Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Back home in Vancouver

After Zion National Park we headed north to Salt Lake City as the weather was forecast to crap out all over the region, and we wanted to try to get a south side flight in before the weather hit. But when we arrived it was blown out (the hang gliders were packing up, and the speed flyers were being extra careful) and expected to pick up even more in advance of a big snow and rain storm. So we bid adieu and booked it home to Vancouver in a marathon 16 hour driving session.

The trip was quite fun. We did some paragliding, some climbing, and a bunch of hiking. But mostly we got away from the rain and cold and got to play in the sun for 3 weeks (we didn't have any precipitation south of Portland on the way down, and north of SLC on the way back). Pictures of the trip can be found here.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Zion National Park

After getting in some final climbing at Red Rocks we headed north to Zion National Park for some hiking, and a chance to rehab my fingers after several days of hanging off them. Today we hiked up the Angel's Landing trail, which is a steep ascent of 1500' to 5800'. The final part of the trail is on a knife-edge of a ridge, with steep 1500' cliffs on both sides. There are no railings or walls, the occasional chain to help haul you up, and is completely base-jumpable (I'm pretty sure it's been done, despite being illegal I imagine). There are, however, plenty of signs warning that people with vertigo or fear of heights should avoid this final section, no small children, the unfit, etc etc etc.

The way back down was much quicker than the ascent :) and then we did a couple of easier hikes to some hanging gardens, canyons, waterfalls, and river gorges. The difference from Vegas is amazing, even though we're only 2 hours north. There is actual flowing water, dripping greenery in spots, and real deciduous trees, not just transplanted palms. And we actually got to see some weather in the form of storm clouds in the distance and signs of recent precipitation. It's also getting colder...down to 3C last night and glad to have the overbags just in case.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Red Rocks March 24-25


After arriving in Las Vegas we found the climbing campground and then got ourselves oriented. Spent 2 days on various easy sport routes on the Panty Wall, Magic Bus, and Black Corridor. The rocks here are pink and red sandstone, which is a nice change from the sharp rocks of New Jack City and the gritty granite of Joshua Tree.

The scenery is very beautiful and lots of tourists are here as well taking photos and doing short hikes. We did a hike today on the way to our day's routes, taking the back way into the park to get some additional exercise and see the gullies and flood washes up close. The rock here has amazing shapes and colors...little caves all over the place, overhangs, native rock art, and changes in the colors as you move from cliff to cliff. And to go along with all this red and pink sandstone is red and pink sand like you'd find at the beach. Unfortunately it's so fine it gets into everything with the slightest breeze (of which there are plenty) so you end up pretty dirty at the end of the day!

We are thinking of trying a final route at Red Rocks tomorrow morning, and then hit the road for Zion National Park. We are slowly making our way north and it's showing in the colder temperatures at night. Daytimes are still fine, so long as it remains sunny :)

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Climbing in Southern California

After flying in LA our next stop was Joshua Tree National Park. We had never been there and heard it was great for climbing and general hiking around. Found the climber's campground which puts you right in the middle of the climbing...you can climb a few meters from your tent! Spent a few days doing some hikes, bouldering, and trying some sport routes. Very hot in the middle of the days (30+C) and then colder at nights (a couple weeks ago it was snowing in J Tree!). As the weekend approached it just got busier and busier, and we learned that it was Spring Break. Apparently in CA, they stagger their breaks amongst all the schools so the entire month of March ends up being Spring Break for somebody, which results in huge crowds at the popular sites. As we left the park there was a huge lineup to get in, and we were glad to be moving on.

With this in mind we went to a lesser-known climbing site called New Jack City near Barstow, which has more sport routes and less of the traditional routes of J Tree. Much quieter and oodles of sport routes surrounding us. Once again we were able to camp right at the base of the routes and get a quick start in the morning, before it got too hot to climb in the sun.

