The weather was looking ultra-stable and I imagined it would be pretty lame at both Woodside and Bridal (according to yesterday's reports, they were only getting to 900m and 1200m respectively), so I opted to try out the new Shotgun launch that Al's been working on.
Met up with Al and Rob S. and headed to launch, stopping at the main LZ on the way since it was my first time. The road up is not long but a serious 4-wheel drive...there's a couple of large cross ditches that require a vehicle with a short wheelbase to get through them without scraping. Quads can rip through without slowing down.
You can drive right to the lower launch, and we went out to take a look. Perfect cycles, and had it not been my first time, I would have launched there instead. But Al's been introducing people to the site lately by taking them to the upper launch, so you can see more terrain and the lower launch, and have more time to look for lift before you have to head out. I think that now I've had my initial flight, I'll probably use the lower launch since it's easier to get to :)
So we started to hike...it's only about an extra 200m or so to the upper launch, but it's through steep slash for the 1st half, and then somewhat less-steep forest for the 2nd half. It was HOT, about 30C, and hiking up that steep slash was very enervating (no shade!). Rob very kindly took my glider most of the way after I started wilting from the heat. Thanks Rob! I owe you a dinner for that!
Finally up at the upper launch and it's a nice ready-made launch, after a few previous excursions took out a couple of stumps and small Christmas trees. You can lay out without a tarp required (the lower launch has a tarp) and have plenty of room to kite your glider, inspect it, and run off.
This upper launch is at 675m, and the LZ is at 220m, making a roughly 4:1 glide. The lower launch faces more west, and the upper launch faces more south. I should mention there are actually several launches even higher than this launch at about 1100m (facing east, south, and northwest)...Al's called this cluster of launches the "top-gun" launches (at the top of shotgun mountain :). You get to those via an entirely different road altogether, but you can drive right to them.
Anyways, I launched first since Al wanted to launch last and make sure Rob and I got off OK. Waited for a straight-in cycle and then stepped off launch, and found light bubbles of lift around the launch area. It seemed light but doable, but after a few passes I started to get lower than launch (but still way higher than the lower launch), and given that it was my first time, I wanted to leave myself plenty of space to make the LZ if need be.
So I headed over to the "chimney", which is a series of rocky cliffs to the south, since Al had mentioned that he's had good success with getting up there. But it was late (2:30pm), and the south wind had kicked in, creating a venturi effect next to the chimney (there's a small hill next to it and a gap you can fly through) and breaking up all the lift. So I headed out and made for the LZ.
Now the LZ is a shooting range, where people go to do target practice either via a stationary target (which today were calendar pages of scantily-clad models!), or skeet-shooting. As I approached the LZ I noted there were people there skeet-shooting. Not wanting to accidentally get shot as I landed, I shouted at them to let them know I was coming in.
Landed in the LZ no problem; the guys had halted their skeet-shooting while I landed and then started up again once I was out of their way. Soon Rob came in for a landing, and then after that Al. Rob and Al had found some lift around launch like I had, and Al had gotten up in it, but he wasn't able to get to more than 900m, and when they headed out to the chimney, experienced the same south winds that I had previously. So no epic flights; extended sledruns, but totally worth it to fly a new site, especially on anotherwise lame-looking day.
I think to fly Shotgun successfully, you need to launch there before the south winds kick in, which was probably 1-2 hours earlier than my launch. Between 12-1pm would be perfect I think, for the lower launch anyways. And if it's north winds forecast than I think you can wait even longer.
An alternative way to access launch, if you don't have a 4 wheel drive vehicle, is to catch a ride with the quad-guys. I retrieved Al's truck this way while Al and Rob were packing up...there were dozens on the road and they just love that sort of thing. So if you park at the LZ you can probably get a ride up with a quad guy no problem, and it's only a 15 minute drive by quad. That way if you sink out or go XC, it's easier to get your vehicle back (just hitchhike back to the LZ, which is 2 wheel drive accessible) rather than have to get a quad ride or hike later on. I think this would work best on a weekend...not sure how many quads play around there mid-week.