Sunday, October 21, 2012

Flying near Parrsboro, Nova Scotia Oct. 17-19

Photos of recent flying in Nova Scotia are here and here.

Alex and I allocated a few days during our visit to Nova Scotia to go paragliding at Parrsboro, which is where I learned to fly in 1999.  Unlike most flying in BC, NS flying is almost exclusively coastal ridge soaring (although there is the odd inland thermal site), with most of the established flying sites in the Parrsboro area around the Bay of Fundy.

One of the unique qualities of flying here is the temporary nature of the beach LZ's.  With the world's highest tides, your LZ can disappear in a matter of hours or minutes, so most flying takes into account whether the tide is in or out.  So along with checking the marine forecast for wind conditions, you also have to consult the local tide tables.  On the flip side, at low tide you have oodles of extra LZ and in fact the flying can become even better, as the slope of the exposed beach can add significant height to your effective ridge, as well as the exposed sand contributing additional heat (provided it's sunny) for extra instability.  Sea thermals are common in November and December as the ocean temperature remains fairly constant while the air temperature plummets, creating a nice temperature gradient conducive to thermal production.

Joggins fossil cliffs.
Notice the disappearing beach LZ as the tide comes in :)
With numerous bays facing almost every wind direction, so long as there's wind, you can find a place to ridge soar.  Over the 3 days we were in the Parrsboro area, we flew 4 different sites with 4 different wind directions.

The fossil cliffs in Joggins are primarily a W-NW flying site, with both low and high cliffs to suit various wind strengths.  You can launch from an undeveloped property right on the smaller cliffs, or else from the fossil centre if you want to start higher.  When it's not flyable you can go exploring on the beach for fossils (they are continuously being exposed as the tides and storms erode the cliffs).  The views are pretty spectacular as you can see jagged red and grey cliffs along the shoreline and New Brunswick in the distance.

Fox River with the launch next to the treeline.  Red is blueberry fields.
The main flying site in Parrsboro is Fox River, a SW site that faces the prevailing wind direction.  This is a section of low bluffs that is excellent for student training, practicing your top-landing techniques, swooping, or just relaxing in the air for hours.  The occasional cabin on the beach means you can wave at the locals as you fly overhead and they will always wave back...they love watching the PG's fly overhead!

Whenever the wind switches to SSW or pure S, then you have enormous stretches of coastline to play with.  Cape Chignecto has some spectacular flying on the 300' cliffs in the provincial park, but on the day that we briefly had SSW winds we chose a closer flying site near Ward's Brook.  Launch is out of the backyard of a property at around 100' (the locals don't mind, and in fact will come out to watch) and then you have oodles of cliffs to overfly.  If the winds are right you can go XC from here (ridge soaring the entire way) and try to fly to Spencer's Island...there are a couple of big gaps to cross though!

Cape Sharp at West Bay with the tide coming in.
Cape Split in the far distance.
Pre-storm, you'll often get some form of east wind.  If it's E or SE, or even ENE, then you can go to West Bay (which actually faces east).  The views are spectacular if you get high as you can fly out to Cape Sharp and look over the back at the enormous volume of water churning on the other side as the tide goes in and out.  Don't get blown over the back...it's nothing but ocean behind you!  Further in the distance is Cape Blomidon and Cape Split (also flying sites) on the other side of the Bay of Fundy.

There is also a secondary SE flying site closer to Partridge Island...one of the local pilots has property and a cabin there, and included is a launch from the front yard!  A much smaller flying site than West Bay, but in some ways more interesting and technical due to the smaller terrain and the obstacles and gaps to traverse.  Looking out from bed one morning, we saw that it was blowing up in the front yard so Alex went flying...too light and just a sled ride, but it was rather neat to wake up and be flying a few minutes later!

Our borrowed cabin with oceanfront, includes launch site ;)
We had perfect sunny weather and flyable windows every day, and the deciduous trees were in their full autumn glory...the reds and yellows practically glowed fluorescent against the blue skies, and were nicely contrasting with the occasional green conifer trees.  Usually the trees change colors a week or so sooner, but this year they were a bit late, so we were lucky to be there for the peak!

The flying sites near Parrsboro can be flown year-round, and different sites are on at different times of the year depending on the prevailing winds for the season.  In addition to the more established sites in Parrsboro, there are a couple of sites in Dartmouth (next door to Halifax) as well as potential sites near Digby and Yarmouth.  And of course Cape Breton has oodles of potential sites along the Cabot trail...there's simply not enough pilots in Nova Scotia to properly fly and document them all!

If you are interested in flying in Nova Scotia, get ahold of me or contact Michael Fuller.  He's the owner of Pegasus Paragliding which is the only PG school in the area, plus he's my former instructor!  Alternatively, give Brian Wheaton a shout (also listed on the PP website) as he's always keen to show pilots around.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

St. Vincent Oct. 7

Time to leave north, but a quick stop in St. Vincent to check the flying potential.  No wind on the lake but lightly thermic, so I offered Alex the IP6 so he could get a fly on it.  Several other pilots showed up and got above launch, while others (students I think) did sled rides to the lake LZ.  It was only stay-up-able for maybe 1.5 hours before the window closed, but enough time for most pilots who wanted to stay up, to get the chance.

Off to Geneva airport tomorrow morning for our flight to Nova Scotia and 10 more days of vacation!

Saturday, October 6, 2012

St. Andre Oct. 6

Pics of the day here.

After yesterday's fantastic flight I felt like a more local flight, so even though the forecast was calling for similar conditions to yesterday (at least initially) I only flew for a couple of hours and stayed within easy retrieve distance of St. Andre.  I did however, go to Pic de Chamatte, which I've seen several times this trip, but never flown to.  The lift was so abundant that once establishing myself on the ridge, I didn't do any turns either going there or coming back and heading to the LZ.

Looking back at Chalvet from Crete des Serres.
It was kinda nice to land so early, before the afternoon wind funkiness manifested in the LZ, and be able to sit in the heat and sun and just chill out and watch other pilots coming in during the afternoon.  A group of visiting pilots decided to do the Dormillouse run and made it back to St. Andre before the approaching high cirrus arrived and shut things down, so there were many happy pilots in the LZ this afternoon.

This is our last flight here as the forecast is for strong wind for the next few days, at least locally, so we are going to start heading north for our Geneva flight out on Wednesday.  We may fly St. Vincent as we head north; it looks like another group is heading there tomorrow as well.  St. Andre is a great place to fly, although I get the impression that wind is a common occurrence here and pilots just deal with it.  It's amazing that this site can still produce 100km flights this late in the season!

Friday, October 5, 2012

St. Andre Oct. 5

Heading north towards St Vincent from Tete de l'Estrop.
After a very nice sightseeing tour of the Verdon Gorge and part of the French coastline along the Mediterranean, we returned to St. Andre as the forecast was calling for light-ish winds and less north, both good things!  It was a late start to the day but once it turned on pilots were crossing to Cheval Blanc no problem, unlike previous north-wind days where it's a big crux.

Flight is here, and photos are here!

Over on CB I got my highest climb, up to that point (!) and wasn't sure what crossing would be best, it being my first foray that far north.  Waited for Alex to climb up and then it was time to start jumping the spines north towards Dormillouse and St. Vincent, roughly 50km away.

The views were spectacular and the climbs just kept getting better the deeper we flew.  At one point over Tete de l'Estrop I got to over 3300m and it was cold!  Lots of sailplanes were out as well, and once we arrived at Dormillouse there were several PG's low on the launch ridge over the lake.