The weekend at NJC was super-busy...40-50 climbers all in the same area and lots of campfires at night. But once Monday rolled around it was dead quiet and we had the whole place to ourselves. It looks like this is a weekend destination for the LA climbers and not a whole lot of climbing on the weekdays. That suits us just fine as we then have the pick of the routes, and can camp out at a wall and practise all sorts of techniques without feeling like we're hogging the choice routes.

The desert so far is very beautiful, very green and all the plants are about 4-5 days from blooming. The desert will only stay this green for a short while, before the hot sun turns everything brown and all the flowers wilt. I'm hoping we get to see the desert bloom...we just have to make sure we don't head north too quickly and staying ahead of the blooming season. I've heard it's quite something to see!

We are just outside Las Vegas, and it's super-windy. We'll see what happens when we roll into town but we're likely to hit the climbing at Red Rocks, and perhaps paraglide if the winds subside.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

When in Rome...

The Santa Ana winds have kicked in (north outflow winds) so there hasn't been much flying in the mountains for several days. That's OK though, since we've been taking in LA in other ways. We are actually staying with a friend in Hollywood, which means we are close to the Hollywood Hills. Did the Runyon Canyon hike, which is LA's version of Vancouver's Grouse Grind, where you go to people watch and see the latest in exercise fashion :) Yesterday headed to Universal Studios for all the theme rides and studio tours etc. Sunny and hot!

Today we went to Long Beach (it reached 31C), and took the scenic way back through Palos Verde. On the way back we stopped by a couple of ridge soaring ocean sites, and actually ran into some local PG pilots from Atmospheric Paragliding school. Unfortunately we were sans gliders (as we weren't in flying mode, and weren't actually expecting to find a flying site) so we didn't fly. So similarly to Vancouver, even during outflow winds further inland, it can be inflow on the coast.

We are leaving tomorrow for Joshua Tree National Park, to do some hiking, climbing, and basically decompressing from the hoopla of LA. Not sure how much internet availability there will be there, so it may be several days before we're online again.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Marshall March 13

Initially the weather for Saturday wasn't looking so hot; too windy from the north. But the forecast changed to south locally (good) and lighter (also good). So Jonas Buchli picked us up for the ride to the Andy Jackson Airpark and Marshall in San Bernardino.

Arrived in the LZ and then up to launch with Arnie (local pilot), where it was definitely on and strong on launch at 4000'. Apparently Marshall is usually a blue thermal site, usually not any clouds, but today there were plenty of clouds and a pretty high cloudbase.

Launched and easy to get up, and once the 4 of us were established we decided to head south towards the dam and Mt. Gregornio (the highest point in SoCal, currently with snow on the peak), about 17 km away. Initially cloudbase was about 4500', but the further south we flew, and the further back we got, the higher cloudbase got. To get to the dam there are several canyons to cross (with big freeways going through them), and lots of spines to fly over (similar to all the spines in the Owen's Valley). Fortunately there was plenty of lift and lots of clouds to fly in order to get over these canyons with little drama.

Part-way along Alex got low and didn't connect with a necessary climb, and rather than land out and face a multiple hour hike back to the LZ, he opted to side-hill land one of the spines (X-Alps style), hike up to a higher spot, and relaunch. Meanwhile the rest of us had continued to the last peak before you get to Mt. Gregornio, and pretty much the place you have to turn around at if you want to make it back (it's committing continue to Mt. Gregornio, and unlikely for PG pilots to make it back as it's set far back with low-angle spines at the foothills). I got my highest of the day at the turn-around spot and got to 6300'.

I hadn't really planned on doing a big XC, and hadn't done my usual diaperizing. At this point I was really feeling the need to go, and it was starting to overpower my desire to make it back to the LZ. So I bit the bullet and headed out to land tout-suite.

After packing up near the water treatment plant I had landed next to, I looked for a way out. Most of the area was was gated and fenced with coiled barbed wire, but I found a way out via a nearby backyard, after asking the owner if it was OK for me to scale his fence.

Met up with Arnie who had landed about a mile away, and then Jonas came to get us. He had made it back to the LZ, and Alex (who had relaunched) also made it back and top-landed to drive down the other vehicle. Meanwhile in the LZ it was super-busy with a lot of hang gliders landing and the occasional PG pilot. Nobody else went XC from Marshall today, while we managed to fly 20-30 km. Tracklog is here.

