Sunday, June 28, 2009

Grouse Mountain June 28

I was working downtown today and got off at noon, and the winds in the Fraser Valley sounded like it would be blown out so I opted for a late-day Grouse flight.

Bob Hannah was in town with a group of about 8 guests so the launch and skies were busy. In the LZ it was still quite thermic as I watched Miguel have a bumpy approach (it was about 2pm), so I decided to hang out and fly a bit later when it quieted down. Eventually went up to launch with the Seattle pilots and arrived on launch to find mostly cross cycles (which were wreaking havoc with everyone's launch, even the tandems and locals; there had already been an accident with the chairlift earlier in the day).

Very challenging launch conditions, cross from the right even though the windsocks said otherwise; I think we need to add another windsock on top of tower #5 to let us know what the wind is doing further down the slope. I think Grouse will accomodate as it's a safety measure. I didn't feel like launching when it's like that (similar launching conditions to when I broke my back at Grouse a couple years ago) so I waited until 5pm before laying out, as the cycles had straightened up by then.

Punchy lift over the gondola tower and very turbulent so after I got high there a few times to about 4400', I went over to the Cut for some not quite as high lift, but smoother overall. Got low a few times but scratched my way back up a bunch of times, then went out to land. As it was 6:30pm the thermic action that I had seen earlier in the day was absent, which made for a nice landing. The Seattle crowd and I then went to the Memphis BBQ in North Van for some vittles and then they were off to cross the border.

I find Grouse is a nice place to fly later in the day, especially if it's forecast to be windy everywhere else. Of course if it's light winds then flying earlier is preferred as you can go XC (as Fedja demonstrated a couple days ago). But if it's gonna be windy, then I don't bother flying Grouse much before 4pm.

Word from Pemberton (where Greg and Veronica are for a few days) was that it was blown out as of 12pm, and I think the FV would have been pretty honking too. Maybe Bridal was flyable later in the day?

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Grouse Mountain June 23

Today was the annual GMFT meeting, so a bunch of us decided to head up early for a flight, before the meeting at the Altitudes Bistro on top of the mountain. Veronica was along as a guest; her first time flying Grouse.

The day was shading over as we arrived at the LZ so we were thinking it may only be sled rides, but it was unstable enough still that people were staying up. The chairlift is back in operation after a couple of summers without, so no hiking necessary anymore and HG's can now get up the mountain no problem.

Last fall, after seeing where Grouse Resorts had put the new chairlift, I wasn't sure about how the launch would work, but the snow-gun has been taken down and it's actually quite decent. You can lay out where you previously did, and as long as the cycle is not too cross, taking off is not a problem with the chairlift right next door. I think if it's really cross then there could be problems.

The other issue is the glide out...turns out that the presence of the chairlift is not an issue as it is below tree-height where you cross over, so you don't have to really change anything about where you choose to make your right turn. Even the acro gliders were gliding over the chairlift lines no problem, so I don't think we'll have problems with not being able to get over them.

Anyways, after the launch (you have to yell that you're launching so the chairlift attendants can keep an eye on you in case you are indeed getting too close to the lines; I guess they can stop the chairlift if it looks like you're gonna wrap around them, to minimize damage from moving parts etc.) it was the usual lift over the gondola. The skies were quite overcast with a few cu's embedded, so it was mellow and not the usual strong/punchy stuff we're used to at Grouse.

About 10 gliders were in the air and we all boated around at 4000-4500' for 1-2 hours; the lift was pretty idiot-proof and everywhere we went out front it was lifty. But not too lifty behind launch...I flew back there once to see the new zipline setup they have back there (they have lines strung between the peaks and you can watch people zipping along them, or hear them screaming in the trees) and nada lift. Back to the ol' reliable cliffs next to the gondola.

Eventually we all headed out to land and once again it was mellow. Not bouncy and turbulent like it normally is at the LZ in mid-day conditions. Of course it was overcast by now and 6pm, so beautiful landing conditions and no last-second thermals to mess up your approach.

Back up the gondola for our 7pm meeting and about 20 people showed up. Most flew at some point during the day and lots of smiling faces. Flying Grouse is on for another season and it looks like the launch won't be an issue. The LZ may be though...rumour has it there will be construction in the upper LZ in August so we may be restricted to the lower field for August and September.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

WCPC wrap up and thanks

We had 4 tasks over the 6 days, with the last day being the best. Overall results can be found here.

