a little bit further. This was actually the worst section...if you could get past this 100 m section you are pretty much guaranteed that you will at least make the spur road.

I was fortunate to get a ride up to the 3.5 km mark in Al's Hammermobile, since he's the one who has been punching the furthest up through the snow each time. So we burn up to the 3.5 km mark at breakneck speed, and then Al speeds up even more to get a good run at the snow; the pilots who had driven up earlier are on this section, see (hear) us coming, and leap out of the way (as much as you can leap when you are carrying 40 lbs in 1' of snow). Of course Jim had parked his van in the middle of the road in the snow so we wouldn't be able to get past him! That doesn't stop Al; we get out to watch the show and he rams his truck up through the snow to the van and then tries to drive past it, through the untrodden deep snow on the ditch side. Of course this doesn't work.

At this point we decided to start hiking up ourselves and left Al to his own devices. So we're walking peacefully along, when all of a sudden we hear this roar and see the Beast coming straight at us, full speed ahead and engine howling, and Al passes us with this maniacal grin on his face. I guess he found a way past Jim's van after all (turns out he backed Jim's van down the hill to give him space to attempt the snowy section, and eventually punched his way through).

Passed Al's truck on the top of the final hill into launch (about 25 minute hike), with steam still coming off the undercarriage from all the snow that had vaporized. And no sign of Al, he had launched ASAP and was already in the air on the way down for his sledride.

It was clouding over just like forecast, and it didn't look like it was going to get any better, but not appreciably worse, for a couple hours at least. So I wasn't in any hurry. After 2 weeks of having to launch early, I was keen to just hang out on launch, enjoy the view, socialize, and launch whenever I felt like it!

The black carpet is still up there and doing wonders. It is snow-free and dry, so while the surrounding area is either snowy or muddy, you can lay out your glider on this stuff with no wetness issues. Cecilia was out as well, with the hang glider that she had hidden in the woods from yesterday after hiking it up and discovering it not to be launchable for her.

The big sandbar in the middle of the river, the one that the rednecks are always playing on in the summer, is currently a gravel mine. There was a constant stream of dumptrucks driving out to a predetermined spot to pick up their load and drive it off the sandbar. It actually looked like a racetrack since there were so many vehicles driving a set route and they were all kicking up the dust as they sped back and forth (good wind indicator!), so we initially thought it was some kind of rally, until we looked closer and saw the excavators. I like the rally-car idea more :)

Sat on launch for about 2 hours and enjoyed the sensation of not hurrying. It was so peaceful compared to the recent hoopla of El Penon. But finally it started to blow down so I figured it was actually time to do something other than stand around.

Got off launch in a forward (something I haven't been able to do for 10 months since my shoulder injury last year; yay I can forward again!) and it was a smooth ride to Eagle Ranch. As soon as I launched it was sooo different though. With the balaclava, mitts, snowboots, and insulated clothes, I felt fully muffled and could hardly move. And it felt like I was launching in molasses with the dense sea-level air, not the high-altitude air of Valle. Quite a difference from Mexico! I remember feeling this way every year about this time though...I'll get used to the Michelin-Man feeling soon and will welcome the warmth that comes from it when I start staying up and not just sled riding for 10 minutes. Flying in the Spring is way colder than flying in the dead of Winter! Time to start breaking out the chemical hand warmers.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Post-comp thoughts and thanks

Well the World Championships are over after 10 valid tasks, and I'm actually glad to have a break from competition paragliding for a bit. The past 2 weeks have been the hardest flying I've had to do in a long time, with lots of stress, long days, and the need to keep it going day after day. I've been to 2 WC's in the past...Manilla 2007 was actually pretty easy (stress-wise) since we had so many rain days and thus time off, and Brazil 2005 I was always landing fairly early on in the task so my days were short.

Last night we had the closing ceremony and awards. You can find all the official results elsewhere so I won't repeat them here, but here are the Canadian results:

Keith 45th
Jim 78th
Nicole 128th
Brett 129th

Canada was 24th out of 44 nations.

