Belly dancing!

We tried belly dancing tonight :)  All the kitchen and bar staff joined us too!  Oddly, Chris was still trying to work despite the wriggling going on around him....
Belly dancing is hard work!

Ager Women's Open, Task 3, August 31

Cloudy skies on launch with more cloudy skies to the south, so we made a short (50 km) task that would keep everyone on the ridge or in front of it (no going over the back, as it seemed dubious that there would be much lift away from the cliffs).

We originally had a race start but after watching the wind technicians bob around with some sinking out and others not getting very high, we changed things to an elapsed time task so that pilots could choose when to do the task according to when they thought it would be the best conditions.

I had accidentally left my Flymaster on all night after downloading, draining the battery to 0%.  Of course this meant it was dead on launch so I had to fly with my backup Garmin 76S.  Which is fine except for its lack of a vario function, which meant I had to fly the task using the Garmin's altitude readout to determine if I was climbing (or sinking) and by how much (and my backup Sonic died too so I had no audible beeping to help me along).  (I am now recharging the Flymaster so it'll be good for tomorrow!)

Time to stop the task?
So I had to fly the task the old fashioned way, by feel, which meant I had to be slower since with the very light lift it was hard to tell if I was actually climbing or not.  Slowly I made my way around the course and the skies were starting to change.  There was embedded towering cu's starting to form in the overcast and virga was starting to appear all around us.  Hmmm, time to land?  With pilots reporting rain at the penultimate turnpoint Nicky made the decision to stop the task.

Of course this now meant it was very difficult to get down as we all spiralled into the Camping Ager LZ.  The task ended up being cancelled due to the rules regarding elapsed time tasks and what criteria must be met in order for such a task to remain valid after stoppage.

So in the end things remain as they did after task 2, and we will fly again tomorrow.

Tonight is a belly-dancing class :)  More to report afterwards!

Ager Women's Open Task 2, August 30

Similar weather to yesterday so we decided to stretch our wings and fly to the goal lake, after zigzaging back and forth in front of the ridge, over the back to the Castle, Isona, then finally to the lake, for about 66 km.

After the start we had to tag the train station turnpoint and then return to the far west of the ridge.  There was a nice cloudstreet running the length of the valley so I tried to position myself under it after tagging the train station, but I was too far north of the lift and ended up hitting horrible sink.  Had to turn to the ridge and fight my way back up to ridgetop height after a very low save (100m AGL), after which point I learned my lesson and stuck to the ridge for the remainder of the westward trip :)

After tagging the western TP it was time for another ridge run and then over the back to the Castle.  It took a while to get up at the Castle and some pilots who had taken a different line got ahead of me while I struggled to regain cloudbase.  Finally though I was back in the game and then it was technical part to Isona.  When designing the task we figured this would be the crux of the task: flatland flying with possibly less clouds than yesterday, and this is exactly what happened.  There was a giant blue hole over Isona which meant you had to either take the southern or northern route to the turnpoint if you wanted to remain under clouds.

The southern route is more direct and is in the lee of some small hills which are good thermal producers, so I headed over there.  Yep, in the lee of the hills it was indeed working, although I had to keep saying to myself, "patience", as the lift was all disorganized and I had to circle around in 0's until it coalesced into a nice climb straight to cloudbase.

Goal at the lake.
At this point I possibly had goal on glide even with the necessary Isona detour, so went for Isona and found lift the entire way there.  Back to the high ground it was a short climb to get over the last mountain which is in the way of a straight glide to goal (you have to either go over it or around it).

I ended up in goal 5th for the day, and in total there were 6 pilots in goal.  Two of the Japanese pilots were tied for time into goal so it'll come down to speed and leading points to determine first and second for the day :)

Today's task was more technical then yesterday's but we designed it to make the first section fairly easy, and then progressively more difficult near the end, so we'd get a good spread of pilots along the courseline.  And the pilots that didn't make goal still got to see the lake since the retrieve drivers brought them so we could all go swimming.