Overall, Matt Beechinor was 1st, followed by Josh Cohn and Matt Dadam. Serial class was dominated by Peter Warren, Brett Hardin, and Tim O'Neill. Melanie won 1st place in the women's class, followed by myself and then Meredyth in 3rd.

All the winners got nifty glass vases, and a bottle of wine from Fiasco Winery (where we had a free pancake breakfast a couple of days ago). Special thanks go to Mike and Gail Haley, who worked tirelessly all week. Gail kept us fed mornings and afternoons so when we arrived back at HQ we could replenish immediately. She also took care of special projects like the scholarship fund for a local Ruch student, and arranged for the local students to come up to launch on a field trip one day. Mike did an awesome job as meet director, keeping us in line and making sure things ran smoothly. And of course an army of volunteers, drivers, wind dummies, and assorted other people I can't all remember offhand at the moment.

Flying at Woodrat is great. Just make sure to arrive during a dry spell (which is pretty much all the time) and you'll get nice heights (up to 10,000') and excellent XC potential. Depending on the winds you can fly north to Grant's Pass, or south to Mt. Shasta in California. LZ's are plentiful and the people of Ruch are super-friendly!

WCPC: Day 7 and finally a 1000 point task!

Finally, the weather turned in our favor!

With a prevailing NW wind, task today was a triangle around the Ruch Valley, over the back towards Jacksonville, and goal at Donato's, near the town of Talent.

As it was a Saturday there were lots of free fliers, who were staying up no problem in the clearing skies, so when the window opened I was ready. Cloudbase was initially low, about 5000', but later rose to 5600' which gave me a good start at 1230.

I had a good run around the course until I hit Rabies for the second time, where I arrived a bit low and during a sink cycle, so I had to scratch around until I found a ripper to 6000' which got me back in the game. But my luck ran out at Burnt, where Tim and I arrived during a blue cycle, no clouds, and couldn't get very high for the usual run to Cemetary and Donato's. We decided to go on glide for Cemetary since it appeared Burnt wasn't working anymore, and arrived at Cemetary too low to catch anything, landing at the base. Oh well not goal, but a heck of a lot better than my flight yesterday. Tracklog is here.

Anyways, Tim and I picked up Melanie who had landed nearby and rode in the "bus of shame" to Donato's and goal, to pick up the 15 people who had made goal. Flight of the day was Veronica, who persevered for over 4 hours to get within 4 km of goal.

I'm glad we finally had a nice day. Usually Woodrat is like today, weather-wise, and it's very unusual that this place will get 1 week of rain and T-storms. But when a comp comes to town all bets are off!

Friday, June 5, 2009

WCPC: Day 6 and lots of wind

Well the weather co-operated in that it opened up for us, but it was really windy. Direction is now NW which means a task to Donato's was called, via Wellington upwind first, and then Cemetary on the way back downwind.

It started off quite shady with lots of clouds, but still stay-upable so I launched in the middle of the queue. Not difficult to get up and I found myself near cloudbase as the start approached. Then I see an Icepeak 3 in a full-stall. Not sure what precipitated the FS (turns out it was a frontal) but Eric stayed in it for a good 7-8 seconds. It never restarted despite him trying all that time. Finally he tossed his reserve and came down just SW of the tower to the west of launch, about 100' from the road. He reported coming down softly and safely, and Mike soon retrieved him.

I was busy watching this and making sure he was coming down OK for Mike to find him (I didn't know Nick was also doing this, right above me so I couldn't see him also sticking around) so I missed the start. After Eric settled down on the ground I looked around to find that almost everyone else had started across the valley to Rabies for the start, and I was left behind. And of course during the whole episode I was in sink, so I was now no longer at cloudbase and in no position to do the crossing.

So I sucked it up and tried to get high so I could cross to Rabies, but I never got high again. I spent about 45 minutes post-start at launch trying to get high enough for the crossing, watching everyone else on the other side, but no luck. And the wind had picked up big-time too. It was hard to penetrate to the west. I eventually decided the mountain wasn't working anymore and flew out to the valley, where it was pretty buoyant and I found myself higher than I expected, which enabled me to finally get across to Rabies.