Keith was the most consistent, making goal almost every day on his new Boom6. Jim also flew amazingly, considering this was his first World Championship. He's been in Valle since December so he's got this place figured out now. It was Brett's 1st WC too, and he was flying a comp glider for the first time. Plus he was the Team Leader, which meant he had to get up earlier than the rest of us to attend the meetings, so he's probably the most tired.

Me personally, I did average compared to my previous WC's. I did better than Brazil 2005, but not as well as Manilla 2007. This place is a different animal...it's strong flying conditions already, and when you mix in the elements of a major competition, hot gliders, aggressive pilots, and fatigue, I decided I just didn't want to push as hard as I otherwise could have, so I'm happy.

I want to thank all the Team members for flying so awesomely throughout these past 2 weeks, and Brett in particular for taking on the TL role. And all those who are reading this and sending comments etc, thanks also for your support. The folks in Valle also did a fantastic job...they've been running the Monarca for years now so have all the logistics taken care of, and it really showed for this competition.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Last task and a surprise ending

The last day of the competition and it was pretty eventful.

Weather was rather high pressury, not ideal for nice flying, and the task committee set us a “short” 87 km or so task: launch and then start at Diente (at the end of Espina), then over the Mesa to Elefante, Monarcas, back to Serro Gordo, tag Le Pena in Valle, and then goal around Torre.

I was feeling better so launched first again, last time I need to fly for 1.5 hours before the race even starts! The air was very punchy and turbulent, and Crazy was not fun, so I opted to stay at the Wall to get high and then cross Crazy as high and fast as possible to avoid that area, and hang out at Espina.

There were no clouds over the start so pilots were milling around around 4 km from the start, at the end of Espina. We weren’t able to get much than 3100m, which is considerably lower than previous days. As the start approached a group headed out to the 2 km point in order to be there first, but it looked like no lift out there and they slowly sunk down, at which point about ½ of them came back to top-up while the rest hung out in 0’s.

Tagged the start and then saw a pilot coming down under reserve right at the entry point. I didn’t see why he chucked but it was an orange and black Niviuk, so I initially thought it was Jim Orava. But nope it was somebody else, and he landed safely in a field in between Diente and Espina, right next to the road and an easy retrieval.

Back on the Wall it was chaos as pilots were trying to top-up for the jump to San Augustine, and there was a mid-air. A pilot wrapped his glider around the legs of another pilot, but they were both able to separate, and the lower glider started to spin his way down through the gaggle with the glider almost torn in 2. I watched him spin his way down for probably 1000’, until he finally tossed his reserve and landed in the trees on the Mesa behind Penon. I reported this to the organization but by the time I flew over to give co-ordinates, another glider was circling and doing so already, so I continued on to San Augustine.

Not much lift at SA, and a couple of gliders and myself drifted our way towards Saucos. I flew over the ridge between Jovan’s and the Quintanilla LZ since this place has produced pretty reliably in the past, and I was not disappointed. Climbed out of there and making my way towards Elefante when I hit extreme sink, and pilots were falling out of the sky all around me.

Maybe 10 of us hung in there at the foot of the larger hills, trying to thermal out of there and to the larger hills. It was quite rough and windy from the Lake, and little bubbles would come through that you’d be tempted to turn in, but you’d be too close to the trees for a full turn and have to S-turn instead. I was unable to stay with anything solid, and ended up getting too low, so landed in a nice field with some Quonset huts. Tracklog is here.

As I was packing up I watched many other pilots dirting all around me, but was unaware that anything unusual was going on until the rescue helicopter flew overhead and landed about 2 fields over. It was a Japanese pilot who had a massive collapse on his final approach, and wasn’t able to fix it before impacting the ground, in a small patch of grass, surrounded by barb-wire fences, houses, and powerlines. Indeterminate back injuries and a broken arm and he was being loaded into the helicopter as I got there.

There were still pilots in the air in the general vicinity, and as the helicopter was going to be flying in the same area as soon as he took off, the call came over the radio that the task was stopped, and for all pilots to land ASAP. A second helicopter was also dispatched around this time for another pilot who had crashed someplace on the Mesa, so with the 2 helicopters in the area it was even more urgent for pilots to get out of the sky and give the helicopters space.

