Thursday, August 11, 2011

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.

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