It was getting later in the day and we were still only halfway; we still had to return!  Fortunately we had a bit of a crosswind tailwind to return which helped a lot, and taking the deeper line meant we were able to take advantage of the higher terrain and the associated higher thermals.  It was a bit of a glide out to suitable LZ's at some points, but I decided to stop worrying about it and committed to making the climbs and staying high so it wouldn't become an issue :)

Returning south on a slightly different line, Alex and I were able to make it past all the remote terrain and back to the Thorame valley with lots of nice fields.  We had just descended from the high mountains into some pretty low terrain (relatively speaking), and we still had 10km to go.  Unfortunately part of the last 10km involves crossing a canyon with very few LZ's...just the sandbars on the river, and that's if you're lucky!  It was a bit ridge soarable at the entrance to the canyon, and I briefly thought about trying to ridge soar my way through this section, but I was unsure if it would work, and didn't know exactly how long this stretch of canyon was (I wasn't high enough to actually see St. Andre or the lake, otherwise I may have tried to just glide past this section and land at the other side).  So I turned back and landed at La Batie, just at the entrance to the canyon, after getting to within 9km of my start.
Heading to the Dormoullouse.

Alex had landed in Thorame Haute in the same valley along with another pilot who had a ride arranged, so getting back to St. Andre wasn't a problem and back well before dark, just in time to watch the final pilots landing in the dusk.

It was a really fantastic flight and I was amazed that it was still possible, given the time of year.  But apparently the Dormillouse run has been done every month of the year, which tells you something about this place :)  There were so many options when it came time to make the gap jumps, sometimes flying the spines was fine, other times it was necessary to fly deep.  I'm glad I had Alex to fly with since it was my first time really going XC here, and lead out quite a few times :), since the skies were otherwise empty (except for the odd sailplane) and most of the St. Andre pilots had either chosen other XC routes or landed out already.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

St. Andre Oct 3

Initially we were going to go to Gourdon and join Jim and Colleen, but got the SMS that it was "totally black cloud cover", so back to St. Andre.  A delay as we watched a motorcycle who had just passed us, wipe out on a curve right in front of us.  The other couple that stopped seemed to be at a bit of a loss until I told them to phone 1-1-2 and then they seemed glad to be able to do something :)  Initial inspection showed a busted shoulder and leg and slight shock, but his leathers and helmet protected him otherwise and his touring buddies showed up with the ambulance on its way so we continued on.

At St. Andre it was already flyable and some pilots were already on their way to the north, but it seemed a bit windier and more northerly the further north we went.  Alex watched a hang glider crash into the trees right off launch, and then I saw a glider in the trees above Lambruisse.  We could see him moving around and trying to get the glider out, but then Alex saw a reserve toss in the lee of Cheval Blanc and the pilot get dragged over the rocks, downwind, along the side of the mountain until he was able to get his reserve under control.

At this point we had enough carnage for the day and decided to land while we were still ahead (!).  There were something like 8-10 pilots landed around Lambruisse and reported both incident pilots were OK (they were part of tour groups) so back to St. Andre to watch the antics in the LZ as pilots landed in the sometimes south, sometimes west, wind conditions.  For some odd reason pilots here like to approach the LZ from downwind when it's really windy rather than stay closer in case the wind changes direction, and they end up barely making the LZ, making for some exciting landings (will they land on a car in the parking lot, the roof of the outbuildings, the trees, the river ?).

Tomorrow is predicted to be windy so we are likely to head to the coast for some sightseeing and maybe some swimming in the Mediterranean :)

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

St. Andre Oct. 2

Waiting for the low cloud to burn off.
New photos here.
Tracklog here.

After yesterday's epic rain (we got caught up on launch and had to hide under the overhanging roof of the hut on the west launch...it was locked and we couldn't find the key :) the ground was completely soaked, but the skies were clear and the low fog was burning off.  Looked like it would be a good day; lots of pilots showed up, almost to the point of looking like a small comp had showed up :)

It took forever for the low cloud to burn off but once it did, pilots started hucking off although nobody was staying up.  It looked like it was gonna be a slow day, but then it turned on in a big way as the NW wind came in and people started ridge soaring.

Oodles of pilots were heading north towards Cheval Blanc but only a few actually crossed to it...I didn't like the NW wind coming in over the col so I turned around at the last gap crossing and headed back towards launch, detouring to the west to explore the smaller hills in front of launch.  Other pilots headed over to Pic de Chamette before returning to the very active LZ...it was switching from south to west as the two valley winds fought each other.  I watched one pilot not make the LZ and have to land on the riverbed.  His glider landed on the rocky shore but I watched him splash into a puddle (the river is very low now).  Initially I thought he was OK but it turns out he broke a wrist upon flaring into the big rocks at just the wrong angle.  And a nice whack as a HG landed the wrong way as the wind switched from west to south at the last minute...typical afternoon St. Andre LZ conditions.

Jim and Colleen flew Gourdon today and sounds like it was sunny down there after the low clouds burned off too...we may head down there tomorrow.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

St. Andre Sept 30

Thunderstorms predicted for the afternoon but the morning was supposed to be good, and it was indeed clear skies when we woke up.  But we could see the skies were gonna fill in soon, so up the mountain to the SE launch for an early flight with the local tandem guys.  Light thermalling but very shady, and eventually everyone landed after 30 minutes or so.

But then the sun made a (re-) appearance and all of a sudden it looked really good.  Back up to launch and this time it was easier to stay up and get to cloudbase around 2000m and do a mini XC past la Mure.  But we could see the big clouds starting to build and the shade was coming in fast again, and this time it looked fairly permanent.  I could see a glider trying to get down with big ears and not being very successful, so I found a nice patch of sink and was able to get down and packed up long before the first claps of thunder made an appearance.  A bunch of HG's set up on the west launch (the SE launch is kinda shallow for them) had to break down and drive back down after it OD'd and the day was clearly over.

Tomorrow may be another St. Andre day, or perhaps to Gourdon to meet up with Jim and Colleen, as the wet weather is predicted to pass tonight for drier skies over the next few days.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Gourdon/Greolieres Sept 27-28

Photos are here!

The weather was looking a bit better to the south so it was time to head to Greolieres and Gourdon.  After exploring Greolieres on a windy day (nobody was flying) we headed to Gourdon as the winds were much lighter and the skies were the bluest we've seen in a few days.

Flying over Gourdon
Initially there weren't any other pilots on launch (usually a bad sign for most sites in Europe), but it turns out we were just early...carloads of pilots showed up within the hour and soon everyone was figuring out when to launch and whether we could stay up etc.  Bands of high cirrus every so often but essentially blue skies and light SE winds, but an inversion kept us below 1300m.

I flew over to the Ozone testing site and watched the Ozone guys put their prototype EN-B and -C gliders through their paces, while Bruce Goldsmith was flying nearby on his new EN-C as well.  This part of the flying site has quite high ground below which means it's easy to sink out if you aren't careful...it's quite neat to have these differing levels of terrain under you as it keeps you on your toes!  Meanwhile the British tour group was lobbing pilots off and they were staying up over the actual town of Gourdon (perched on a cliff) so I flew over to join them.  It was very cool to fly over this little town with sheer cliffs dropping down to the valley to the Mediterranean sea.  I could see the runways of both Cannes and Nice airports, as well as some cruise ships.

All this while we could see a few cu's to the east, towards Nice, but all of a sudden something changed and cu's started forming at 1300m right over us.  I was keeping an eye out for any weird wind that may have appeared with the cu's, but nope it stayed light winds so I kept flying and back to launch to watch the later pilots continuing to lob off launch.