At this point Jim Orava was on final, landing as per instructions, when he had a massive donut and decided to toss at 600’. The field he was about to land in already had pilots in it, so many witnesses as he came down among them “Hey guys I’m coming down to join you”, and barely missed landing on a giant cactus. Jim, glider, and reserve all OK. He had loaned his larger reserve to Joanna a couple of days before, was flying with his backup teeny hiking reserve, and came down rather fast with the extra weight of a comp glider and harness!

Back in town we heard that the task had actually been cancelled, so no need to upload GPS’s. Nobody was anywhere near goal when the call came out so there wasn’t the added complication of pilots in goal as the task stop came along, so a cancellation was still legal.

The air was a bit more turbulent than previous days, but not massively, so I think it was combination of tricky flying conditions, fatigue, and the fact this was the last day of the competition that resulted in so many accidents and incident: 3 reserve tosses, 1 mid-air, and 2 heli-evacuations. For many pilots this was the “make or break” day, so I think there was a bit more aggression than usual in the gaggles. Me, I’m glad I managed to stay safe during the competition, and feel a certain sense of relief that tomorrow I don’t have to be told to “launch now”, “fly over there”, “land here”, etc. The field I landed in was nice moss, so I was able to pack up the glider nicely for the airplane ride on Sunday, and I don’t plan on taking it out again between now and then!

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Penultimate day

I wasn’t feeling well today so had a short day.

We were assigned a 117 km task, taking us south over the flats in front of launch, back to 3 Kings, then over the Mesa to Saucos, back over the Mesa and back over the flats to La Pila, and finally goal up on the Monarca ridge. There was some discussion about whether there would be enough time to complete such a task (the longest one yet), but as tomorrow is the last day and thus a shorter task, today was the last day for going big.

The skies were much bluer than yesterday, not much development at all. It had been very windy last night, so I figure that was something moving through and we are now in a new weather pattern.

I wasn’t feeling all that hot on launch, and as soon as I launched it didn’t feel right. The air was the usual squirrely in front of launch and I found it hard to concentrate on getting high. Bumbled my way over to Penon and to the Wall, where it was ripping up the face and zoomed up to 3600m and cloudbase. But it still felt weird and I wasn’t liking the way the air was feeling, although I don’t think it was any rougher than previous days.

I was quite glad for the start since I was hoping the weirdness I was feeling was just the local rough flying conditions around Crazy and the Wall, but the glide to the 1st TP wasn’t smooth either. And many people got low just before the TP, and we all had to stop and top-up on the way, and the gaggles weren’t that organized with discrete climbs. People were milling around all over the place. I still wasn’t feeling that great and was finding it hard to concentrate, so after tagging the 1st TP I opted to land right away. Very-short-and-sweet tracklog is here. Landed in Teneria and felt immediately better; all I wanted to do was lie in the hot sun and laze asleep. But of course the locals popped out of the woodwork and I was soon surrounded so no rest for me, and they followed me all the way to the Church meeting spot where retrieve was waiting.


Getting back to Valle was long as we stopped at the turnoff for the Piano LZ, to meet up with the other retrieve vehicle which was busy picking up pilots who had dirted on the way back to the Wall. Jim was in this group as he said he had “raced himself into the ground”.

Back to Valle and the usual convergence clouds weren’t there, and it was very blue, and strong headwinds from the north for anybody trying to make it over the Monarca ridge and into goal. We saw a group of perhaps 30 pilots slowly making their way, and many more who were very low on San Augustine etc who were doing the death glide, hoping to find something to get them there. In the end I think there were about 40-50 pilots in goal, with many more scattered all along the courseline, and lots of long retrieves. It looked like it turned into a very difficult day, not as easy as originally thought, with the lack of convergence clouds to get people back and forth from the Mesa. Brett had a pretty good flight, tagging La Pila and landing on the way back over the Mesa.

I was quite happy to be on the ground even though it was a short flight and I flew for less than 2 hours; I think the pace and long days is finally taking its toll. There are now pilots who are choosing not to fly just because they are so tired or feel it’s not worth the possible carnage (we had a pilot fly into trees again today, due to extreme sink on the backside of launch, and yesterday Joanna tossed her reserve coming down behind launch). I’m glad tomorrow is the last day, and a probable shorter task, since the organization will want everyone back early for scoring and prize-giving.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Lots of wind!

