Monday, September 28, 2009

Baldy fly-in Sept. 25-27

Rich Hass from NWP had invited the Canadians to attend the annual Baldy Butte fly-in, and as the weather was looking rather stable for the coast, I decided to check it out.

Looking at the weather ahead of time, I saw that Friday would be good with light and variable winds, Saturday would be blown out, and Sunday would be a good Saddle day. Leaving Vancouver about 5am I was able to get to the Baldy LZ on Friday morning to get the site briefing and sign the waivers (the launch is on private property).

Two locals are David Norwood and Bob Bunger, who live in Yakima. They were out setting up shop for the fly-in, and eventually there were about 10 of us heading up.

Baldy Butte has multiple launches for pretty much every wind direction (it is bald, after all), and the typical launch direction is S or SW. But on Friday it was more west (or at least the house thermal was causing the local cycles to manifest as west), so the south launch was rather cross (much like launching at Bridal...you have to be ready for your glider to possibly turn 90 degrees as you bring it up). I opted to head for the west launch (you hike down about 2 minutes to a grassy spot) and soon was in the air.

Nice thermals and it was hot, so it was pleasant in the air. There was a forest fire to the north, just outside Ellensburg, so the smoke was spreading out to the east and marking the inversion. To the east I could see into the Yakima Firing Range, and watched as the military guys shot off several missiles into the air and shot them down (it looked like miniature space shuttle launches going on, with the gout of flame on the ground followed by a plume of smoke as the missile shot into the air). This is a very good area to avoid flying over! In fact there is a lot of complicated airspace in that direction, and Dave was kind enough to show me the XC routes in that direction and where to fly to stay out of the airspace (for future reference!).

While watching the show in the firing range I was able to get to 5000' which is not quite enough for XC (you want 6000' at least, and preferably 7000'), but Meredyth and Dave Wheeler were heading out to see what would happen so I joined them.

The usual XC route in SW winds is to the NE, heading over the back to the north of the firing range (avoiding all the airspace). But with the low altitudes we were getting we weren't going to be going that way, so we decided to head north along the canyon road towards Ellensburg. We only went about 7 km or so before landing, as further than that you run out of LZ's until you reach the end of the canyon, and we weren't high enough for that glide. I landed next to Dave and met up with Meredyth who had gotten a ride and back to the LZ.

Those who elected to stick close to the Butte were able to stay up for several hours until it shut down at dusk. Then those who were staying for the fly-in set up camp in the temporary LZ (the usual LZ is across the road, but for the fly-in, we're allowed to camp and land next to the river). A beautiful LZ with green grass, right next to the Yakima river, with nice shade trees and right next to one of the numerous pull-outs the fly fishers use to get in and out of the river.

As predicted, the next day was blown out, so no flying locally. I kited a couple of speed gliders (Bullet 12 and XT-16) but that was about it, and most everyone went into town to get food etc for the big party that night. Later in the afternoon we were fooled into thinking the winds had backed off (at least they had in the LZ) so we all trooped up to launch, and in fact it was windier than earlier in the day! Back down to the LZ and it was party time, and the beer flowed and the campfire was roaring, and it was all good. I was among the last to leave the campfire and people were snoring away all around.

Next morning it was east winds at Baldy, and predicted to manifest as north at Saddle, so a bunch of us went up Baldy for a morning flight. Up on launch it was strong east winds about 25 kph and nobody was willing to launch except Robin and I. We both waited for a lull and launched no problems, and were soon ridge soaring the east side.

Initially it was purely ridge lift, and I was able to skim the slope just like at Marina or Sand City, except the terrain was big rocks and bushes instead of nice soft sand. Not a place to touch down when wagga'ing around! The ridge is kinda small, so Robin and I were using pretty much all of it, and had somebody else launched I would have given up my spot to let somebody else have it. But nobody else did launch, and eventually the thermals kicked in and we got high over the towers and there was all of a sudden tonnes of room for lots of people. But it was even windier on launch, and nobody else could get off, so we had the whole place to ourselves.

After about 1 hour I told Robin I was heading out as it seemed to be getting windier, and we both headed out for a nice landing in light winds in the LZ. Then it was off to Saddle Mountain!

Arriving on Saddle about 1pm it was already on, with several PG's in the air already, and about 30 more setting up. A couple of HG's joined in the fun too! Initially it was strong on launch and we were having to hold gliders down while waiting for lulls, but eventually it died off and was almost pure thermal lift at this point and not ridgy.