Pilots kept launching and flying until around 3pm, when the approaching front clouded us over and it was time to land.  It looks like that's the end of flying for at least the next day or so, as this next system winds it way through the region.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

St. Vincent and St. Andre, Sept 25-26

Looking east towards St. Vincent on a sunny but windy day.
More photos here.

Alex and I escaped the torrential rain and thunderstorms at St. Hillaire by driving south to St. Vincent des Forts.  It was still way too windy to fly, but at least we were in the warmth and sun, which is almost as good!  Did some exploring of the village and some hiking around the lake before heading south to St. Andre.  Met up with a bunch of pilots (including some Russians who drove all the way from St. Petersburg!) and we may fly tomorrow morning :)

Friday, September 21, 2012

St. Hilaire, Coupe Icare festival, Sept 20-21

St. Hilaire launches.

Alex and I are now in St. Hilaire for the annual Coupe Icare festival.  A sunny start to the day and the cu's were already popping at 9am so it was time to fly!  Launched from the south launch although the north (costume) launch was also working.  Cloudbase wasn't that high…maybe only 1300m or so, but enough to bomb along the cliffs to the north with not much turning required…almost all the way to the St. Marcel launch at which point the north wind was becoming stronger and more prevalent, so turned back to St. Hilaire.

The north wind was still increasing up high and it was stabling out with the cu's drying up, and back at St. Hilaire launch it was a bit bumpy, so I only went a few km's to the south before returning and landing at the Lumbin LZ (normally it is totally top-landable, but during the festival top-landing is forbidden).  At this point I heard of an accident just to the south both launches where a pilot had had a collapse and crashed into the cliffs, rag-dolling down before coming to a rest on a small ledge.  A helicopter was dispatched to rescue him so we got to watch the action from the LZ.

Back in St. Hilaire (free shuttle back up to launch) it was time to cruise the booths and enjoy the sun…paper airplane competitions, kiting wars, films every night, and the paramotor guys have been going all day.  And there's 3 more days of the festival!  Check out my photos here, or Jim and Colleen's photos here.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Annecy/Passy/Chamonix Sept 14-16

Plaine Joux cliffs
Photos of the trip!

After a rather bumpy flight to Geneva (courtesy of the remains of Tropical Storm Leslie) I'm now in Europe for the next 4 weeks!  Met up with Alex in Annecy and had a couple of flights off Entrevernes (the morning side) and Forclaz (the afternoon side).  Nothing XC-able as it was strong-ish north wind, but nice to get to see what the place has to offer on an XC day.  Fortunately I missed the rain by 1 day so it was nice and sunny, which is nice when staying in a tent :)

With the north wind we decided to try Passy and the Plaine Joux launch since it is south-facing, with a huge mountain behind it to block the north winds.  Met up with Denis Cortella and then we did a petit tour of the cliffs behind and to the west of launch.

Plaine Joux faces directly onto the north side of Mont Blanc, and it's right in your face.  This is a very scenic site, not only because of the rock cliffs behind launch, but also because you can see the snow and glaciers of the Mont Blanc even from this far away.  And you can fly to Plaine Joux from Chamonix...we watched some gliders come from the Mont Blanc direction.  With all the mountain ranges going in all different directions, I can see how pilots here can easily do 200km in the spring...much easier to do this here vs. Western Canada, where we have limited retrieve access to our mountain ranges.
Plan de l'Aiguille mid-station

Then it was time to fly the mid-launch at Mont Blanc.  The winds were predicted to be light and it was high-pressure so it seemed like a good choice.  We saw many pilots flying from the top launch, but since we didn't have crampons etc to access the snowfield we opted for the lower mid-launch.  A bit hard to get away from launch due to the stability and all the gondola wires to avoid; I eventually flew upwind, and then downwind, to find a slope that was working without all the obstacles and traffic.  Alex joined me and we flew to the Mer de Glace and the Grand Dru, which was totally awesome...I've never seen a glacier like that before!  We even had the pleasure of watching a huge rockfall on the way back, where a car-sized rock broke loose and fell down the mountain, obliterating a mountaineering traversing track (fortunately there wasn't anyone using it at the time), and breaking into several pieces.  The amazing thing about this rockfall was that it didn't tumble end-over-end, but rather slid on the ice and snow like a toboggan.

Mer de Glace
Amazingly, we met Matt Senior in Chamonix that evening; he will also be at the Coupe Icare before heading to the German Open.  Tomorrow we plan to head back to Annecy for some hiking and maybe some more flying, before continuing south to St. Hilaire and the festival which starts on Thursday.  And if the weather looks good we hope to also head to northern Italy for the German Open.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Sun Valley September 2

Well we gave it the ol' college try, but alas the winds were too strong for safe XC flying so the day was cancelled.  A few pilots braved the winds and flew to Otto's Peak, with at least one (acro) pilot reporting wild conditions as he was coming in to land at the festival grounds.  A later group who went up at 3pm reported 30-35kph on launch; only Honza flew that time and went to the Pioneer Mountains and back, as only Honza can do!

This has been a really windy 2 weeks for Sun Valley.  This is my 5th trip here, and on previous trips (at the same time of year) there has been wind on some days, but it's been flyable and XCable a good portion of the time.  Apparently this stretch of wind, this time of year, is the worst the locals have seen in years.  Fortunately Sun Valley is an excellent place to hang out and do other things on the unflyable days...it's called Sun Valley for a reason!

We just did the draws for a couple of prizes: the week-long condo stay in Annecy (valued at 500 Euro) went to Bill Belcourt; the runner-up prize, the last GoPro, went to Gavin McClurg.  All the money raised goes towards Kinsley Wong's medical bills.

A big thank-you to Mike Pfau who spent months (years) organizing both comps and dealing with all the issues that go with running a comp.  He had a large contingent of volunteers to help out with things such as retrieve, safety, food/beer, plus the mentoring talks offered during the OD comp.  Thanks also to the locals such as Nate, Farmer, and Gavin for offering their local knowledge plus essential things like showers :)  Despite the winds this time around, I had a great time, and I really hope Mike continues to offer comps in Sun Valley.  When this place is on, it's really ON!!

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Extreme weather in Sun Valley

Update 4:30pm local time:


So we've got a tornado warning up for Burley, which is directly south of us in the flats.  And it's currently thunderstorming overhead, and the previous cell dropped 4" of hail on the highway and caused a traffic accident.  Wild weather!
Tornado warning near the red and purple comma-shaped storm.

Sun Valley September 1

Time to land!
Another no-XC day due to high winds aloft and forecast thunderstorms.  But since they weren't forecast to develop until the afternoon, Mike put up a GoPro as a prize in another morning spot landing contest.

Guy sent HQ a lot of wine!
I wasn't in the mood for a sled ride but went up to help others get off the hill, and it was nice and windy by the time I got back down to the LZ...a nice towering cu was developing close to Galena Pass and starting to drop out virga and suck some nice wind as the final pilots landed.  Then time to watch the annual Wagon Days parade and unload the 60 cases/720 bottles of wine delivered to HQ for distribution to the local SAR, courtesy of Guy Anderson wines.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Sun Valley August 30-31

This is what happens when you combine beer with volleyball.
Yesterday was too windy for XC flying so Mike put on a spot landing contest with $100 to the winner.  It was quite funny to watch everyone coming in from every direction (it was light and variable) and then butt-skid in...only stand-up landings counted however.  I flew around for an hour or so; at 11,000' I had single digits facing over the back so it was definitely windy up high.