Today was a real mixer-upper I think for the overall rankings.

The skies today were similar to yesterday (big clouds and probably shading on the Mesa), but there was about twice as much wind forecasted. The task committee decided on a 106 km task: launch, exit around Penon, Llano out to the SE across the flats, Divisidero, Elefante behind Valle, 3Kings, and goal at Quintanilla. So once again lots of back-and-forth across the Mesa.

I launched early at 11:15am and worked my way up to 3300m in front of launch, and proceeded over to El Penon. Below 3000m it was SW, but above 3000m it was very north, and strong too. The higher I got the more wind I encountered from the north, until at about 3600m (cloudbase) I was pointed north, going forward at single digits. Hmmm interesting.

I stayed high, and punched upwind slowly to the G-spot, still at 3600m. The start was a 6 km exit around Penon, and the first TP was to the SE, so most pilots opted to stay out front in between launch and Penon. I had the G-spot all to myself, which suited me just fine.

As the start approached I noticed a very large cloud starting to form upwind of the G-spot, so I slowly punched my way to the upwind side. The north wind was very strong, and I wondered if it was strong enough, and the cloud “dense” enough, for me to ridge soar up the side of this cloud (I’ve down this 2 times before; the last time was Feb. 2008 at Mt. Woodside, in similar clouds-and-windy conditions). I decided to see.

Up along the upwind side of the cloud at 3600m, and my vario slowly started beeping. Slowly but surely I S-turned myself along the upwind side of this cloud until I was just shy of 3900m, making my way about ½ way up the side of the cloud. I made sure to keep in the clear so not to be accused of cloud-flying, so if a wispy started to form upwind of me, I would move upwind a bit more and keep the wispies behind me. The wind was super-strong from the north, and this first TP was going to be a quick dash there, and a long slog back, if you stayed high.

The start came and I had to detour around the cloud a bit so as not to fly through it, and started on course to Llano. Other pilots had split into 2 main groups…a group who went the direct way over the hills, gorge, and powerlines, and a slightly upwind group who stayed over the flatter terrain.

Only a couple of minutes into the race, Jim Orava reported seeing a pilot going down in the gorge, getting blown backwards, and was requested to turn around and give co-ordinates by the organization. He did so, and also reported seeing the pilot OK on the ground, but as he had to backtrack into sinking air to report this, he fell behind, and eventually landed at Llano. But since he was requested to turn around and give co-ordinates, the organization is going to give him an average score for today, for doing the equivalent of a “landing to assist”. So despite him only flying 22 km, he’ll get credit for much more, which is decent of the comp organizers.

Meanwhile the super-north layer was replaced by a super-south layer lower down, so my downwind speed of 65 km/h (not using any speedbar) was very quickly replaced with 15 km/h. And not even at the TP yet! I punched speedbar and was able to just barely clear the hill the TP was located on (it was actually located on the upwind side of the hill, and we were all approaching from the leeside), and turned tail to join the group that was hanging on for dear life, frisbeeing back to the north. The group below me was in even more dire straits, as they were in the total lee of the hill and the valley breeze was in full force. I saw many pilots land at Llano; 1 pilot reported having to land downwind to avoid some trees and did a complete tumble-and-roll routine. It didn’t look very fun for those pilots.

My group was able to thermal back out of there and out of the valley breeze, back up to the safety of 3300m. However it was north up there, so we had the choice of either staying low and flying downwind in the valley breeze, or staying high and flying upwind in the north wind. We all chose the latter :)

Slowly made our way back towards the Mesa and the group split in 2. The other group headed for Espina, while my group headed for Crazy. It was lee for either choice, but I figured Crazy would be a bit more reliable in the shade and lee-ness, as there were small foothills we could use to get up and over the rim.

It was indeed shady but not too bad, and as long as we stayed below the rim on the downwind side it was OK thermalling. But as soon as we got above the rim and the north wind hit, it was a bit chaotic. I made sure to stay well-clear of the other pilots while I worked my way back up to cloudbase.