But over there it was the typically leeside sh*t and I wasn't quite high enough to get to the windward side, and in disgust I decided to land at the Hunter LZ. Of course that wasn't enough...I landed during a particulary gusty cycle going backwards, and of course got dragged as I touched down, leaving a 30' long drag-skid mark in the cow-dust.

Turns out most of the people who had made it across, didn't do much better. It was so windy up high that they were all parked headed for Wellington, and many people ended up landing out somewhere in China Gulch etc. not going forward very fast. In the end, only 1 person (Hayden) made goal, and only 5-6 others making it past minimum distance. So for all that, Hayden got a whopping 160-ish points, while those of us who landed within 5 km got 60 points!

Anyways, it was a really windy day and not a particulary nice flight for me. Sucky start and sucky landing. Tomorrow is the last day and the weather is supposed to be nicer. And of course I think all next week is supposed to be waaay nicer than this past week has been...typical!

WCPC: Day 5 and free-flying

A late start to the day after it rained for most of the morning. When we went up around 1pm it was pouring rain, and we were laughing that we were actually going to fly, let alone get a task in. But up on launch the skies finally cleared, and we started to get excited.

A short task north to Wellington and then goal southwest to Donatos was called. But a huge cell was approaching as the window opened and it was pushing wind ahead of it, and the early launchers were reporting strong winds lower down and not fun flying. Several people got low and ended up landing in the Hunter LZ going backwards as the cell moved overhead.

I had watched the cell develop and get a bit shelf-cloud-like, so I wasn't about to launch. After several reports of people not really liking the conditions in the air, Mike cancelled the task.

Even though it was too strong to fly, we thought it would mellow out in an hour or so, and indeed it did. Around 5pm it got really sweet-looking so a bunch of us launched for a short free-fly, and it was nice conditions. Not too strong and the winds were manageable, and a bunch of us went for Longswords LZ. A couple of pilots attempted to make the 1st TP of the previously cancelled task, but never got there and ended up landing short. So in the end it was a nice free-flying day, but not taskable.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

WCPC: Day 4 and the task is cancelled

Up on launch and a large rainstorm was approaching Woodrat from behind, so after the window opened and a few pilots launched in very light conditions, the task was canceled due to rain and possible embedded T-storms. I chose not to launch and rode back down. Pilots who chose to launch flew out to the Hunter LZ or to Longswords for their free glass of wine :)

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

WCPC: Day 3 and the task is cancelled

Camping on mid-launch, we woke up to see blue skies above and clouds below. All around us were huge cu's that either never dissipated from yesterday, or had just blown up by 8am (!). With skies like that and the forecast for more T-storms, I figured it would be an early day and a high probability of OD'ing with subsequent rain and lightening.

Up on launch it was already good (Eric launched around 10am to check his lines after his tree landing yesterday, and was able to stay up and top-land) so an early task to Grant's Pass and to a local winery was called (43 km). There were huge cu's to the south which were already towering towards the backside of launch, and it looked like it was going to shade launch quickly, so Veronica and I launched #1 and #3 respectively just to get in the air and not be stuck on launch if it shaded out and got light launch cycles.

The air was pretty nice and cu's were forming over launch about 6200', and I was able to stay up easily until the race start at 12:45pm. But the skies were getting nastier and nastier, and a large cu-nim was forming to the west of the course line, and another cu-nim was coming at launch from the south. I didn't really like what the skies were turning into. So I crossed over to Rabies ridge with the first gaggle, and then decided it was too scary-looking to continue flying, and headed out to Longswords to land.

It was going up everywhere, and pilots were still in the air, headed for Grant's Pass, using both the high ground and also the valley. It was hard to get down at the winery but I landed at about 1:15pm and was pretty glad to be on the ground. Virga was all over the place and the skies were becoming overcast with embedded cu-nims. After some chatter on the radio about the quickly changing conditions, a phone call to Mike about what I and the other pilots were seeing from the ground, and eventual lightening being spotted behind launch, Mike officially stopped the task at 1:42pm.