Today we thought it may be XCable as the winds were slightly less, but there was the threat of thunderstorms in the afternoon, so Mike set a scorable-flight deadline of 2pm.  But when we got up to launch it was quite windy from the SE and it was high cirrus.  With pilots milling around and not heading down to launch because of the winds Mike et al cancelled the day and it was free-flying only.

Two pilots tried to go to Trail Creek but didn't get far before the winds hit them, and most other pilots did another spot landing contest.  I chose to ride the gondola back down.  It's now afternoon and the clouds are getting big but no thunderstorms have rolled through yet :)

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Sun Valley August 28

Extreme laziness after the past 2 days' exertions.
After the recent search for Guy, many of us were too tired to do much of anything :)  Plus it was too windy to fly XC, so most pilots took it easy and relaxed.  A bunch of us headed to Redfish Lake (an alpine lake at 6500') to laze on the white sand beach and do some swimming and watch the plumes of smoke from the nearby Stanley forest fires.

Guy had his first hospital visitors today from Mike et al and they report he is doing well and in good spirits.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Guy is alive!

After 48 hours in the wilderness after crashing his paraglider into the side of a hill, an aerial search team found Guy Anderson alive!

More photos of our search are here.

Overview of our search area with Slaughterhouse and Muldoon Canyons.
Bellevue is the green area in the bottom left corner.
Day 2 of the SAR and today we were doing a ground search of the treed areas of the suspected search area.  The thought was that if Guy tossed his reserve and landed in a forested area, or otherwise crashed into the trees, the helicopter may not necessarily see him from above and ground crews may be needed.

Each ground search team was equipped with a radio, GPS, 4-wheel drive vehicle, and SPOT.  HQ was keeping an eye on our progress via our SPOTs.

We searched extremely steep terrain all morning and afternoon...it was so thick and forested in places that we were concerned about becoming casualties ourselves if we twisted an ankle while slipping over a log or deadfall.  The search was very slow, and it was a good thing my team of 2 was restricted to a 1/4-mile radius search zone, as we could only cover a few meters at a time.
Bob's and my search area in Muldoon Canyon.  The intent was to
start with the perimeter of our search zone and spiral in.

It was super hot and dry and we were going through our water quickly, and I was imagining what Guy was going through if he was having to hike through such terrain.  On the other hand, him being mobile would be much better than hanging in a tree for 2 days, or sitting immobile due to a broken leg or pelvis.  We were looking for anything...a piece of paraglider, clothing, footprints, even a discarded apple core, anything to show he had been this way.  But in the end we found nada, and it looked like he wasn't in our search zone.

At this point we got the call that Guy's paraglider had been found, and to return to HQ.  Further information when we returned to debrief was that he had crashed his paraglider on the side of a hill, no reserve deployed, and had crawled/walked downhill (leaving his gear behind) for 1-2 miles.  When found he was still mobile but had multiple broken bones.  Good news though was that he still had at least a liter of water left on him so had possibly found a stream over the past 48 hours.

Guy is currently undergoing surgery and is expected to be OK!  Personally I'm so happy right now I could burst!  I've been involved in too many other searches and fatalities in the past few months and I wasn't sure if I could handle #3 in such a short period of time.  A big thanks to all the other searchers (maybe 50 in total) and the administrative personnel such as Zak who made things happen until the sheriff's office took over.  It's incidents such as this that makes me realize how awesome and tight-knit our community is...what we do is dangerous and it's important that we all look out for each other!  I'm so proud of my fellow searchers!

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Sun Valley August 26

Well last night's party and awards ceremony was overshadowed by the fact we were still missing 2 pilots.  By late last night one of the pilots was found, after landing out deep in the backcountry, walking the wrong way, and leaving his gear behind.  That left just one pilot still missing, and unfortunately his PWC live tracking unit wasn't transmitting properly after a certain point, and he doesn't have a SPOT.**

SAR was out all night looking for him based on his last known live tracking co-ordinates and we are continuing the search today with both air and ground crews.  Our hope is that he landed out, walked the wrong way, spent the night wrapped in his glider, and is continuing to walk today so we are combing all the backroads.  Honza has arrived and is hiking up Scorpion Peak in the suspected search area to setup a high-powered radio and co-ordinate from up there.

No flying today due to forecasted thunderstorms (we actually had some early this morning) and the fact the upper chairlift is out of order...there was a recorded gust of 70mph last night (probably during one of the t-storms) so I'm thinking it may have temporarily knocked the chairlift out.

** When flying Sun Valley a SPOT is highly recommended.  It's basically the best thing for almost-live tracking in this type of mountainous terrain.  SPOTs are mandatory for next week's Open Distance Comp.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Sun Valley PWC August 25

The last day of this comp and the winds were still supposed to be westerly but a bit less.  Time to get off the hill before it starts blowing over the back!

Final task was to the east via a couple of control turnpoints and theoretically close to roads. But that's not what ended up happening...the westerly winds were there of course, but we weren't able to get higher than about 10,900' which makes it really tough to get going on courseline, especially when you have to clear the Hailey airspace which is anything below ~7800'.

It looked like everyone got off launch, although one pilot crashed below launch, and as a safety precaution, was back-boarded off the mountain.  But in the end he was fine.

As I was (very gingerly) transitioning the Hailey airspace I saw 2 pilots who had top-landed on some remote peak and I was wondering if they were gonna relaunch or hike down from there (they ended up relaunching and flying back to SV).  We were all flying deep in the attempt to clear the airspace but the climbs weren't allowing us to really get going, so people were dropping out of the skies into the deep remote valleys to the east of Hailey and Bellevue.  I was one of them :)
My LZ in the middle of nowhere with steep hillsides to either side.

I wasn't able to make a certain transition and get a climb on the next peak and ended up low in Slaughterhouse Canyon (I don't know why it's called this!).  The wind was probably 20-25kph so I made a landing in the only available LZ...the dirt road.  I was actually quite proud of my precision landing right on the road and even kept the canopy on the road and not in the 4' high sage on either side.  I ended up right on the edge of the Hailey airspace as I touched down: about 600m on the legal side of it so I was happy to not be getting 0 for the day.

About a 10km hike to the main highway but I was helped along by a series of hitch-hikes:
1.  Dirtbike to a nomadic sheepherder's setup, complete with sheepdogs and a broken-down RV that he was living in.
2.  ATV to a subdivision and civilization.
3.  Pickup truck to the Bellevue gas station.
4.  Passenger car to Ketchum.

As you can see I kept moving up in the world, from 2 wheels to 4 wheels and to more and more spacious vehicles.  It's a good thing I was able to get these rides as the official retrieve was busy going after stray pilots and it would have been a while before they got around to getting me home.

I didn't hear it, but the task was stopped shortly before 4pm due to level 3 conditions on the courseline.  Around this time, during my hike out, I noticed the sky was changing and cu's were starting to form.  It looked like the inversion had finally broken and the upper level winds were now mixing down, making it even windier and prompting the level 3's.  Two pilots made it into goal before the task was stopped, and several pilots were very close.

An equally large number of pilots had landed early, essentially after the first glide from Baldy, so I actually did fairly well to get as far as I did.  (I felt much better to see excellent pilots like Farmer and Josh landing sooner than me.)  Whether it's enough to bump me into the top 3 women is uncertain...somehow I'm thinking I may have achieved 4th, but not the podium :(  We shall find out this evening.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Sun Valley PWC August 24

Another windy west day so the organization pulled all the stops and we went to King Mountain to attempt to run a late-day task in the King glassoff.  Unfortunately the winds never died down on launch for long enough to get all the field off safely...some pilots were able to launch but conditions ranged from level 1 to level 3 depending on where you were.  Finally as level 3 conditions were called right off launch Mike cancelled the task due to unsafe conditions.
King Mtn launch just before the task was cancelled.