The other group was doing the same at Espina, and we joined forces on the glide across to Maguey. Headed there was slow, but we got there above Maguey and I was able to do the usual ridge-run-at-Bridal routine to get myself to Divisidero. But the going was very slow, 20 km/h or so, unless I used the speedbar. Coming back was going to be fast!

Tagged Divis and then turned around for the run back. Since the next TP was behind town, it was a bit out of the way to do the usual Serro Gordo/San Augustine-Saucos run, and more direct to fly directly over town. But I’m not sure the direct route would work cloud-wise. So I opted to fly back the way I came, along the ridge, and was going fast.

Then I made a mistake. I found a thermal that wasn’t particularly strong, but took it as I was a bit low on the ridge and wanted to top-up. Down low the winds were more SW, and this thermal was tracking back over to the north side of the Mesa very sharply. And it wasn’t that strong. I should have skipped this thermal and chosen another stronger one. But I stuck with this one, and found myself on the north side of the Mesa, which is not ideal for most situations. But I figured I could get up to cloudbase and then punch crosswind to Serro Gordo and get myself under the convergence.

But I fell out of the thermal (!) and couldn’t find it again. Damn. I searched and searched but it had either fizzled, or I couldn’t find it. And I’m on the downwind side of the Mesa. So I turned tail and headed over Iglesia to see if I could find something around Serro Gordo, but it was super-sinky and when I got there, I was too low to get to the upwind side of SG and the Iglesia side was in the lee and all sinky. So I ended up landing at Iglesia, and it was only 3:15pm, very early to be landing. Tracklog is here.

I was rather annoyed for allowing myself to get caught on the wrong side of the Mesa and then fall out of the mediocre thermal I allowed myself to take, but at the same time I was glad to be safely on the ground. It was very windy all over the place, no matter which altitude you were at, and at the shear between the 2 levels was particularly nasty. And when I discovered Elisa sitting at Iglesia, waiting for her retrieve, I didn’t feel so bad.

The French retrieve came for Elisa and they offered me a ride, which I gladly took. Back into town where I found Jim at HQ, bemoaning the fact he had only flown 22 km. But he looked better when I told him the organization was going to give him an average score for today for what he did at the start. Brett had a really good day, getting back from Elefante and landing at the base of Escalares, for about 80 km. And Keith made goal. Early reports of about 60 people in goal (rather less than usual), with Urban Valic in 1st, about 20 minutes ahead of the next pilots!

My distance for today was 55 km. Rather short compared to recent days. But earlier today on launch, I had a conversation with Greg from Luxemburg. It’s all a matter of perspective…if we were flying these types of flights either at our home sites, or in Valle while on vacation and it wasn’t a comp, we’d be ecstatic at what we are achieving, for sheer distance, time flown, and what kind of ground we are flying over. But because this is the World Championships, all of a sudden we think our flights aren’t so great. We have to remember that this is just a comp after all (albeit it a big one), and to take it all in stride. And with just 2 more tasks to go, for those of us at the bottom of the rankings, it’s just not worth fussing over anymore.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Big clouds, cold hands, shaded out on launch


I attended the team leader meeting this morning for Brett, and heard that we actually had 7 mid-airs yesterday, 1 of which ended up in a reserve deployment. Yesterday had the most number of complaints by pilots about aggressive flying both in the start gaggle, and along the route.

Today was a much nicer start as there were lots of clouds around that you could boat around under and find your own spot and it was much smoother thermalling, and not have to be confined to the Crazy spot. The task today was 114 km, from launch to Santa Maria out on the flats, over the Mesa to Mesad, crosswind to Elefan behind town, back over the Mesa and over the flats to La Pila, back over the Mesa to Serro Gordo, and then the Lake LZ. With the big clouds this meant flying back and forth under possibly shady spots on the Mesa 3 times.

I launched early and was able to sniff something out and hang out between the Penon and launch. I watched as more pilots launched and went to the usual house thermal spot to the left of launch, but it wasn’t really working and more and more pilots just piled into that small space and stayed there. I was really glad I was under the clouds at that point, boating around over the Penon. Cloudbase was already 3500m and the whole Wall/Crazy cliffs were in shade, so once you got to cloudbase you wanted to stay there and use the cloud-suck. It was very cold though; glad I brought my extra fleece today!