We had a super-fun time flying in the ridge lift and then the thermal lift, although I found myself flown out early in the day and opted to top-land and enjoy the midday sun (maybe the last really warm day of the year). Robin and Norm stayed up for much longer; Norm eventually bottom-landed as he had errands to do in Vernon, and Robin stayed up until the very end, top-landing to join me at the end of the day.

In the end we had something like 10 Canucks show up for flying at Baldy and Saddle Mountain. Super-fun on Sunday, and a nice short XC on Friday to round out the weekend. Baldy has really good XC potential, and the Seattle locals fly it all the time in the spring. If you are thinking of doing some XC next spring and the Fraser Valley is getting boring, think about Baldy. It's only about 4-4.5 hours away and is almost always sunny (a good weekend road-trip destination), and every XC-able day there are people flying it. Dave Norwood and Bob Bunger live nearby and are always willing to do site orientations and XC tips.

Pictures of the weekend can be found here.

Here's a short video Dave Norwood shot of the flying this weekend!


Sunday, September 20, 2009

Woodside Sept. 20


Well today was looking like another good XC day at Woodside...unstable and cu's forming all over the place. This time I arrived earlier than a few days ago, and was up on launch by 1:45pm. But of course I got to talking with people and didn't actually launch until closer to 2:30pm. Kevin was waiting at cloudbase for me (which wasn't that high; about 1100m) and once we joined up we went over the back towards Agassiz Mountain.

I arrived at Agassiz Mountain lower than the last day; this time 680m, but I wasn't too concerned with the rocks baking in the sun and facing SW. Sure enough I got up there and then Daryl Sawatsky and Thomm McEchryn joined us so we were now 4.

Once again we weren't getting super-high at Agassiz, 1100m or so, and Thomm had left much lower than that, so he opted to land at Harrison Hot Springs beach. Kevin and I made it to the cliffs on Bear Mountain (XC tip: when crossing from Agassiz to Bear, head for the grey cliffs, NOT the red/brown ones!) and then waited for Daryl to join us.

At this point we were trying to figure out the best way to cross to the Bridal side of the valley. We weren't getting very high and I like more altitude when doing the crossing. Eventually, after dicking around on Bear for a bit, I finally got to 1300m and decided this was good to cross to Hicks with enough altitude to find something over there and not just grovel around, and do the crossing from there rather than from Bear.

(I didn't think we had enough altitude to do the crossing from Bear, which is a slightly longer crossing than from Hicks. The downside to doing it from Hicks, is even though it's less of a crossing, you have to do more cross-wind flying and possibly end up too far downwind to get up successfully on the Ludwig side. From Bear, if you're high enough, you can incorporate some downwind-ness and arrive a bit more upwind.)

On Hicks it was lame so when I got up to 1050m, I went for the crossing. I usually like at least 1200m, and prefer 1400m for a "comfortable" arrival on Ludwig, but I figured those kinds of heights weren't in the cards for today, and especially at Hicks. Arrived just east of Ludwig at 400m and groveled around for a bit, but it was quite windy down that low and nothing was quite connecting, so I ended up landing at the large grassy LZ at the Peter's Road exit on highway #1. Tracklog is here.

Daryl joined me 5 minutes later and we radioed to Kevin and Al (who had joined Kevin while I was doing the crossing), that it was a bit dubious to do the crossing from Hicks and from that low, so they opted to stay on the #7 side of the Fraser river and continue towards Hope. They never got high again, and ended up landing in Ruby Creek.

Rob Samplonius came by Hicks a few minutes later and we told him the same story, and he also opted to land at Ruby Creek.

Meanwhile Matt J. had not connected on Bear and landed in the swamp between the south side of Bear and Green hill. What normally would be a 10 minute walk out on dry land turned into an hour-long slog through waist-deep water before he got to a road and retrieve. When I saw him last he was in what looked like a spare pare of flight suit pants :) and barefoot.

Daryl and I now had the job of getting back to Woodside from the wrong side of the Fraser river. Using a tip I learned, I told Daryl to keep his helmet visible. I did the same and kept my radio harness on. The whole idea is to try to appear as "non-hobo" as possible, and no that's not our wordly possesions on our backs!, and appear interesting enough to entice a car to stop.