Because the task was stopped before 1.5 hours of the task had elapsed, and nobody had made goal yet, the task was actually cancelled, which means it doesn't count and no scoring will take place. I think it was a good call to stop the task, although I think it should have been stopped 20 minutes sooner. Despite it looking OK towards Grant's Pass, it was getting nasty all around, and there was a cu-nim headed for the goal field. In the end several pilots got rained on while they packed up, although nobody got gust-fronted. One pilot side-hill landed in the bowl behind Rabies Ridge and had to hike down (no glide to a LZ I'm guessing).

I'm quite comfortable with my decision to land early and not continue flying. I didn't like what the skies were looking like and it's too easy to be under a large cloud and not be able to see what it's really doing from underneath it. Many of the other pilots who landed at Longswords agreed with me and landed for much the same reasons. Every pilot has to make their own decision and not have to rely on the safety committee for guidance. Today was a sketchy day and I'm sure there will be a lot of discussion at tomorrow's pilot meeting about today's flying conditions.

Monday, June 1, 2009

WCPC Day 2: More T-storms!

The skies were generally overcast and lift was light, so when the window opened I just sat around and watched the gliders out front struggle to get up. I didn’t feel like battling for 1 hour in a start gaggle that was to stay over launch anyways, so I didn’t launch until about 20 minutes before the start. Good call as I got high just as the start happened, and I was glider #5 on the glide over to Rabies Ridge. However, the other 4 gliders were comp gliders and able to glide further back to the high country, so I had to wait for gaggle #2 to show up to use them as thermal markers.

The gaggles at Rabies Ridge scratched for about 1 hour, not getting very high, and nothing was really working. The deep-in gaggle and the out-front gaggle would swap positions every so often, as everyone was hoping it was better where they weren’t. But nothing was really working until I left the ridge towards Longswords, and I found a thermal that was pretty strong but drifting me away from the high country. Oh well it’s better than nothing so I stuck with it, and eventually got high enough to try flying up towards Grant’s Pass via the road and the ridges that come out from the high country.

Meredyth and I flew the ridges until Rabies Peak, where a nice cloud was forming despite the high overcast. Meredyth left to try something out front while Dave Wheeler and I stuck on the ridge, which eventually got us high enough to connect with the cloud and thus the high country. At that point it was point to the first TP and tag it with little turning necessary.

The weather was deteriorating and a couple of T-storms were in the area. One was approaching the valley from the Applegate Dam area just as I tagged the 1st TP, so I was glad to be running away from it and towards nicer and bluer skies. I was becoming concerned that the weather would deteriorate too much and the task would be stopped, so I stopped thermalling and just pointed it at Rabies to get as much distance as I could before that (probably) happened.

I was going up under a nice cloudstreet and the storm was downwind of me and I was getting further and further away from it, and tagged Rabies no problem and then I had goal in Jacksonville on glide (I was at cloudbase). I could see pilots ahead of me, but they were way low, so I knew I'd at least get further than them. At that point Mike Haley got on the radio and stopped the task due to the approaching T-storm. Agghh! On glide to goal and now making goal isn’t going to count, and those ahead of me but too low to make goal will get more points. I was still high enough to turn around and land at the Hunter LZ, which I could see had people in it, so I opted to turn around and land there, vs. landing in an unknown goal field that may still be empty (I didn’t hear any chatter about people making goal yet). Tracklog is here.

Landed at the Hunter LZ with a few other pilots, and we watched the storm develop and pass by in the high country. Only 1 person in goal at the time the task was stopped (Matt Beechinor), and most of the lead gaggle had landed short of goal. Eric landed about 1-2 km short in a tree (but he was OK:)

I think it was a good call to stop the task. I was pretty much the last and highest person in the air still on course, and I was definitely feeling a bit leery of the approaching storm. I’m glad I was running away from it and we didn’t have to fly further in the wrong direction; had the 1st TP been Grant’s Pass Peak instead, I probably wouldn’t have chosen to continue to fly and gone out to land instead. Even though it sucks for me personally (being on glide for goal and then being denied it due to a task stoppage), I support Mike’s decision to stop the task. There could have been other pilots behind me I wasn’t aware of, and they could have been in trouble had they hung around too much longer around the 1st TP. It was definitely a day to keep an eye on!