Milled around until the 1pm start and did a photo shoot with Jim, flying wingtip to wingtip under the clouds, and then it was off over the flats to Santa Maria. Got the usual low save just before the TP, but was able to get back over the hills around the mine and follow an ever lower-group of pilots to 3 Kings.

At 3 Kings I saw a pilot find a thermal but then fall out of it in the winds; I was a bit higher so I had more altitude to get myself centered in it and up and away. Brett was below me and didn’t catch the climb, and had to ridge soar for about 30 minutes after I got out of there until he too could find something.

Meanwhile me and 2 other pilots were now under the clouds at Maguey, about 3700m, and went on glide for Mesad, which is past the convergence on the flats. Got there low, but was able to tag the TP and get back to cloudbase, thanks to one of the other pilots who was higher than me and showed the way. We drifted crosswind towards Elefan behind town, and at this point passed what I think was the 2nd gaggle on their way back from the TP (I think there was actually a faster gaggle which I probably missed entirely, while I was at Mesad).

The hills around Elefan where working so it wasn’t that difficult to tag this TP and get back out to the main valley at Saucos. As the next TP was back upwind, over the Mesa, and to the flats on the other side, about 30 km away, some pilots opted for the more direct route over the gas stations. I opted to head crosswind back to the convergence over Saucos, and try to get to the Mesa around La Casa or so, get up there, and punch back upwind from there.

Of course my plan didn’t work out, the convergence was a bit weaker by now (it was 4pm) and it was positioned more to the east than usual. I hit the usual into-wind death knell, and wasn’t able to penetrate to La Casa and the climb I suspected was there, landing at Jovan’s instead. Total distance 70 km, flying time 4:19 (with 1.5 hours of waiting for the start), tracklog here.

In goal was Yassen 1st, which is I think his second 1st place in a row. Jim was also in goal, and I suspect Keith was also but early enough to leave before Jim landed.

As I was landing I could hear over the radio about a pilot tossing his reserve behind the launch area and landing in a tree on the Mesa, not sure why. But I think people will be much happier with the flying conditions today vs. yesterday. However there is also a group of pilots who won’t be happy with today…the last pilots to get off launch weren’t able to get up and on course, since the whole mountain was shaded out by then, and they spent 2 hours+ bopping between launch and the Penon, while the rest of us were on course. I’m really glad I launched when I did; it was quite shady and light, but as I had the sky to myself I was able to work my way up to cloudbase bit by bit without having to battle the gaggle for space. And once under the clouds it was easy and all of a sudden lots of space.

I could have pushed a bit further into the lee of the Mesa but I didn’t really feel like it, and Jovan’s looked very inviting. I’ve discovered over the past days that I’m able to fly about 70 km of whatever task we are given, and at that point I either a) run out of effective sunlight, or b) hit the inevitable headwind, alone. With that in mind, if the task committee ever gives us a task of 75 km or less, I should be able to make goal!

Monday, February 2, 2009

High cloudbase and lots of long glides

The weather was looking especially nice for today’s task, light winds up high and a cloudbase around 3800m. So we were thinking the task committee would send us to Toluca, or at least towards the volcano. But nope, they opted instead for a task on the flats in front of launch, followed by an over-the-back leg to Valle. Launch and then Cerpel for the start, then the Piano LZ, Santa Maria, Tezca 1, then Cualte on the west end of the lake, landing in the Valle Lake LZ, for 94 km.

I launched early and it was a good thing I did, the air was a bit squirrely and it took a while to get high. Many pilots who launched late, thinking it would be the same amount of time to get over and established on the Wall/Crazy, ended up being late for the start I believe; it was so not-working over the launch area.

While working my way high over launch I watched a pilot come down under reserve. Not sure why he threw, but it was above launch height and he drifted down for quite a while, eventually coming down in the trees on the slope between the Penon and the launch area. He reported himself OK and on the ground safely.

It was already high cloudbase at Crazy, about 3400m, which was nice since it meant you could spread out a bit while waiting for the 12:45pm start. But when the start came and the armada headed for Cerpel and the 1 km exit start, it was a bit chaotic. Pilots would tag the 1 km radius and then immediately turn for the Piano TP, not checking their airspace and the pilots right behind them still trying to tag Cerpel. It was disconcerting to see pilots all of a sudden turn 180° and fly straight at you, with no warning at all, and there were many close calls.