I made a big mistake today...after tagging the train station I should have either returned straight to the ridge, or taken a more southerly line under the cloudstreet.  In the end I took the worst possible line in the sink between the two lift lines and it almost cost me the task.  Fortunately low saves are common here so I was able to get myself out of the mess I put myself into and continue flying :)  I also hit a couple of slow spots on the courseline: the Castle and the flats on the way to Isona, which cost me maybe 20-30 minutes in total.  I was flying by myself so had no help finding lift (other than birds etc) so I came into goal behind those who were flying in groups of 2 or 3.

After 2 tasks I'm in 2nd overall, but have to make up over 200 points in order to catch 1st place overall.  I just have to continue making goal and be consistent in my flying and maybe I can do it :)

Full results can be found here.

Ager Women's Open, August 29

Today's task was made short so we'd have lots of pilots in goal.
For the first task of the Women's Open we decided (I'm on the task committee) to make an easy-to-accomplish task that would allow the newer comp pilots the chance to fly the ridge without having to jump any intimidating gorges, fly the flats a bit, and finally jump over the back for the goal field in Vilamitjana.  About 40km once you take away the TP cylinders.

Today we were flying without the live trackers we had last week (even though we were originally supposed to have them this week too), since the organization for the FAI Pre-Europeans commandeered them for their comp instead, so unfortunately you can't watch us all live (I'm flying with my SPOT live-tracking though).

For most of the course I was in second place behind Laurie on her 2-liner but after the Ager Camping turnpoint I returned to the ridge a bit low and had to thermal up before continuing, which cost me some time and allowed several pilots to get ahead of me.  Over the back was easy since it was basically a giant glide to goal with a short safety detour at the Castle (to prevent pilots from flying to goal via the gorge lake).  I think I was maybe 4th or 5th
(?) into goal.
We'll see what the leading points do to the scores.

In the end there were about 13 pilots in goal (out of 32), many of whom it was their first time in goal, so there were lots of happy smiles today at the pool party!

Results (when they are published) will be found here.

Today was quite a fun day...I knew we were undercalling the task (it was an 80-100 km day) but it seemed more important to make the task easy for most of the pilots so as to have a very successful first day. Now that we've shown the pilots some of the main terrain features we hope to set some larger and more technical tasks.

Relax day August 28

With the World Cup over I decided to relax and take the day off, spending most of it by the pool.  But this evening after registration for the Women's Open there was a shuttle going up.  Since I've never flown here in the evening I decided to go up.

Very light lift meant the perfect time to skim the cliffs and take photos, and do a toplanding just to try it out.  As the sun set the glassoff set up, with the entire valley lifting off in gentle 0.5-1m/s.  As car lights starting to go on I had to do hard spirals etc to get down; a few pilots got caught out and ended up landing in pretty much pitch blackness in random fields (since the Camping LZ is rather small and has too many obstacles to land in when you can't see where you're going!).

Ager World Cup Task 5, August 27

Final task of PWC Ager.
Pics can be found here.

Today was the last task of the Ager PWC, and likely the last task with open class gliders for a while.  Much colder today, maybe 25C instead of the 40C we had at the beginning of the week.  Today it was along the ridge and across the gorge and back, followed by a technical section on the flats, ending back on the ridge and then goal in Camping Ager.  I think it was around 82km when you took out the TP cylinders.

There was a significant SW wind that made heading east easy, but the coming back along the ridge and across the gorge was very tough for me.  It was cross-windy enough that I didn't want to be close in to the ridge, so had to balance flying out front while at the same time finding lifty lines and stopping for the strong stuff.  A few pilots landed out on this section and one pilot tossed his reserve (he was OK), landing in the gorge and requiring a heli rescue due to difficult logistics of reaching him by ground access.

Back across the gorge to the familiar side and I almost landed out several times, but the gullies leading to the ridge were working and each time I was able to claw my way west another couple of km's.  The actual ridge itself wasn't working (which is the first time this week) which flushed a bunch of pilots (and almost myself too).