On launch I wasn't very confident the winds would die off enough for safe launching and flying; the big conifer trees behind launch were waving around and you could hear the thermals ripping through.  It was rather amazing to watch the lemming effect as pilots initially refused to unfold their gliders, but as the launch time approached and conditions didn't appear to have changed that much, they started to get ready anyways.  Several comments directed my way as I sat next to my packed-up gliderbag to the effect of "Aren't you getting ready?" and my reply that it didn't really look that inviting.  However I will admit to the lemming effect myself as the tree-waving died down, pilots were thermalling overhead, and the launch cycles became positively gentle, just to mess with me :), just before a ginormous cycle came through and sent several gliders flying backwards with frontals and assyms all over the place.  At this point the launch window was closed while we watched the mayhem unfold in front of us, and eventually the task was cancelled.

Apparently it was OK in the air, so long as you stayed out front and didn't allow yourself to get blown over the back, but after the task was cancelled we observed all the just-launched pilots attempting to make the goal field (the closest convenient LZ) and not going very fast, if at all.  Two pilots decided to fly the task anyways despite being told to land ASAP, not landing at goal until 8:30pm and forcing the majority of the landed-and-waiting-to-go-home pilots to wait for them and explain themselves :)  According to one of the pilots at some points the wind was 50kph and it took him 30 minutes to fly the last 5km.  Yikes.

Mike did an excellent job, trying to get a task in by sending us to a site that faced the right wind direction and had the possibility of a late-day glassoff task (we've had similar days in Golden with tasks starting at 7pm).  Had we *not* tried this, the day would have been cancelled at Baldy anyways.  This way we at least had a chance.  Unfortunately it didn't work out task-wise and we ended up with a long day :(

Thursday, August 23, 2012

PWC Sun Valley August 23

Predicted too windy so the day was cancelled early, which meant we had all day to do other things.  I think some pilots went to Redfish Lake to hike the Elephant's Perch, but a bunch of us wanted to explore the ice caves near Shoshone.

The Shoshone ice cave is clearly a tourist trap but we decided it would be fun to see it anyways, and then compare it to a non-commercialized cave that Dean knew about.  The commercial ice cave does indeed have a lake of ice in it, and it is indeed around 0C in there despite being 30+C outside.  Apparently the flow of air through the rocks and the entrance cools the air and acts like a natural AC unit, keeping the cave cool enough for ice to form and accumulate.  In fact the staff have to keep draining water off the surface of the ice lake before it freezes and adds to the depth, otherwise the cave would completely fill up with ice and be inaccessible.

About to get down and dirty to access the T cave.
Then it was time to hunt down the non-commercialized caves that Dean had visited in previous years.  We ended up finding the "T-cave", so-called because this lava tube cave is in the shape of a T, with the entrance leading to a T-intersection that goes in either direction for ~1km.  Unlike the 0C ice cave, this one is at 15C so it's much better to explore in relative comfort.  This cave you have to enter via crawling before it opens up enough for you to stand up, and during the other parts of the cave you have to periodically crouch down and do a crab or monkey walk.  Big chunks of rocks in the middle of the lava tubes indicated that pieces of the ceiling *do* fall down, fortunately there was no earthquakes while we were exploring to send more pieces of the ceiling crashing down on us and sealing us in for eternity :)

The undeveloped T cave was especially interesting because of all the geologic oddities we found inside...high tide marks from the various lava flows, weird concretions on the floor and ceiling, calcium (?) deposits forming ribs, and the perfect half dome ceiling of the lava tube every so often.  Remarkably the entire cave system was free of vandalism or trash, as I think the small entrance and necessary crawling bit at the beginning discourage most casual visitors :) Oh yeah we also found an ancillary "bat cave" on the way back out; hopefully Dean got some good photos of them hanging from the ceiling.

My photos are here, but those with better low-light cameras will likely have better shots!

Dean has posted his photos here.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Sun Valley PWC August 22

Significant west winds aloft which means you have to launch early and get away before it blows out.  I inquired about launching off the west launch (where the tandems launch in the evenings) but was told probably not since things weren't "set up" over there.

Task was to Challis via Mt. Borah, so basically a downwind run in the west wind.  I was a bit leery of the forecasted strong west winds but I was willing to at least consider the possibility of flying so I got my stuff ready.  As soon as pilots started launching it looked really sketchy...the wind was blowing over the back at the chairlift station with the occasional up-cycle in the lee down where we were, and gliders were going all over the place, both on launch and in the air.

I watched 2 SIV clinics within 2 minutes of each other.  First up was Denis on his Boom X who launched and proceeded to have multiple collapses and cascades right in front of launch, barely above the ground.  He wasn't yet in his pod so wasn't able to weightshift efficiently and it took a long time before he sorted it out.  Denis flies with a canopy-camera so it was all caught on video...hopefully Philippe will incorporate it into his videos and everyone can see what happened.  It was certainly exciting to watch from the safety of the ground.

Next up was an unknown pilot on a grey IP6.  I didn't see what caused it, but at the gasps and pointed fingers I looked over to watch him cascading until his tips went in and he was in some sort of stall situation.  Multiple riser twists and we saw him acquire even more, and soon we watched him facing the wrong way under his mostly-closed glider and going down.  His descent rate in this configuration was actually quite impressively slow, almost the same as coming down under a small reserve, and once he stabled out it looked like he was proceeding to kick his riser twists out.  But he was approaching the mountain and the chairlift lines and people started yelling, and over the radio, to throw his reserve.  But he refused to and ended up kicking himself out of the twists and getting his glider flying again just as he disappeared from view, and shortly swooped into view with barely enough altitude to clear the terrain.  He then proceeded to get jerked back up and was soon flying out to land, presumably with soiled underwear :)

At this point I wasn't very enthused about flying in these rotory conditions and a few seconds later the launch window was closed, and a minute later the task was cancelled.  Those in the air then reported very exciting landing conditions at the regular LZ, and soon it was advised not to land there but at the alternate school LZ, until that LZ was also declared unsafe to land at :)  Those of us packing up on launch had the pleasure of watching strong up-gusts come through with dust devils, followed by equally strong down-gusts.  Definitely not advisable to launch!

At this point most pilots have reported in and only a few have decided to keep flying.  With the strong west wind Jackson WY could be a possibility!  Given that if you want to go long from here, you need a strong W or SW wind, and launching early is mandatory so you can get away from the hill safely and be on your way before it becomes unlaunchable.  I also think on such days the alternate faces of Baldy Mountain should be considered...I realize they are not as groomed as the east launch, but it may be a feasible alternative to launching 120+ pilots off a launch that is destined to be in the lee if you wait too long.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Sun Valley PWC August 21

Strong winds aloft expected and thunderstorms later in the afternoon so the day is cancelled.  I think a lot of pilots are actually glad of this since many didn't get home until 2am and we are all short of sleep :)  Pilot meeting at 10:30am to discuss playtime options for the day: mountain biking, hiking, etc.


Monday, August 20, 2012

Sun Valley PWC August 20

About to head into no-mans land.
A big task today!  Track is here and photos are here.

Essentially a straight line ESE to Dubois for almost 200km, taking us over some serious tiger country.  I was excited since it was going to be new terrain for me as I haven't flown SE from Sun Valley before.