Getting high at Crazy was a bit of a challenge, as after the Piano TP we didn’t have the usual height when flying over to there, and I spent maybe 10 minutes trying to get up on the cliffs. Fortunately I had the eventual thermal to myself, as it was one of those tight gnarly ones that you scream up in, while half your glider is collapsed but hey you’re still going up. When that happens it’s nice to have the airspace to yourself so you can concentrate on not falling out of such a ripper.

The gaggle split into 2 camps for the upwind glide to Santa Maria…most people opted to cross to Maguey and 3 Kings, and fly along the ridge towards Divisidero and then hang a left towards Santa Maria along the way. The rest of us decided on the direct over-the-flats route. The going was slow, as it always is for the TP’s in this direction, and both groups ended up arriving at Santa Maria about the same time.

I was low at this point and had to fly around a small hill to the windward side in order to get high enough to reach the next thermal I could see the gaggle in. Tagged Santa Maria and then a downwind dash to where I could see a pilot ridge soaring the hills to the west of the mine, and joined him until a thermal came along to get us out of there and back up high. At this point it was downwind back towards Espina, so it was nice to, for once, thermal in the direction you actually wanted to go.

Rather than follow the ridge to the south to the far-away Tezca 1 TP, we flew directly down the middle of the flats, drifting with the thermals and making sure we stayed high over the gorge, river, and powerlines. I overflew the area I had gotten stuck at in a previous task, and the 2 gliders I was with continued on, low. I remembered that the last time I was in this area, the upwind ridge with the powerlines was the only place that worked, and the actual town in the bowl was a sink hole. So while the other 2 pilots flew over the town and eventually landed, I stayed on the windward side of the ridge and connected with the clouds, which allowed me enough height to get to the high ground around Tezca 1.

At this point a pilot reported seeing a fellow pilot throw his reserve and land in some trees near the Tezca 1 TP, and as the pilot wasn’t responding on radio, he landed to make sure he was OK. By the time I got to the general vicinity of where this had happened, the pilot had reported himself OK and was busy extricating himself with the help of the other pilot who had landed. They reported they had everything under control so I continued on, tagging Tezca 1 and then the upwind slog back towards launch.

It was really windy from the SW and it was difficult to get high, and if you did the thermals were taking you in the opposite direction of where you wanted to go. 2 other gliders and myself found ourselves over San Simone, where a bunch of pilots were landing, and where one of the pilots I was with also landed. So it was just 2 of us left.

The other pilot found a weak thermal and I joined him, and together we drifted up but further from our desired direction. But it was up, and that’s all that mattered. When that fizzled, we both headed for a small hill over the town that I figured would work on the windward side, if only we could get to it. We both got there just above the hill, and beyond the hill was a sea of trees, and not really any possible LZ’s other than trees. The only LZ was actually behind and downwind of us. So keeping an eye on my clearance above the hill I ridge soared the windward side, hoping a thermal would come through before we sunk too low and would have to bail over the back to the safe LZ.

The other pilot was lower than me and amazingly, I saw him get below the ridge top and beyond any safe LZ. I think he realized what had just happened, so he flew further over the sea of trees and the gorge, hoping I think for some lift to get him out of there and not landing in the trees or the gorge or the river.

Meanwhile I was a bit higher than him and had maybe 2 more passes left until I too would have to make a decision. Fortunately before those 2 passes were up I found a small thermal which I gladly took, which got me high enough to make the glide over the sea of trees and to the safe LZ’s on the other side of the gorge. I spotted the other pilot who had actually found something, enough anyways to get him over to the gorge, where he landed in the gorge safely. I had issues of my own, as I was now above safe LZ’s once again, but in the friggin wind again and still a long slog to the Penon and a reliable way back up to cloudbase.

I was just east of the Piano LZ and wasn’t finding anything except wind and more wind. I flew over the Piano, looking for something since it’s usually working this time of day, but nothing except wind so I had to land as I was too low to connect with the Penon, maybe an additional 1 km away. Landed in the actual Piano LZ in gusty conditions. Only 1 km from the Penon and probable salvation!

