Dunlap US Nats May 30

Task 6 tracklog.
Dunlap results.

A monster task was called today to take advantage of the supposed NW winds; also possibly because we could have easily flown to Bakersfield yesterday ;)  The actual goal was just north of Bakersfield, about 135km away, to avoid the airspace around Bakersfield proper.

Task 6
I had a great start but got very low in Drum Valley with Alex and Josh.  Josh got away and with the lead gaggle pulled away, while I was forced to scunge my way along in tiger country, looking at landing many times with a very long hike out, until I could see a highway pass in the distance and knew I was saved as far as a long walk was concerned.

Alex was high at this point but got low as I got high, but was able to get high again to turn around and fly back towards Dunlap.  The reason he did this is because it was actually SW winds, not NW, and the whole south leg was into wind and thus very slow going.  If the entire courseline was going to be SW wind it was gonna be a very long and slow day!

I at least got to see goal today ;)
I finally got grounded just past Woodlake as the crossing there was too much for me alone in the SW headwind, maybe 50km away.  It was definitely dead air there as pretty much no thermals came through the entire time I was waiting there, and in fact Alex Gagarin landed in the exact same field about 1 hour later, complaining of the same thing.

According to the SPOTs we could see the lead gaggle of about 8 pilots was still heading south but shedding pilots every so often.  In the end only 4 pilots made goal, with a few more landing just short.  It looks like most of the lead gaggle took the flats route, reporting a lack of strong thermals and dust devils unlike yesterday, and a SW cross-headwind until at least Porterville where it finally turned more NW.  I think a lot of pilots didn't make it out of Sand Creek so I'm hoping I stayed in the top 10 for today.

Tomorrow is the last day and we are definitely ready for a rest day afterwards, as we've been flying 7 out of 7 tasks.  This place is definitely consistent for reliable sunny flyable weather, so long as the winds stay within reason.

Dunlap US Nats May 29

Passing Woodlake at 6000'

Task 5 tracklog.
Dunlap results.

Another beautiful day in California, as the clouds dissipated and the cu's started popping.  Today's task was downwind to the Porterville Airport via the flats, about 96km.  Climbs were really high today (for here) to 7000' in the mountains and 6000' on the flats passing Woodlake, which made today much easier compared to yesterday; the wind was lighter too!

I got separated from the lead gaggle at Orange Cove so Dean and I flew together on a deeper line in the foothills, passing the lead gaggle while they were stuck on a ridge further on the flats.  But we all met up just outside Lindsay/Exeter when it was time to push out for the last TP and then it was decision time...do the flats into goal, or return to the hills until goal.

Task 5
While at Woodlake I had noticed haze domes forming and was wondering if something was changing in the airmass; then cu's started popping left, right, and center.  Soon the whole valley was full of cu's, so after tagging the Lindsay/Exeter TP it was an easy decision for me to stick to the flats and ride the clouds downwind for the remaining 25-30km.  I did get low once, but the flats were delivering low saves all over the place so it was the frisbee downwind until I reached the Porterville airport.

Last time I ended up here I got massive lift directly over the airport, and today was no exception; everyone was doing big ears and wingovers etc to get down; there was so much lift.  The skies were full of cu's and we could have continued to Bakersfield I'm sure, but we were all so tired that we just wanted to land!

Final glide into Porterville airport
Goal was a very happy place to be with nice grass to pack up on and about 12 people in goal...a rather easy task considering.  I think I came in 9th or 10th today so I should maintain my 6th place overall (I hope)!  It was truly lovely flying, there was some wind but not too much, and the climbs were plentiful, and we got to transition from mountain flying, to foothill flying, to flatland flying, all in one flight!  I don't know how often the central valley pops with cu's, but today certainly looked like a special day!

Dunlap US Nats May 28

Day 4 tracklog.
Dunlap results.
Task 4

The day didn't start off very well after Bill had his epic "glider malfunction", falling into the trees after gift-wrapping himself right in front of launch...I was next in line to launch but stood down while he was extracted from his tree.  He was totally OK but the glider, not so much.

Cruising the flats.
The skies had a bunch of cu's and in fact the shade from the clouds was keeping the cycles manageable, despite it being pretty windy out in the sun.  The task was to take us out to the flats and fly to the Woodlake airport, and it was hard!  The wind was so strong that I got blown downwind of the direct courseline and then spent the next 2 hours flying upwind, then getting blown back downwind in the thermals.  I could only make 1-2km per glide, so it took many glides to cover the ~20km ;)

Once on the flats it actually got better despite it being very windy, simply because of less rotory stuff to deal with.  I saw Marty in the skies behind me but nobody else so I kept on, and was able to stay high using a series of fields that had oodles of dust devils breaking off every few seconds.

