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.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks Nicole, for staying strong on the blogging, and writing honestly and from the heart. I know it ain't easy, but it's appreciated by many of us for sure.

    Bill Belcourt