Oh well it was a good run and I was actually quite happy with the flight. It had lots of flatland terrain to fly over, combined with the big hills at Tezca 1 and a nice high cloudbase. Too bad I just didn’t have the juice for the last little bit of glide necessary.

Retrieve came in about 30 minutes and then off to pick up Antje, who had landed at the base of the Penon after not being able to connect there. Reports of 2 more tree landings over the back of launch, for a total of 3 reserve tosses and at least 1 more tree landing. And a mid-air reported around the start time. Also there were several pilots who tagged the final TP, but landed short of goal and in the Avandaro Golf Course instead (which technically is a no-land zone, but they weren’t chewed out too much for it). My total distance after 4:52 hours flying (including the 1.5 hours of flying waiting for the start) was 72 km. Tracklog is here.

Brett landed in a small gully on the way to Tezca 1, while Jim and Keith made goal. I think about 100 pilots in goal (with either Andy Aebi or Yassen in first). The top comp pilots are blisteringly fast, it’s almost impossible to keep up! But today was a fun task.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Thanks for all the comments

I know there have been lots of people reading this blog recently (even though it started off mostly for my friends in Canada), and have received many comments in the past couple of days regarding Stefan's death and what I wrote about it. I've tried responding to most of you, but for those who left "anonymous" posts, or I don't have your email address to send a personal response to, many thanks for your wishes and kind words. It's nice to know you have friends in far-away places from people you barely (or don't) know.

I know I don't have the prose or wittiness (is that a word?) skills of some other bloggers, but I prefer to give the straight goods from a not-especially-skilled or racy pilot when it comes to big international events, but rather an average comp pilot who has the good fortune to be a part of it. For those who have emailed saying how your appreciate my blogging, and make reading it a part of your daily routine while at work or whatever, many thanks to you all as well. It's people like you who encourage me to continue writing, even though it may only be about my sled-ride flight at Woodside, or about how I sunk out and missed out on an epic XC day :)

Days of rest and remembrance


Yesterday was the mandated rest day, which I think just about everyone took advantage of. We were just toasted, with the daily several-hour flights under technical and challenging conditions, the sun, the long days, and most recently Stefan's death.

Some pilots went for butterfly tours or to the Toluca volcano; a bunch of us went to the Avandaro Golf Course. Juan Carlos (the launch director) is also the manager of that golf course, and got us free admission to the 4-star resort. So we spent the day lounging beside the pool, sleeping, or using the spa facilities. We stood out a bit there, as we showed up in our usual scruffy paragliding attire, compared to the immaculate waiters dressed like penguins offering us towels, menus, and bringing drinks directly to our spot by the pool.

After a few hours of that we hitched a ride back to Valle with a local farmer-type dude, some more food, and then the after-food coma. In fact I spent most the day in various states of semi-consciousness, catching up on sleep. It was certainly the most relaxing day I’ve had in Valle for a long time.

Yesterday evening I heard through the grapevine that today may not be a competition day, but rather a second “rest” day or something similar. This morning we got the word that it was going to be a free-flight day, no task, and we were welcome to head up the mountain and fly back to Valle and toss flowers in the Lake to commemorate Stefan.

Up on launch it was already working at 10am, cycles and the clouds were strong-looking and lenticulars up high. We had a minute of applause/ovation for Stefan (after the Mexican tradition of describing his life as a theatre performance, and he was now exiting the stage) while the media jostled the pilots to get close-ups and the best photos. It was very moving and lots of teary eyes in the crowd.

By 11am, after the meeting, it was definitely on the strong-looking side, and I decided not to launch but rather go back down, bring my flowers to the LZ, and do some more resting. Most other pilots decided to fly back to the lake, where the lakeshore was soon littered with flowers. Nice flights reported, with the strong stuff only for the first bit above launch, and then smooth sailing back to the lake, maybe only 2-3 climbs needed.

So I think we are back to the usual program starting tomorrow, and will have 5 remaining task days if the weather stays it’s usual sunny-and-flyable self. And after 2 days of rest, I think most of us will be ready for some more big XC.