Crossing the gorge.
The crossing to the flats to the south was very tough...I had to try it a couple of times and backtrack when the first time didn't work.  I eventually got across the valley but then I had a bunch of high ground to clear, and the thermals were drifting me away from where I ultimately wanted to go.  The wind was picking up as the afternoon progressed and I had to, once again, backtrack a bunch of times before I got enough height to attempt the high ground crossing to the flats.

On the flats the wind was scrubbing all the thermals to shreds and it was hard to find anything cohesive; I struggled upwind but couldn't find anything to keep me up and going the way I needed, and ended up landing short of the penultimate TP, for a total of around 62km.  Flight is here.

It was a really tough day and only ~43 pilots made goal instead of the usual 70 or 80, so I didn't feel so bad about landing out since I almost made it around the whole task :)  The flying was quite technical in spots and patience was required, and I really enjoyed the necessary decision-making involved.  

The Norwegians party it up.
The final ceremony is tonight and the final results can be found here.  As I'm typing this the Czech team is going hard at it, with torn t-shirts, nudity, and singing (I'm not sure they will make it till the prize-giving at this rate!).  The Women's Open starts on Monday, with tomorrow being a practice day.  One more week of flying here!

Ager World Cup August 26: Why we didn't fly today :)

Some went on the gorge/canyon hike that I did a few days ago, while others went kayaking on the lake (apparently it was windy on the water too).  I and others went to Lleida to pick up a few things since Ager has very little for shops etc.  It was so windy the organization even had to take down the windsocks around HQ!

Ager World Cup Task 4, August 25

Task 4
Another quick task since there was a good chance of OD and storms later on.  This time a 90km along-the-ridge then over the back (62km once you take out the cylinders) to land at Vilamitjana.

I found the flying very pleasant and I wasn't in any hurry, taking climbs to the max and stopping often for lift.  It was probably completely unnecessary given the abundant cloud action, but I didn't really want to land out on such a great-looking day :)  About the only time I got low was heading over the back to Abella Conca, but I was able to find a windy thermal to put me back to cloudbase and onwards.

Race has started!
There was so much lift that pretty much all the legs were easy.  As I passed over goal on my way to the final TP at Castel del Mur I could see dozens of gliders landing, and I soon joined then after tagging the Castle and backtracking to goal.  And this time I wasn't even last into goal :)

Today's task was really quite nice...the clouds were big but not huge and there was plenty of lift on the flats.  Many happy pilots at HQ tonight ;)

World Cup results can be found here, photos are here, and my tracklog is here.

Ager World Cup Task 3, August 24

Today's task
Pics of the day are here.

Skies tending towards OD in the north meant a smaller and quicker task with an earlier deadline: heading over the back and zigzaging back and forth across the flats before heading for the goal at Chiringuito.

I flew most of the courseline either by myself or occasionally with Renata who was borrowing Nicky's Pure.  A bit of scrambling around to get high at Castel del Mur, and then it was off to the races under a nice cloudstreet.

The actual TP at Pont Montanyana was in a blue hole, so I tanked up before heading into the blue, tagging the TP, and then fleeing back to the relative reliability of the cloud shadow.  At this point it was going to be a long slog cross-upwind for 30km over the flats.

The going was slow but I took every climb and slowed down every time I hit 0's, which was enough to barely get me across the river.  I could see some gliders climbing ahead of me so I slogged over and found ratty lift which eventually coalesced into a beautiful climb right onto the high ground downwind of our objective.

The high terrain wasn't the most direct route to the next TPs but I opted to follow it since it seemed to be more reliable than the flats.  Usually I don't like approaching TP's from downwind as it means a long upwind slog to reach them, but this time it seemed worth it since I was unsure about relying on the flats when I was essentially by myself.  Sticking with the high ground and a significant south wind reducing my speed to single digits at times, it was a long glide out to convenient LZ's but I didn't really care about a potential long walk: I wanted to tag those TPs!