Unfortunately there was a serious headwind to Hailey which slowed things down and cost us valuable task time.  Also cloudbase was unexpectedly low...only 14,500' when we were thinking more like 18,000'+, so crossing 12,000' mountain ranges was gonna be harder with that kind of limited clearance.  Another obstacle was the airspace around Hailey...many pilots flew into the 2400m/9km zone so they'll get penalized when the final scores come out. I flew into the 9km zone but made sure to stay well above 2400m so I stayed legal during the transition ;)

The flight had lots of awesome terrain to fly over...after the reservoir it was into serious tiger country with small dirt roads, limited LZ's, and a long walk out.  At one point I committed to a small peak north of Blizzard Mountain that I had to get up on...otherwise my options were to sidehill land on the mountain and walk out since it was too much of a glide to a valley LZ, or jump over the back into a canyon.  But I was feeling good about getting up since there was a huge cu maintaining over the peak with a nice west-facing slope, and eventually I beamed out to 14,500' and I could see civilization again in the distance.

Crossing the Antelope valley I zigged when I should have zagged and ended up getting too low on a small hill and landed next to a dirt road.  Fortunately I was next to an abandoned farmhouse and was able to hang out there for retrieve.  No cell phone coverage and limited radio, but my SPOT was working perfectly and they knew where I was and I was retrieved fairly efficiently.

We had at least one reserve deployment in the mountains but the pilot was OK and retrieved successfully.  As of now (midnight) there are still oodles of pilots en-route to HQ and there was nobody in goal.  Apparently a couple of pilots made it very close, but in the end the task was a bit too big of a bite :)

Even though I only flew 72km of the task it feels like way more; the beginning of the task was really slow and flying in strong conditions for 6 hours really takes a lot out of you.  I've felt less tired after 100km flights back home :)  Many pilots are actually hoping tomorrow is cancelled (possible t-storms) so they can sleep and recuperate after today's epic flying and retrieving.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Sun Valley PWC August 19

Track is here, photos are here.

The first clouds I have seen since getting here but it looked taskable so up we went.  It was a bit of a cluster on launch as pilots were trying to get into their gear as other pilots were stepping around them to get to launch, and it's steep enough that you have to be careful not to trip or fall over.  Hopefully the organization will improve the lineup/launch situation for tomorrow.  Plus the thin air makes launching a bit of a challenge for some pilots and it was quite entertaining to watch :)

Darkening skies before the rain hit.
Nice and high today with cloudbase at 16,500' over launch.  Strong winds from the NW with groundspeeds 65+kph downwind and single digits into the wind :)

The forecast was apparently for 30% chance of rain so a short-ish task was set up towards Mt. Borah (the highest peak in Idaho) and then goal at the Twin Bridges airport.  This sent us up Trail Creek Pass via Sun Peak and Otto Peak, and is one of the classic XC flights.  Unfortunately the very high terrain means any potential development will likely manifest in that area, and that's what happened.  Coming over Otto Peak the skies were getting quite grey and I could see virga starting to form upwind of me, and several pilots ahead of me were reporting level 2 and 3 conditions (although one pilot kept calling level 1 wherever he was).  I wasn't very comfortable with the prospect of continuing to fly with deteriorating conditions so I decided it was time to bail on the task and glide out to land, but I was at the no-LZ crux where you have to decide whether to glide back upwind to LZ's, or run with the wind to the other side of the Pass and the big sagefield LZ's up there.

I chose to run with the wind and land on the other side of Pass; a few minutes later the official call came on the radio that the task was stopped and for all pilots to land safely.  Strong NW winds in my chosen sagefield LZ but manageable, and I was packed up and in Mike's retrieve truck by the time we hit big fat raindrops and the gust front.

All pilots were safely on the ground and accounted for, with most pilots glad to be on the ground as had the task been continued, the lead gaggle would have been coming into goal just as the wind and rain arrived and it could have been mayhem.  Remarkably I watched one pilot complain to Mike that the task shouldn't have been stopped and what was the problem?  OMG folks, this is big mountain country and take the weather seriously!  When the local pilots are calling level 2 and 3, heed their warnings!

Anyways, since the task hadn't been running for long enough, the stopped task ended up being cancelled.  Ulrich had a light day but Chris had lots of work trying to keep track of pilots via their live trackers since there is no cell reception up Trail Creek.  Thank you SPOT.

Gotcha!

Sorry mouse, I couldn't find a live trap in town so had
to do it the old-fashioned way.
I've suspected I had a mouse living in the car for the past few days after finding gnawed-up apples, bananas, and TP, plus the start of a nest in the glovebox.  Not sure where I picked it up...perhaps the camping in Pemberton last week?  Advice from Chuck Smith was to trap it before it started chewing into the wiring under the dash or something more serious.

This morning I caught the mouse, hopefully that's the only one and I can leave food in the car again!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Practice day August 18

OK I took the day off from flying since I had a nice flight yesterday and wanted to be rested for tomorrow, but went up to launch anyways to lay out gliders and socialize.  Less smoke than yesterday and we could actually see other peaks around, although the valley floor was still invisible to us.

This smoke could make for interesting tactics during tasks.  For those pilots used to watching other pilots/gaggles to help them with their decision-making, the lack of visibility could be a detriment.  On the other hand, you are also invisible to other pilots if you get a good line or climb :)  The smoke can also wreak havoc with planning ahead...if you have a big gap to cross, or a specific mountain to reach  in the distance, and you can't see it, it's hard to plan your route ahead or where you want to end up.

Pilots are all registered and we are planning on flying the first task tomorrow!

Friday, August 17, 2012

King Mountain August 17

Quote of the day: "We flew the shit out of King today!"
-Nate Scales

King Mountain launch in the smoke.
Well as the title reads we went to King Mountain today.  Yesterday a brand new forest fire started up a couple ridges west of Baldy launch in Sun Valley, so the fire department asked us to voluntarily stay away from SV (they didn't want to bother with an official TFR) so they could concentrate on getting it out in time for the comp.  Farmer, Nate, and Nick rallied the troops and soon we had a posse of 25 pilots headed to King Mountain, just north of Arco, which is a big hang gliding comp site.

The smoke was just as bad there but no fires to worry about, and the lift was plentiful despite the smoke!  I opted to stay below 14,000' since I hadn't yet filled up my 02 tank and didn't want to become too hypoxic, but those flying with 02 went to 17,000'.  I found the lift rather punchy and disorganized, which may have been partly due to the smoke or partly due to the winds aloft (windy and NW up high but south in the valley).  Visibility was horrible and most of my flight I couldn't see the valley bottom or the road I knew was down there "somewhere".  Finding the correct places to climb out to cross the gaps was tough since you couldn't see more than a few km's in any direction, so you really couldn't plan your route ahead...the gaps can by "sucky" so it's important to cross in front of them, not directly overhead, or go deep.  With the low visibility it was easy to inadvertently find yourself in the wrong spot and have to re-orient yourself or try again.  IFR flying!

I flew north to Mackay and then started to experience an "in flight pee emergency" (forgot my diaper, duh!) which got harder and harder to ignore, so I eventually flew out to land and blessed relief :)  Most pilots turned around at Mt. Borah or just short and then back for the beers waiting in the retrieve van.  A really nice day, flying a new site, and a chance to catch up with friends before the comp starts.  Too bad the smoke cut the visibility down so much, otherwise the scenery would have been stunning and all my photos wouldn't be of smoke with faint mountains in the background :)

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Vancouver to Sun Valley

After a couple of days to recoup in Vancouver I'm now in Sun Valley for 2 back-to-back comps: the last leg of the 2012 PWC season followed by the US Open Distance Nationals!  I love Sun Valley...I've flown many places internationally, but I still consider Sun Valley to be one of my favourite flying sites.  The awesome scenery, the altitudes, the remoteness of the routes, and the wilderness are just astounding here.

