Sunday, March 29, 2009

Woodside Valley Crossing March 29

I had high hopes for today as the forecast was looking good. Got to Woodside early, 11am, only to find out that Derek and Martina were up on launch with it blowing down and not able to launch. Oh well no rush then so we didn't get up to launch until 1pm or so.

A large cloud had parked itself over launch, keeping it in the shade and down cycles so it was difficult to get off launch. My original plan had been for an OR to Mt. St. Benedict and back, but to the west over Sasquatch it was OD'ing and snowing continuously, so it wasn't the best option to fly into. My backup plan was to head over the back and cross to Bridal, and possibly try the crossing back if daylight and conditions allowed.

Launched and beamed up to cloudbase which was around 1800m or so, and was thinking of heading over the back when the cloud started to get really sucky and dark. So I had to detour all around it to the north etc to stay out of it, and had to wait for it to dissipate and the next cloud to form for me to head over the back, another 30 minutes or so waiting around in the freezing cold. Fortunately I had hand warmers on the go so I was toasty warm all over (thank you pod harness!).

The next cloud over launch cycled and I decided it was time to go. Left at about 1900m and arrived at Agassiz Mountain where I had to wait for a cycle to come through for the crossing to Bear. At this point about 4-5 gliders were chasing after me and Robin was able to get up to me, while Greg, Rob. S, Nicolai, and Stein weren't.

Crossed over to Bear with Robin and got the nicest climb of the day over the peak, smooth lift to 2050m and then I decided it was time to hang a right to Ludwig. The crossing was the nicest one I've done in a while despite getting snowed on and it accumulating in my lap...I arrived at Ludwig at 1300m or so and was able to climb back to 1600m by the time I reached the Butterfly.

There was tonnes of snow in the trees and lots of snow slide runouts on the steep sections. I've never been at the Butterfly this early in the season and it was very beautiful. I took my camera out to take pictures but it was so cold the batteries had frozen up and died, so I wasn't able to get the awesome pics of frozen waterfalls and meters of snow all over the place.

Now usually when we're at the Butterfly at 1600m, it's not an issue of whether you can make it back to Bridal or not. It's so lifty that you can just boat along. Not this time. All of us were super-high at the Butterfly and still we plummeted to Earth in continuous sink once we left, despite the nice cu's all along the ridge. Amazingly, we all landed out at various places at the base of Cheam and nobody made it to the Bridal LZ, much less Elk and high enough to cross back to Woodside.

On the other hand, Jim on a tandem, got to 1700m over Riverside and headed to the Bridal LZ direct (not bothering with the loop the rest of us were doing), and made it! Greg broke from the rest of us at Bear and continued east to Hope, landing at the airport. And Kevin launched from Bridal and was able to glide to Harvest Market. Everyone else at Bridal sunk out about the same time we were coming over from Woodside so at least it wasn't just us!

Thanks for Martin N. for coming to pick me up and saving me a hitch-hike back to Woodside. Colleen came over too to pick up Jim et al, and there was a vehicle swap going on between Kevin and Rob. S. since they had both crossed the valley and landed on the opposite side from their respective vehicles.

All in all it was a great day, except for the mass-flushing at that one point. It was super north wind and the trees on the Bridal side were fully loaded with snow down to 400m, so I don't think there was much thermic action going on the mountain. It may have been better to fly west from Ludwig over the highway and get a better glide to the Bridal LZ. Total distance was about 30 km and 2 hours flight time. Tracklog is here.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Woodside March 22

It was a lot stronger today compared to yesterday. Forecast was for ridge soarable winds and unstable so decided to head out earlier rather than later as I figured Woodside might blow out. Got to the bottom of the road up to launch at 1pm and started hiking since everyone was already up on launch; Martin H. was already soaring out front on his PG.

I got a ride right away with Shane in his car, so I knew we weren't going to make it all the way :) But we were able to get to the snowline, after passing Stefan who was also hiking, at which point we parked the car and started hiking ourselves.

Got 100 m up the road or so and then a truck came by and offered me a ride. Stefan was already in back so I joined him. However because the truck had stopped in the snow, it wasn't able to get going again so we had to back down to a section where the dirt was showing through the ruts. At this point Alex W. in his truck and another 2 trucks behind him joined us and all 4 vehicles started headed up again.

Of course once on the snow and up the road a bit we came across a truck that was coming down, and with the snow 2' deep in spots, there was no place to pass. Our truck tried to get off the road to let him pass but got stuck, and was blocking the road for the truck trying to get down, and also the 3 trucks behind us trying to get up. With people standing around and trying to figure out what to do, and getting ropes etc out to tow stuff out of the way, Stefan and I decided to make our escape and started hiking yet again.

We reached launch finally around 2pm and it was nice cycles, 15 km/h or so and Jon Orders on his new HG and Martin N. both above launch. Jim was about to launch a tandem so I got ready ASAP.

Stefan was set up ahead of me but wasn't quite ready, so I jumped in front with his blessing. Launched and went straight up into obviously ridge soaring conditions with lots of thermals mixed in. It was quite strong but smooth; definitely spring-like and not like yesterday.

