Monday, April 16, 2012

Big Adventure April 15

BJ launch looking south.
Flight is here!
Photos are here.

After yesterday's flight at Blanchard several of us were thinking of trying someplace different, just to get away from the fly-in crowds and try a new site.  Several of us had never flown Big Johnson and it seemed like the day to try it, so we reconvened at the BJ LZ around noon.

BJ is close to Maple Falls and faces almost due south; launch is about 500m or so.  It's at the end of a convergence of valleys which makes it ideal for ridge soaring as well as thermalling, and the multiple valleys makes it fun for lots of XC potential.  However the access is controlled via a gate so you need to accompany somebody with key access, or hike up.  You also need USHPA.  The launch is nicely grassed and you can lay out 2 gliders one behind the other.

Today the winds were scheduled to switch to west which is rather cross for this site, so it was important to get off early.  (In fact I think some people didn't get to launch due to cross-wind later on.)  Alex had been in the air for some time already by the time I decided to launch, and then Kevin and Brad joined us.

We had discussed flying into Canada already and once we felt out the air it was time to go!  I really had no idea specifically where to go...I haven't even been to Black Mountain before; I just knew to keep flying north and we'd hit the border sooner or later.  So when I got to 1650m I jumped the first gap to the NE.

This first gap is a bit of a doozy in that you end up on a rather low-angle ridge with only a few cutblocks to land in, in case you don't find a climb and have to glide out to the valley.  Kevin almost did exactly this...he had to veer off and head to the valley, but fortunately he was able to find a valley climb and get back in the game.  I managed to find a climb on the low-angle-ness and then it was back up to cloudbase and time to jump the even bigger gap to Black Mountain.

Up to now there had been a south tailwind up high, but Alex and Kevin were actually reporting a significant north wind down low, which ended up grounding Kevin next to the Black LZ.  Alex managed to squeak around the corner of Black and onto a windward face, while I was much higher and felt none of the north wind and was sailing along with my south wind.  When I reached Black I saw what looked like a very natural take-off, facing west, almost like the upper launch at Mt. 7.  It looked awesome!  It was only then that Kevin told me I was at Black Mountain that I realized I was looking at an actual launch site and not some natural feature.

Alex had climbed ahead of me but I missed his climb so I played around Black Mountain before continuing north.  As I approached 1600m again I could see the Fraser Valley, Sumas Mountain, and Dewdney.  In front of me were two mountains...it took me a minute to figure out that what I was looking at was International Ridge and Vedder, two mountains that I've never seen from this vantage point!

International Ridge is called so because it basically defines the US-Canada border in that area, so I radioed to Kevin that I was going for it and told him where my keys were stashed in the car still sitting back at the BJ LZ :)  As I glided over the US-Canada border I realized I would have to start keeping an eye on my altitude, because as soon as you cross the border there you are restricted to the Vedder CYA's ceiling of 5000' (1524m).

It was still a south tailwind up high so it was an easy crossing to Vedder which had nice cu's parked over the center ridge.  I had decided to fly along Vedder, rather than International Ridge, because IR was a bit OD'd and there aren't lots of easy LZ's on the US side the further east you go...Cultus Lake takes up much of the valley over there.  The Vedder side, however, was much less OD'd and has oodles of farmland to land in.

On Vedder Mountain looking at Cultus Lake and International Ridge.
I could see Elk and the Bridal range and wanted to reach it, which meant crossing the famously-windy Chilliwack River Valley, so I tanked up to 1400m+ before flying east across the Chilliwack River.

Despite the general lack of wind it was still a long glide, and starting at 1400m meant I arrived at Promontory at a measly 283m. I actually arrived below the upper houses on that ridge and could look up into backyards!  Had it been the normal windiness this would have been the end of it; I had prepared for this eventuality by picking out some nice big sandbars to land on, should I not get up and have to land in wind.  But fortunately it was so unwindy and I must have timed it just perfectly that as soon as I arrived on that SW-facing bluff, I hit a thermal and beamed back up to 1400m in one climb!