The wind was quite strong from the south so it was ridge soaring at times as I approached the final two TP's.  Now came the hard part.  Both TP's were upwind out in the flats, almost in line with each other from a certain angle so if you were high enough and positioned correctly, you could theoretically tag both in one glide.  But I didn't have the glide (and it was really windy) so I opted to first tag the TP at Abella Conca, run back to the hills, re-tank up, and then reposition myself on the high ground for the run to the farther-away TP at Isona.

It almost didn't work...I tagged the Isona TP but was only maybe 500' over the ground when I turned around, not enough to return to the high ground.  With a canyon approaching under me I ran downwind and bumbled into a scrappy thermal that was drifting wildly, grabbed the bull by the horns, and rode it up and towards the high ground where I was then able to connect with a "proper" thermal.

I was now back in familiar territory and could see the lake with the goalfield somewhere near it.  It being my first time in this area, I had no idea where the actual goalfield was so had to trust my instrument which was showing a 8:1 glide, but there was a mountain in my way :)  I could see another glider ahead of me, low, and he was skirting around the mountain, but I figured I would stay with the lift I was in and get high enough to jump directly over the mountain rather than take the long way around.  A 4:1 glide later I started following the goalfield arrow.

Gliding over my final obstacle on the way to goal.
Of course after all the hard work to find lift up till now, it was impossible to get down.  There was a large cu sucking just north of the lake and the goalfield was someplace between me and it, and I arrived over goal with 1600m.  Several minutes later after a series of spirals, big ears, and wingovers I was eventually able to land on the beach to be one of the last in goal.  Yay!  Flight is here.

Today there were 46 pilots in goal with many others landing out on the flats.  I consider myself quite lucky to find lift when and where I did, and today I wasn't concerned about being fast, but staying high and taking every bit of lift I could find, even if it seemed unnecessary at the time (and if you look at my tracklog you can see it meandering all over the place).  Certainly not racing, more XC-style, but today it was what I needed in order to achieve my goal.

Ager World Cup Task 2, August 23

The official website with results and live tracking etc can be found here.

I DNF'd today; a hard decision to make (I've only DNF'd 1 or 2 times in my comp career, and never at a World Cup) and definitely not what the majority of the pilots here chose.

Today's task was changed due to the east winds not abating like they were supposed to, so the new task was essentially over the back to Castejon, with a turnpoint in Isona to the east to stretch things out.  By the time the task was changed and the window opened, it was quite late (after 1pm), by which point the launch was getting quite windy.

Ever since getting to Ager I've found the launch winds to be quite do-able, albeit on the strong side the later you wait.  Today while there was plenty of drama with the usual comp-wings-launching-in-high-winds hoopla, there were also plenty of lulls that were quite sane if you were willing to wait for them.  Launching earlier would have alleviated much of this (although in all fairness to the task committee, the winds didn't do what they were forecast so changing the task made sense).

I wasn't comfortable with the current launch conditions so I opted to watch and wait. Pilots were calling level 2 on the ridge, and level 1 out in front on the flats, in keeping with the ridge compressing the wind and making it worse close in.  It did actually calm down on launch quite a bit after the majority of pilots took off, but my decision to DNF had more to do with the route of the task and not the launch conditions: I felt a section of the task was unsafe (at least for me; others will likely have a differing opinion). Since the ridge was producing all the trouble, it seemed like a good idea to avoid it (which pilots were doing after taking off by staying out front).  But after the start the task was supposed to take us over the back in the lee of this same ridge , on the way to a turnpoint that I also suspected was in the lee.

Now admittedly, I have limited experience flying in this area and am not familiar with its micrometeorology, but this didn't sound like a good idea. The rest of the course seemed fine in my fact I imagine the further north you went towards Castejon and the higher terrain, the nicer and higher pilots would get.  But I wasn't prepared to deal with the potential nastiness of the ridge and flying into the lee at the beginning of the course (although I could be totally wrong on this point and just squandered a really nice flight), so I packed up.  Standing down while watching 100 pilots thermal overhead was not an easy thing to do!