My radio battery died so I wasn't able to talk to anybody about the in-flight conditions, but I noticed nobody launching after me. Apparently about 5 minutes after I launched it went from a nice 15 km/h to something like 35-40 kph. Up in the air it was still fine, a bit on the strong side wind-wise, but totally doable provided you could actually launch into it.

I flew around for a bit and played with the clouds out front; they were forming out over the river and then growing once over the mountain. I got to 1550 m and still nice and smooth, but I noticed the pilots lower down were landing looking parked, and cats-paws forming right next to Riverside. And I noticed my forward speed was slightly decreasing to high single digits, and the clouds were starting to get big all around, especially over at Bridal and Vedder with towering cu's. And as I was starting to get cold I opted to land. Riverside didn't look very inviting with Martin N. hoovering down into it with the cats-paws right offshore, and anywhere on the peninsula didn't look very nice either (I found out later on that it was quite entertaining to watch the landings at Eagle Ranch). So I turned tail for Harvest Market.

Downwind was 65 kph and I figured this was going to be an interesting landing. When I got near to Harvest I turned back into the wind and discovered it was still high single digits even though I was lower, and with the occasional gust I was actually going backwards for brief moments. Not very comforting when the Harvest field has a row of powerlines at the downwind end, and despite staying upwind of the field I was running out of usable field quite quickly. It looked like if I stayed in the same situation I might encounter the powerlines before I encountered the ground, or encounter the ground but then get dragged into the powerlines (both not good!), so I made the decision to turn downwind again at about 300' to cross the highway to the next field downwind of Harvest, and land there instead.

That field was powerline-free so I had no worries about using up the whole field to back myself into, and landed uneventfully in a rather muddy field. It was really gusty so I opted to land by hauling on my D's rather than use my brakes to flare, and killed the glider as soon as I landed and quickly unhooked from it (lesson learned from last time!). It was too windy to pack up, gusting to 40 kph on the ground, so I just stuffed the glider into the bag and hiked out to Harvest, where Martin N. picked me up.

Windy all over the peninsula and it stayed windy all the way back to Vancouver. Dark clouds east of Agassiz so it was probably raining in Hope and a good call for people to not stick around and try to fly later on, as it looked like the day was getting bigger rather than smaller as time went on. I probably should have left to land 10-15 minutes sooner than I did, and would have saved myself the stress of landing in strong gusty winds. Had my radio battery not died, I would have found out about conditions on the ground sooner as people were trying to let me know and not getting a response from me. Always make sure your battery is recharged!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Woodside March 21

The forecast was calling for some high clouds but the lapse rate looked good despite that, so went out to Woodside. Arrived to find Martin and Mia kiting in Bill Best's field in the north wind, but less wind closer to the mountain and a group of people had just arrived on launch and tossed off a student. The student sled-rided down so we figured it wasn't quite on and not a big rush.

Veronica and I waited at the bottom of the road up for a ride, while Alex started hiking up the direct way through the trees. We saw the occasional pilot headed out to Eagle Ranch or Riverside; some were getting above launch but it was still pretty light.

Eventually we got a ride up with Jim Reich and were able to get all the way to launch, after putting chains up just past lower launch, and almost going off the road next to the last parking lot before the spur road (if you look at the tracks in the snow you'll see how close we came to going over the edge...we jumped out at that point!).

Up on launch it was quite light, blowing all over the place lightly but not consistently. There were dark clouds coming from the Mount Baker direction so we were trying to get off before that came in and shut things down. Annette launched and was shortly above launch, which gave us the impetus to get our stuff ready sooner rather than later.

When I launched the dark clouds were almost at the sun and I wasn't too optimistic. Since I had parked the car at the Koffee Kettle, I had already decided to land in Riverside so there was no rush to head out as soon as I launched, so when I launched I headed south rather than north or out.

I saw a bunch of eagles playing to the SE of the south knob, around the corner to Harvest Market so I headed out that way. Lots of sink on the way and I was at some points too low to make Riverside, but there were lots of sandbars available so I was prepared to land on one of those if necessary. I reached the eagles and was rewarded with some nice 0.1's, which seemed like a good idea to stay in since everyone else was sinking out.

At this point the dark clouds dissipated into nice puffy cu's and it got sunny all of a sudden. The lift I was in got stronger (0.6!!) and I was now high enough to make Riverside. Veronica and Ralph joined me for a bit and then we all headed back to the cutblocks, where I was able to hang out and bop around between 400-500 m for the next hour.

Eventually a bunch of more people arrived on launch and lobbed off and appeared to be above launch. It looked easier to stay up if you could stay at launch height, but once below a certain altitude it was much harder to get back up. I was able to claw my way back up to 600 m at one point and thought I would be able to join the pilots above me, but it was not to be. The dark clouds finally materialized and started to shut things down, and people started sinking out.

Finally bit the bullet and landed in Riverside after 1h 13min airtime. I think my strongest lift was 1.1 m/s and much of the time was spent in 0.4-0.6. It was definitely rewarding to hang in there for so long and work on my patience and light lift skills (which I haven't had a chance to practice in a while).

After I landed another group of people went up and it was sled-rides only, so those two pulses of soaring in the afternoon were it for the day. All in all a rather satisfying day for me personally, although some people may have felt the day was a bit unspectacular.