Alex was scratching elsewhere but joined me as I went on glide for Mount Thomm and we both found additional climbs to get us high enough to continue west to Elk Mountain and a return to the familiar.  At this point the usual Woodside and Bridal crowd were flying and we joined up with them, first off flying towards Cheam, before returning to Gloria and attempting the glide to Woodside.

I tanked up to 1700m and then Matt and I went for the enormous glide.  It was gonna be touch-n-go as to whether we'd make it across the river or not, and as I got closer I was still unsure about it.  I was hoping for a last-minute sandbar thermal to boost me enough to make it the extra 1 km, but alas it was not to be.  I had to bail onto a sandbar connected to the wrong (south) side of the river, and watched Matt join me a minute later.

I radioed that I had landed on the wrong side and would be hiking out to the mainland and then Matt and I started walking.  I had noticed on my final glide that our sandbar may not be completely connected and there could be a short wading session but it looked manageable from the air.

Matt and I did indeed need to ford the sandbar at one point (the river is cold!!!) but it was only when we got to the edge of the second sandbar when we realized that we weren't actually connected to the mainland at all, but still had a 100' section of river to ford, and this section was too deep to wade across like the first one.  What to do?

Fortunately it was a Sunday and there were lots of ATV-ers on the next sandbar over (the one connected to the mainland) so it was just a matter of getting help from one of them.  Easier said then done!  With their motors it's pretty impossible for them to hear anything else, so I had to use my whistle to finally get their attention.  Once we got ahold of somebody and explained the situation, that's when the hoopla began!

A local had a boat, but when they brought it, the engine wouldn't start, and they had only 1 oar.  So they had to go get a second, working, motor.  Meantime the rest of the ATV-ers (they called themselves the Rosedale Rednecks) were starting to congregate on their side of the sandbar and we could see a bit of a party starting up with beer etc.  Turns out our rescue was the most exciting thing that was happening that day so they all decided to check it out and be part of the fun!
One last hurdle to cross.

Finally the second motor arrived, was put on the boat, and it sputtered to life!  We're saved! The boat owner came over and collected us, and drove us the 100' across to the other side where a huge crowd had gathered to cheer us on, videocameras recording the entire show.  It was fully dark by now so the only light was from our flashlights and the glow from the truck and ATV headlights, and everyone was congratulating everyone else on a job well done.

Matt and I offered money to both the boat and motor owners and they were just tickled pink to have been part of "rescuing the paragliders from the island".  Meanwhile Matt's Dad-in-Law plus Rob and Alex had showed up to help out so we already had our rides back to Rosedale taken care of.  As we left the Rosedale Rednecks were fully in party mode...turns out the guy who rescued us was so gooned already he hadn't been allowed to get the second motor and his wife had to do the driving to pick it up in Rosedale, but he was the only one able to drive the boat, so it's a good thing he didn't dunk us in the drink!

And so ended our adventure from the US into Canada...Alex's flight was a bit less dramatic than mine as he made it to the other side and didn't need rescuing.  I however, was able to play the part of "damsel in distress", even though that wasn't my original intention.  I've had my share of low river-crossings and will be taking a good look at any sandbars I land on in the future, just in case they are indeed separated from the mainland!  During the time that Matt and I waited for the boat-rescue (2-3 hours), we had to back away from our shoreline several times as the water encroached a good 5'.  The river is in full flood mode now and all the sandbars we rely on for landings will soon be underwater for the next few months.

I'd also like to say a big thank-you to Kevin, who landed out and was denied the chance to land at his house near Cultus Lake, but instead drove the car back to Canada for us.  You're awesome Kevin!

PS to fly from the USA into Canada you have to clear it with Canadian Border Services Agency.  If you want the specific procedure you can email me directly (see right hand side for the "email me" button).

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