On the ride down we heard over the radio that a pilot had tossed his reserve over the back of the ridge on the way to the first turnpoint, landing OK.  Despite the flying looking quite nice once established over the back (and I'm sure many pilots will report that it was fine), I'm happy with my decision to DNF.  Being near the bottom of the rankings has its advantages...I'm under absolutely no pressure so don't have to fly just because everyone else is.

Unfortunately I can't comment on the task or goal conditions (but it appears from the live tracking that, once again, something like 70 pilots made goal), so you'll have to go to another blog to find that information out :)

Hiking day, Ager August 22

Pics of the day can be found here.

Up on launch it was pretty overcast with embedded cu's but also lots of virga, plus high winds predicted (30-40kph), so the day was cancelled.  A few pilots opted to fly down and it looked a bit sketchy as the winds kicked in early and they were flying into the rotor on their way to Camping.  The rest of us drove down :)

With the day cancelled and mostly overcast, it seemed like a perfect day to go for a hike and experience some rural Spain from the ground, rather than always flying over it.  Judith had done a long hike a few years ago around the Canyelles Pantana (the reservoir to the west) and suggested a shorter version of it (instead of a 6 hour out-and-return hike, we would get a PWC retrieve vehicle to pick us up on the other side, so it would instead be a 3-hour open distance hike).

We gathered a small crew together and started hiking.  The first 1/3 is a moderate uphill climb to the ridge, followed by a 2/3 slight downhill walk through the Mont Rebei gorge.  You actually start the hike in Catalunya but end up on the border with Aragon (both separate autonomous political communities in Spain), which is a much drier region.

Beautiful and awesome scenery, as you start on the green side with the turquoise reservoir below you, transitioning along the sheer red and yellow cliffs (they have installed cables in spots to help you along, and there is apparently some rock climbing in the area), following through the venturi in the gorge, and coming out on the dry arid side.  It's not too strenuous a hike, provided you bring lots of water (there is a spring at the highest point so you can refill) and do it on a semi-overcast day.  Doing it on a bright sunny day would not be a good idea :)  At the other end there was a small interpretive hut with a temperature gauge which read a "mere" 34C, which is downright cool compared to the previous days.

A nice way to spend the afternoon and we got to see some pretty spectacular scenery from close up.  But we're here to fly, so hopefully the winds will do their thing today and tonight, so we can fly tomorrow.

Ager World Cup Task 1, August 21

Our route today.
Well it was a pretty successful first task, about 70 pilots in goal after ~110km of flying.  But I wasn't one of them :)

Task today was a cat's cradle over the back of the Ager ridge and to the east to Organya, back towards launch, and then ending at a lake beach to the north.  There were cu's over the Pyrenees but nothing where we were, and it felt a bit stable.  I wasn't getting very high over the back ridge (maybe 2200m) but most others weren't either, so when it was time to head over the back I went too.

Just after the start Renata tossed her reserve quite close to the cliffs, and had to use her second reserve (!) after her original one wrapped around her main canopy.  But she landed OK and was quickly retrieved.

Over the back the thing to do seemed to be to climb out on the low foothills, cross the river to the other foothills, and follow them to Organya.  It appeared that some pilots chose this route while others chose a more direct route over the flats.  Meanwhile I and the slow gliders were fighting for lift on the west side of the river, not getting very high, and trying to figure out how to punch into the wind to achieve the foothills on the east side of the river.

In the end it was not to be (for me, at least) when I finally got over to the east foothills but not high enough to do anything about it, landing in a corn-stubble field partway up.  My flight is here.  While waiting for retrieve I then watched as about 50 pilots passed overhead on their way back from Organya, on their way to goal.  I think in the end there was about 70 pilots in goal (with Yassen first), so most of the field which made for a busy goal field I'm sure (a public beach on a hot Sunday).

It seemed the slowest and hardest part of the course was near the beginning.  If you could make it past the 30km mark, you were pretty assured of at least reaching Organya, and quite probably goal (see results for distance breakdown).

It was a bit frustrating to watch the comp gliders quickly fade into the distance but I'm being philosophical about it...I'm not here to win (or to do particularly well) but to fly against some European comp pilots, fly a new continent, and have fun.  I'm sure after a week of flying against the best World Cup pilots I'll learn something ;)

Ager August 20

Pics are here.

