Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Flush-o-Rama on Task 6!

Umm, WTF on the ground?!!
You'd think with great clouds like this (more photos here), it'd be near-impossible to sink out.  But yes it can be done!

We had an epic rainstorm last night, by some accounts the heaviest rain Valle has seen in years.  But it had all stopped by this morning and there were nice cu's forming behind launch so a task was set.  93km involving mostly the flats to the south and then a final dash over the back to the lake.

Given the huge cu's forming I wasn't concerned about sinking out so I launched as soon as the window opened and found myself at cloudbase about 3300m.  OK, this is awesome; weaving in and out of the clouds and generally having a great time.  I could see pilots occasionally heading out over the flats to test the waters, appear to not find anything, and scurry back to the safety of the mountains.  OK, so there's not much lift on the flats, good to know.

The start came and we all headed towards Llano, most of us leaving from cloudbase.  As I previously mentioned, forays into the flats had not proved fruitful but I figured with so many pilots heading out there, we'd find something and continue to Llano.  Boy was I wrong!

Once leaving the safety of the clouds it was pure hell, 4m/s down and me pushing full bar to somehow get through it.  I could see pilots on my line dropping out of the sky all around me and I was rapidly losing all the precious altitude I had only moments earlier.  Other pilots were having better luck with liftier lines but nobody was turning much until getting much closer to Llano.

Now, when I go on glide over iffy terrain I habitually scope out a couple of LZ's and memorize the roads in case I go down.  In addition I scope out an emergency LZ in case my preferred LZ's become unavailable for some reason.  Usually this is just an academic mental exercise but as I plowed through the terrible sink my options were quickly running out.  In front of me was a rising sea of trees (on the other side: salvation, as there was some high ground which I've climbed out on before and a village with lots of convenient LZ's) while behind me was a mess of canyons.

In desperation I headed for a small hill with a forest fire burning in the hopes it would trigger a thermal.  But luck was not with me today; no lift on the hill and the convenient village LZ's in front of me were no longer in reach and I was reduced to the shitty LZ's behind me.

Well I wasn't about to glide upwind over a rising sea of trees, especially after hearing of a pilot crashing into similar trees only moments ago due to not making the glide, so I turned tail and headed for my emergency LZ.  It was windy enough down low to make hoovering into it possible and I very shortly found myself in a small field near the bottom of a canyon after achieving a mere 6km along the courseline.

At first I was rather irritated with myself for sinking out, but I ended up with a 2 hour cardio hike (uphill) to get over it and change my attitude to one of c'est la vie, before the retrieve jeep found me.  Given that we are using FTV I'm sure I can use this as one of my discards :)  And even though I totally sucked monkey balls today, I still had a great time over the Wall and ended up doing something that 99% of the world's population *doesn't* get to do.  What's not to like?

Meanwhile those who hadn't sunk out on the way to Llano had tagged it and were now beelining back to Penon.  This was not normal.  The most direct route along the courseline was actually along the south ridge, but since there appeared to be little (if any) lift on the flats between Penon and there, everyone was fleeing back to the safety of the mountain before attempting the jumping-off to Santa Maria.  I only saw a handful of pilots attempt the direct line.

Unfortunately, the courseline included the Aguila TP which is at the extreme east end of the south ridge, which meant at some point pilots were gonna have to stay out there anyways.  And it was getting worse...a bunch of high cloud had moved in and the skies were rapidly becoming a uniform grey (I found out later it had rained in Valle) while it OD'd to the NE.  When I got back to Valle many hours later practically nobody had returned yet, so I'm thinking there are tonnes of pilots landed out along the courseline.  Nobody made goal.

The task committee had a hard call to make today...make a task over the flats with no clouds, but away from the huge clouds over the mountains, or keep everyone over high terrain where there was obvious lift but maybe too much of it.  In the end I think the task may have been a bit too ambitious for the day's conditions (still wet from last night, high potential for OD, low cloudbase, no clouds over the flats), and a shorter task of say, 50-60km, would have been in order.

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