A big chunk of southern Idaho is currently on fire; Ketchum and Sun Valley are shrouded in smoke and visibility is poor.  If the winds switch to a southerly flow (they have been north for the past few days) then most of the smoke should go elsewhere.  But people have been flying despite the smoke; it just damps things down a bit so it's more manageable :)  Many pilots are in town already with a bunch more coming in from Boise tonight!

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Final results for Pemberton Canadian Nationals

Final results can be found here.

After the final task day it was party time at Mike Sadan's house, with mucho salmon, corn, salad, beef, and plenty of veggies along with a bonfire and DJ.  It was late enough at night that it had cooled off from the daytime high of 32C, and the mosquitos had largely disappeared in the cool.

After yesterday's result I was hoping to crack the top 10, but I missed it by one and ended up 11th overall after 5 tasks.  But I managed to come in 1st in the women's class and 5th amongst the Canadians.  I had a lot of fun during the comp and it was especially fun to show the visiting pilots the local scenery and show off what Pemberton has to offer when it's on.  We were quite lucky with the weather in that it was mostly sunny and hot for the entire comp (it *can* rain here in August for days, although that's rare).  Unfortunately the comp wasn't an unqualified success due to John's death on day 2, and there was many a conversation about how to prevent such a horrible thing from happening again.

Jim and Corinne did an awesome job putting together this comp and running it with a minimum of volunteers and resources (even less resources than a typical American comp, and nothing like the resources of a European comp) while at the same time attempting to cater to all classes of pilot.  Many novice pilots I spoke to were quite happy with their personal flying and learned a lot.  Things like how to fly faster than they might otherwise, how to program and follow a GPS, how to evaluate conditions, and watching other pilots for additional information.  Denis Cortella did a couple of excellent talks that were well-attended and his presence was well-appreciated by all.  And Pal Takats who did an SIV course just prior to the comp did very well as well, flying an EN-B and putting many EN-D gliders to shame :)

So I'm back in Vancouver for a few days, and then it's off to Sun Valley for the World Cup.  I'm super-happy with the glider so far but I'm glad I got so much airtime on it this week (20+ hours).  Now I'm quite comfortable on it and ready to tackle the even bigger air of SV!


Saturday, August 11, 2012

Pemberton Canadian Nationals August 11

We had another bear visit this morning...I slept through the entire thing but apparently one of the camping pilots left food out (a big no-no in bear country) and the resident sow and her two cubs ransacked it and were chowing down when he woke up.  5am and he ran out of his tent, buck naked, and proceeded to chase the bears with his sun-umbrella.  The bears were unimpressed and the food was eaten before they wandered off.  Pilot decided to put some clothes on before he continued to make a spectacle of himself :)  DO NOT LEAVE FOOD OUT!!!

After the morning hoopla it was time to go back up the mountain one final time for the last task.  The local sailplane pilot was already doing circuits and relayed to us that it was soarable so a long-ish task was set that took us across the valley to the Miller side and then downrange past the Hurley Pass and then back to the Bruce goal field for about 70km.

We had one inadvertent "top-landing" after a pilot launched and was scratching just in front of launch, turning right, when he was reminded that it was left-turn day.  He immediately switched direction, fell out of the back of the thermal, and landed on the road up to launch, draping his glider over a few trucks.  No injuries other than his pride :)
Over Copper Peak looking east, starting 20km final glide.

Once in the air it was definitely lighter and slower than anticipated so we knew the task was gonna be harder and take patience to accomplish.  Almost everyone tagged the Owl TP, and then it was time to cross the valley to the sunny side of Miller ridge.  There are several ways to do this, and most pilots opted to backtrack to Fraser, or even closer to Upper launch where it's narrower, before doing the crossing since we were only getting to 2200m on the MacKenzie side.

I've done the crossing several times and the spot where I usually get up was working as usual so I followed the ridgeline up to Sugarloaf Mountain where I got to 2700m where it was nice and cool.  Evan from NZ was the only pilot who followed me as most other pilots who crossed to Miller ended up scratching for a long time before getting enough height to return to the MacKenzie side of the valley and try for Camel's Hump from that side.  Many pilots ended up losing 30+ minutes because they got stuck on Miller.  From Miller to Camel's Hump, staying on that side, is much more direct, so I was hoping to jump in the lead by sticking to the Miller side while they did the roundabout MacKenzie way...it ended up almost working :)

After meeting up with Jim at Camel's Hump it was time to tag Handcar Peak.  This TP is on the other side of the Hurley Pass, and to get there you have to overfly some low-angle terrain with inconvenient LZ's if you sink out (cutblocks and the dirt road)...the convenient LZ's (farmer's fields next to the paved road) are far-enough away that if you don't want to commit to possible inconvenience you'll have to tank up for this tagging and keep an eye on the wind.

I've done the Hurley Pass crossing many times but never this late in the day (4:30pm).  Fortunately the winds were very light and the lift was light but plentiful (kinda like doing the Bridal run late in the day) so it was easy to tag the TP and not have to worry about convenience vs. inconvenience for more than about 5 minutes before it wasn't an issue anymore :)

It was time to chase the lead gaggle and the milkrun back to Owl was uneventful as was tagging the ESS at Miller.  The lower pilots approaching the ESS had some uncertainty as the 1km radius could be inside the mountain if you approach it from too low, and that time of day it's in the shade so there's not much chance of climbing out on the backside and re-trying from higher up.  I was plenty high and no issues...I actually dared to go to 3/4 bar on the transition and the glider behaved admirably and no blow-ups :)
Final glide to Bruce goal field.

I only realized later on that I did really well, coming in 9th for the day and my highest daily score for this comp.  In the end there were about 15 pilots in goal with many late-comers arriving after goal-close.  Fortunately my decision to fly Miller-Camel's Hump direct paid off in that it probably saved me 30 minutes.  It was really cool to fly that side of the valley with all the glaciers and lakes up there, and approaching Camel's Hump from the sunny side for once was rather nice.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Pemberton Canadian Nationals August 10

Another epic task!

Results can be found here.

Some of the forecasts were calling for a Whistler Express today so we opted for a cat's cradle/fishbowl-type task with multiple laps to the north.  The laps were between Goat Peak, Camel's Hump, and Owl Peak, and we had to do the laps twice before landing at the Bruce LZ for about 67km.

Looking south during lap #1.  Notice haze from forest fires.
Initially we had a race to goal format, but with the uncertain conditions (it was very milky due to upper cirrus plus a bunch of forest fire smoke and our wind technicians were sinking out) and the late start to the day, we changed things to elapsed time so pilots could get going when they wanted to, without making them wait for a race start that could be a bit late if the Whistler Express manifested.  It made for an interesting day...pilots were able to watch how other pilots were doing at the start and choose when they were going to do their own personal start, and it was a bit of cat-n-mouse game with pilots chasing other pilots, not knowing who was really in the lead.

The cat's cradle format also allowed the slower pilots the chance to fly with the faster pilots, as the latter could catch up to the former during the laps with lots of thermal markers all over the area.  We also reasoned that if you could do 1 lap, you could do 2, provided you didn't run out of taskable time :)

Many pilots got high at Copper Peak and were able to tag Goat Peak, Camel's Hump and return to the MacKenzie side no problem and tank up for the Owl Peak TP before repeating the pattern.  In the end it was raining pilots into goal with something like 30 pilots landing there by the goal close of 7:30pm.  A few pilots sunk out after the Camel's Hump crossing, and several sunk out at the start, but by and large most pilots were able to finish a good chunk of the course and there were several personal bests like first time in goal and best XC distance for several novice pilots.
My new baby!