Today was the official practice day so pretty much everyone went up (no retrieve though).

I was test-flying a new EN-D glider, the Air Design Pure.  Nicky owns one and offered it to me.  I was flying it with an Impress 2, with ballast to get me to about 80kg on the small size.

Conditions were better than yesterday: less wind and higher climbs.  We could see instability coming at us from the north and the clouds kept getting closer.  By the end of the day some pilots had connected and were reporting 4500m+.  My flight is here.

Quick opinion of the AD Pure: I loved it!  It was awesome; faster than my XC3, better glide, lovely turning, light brake pressure, and I was able to fly to places I would normally not (or arrive low etc.).  Speedbar is light, about as light as my XC3, and oodles of travel (I hadn't set it up for full travel so I was only able to get 3/4 but that was plenty). The risers come with a C-riser ball to rest your hands on when flying on the C's during long glides. I loved this feature and using them came very naturally. I also loved the adjustable brake handles...they are a soft neoprene-covered Velcro loop so you can change them depending on your hand and/or glove size.

With this new machine under my command I flew along the ridge to the gap, and this time crossed it with ease.  On the other side I got low and had to swerve around some cliffs but was able to climb out and get to 2800m and cross to the south along with a bunch of R11's; climbed out over there, and headed back to the Ager valley.  I saw at least one pilot land out in this area, and given the remote terrain and lack of an official retrieve I can only hope he had arranged his own retrieve or was able to phone for a ride (or hike for several hours in the 40C heat).

I did have a 40% collapse (I was on 1/2 bar at the time) on the transition back across...I actually felt the turbulence coming, but I wasn't quick enough to get off the bar (and in the back of my mind was idly wondering what an on-bar collapse on this glider would be like so maybe subconsciously I was slow to respond on purpose).  Yes it is an turned and dove a bit during the recovery but other than that it was a non-event.  Nothing to worry about unless you're low and close to terrain, but that's true of most collapses on most gliders :)

Back in the Ager valley I got high again, and this time crossed to the south with way more comfort than yesterday (although in all fairness I started from higher and there was less wind) and played around on the other side before crossing back to the ridge.  The clouds were getting closer as the instability approached, and base looked like 5000m.  I could see a couple of pilots connect with these clouds behind the ridge, but I was feeling like landing so didn't really try to connect (although it would have been nice and cool...I was flying with everything unzipped and every time I got below 1500m I started to sweat.  Clothes are purely for UV protection and possible launch/landing abrasion!)

Once again landing was tough as the whole valley was going off; I hope this characteristic is reliable if/when I get low during a task and can use this to avoid landing early.  The Pure does big ears just fine although they flap when it gets rough.  Easy to do wingovers and spirals too.  Landed next to the pool.  I've found 2 ways to keep cool here in the middle of the day:

1.  swimming
2.  flying

So it makes sense to land next to the pool :)

Tomorrow is the first task day, and it's looking good.  Hot hot hot.  Hope not too stable though.

Big thanks to Nicky for offering her glider to me today.  I had a lot of fun on it!

Ager August 19

Pics of Ager can be found here.

Finally I got to fly!

Hot and stable-ish, but it was flyable which was a relief from the heat in the valley.  Bombed up and down the main ridge and then crossed the valley to the other side, before landing next to Camping d'Ager and a dip in the swimming pool.  Flight is here.

The ridge here is very imposing with all the exposed rocks and the strong bullet thermals coming through.  But it's very don't have to turn at all and you are able to stay up just fine.  There are actually two ridges with a bench in between, which makes the larger in-back ridge a bit bumpy with all the rotor coming off the front ridge.  The front ridge works just fine as well, and the thermals off that one are much smoother and nicer.  But since it's lower you end up bombing along at a lower altitude than the back-ridge pilots.  I'm curious to see how the start gaggle will form with a whole ridge to wait on (assuming the start will be on the ridge in the first place)...will it stay as a ginormous cohesive merry-go-round, or will it be spread out a bit?  With all the cliffs around I'm hoping pilots will be sensible and not be playing too close to the rocks.