Friday, March 12, 2010

California March 10-12


Alex and I are on a road trip to the USA, getting away from the cold and wet of Vancouver. We are hoping to do some paragliding and also some rock climbing at some of the classic spots of the desert Southwest.

Stopped at Marina on Wednesday and it was strong...a big storm had blown through the day before so it was still dying off. Too strong really for PG, although Alex took his glider out and got about 10 minutes at the HG ramp at Marina State Beach. Apparently the recent storms have really done a number at Lakecourt (we didn't bother heading up). At the HG ramp the previously sloped dune below the ramp is now a steep cliff, so no more kiting up that slope for the time being.

The next morning we did a hike in Big Sur and then started the drive down the coast. As we got to the actual Big Sur flying area we noticed we were passing the HG landing zone, and stopped to ask a local about where the LZ was. Turns out the one guy we talked to was the only local pilot (!), and gave us excellent directions to the launch.

One hour later we were on launch (which is 1 hour up by car, 2 wheel drive, and at 3300') and it was launchable, but almost certainly a sled ride. Given that the turnaround is so long, and no way back up besides hiking, we decided it wasn't practical for both of us to fly. So out came the coin and we flipped to see who would get to fly, and who would be driving down.

Alex won (!), and off he launched over the mountains of Big Sur. It was a sled ride and he was waiting at Harry's house when I got back down to the bottom. But very scenic with the cliffs dropping right into the water from the highway.

Next day we arrived in Santa Barbara in time to hook up with the Eagle Paragliding and Circling Hawk folks, and up to Alternator launch we went. This launch is at about 3800' and is once again 2 wheel drive, on a paved road to some antennas. It was NW up high, and the launch takes a south wind, so it was really over the back up high but flyable down low.

After watching some locals launch and stay up I launched as well and was soon above launch in ratty and punchy thermals. They weren't well-formed, and finding and staying in them was difficult. I flew upwind to the edge of the allowed airspace (Santa Barbara airport is nearby, and you have to phone ahead of time to tell them you'll be flying) and everytime I got above 4000' it was very windy from the NW. So after a while I flew out to the LZ and found plenty of lift on the way out, and over the LZ. I could have thermalled out from the LZ 5 or 6 times, but everyone else was landing and I was getting hungry. Flight time 1:15 and it wasn't even cold at 4000'!

After eating we went to the local training hill at St. Ellings Park, which was still working. And out front of the training hill is the local ridge soaring site right on the Santa Barbara beach. These guys here have it pretty sweet...a reliable training hill, ridge soaring, and multiple thermic sites within an hour of downtown SB.

We are meeting up with a local LA pilot tomorrow to head to Marshall, so we'll get some more flying in SoCal before we head inland to Joshua Tree.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Bridal March 6

I was unable to get away for the awesome looking skies on Friday, but there was a work party planned for the Bridal LZ on Saturday. The plan was to do some more work on moving the dirt from the ditch to the low spot in the LZ and clean up the ditch area a bit more. We had about a dozen pilots show up from 9 to 11 am, and were able to get most of the important work finished.

It was looking pretty stable, no clouds, and since we were already on the Bridal side, we opted to stay and fly Bridal rather than head to Woodside. We ended up not launching until rather late, after 3pm, and it was very stable conditions and virtually impossible to thermal above launch.

In fact, the only people to get above launch were those who launched from Elk, got up (to 1900m apparently), and flew to Bridal, flying over the lower launch where we were still sitting and chilling. Kevin was able to thermal back up over the Bridal overpass as it appeared that most of the lift earlier in the day was out in the valley and not close in.

Looks like there was some activity at Woodside, but not sure if it was any better over there. Most pilots were able to stay up for a while at Bridal; I managed to get just over 1 hour. Looks like the local weather is going to turn for the worse in the next week so we are heading south to warmer and drier climes for a few weeks.