About 1 minute after putting our thumbs and helmets out, a car stopped. It was a shitty beat-up K-car, but with a pimped-out stereo system (with huge-ass speakers in the back windows). Driving the car was "Tiger". When asked what he does for a living, Tiger replied that he "gambles and smokes pot". He travels the world doing poker tournaments (last year he won $100,000 he said), and when he runs out of money, comes back to Vancouver to work enough to start another world tour. While in Vancouver he smokes pot. He illustrated this point by, when dropping us off at the #9 overpass at Bridal, opening up his glove compartment and offering (trying to sell?) us a bag of weed. In the glove compartment was bags and bags of the stuff; the entire glove compartment was full of bags of pot. We declined :) and as we hiked off to our next hitch-hiking spot, we saw him rolling a big fatty to tide him over as he continued to Vancouver.

Next up was a ride to the A&W in Agassiz courtesy of a couple of giggling girls, and then we hiked to the Vancouver side of the outskirts of Agassiz (just out of sight of the RCMP office :) for our final ride to Woodside. The guy was originally headed to Harrison Hot Springs, but after learning we were paraglider pilots, he wanted to find out more. We told him that if he gave us a ride to our cars, we could get him a business card for one of the local paragliding schools and set him up. So we were able to get a ride right back to our cars :)

Meanwhile the folks who had landed at Ruby Creek were slowly making their way back to their cars, and Matt J. was still making his way out of the swamp. Al was able to pick him up and also Rob and Nicolai; Kevin had gotten his own ride back to his car. So everyone was accounted for by the end of the day, with lots of smiling faces as another XC day came to a close.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Unexpected XC from Woodside Sept. 17

After 3 weeks off flying to let my knee heal, I was itching to get back in the air. The forecast turned unexpectedly good, so a bunch of us showed up at Eagle Ranch rather late in the day (after 2:30pm; people were already flying and Nicolai had already gone over the back) with an eye for some late-in-the-season XC.

We tossed around a few ideas, possibly crossing the valley to Bridal, flying to Hope, etc, but in the end we decided to see what would happen, but made a pact to land *anyplace* other than the usual LZ's around Woodside.

Since it was obviously good, I got ready as soon as I got up the mountain, and launched into a nice cycle which took me up to 1050m and I was on my way over the back. Kevin had launched before me and was leading out, so I was able to see what the sink was like. Not too bad, but leaving Woodside from 1050m is not very high, and I arrived at Agassiz Mountain at about 800m (the CYR is below 335m). Al was with me, and we saw Robin headed our way, so we waited until he joined us, and then continued on to Bear Mountain.

On Bear it was quite reliable and we started chatting about what to do at this point. We knew Norm was chasing us so we had retrieve all lined up; it was just a question of what to do? The winds still looked light enough for a run to Hope but the day was late (it was about 4:30pm by now and blueing up). So we decided to fly as far as Ruby Creek and see what would happen once there. This time I led off for the run to Hicks.

Dove around the corner of Bear and made the run to Hicks Mountain, arriving at the toe which was still in sun. We weren't getting as high as we had been at Bear and Agassiz Mountains, but it was enough to push to the bump just west of Squakum Peak (Robin led out this time) and above the Ruby Creek LZ.

At this point you kinda lose LZ's for a bit if you're not high, and the final push to a suitable LZ in Hope required a bit more altitude that we were getting (I could see Hope but wasn't quite high enough to get there!). Had we arrived an hour earlier at Ruby Creek, we probably would have found enough lift for the final glide, but it was too late and the stratus clouds were coming in. So we ridge soared on the bump above the Ruby Creek LZ to "decompress" from the XC portion of our flight, and landed at the LZ with Norm and Al waiting for us (Al had landed at the base of Hicks).

I want to give a big thank-you to Norm, who despite not being able to fly due to his ankle cast, still comes out to drive, and offered to come get us if we went XC. I know it must be hard for you, Norm, to watch us flying when you're grounded, and we appreciate it! One of these days, when you're back in the saddle, we'll do the same for you.

Meanwhile Nicolai had crossed the valley to Laidlaw (he had a 2 hour jump on us) and flown back to Bridal. Last I heard Miguel was driving over to pick him up.

Given the time of year, and time of day, we were unexpectedly treated to a late-season XC of about 25 km. Tracklog is here. It was very cool to fly XC with a bunch of my friends...when flying XC I usually end up flying alone (unless it's a comp), and always enjoy the gaggle-flying and swapping the leading-out job that comes with a group. Hopefully this wasn't the last XC day for the Fraser Valley, but these days are gonna get fewer and farer between!