The flats in the valley work too...I found this out as I was trying to land and kept climbing back out.  Good to know if I ever get low!

The heat here is want to fly just to get away from the heat on the ground. Every time I got low I could feel the heat radiating up and would have to unzip until I could thermal back up to a cooler altitude.  Today was getting to 2400m or so.  I'm told it will heat up again for tomorrow (predicting 40C) and then "cool" to 35C on Sunday...OMG!  Thankfully I'm flying with lots of water ballast in the strong conditions least I can drink it!

Most pilots stayed local due to no organized retrieve being offered today; a few went farther afield and eventually flew back.  Most did the ridge run and then crossed to the other side of the valley since there are turnpoints out there we may use during the comps.  Discovered the open-class 2 liners can do the crossing much easier than me ;)

Tomorrow is another practice day, and then things start for-real on Sunday.

Ager August 18

The ridge overlooking Ager
A front moved through last night and today, which resulted in the odd rain shower and several thunderstorms (when one went off near us as we were heading up, we turned around).  A few of the tandem guys were operating but most pilots opted to forego flying and wait for better weather.

Pilots are steadily trickling into town and pretty soon it should be pretty busy.  Ager is a small place so 125+ pilots descending en-masse will certainly impact them!

Vancouver to Ager, Spain

Well I'm finally here in Ager after 30 hours of traveling...the body is ready for some zzz's!

I'll be in Ager for the next 2+ weeks, flying in the Ager World Cup which starts this weekend, followed by the Women's Open.  Hope to fly tomorrow after I get myself oriented and de-jetlagged.

It's HOT here!  Mid 30's and the humidity is way up there too.  I think this will be a minimal clothing flying trip :)

Big days in Pemberton August 7-8

Mt. Meager with 2010 landslide.
 Photos of the 2 days can be found here.

We haven't been to Pemberton in a while so it seemed like a good time to head up.  The gossip had been of nice flying the past few days but Whistler Express showing up pretty much every afternoon (common in summer).

Met up with Sam and got a ride to the MacKenzie upper launch, where people were already flying.  In the air cloudbase was approaching 3000m and the winds were building from the south, lighter the further north you went.  As I approached the Hurley gap I could see the clouds were still nice towards Meager with no chance of OD.  And there were riverbars available on the Lilloet River as well as a maze of logging roads along the mountains.  So the 100km OR seemed like a very good possibility today.

Alex joined me just past the Hurley gap at Face Mountain and we proceeded to fly towards North Creek.  After the gap the winds turned more west and the tailwind we had became a headwind instead.  Once past North Creek the destination, Spindrift Mountain, was next but the final 5km was really tough since you end up flying towards Spindrift in the lee of a strong west wind, with no real LZ's and very large cliffs to avoid.  After the initial attempt failed we had to backtrack and try another line to get over the final ridges, and then we had the windward west side of Spindrift.

Spindrift is the last mountain at the Y-junction of the Meager complex and the logical place to turn around for the 100km OR.  The last time I had flown up here was a few years ago, and things have changed!  The west flank of Meager now has a huge debris flow reaching to the Lilloet River, courtesy of the landslide of August 2010 that threatened the Pemberon valley.  Fortunately the river has cut a new channel through the debris flow so it can continue flowing uninterrupted.

After we tagged the 50km mark it was time to turn back for Pemberton.  The return trip was relatively uneventful, although I had a bit of a sphincter moment when I crossed the North Creek gap a bit low and arrived on the other side with not much altitude (relatively speaking) and my only LZ was a logging spur road with a long walk out to the main FSR (which is itself a long walk out to civilization).  Fortunately I hit lift on the other side and get myself back up to mountain peak level and resumed the course home.

Mt. Sampson
Flying over Copper Dome we heard Peter and Oni who had top-landed for an overnight vol-bivy and invited us to help them finish off their bottle of champagne.  But nope, we had other plans, thermalled up over them back to cloudbase at 3000m, and resumed heading south.