I came into goal maybe 15th or so but it's hard to know exactly until the elapsed time scores come out later on.  It was a fantastic time and we stayed in the non-windy end of the valley (it was light and variable in the goal field with pilots landing in every direction) while a small Whistler Express manifested around 7pm in Pemberton.

Tomorrow is likely the last day (Sunday is optional and at this point looking unnecessary from a comp validity point of view) so we hope to get one more good task in, perhaps using the Duffy Lake side of the valleys if the winds stay light so pilots can see what that end of Pemberton has to offer.

Denis Cortella is having another talk tonight about thermalling techniques so it's time to stop blogging and listen in ;)

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Pemberton Canadian Nationals August 9

After a two day hiatus everyone was itching to fly!  Light winds but a task was set to keep us out of any potential Whistler Express, north to Tender Mountain and then across to the Camel Hump before tagging Miller and then goal at Van Loon's.  Today's task was rather tactical as there were multiple routes people could take; you could be aggressive and stay on the more direct Miller side for part of the route, or fly the more known route and stay on the MacKenzie side and commit to more valley crossings.
Looking east to the Hurley Pass.

The lift was a bit lighter than I expected with slower climbs than usual for Pemberton...2m/s was the norm today.  I was flying with a slight gear issue (my pod closure knot popped off during launch so I was flying with my pod wide open for the entire flight) so I wasn't concentrating as much as I normally would while waiting for the start...fortunately I'm getting more and more comfortable on my IP6 that I was able to fly with my mind not completely focused on my glider and get myself more-or-less sorted by the time of the start :)

After tagging Tender Mountain I tanked up for the crossing to Camel Hump and arrived at 1400m no problem; I saw many pilots not get up on the other side and land out at the goal field below. Tanked back up to 2300m and then it was Miller Time.

I chose the more direct and aggressive route and decided to stay on the Miller side, but I wasn't able to get the climb I was expecting at Mt. Ross so I ended up scunging around the shady side.  Never got back up and ended up landing 3km short of Miller.  Bummer!

Coming up on the Camel Hump.
Meanwhile those who had chosen the more conservative and longer route had tagged Camel Hump and then returned to the MacKenzie side of the valley to do a re-crossing to Miller later on.  I think only a few pilots stayed on the Miller side the entire way back...Denis got up high and was able to do the rest of the flight on glide.

After I landed a whole pile of pilots overflew me on their way to Miller and then goal, doing the valley criss-crossing.  My big mistake today was flying too aggressively and not returning to the MacKenzie side of the valley when I realized I couldn't get high on the Miller side.  The spot where I normally get up on the Miller side wasn't working, and I didn't push deep enough to try the spot where Denis got up.  Sometimes being slow and conservative is better, as those pilots made better distance than me in the end :)

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Day off August 8

Photos of the day are here.

Too much wind forecast so the day was cancelled.  A group of us decided to explore Keyhole Hotsprings since I haven't been there in 5-6 years.  Awesome natural hotsprings and a hike in and out to keep things interesting :)

After returning to the golfcourse we had a bear encounter!  The resident sow and her two cubs were ripping into our tent for some reason.  Now we never keep any food in the tent, and never have had food in the tent, nor do we cook in the tent.  We also don't keep any smelly toiletries such as deodorant, shampoo, or toothpaste in there either.  Only sleeping bags and pillows.  The only reason we can think that they were interested in our tent was because it was on the perimeter near the tree line, and the farthest away from everyone else's.

Anyways, Al and Brett dried to drive them away with Al's truck with the horn honking etc., but the bears wouldn't budge.  Finally they wandered off and we were able to inspect the damage.  Only a small tear in the inner mesh, easily repairable with duct tape :), but the outer fly is toast.  Fortunately it's not forecast to rain anymore this week so the tent will survive, but the last trip for this tent :)  Moved the tent away from the perimeter so we are not the closest to the trees anymore!  Conservation officers showed up later to evaluate the situation...apparently these bears have been aggressive towards golfers too so they are becoming extremely habituated which is usually a death sentence for the bears.  Too bad.

Pemberton Canadian Nationals: day of reflection and mourning

After yesterday's task many of us were all stoked about making goal. It was only last night that we realized a pilot hadn't checked in and was still missing. Non-pilot reports (farmers) were of a pAraglider going into the Lillooet River a few kms south of the goal field.  Search and rescue initiated a search of the river banks in the hopes the pilot had swum ashore, but the cold water, combined with the swift current and the fact a submerged glider is almost impossible to control and reel in meant the pilot was almost certainly dragged under and drowned.

The body was discovered today about 50m downstream of the witness reports, caught up in some flood debris.  A media report can be found here.

Several questions have been raised about the task and the responsibility of each pilot as well as the overall organization in terms of flying safely. Most pilots who made goal were happy with the task...it took us away from the forecasted bad weather and the conditions along the course line were considered safe. It was the pilots at the back of the pack, flying slower, who got caught in the approaching weather.  Unfortunately, all the members of the safety committee were already on the ground, either in goal, or back in town, so weren't in the air to be able to give in-flight information. And nobody else in the back of the pack gave reports either...essentially there wasn't enough conmunication amongst the pilots and the ground organization about the bad weather brewing in Pemberton. The task was stopped when the organizers realized there were still pilots in the air despite the signs that it was way past time to land.

It's been speculated that perhaps the pilot got caught in some turbulence and had a collapse, maybe associated with the bad weather, or maybe just the "normal" turbulence experienced when you are low, trying to cross a tree line in some wind (in this case the tree line was bordering the Lillooet River). We'll really never know since no pilot saw the actual cause behind the water landing/crash but the approaching storm probably had something to do with it. Trying to get down ASAP because he finally realized it was time to get down NOW, maybe got hit by a gust front, perhaps focused on getting to goal, plain bad luck, who knows. Had the river *not* been right there, he would have landed on dry ground with possible injuries or in a tree or dragged into a fence by some wind, but he would have had a reasonable chance of living to tell the tale.

Paragliders and moving water *don't* mix. Period. If you see that you aren't going to make it across a moving body of water, turn around. Land in a tree. A water landing is almost always instant death due to the forces the current will place on your glider. Unbuckle from your harness if possible or use your hook knife to cut yourself free. Don't try to save your gear. It won't work. You will get dragged away by the cells in your glider filling up with water and no human can overcome those forces. Even if you land on dry land but your glider lands in water, the moving water catching in your cells will drag you from dry land and into the water.

Another thing I want to mention is the use of SPOTs. The pilot had a SPOT, but hadn't enabled live tracking. This meant when we were looking for him and checked his SPOT page, we only had his "I'm OK" message from the day before, and no breadcrumb trail (from any day) at all. Had he enabled live tracking, we would have been able to get an approximate (10 minutes old) position and had a place to start looking. If you are injured and unable to hit the 911 button, or unconscious, or dead, at least we would know where to start looking. So pilots, please, if you have a SPOT, get the live tracking option!  The SPOT is of little use otherwise if you go down and can't tell us that you need help.

Pilots today took the day off to reflect, free fly, or otherwise relax in their own ways. I went up to launch and drove a track down, then a swim in the very-warm mosquito lake. We have decided to continue the competition so tomorrow we may fly, although the forecast is for wind and possible thunderstorms in the morning which may lead to a cancelled day.