Back at Pemberton the Whistler Express was in full swing, with pilots reporting gusts of 40kph in the LZ.  The winds weren't really manifesting up high where we were, so we actually pushed out over town to get a few extra km's before turning tail and returning from where we had just come from in order to find a nice LZ in Pemberton Meadows.

Despite big ears, speed bar, and spiral diving, it still took another 45 minutes to get down, since with a Whistler Express the whole valley lifts off.  Thanks to Norm for coming to pick us up and saving us a hitchhike back to the car!  Total for the day: 107km OR and just over 5 hours (although the last 45 minutes was after I got back and was trying to land).

Also of note for the day, Sam also did his first XC, flying up to Hurley Pass and landing in a farmer's field near the Hurley FSR.  Apparently after he landed, the farmer came out, hooked Sam's wheelchair up to his ATV, and towed him out of the field so he could get properly retrieved.

Next day Alex and I talked about flying the Miller side of the valley.  I've flown this side a bit, but never the whole side to Hurley, and today seemed like a good time to do it.  This time we launched from the lower launch and it was a bit stable down low, which meant it took me a while to get high and established enough for the crossing over to the west side.  Climbs were initially lower too at only 1800m.
Ipsoot glacier and Sugarloaf Mountain.

Since the Miller side faces east, by the time we got over there the sun had gone around to the SW side which means flying up Miller Creek to get around to the sunny side.  This is fine if you can get high, but with 1800m you have to be careful you don't find yourself sinking out on the backside with a long glide down the creek to reach the Pemberton valley LZ's.  There are nice alpine LZ's on the backside with road access, but a locked gate at the bottom which means a long walk out if you land up there.

So very slowly we worked our way up the backside of Miller creek until we could connect with the clouds at 3000m, and finally we had some breathing space!  From that altitude you can easily see (and fly to) the Ipsoot glacier and the Pemberton Icefields to the west.  And also with this altitude you can easily explore the peaks of Sugarloaf Mountain with all it's snowfields and ice-lakes.

Heading north from Sugarloaf it was time to cross the Ryan River valley gap to Mount Morrison which has the Camel's Hump on the Pemberton end.  The Ryan River valley extends very deep to the west...if you kept flying that direction you'd eventually pop out near Jervis Inlet!  But we had no intention of flying any more west...after playing around on Mount Morrison it was time to re-cross the Pemberton valley to the Hurley side and return to Pemberton via the usual route.

Once again it was Whistler Expressing in Pemberton, and once again we chose to land elsewhere up in Pemberton Meadows.  And this time it took 30 minutes to get down in the lifty valley :)  The take-home message is this: when it's Whistler Expressing in Pemberton, DON'T LAND IN PEMBERTON.  The phenomenon only extends about 5km around Pemberton itself, which means Pemberton Meadows is not subject to these same winds, and the 40-50kph you get in town manifests as 5kph in the Meadows.  And if you choose to escape to the east, the airport is often safe as well (although some days the edge of the Whistler Express may extend to here).  The Festival grounds and the fairgrounds are much nicer to land at as well during Whistler Express events.  Pretty much anyplace outside the 5km zone centered on Pemberton town itself is safe wind-wise, but DO NOT LAND IN PEMBERTON if pilots are reporting unsafe winds in town.  Whistler Express can manifest any time of year, but most often shows up in mid-summer, ie. now.  So if you are flying Pemberton in August, assume you'll get Whistler Express in the afternoons and plan your landing accordingly.  Fly with a radio (146.415 MHz) and ask locals what the winds are doing before committing to landing anywhere near town.

This flight turned out to be just over 57km.  And a special thanks to Mike Sadan, who left his vehicle at our chosen LZ (we had radioed ahead of time where we'd be landing) so we could self-retrieve!  A really nice flight, and after the bigger flight of the day before a nice change of pace.  After 2 days of big-air flying we took 2 days off to relax and chill out at Birkenhead Lake before returning to Vancouver.