On final glide.
Those dust devils saved me a few times as they gave me enough height to tag the Orange Cove TP and run back to the terrain, where I had to ridge soar with a turkey vulture at the very last place to get up before catching a thermal to get me within range of safer landing zones downwind.

The flats were actually working pretty well and it felt much like the Camrose flying I had done last week, so I was completely comfortable with only stopping in the strong stuff.  The rest of the flight was pretty easy as I skipped from cloud to cloud and doing 70+kph downwind on 1/3 bar.

As I approached goal at the Woodlake airport I started radioing to find out the wind conditions and where the proper landing spot was.  I was getting nothing on the radio and starting wondering if the lead gaggle had already landed, packed up, and were gone back to HQ...I was convinced I was last into goal.

Arriving at goal.  Was wondering if the goal vans had already left ;)
With no information coming over the radio I tagged goal and then decided to land in a larger field just north of the airport, since it was so windy I wanted a large field to back into (if need be).  It was blowing ~30kph on landing but I had a nice gentle landing in a pasture with wildflowers and many gophers to keep me company.

Marty flew overhead and landed at the airport, so I walked over, fully expecting to find a vanload of pilots already waiting, and was fully surprised to find out that nobody else had made goal and I was actually here first!  I was totally shocked as I hadn't even conceived of the idea that the lead gaggle had gone down short of goal and I had overflown them.  But hey I guess even I can make goal when almost nobody else does; too bad the day is so devalued due to the multitude of minimum distances and not enough people in goal to get a 1000 point day.
Marty and myself with the airport staff.

The day was very hard in the beginning with having to be patient with the climbs and taking anything that was going up, even if it went in the wrong direction.  And the wind meant landings in the valleys could be exciting, so I had plenty of incentive to stay high until I reached the relative safety of the flats.  It was another quite technical flight but very rewarding to make goal.  Too bad there wasn't anybody else besides Marty to share it with ;)

Dunlap US Nats May 27

Your's truly on launch.  Photo courtesy of Kimberly Phinney.
No goal for me today ;)  I didn't get the expected climb on the first transition and ended up sidehill-landing it next to the highway.  But I felt better about it after I met up with Bill, Brett, and Dean who landed nearby as well ;)

Task 3

A lot of pilots made it out of the lee of Bald however and were able to start the task properly, but the high cirrus was coming in and it looks like things slowed way down as the climbs got weaker and the sun was obscured.  Looks like 10 pilots made goal with Kansas in first; congratulations Kansas!

Dunlap US Nats May 26

Task 2
Dunlap results are here.

With the wind forecast of more northwesterly, the task committee decided to send us downwind to the Porterville airport, about 82km away.  I actually found the condi
tions slightly better than yesterday, although over Delilah it was the usual roughness.  I was able to stick with the lead gaggle for pretty much the entire flight, and only Josh was ahead of us as he charged ahead alone.

Most of the flight was pretty uneventful with plenty of lift.  Our gaggle (Dean, Brad G, Eric, and Brett) kept to the small hills for the most part, not going too deep or flying the flats, but when we came to big gaps we'd jump the gap rather than follow the terrain around.  So in some spots we had to slow down to catch mid-valley climbs before reaching the other side and continuing on.
Getting off the mountain on day 2.
Photo courtesy of Kimberly Phinney.

The only time we got really low was about 10km from goal, when we were going a gap crossing and got very low and had to frisbee ourselves across some vineyards to the climb that Josh was beaming out on.  But after that it was pretty much an easy glide into goal, and in fact the last part was 3-4m/s up.  Goal was an active (but uncontrolled so OK to land at) airport with several Forest Service aircraft coming and going on their way to a forest fire, so we made sure to land well away from the active runway.  Brad had an interesting landing as he cut it very fine and barely made the 400m goal cylinder, slaloming through some hangars to reach it and surprising the airport manager who didn't see him coming ;)
Big aircraft were coming and going as we came into goal.

In the end we had about 13 pilots in goal, with many others scattered along the courseline and a few who landed just short.  All in all a good day with lots of happy pilots on the way home!  Tomorrow is forecast to be quite windy so we may have a day off...we'll see what we get for actual weather tomorrow.

Dunlap US Nats May 25

Task 1
US Nats Dunlap Day 1

The first day of the US Nats and it was high pressure and stable-feeling, but I've been told the thermals are nicer out near to the Central Valley, so I was glad when the task was to take us out that way.  It was a shortish task, about 58km, but it involved crossing a bunch of low hills out to the main valley, and then upwind to another TP before downwind into goal in Squaw Valley.

Getting a climb before heading to Orosi

I'm actually rather glad there are only ~30 pilots in the comp, since it made the start gaggle very nice and manageable, which is a good thing since the air was extremely snarly over launch and Delilah.  Lots of glider management going on and I saw several whacks, so I was glad to have lots of clearance in case I needed the space.  Even so, I was very glad to see the start time finally tick down and we were allowed to start.

Some pilots chose a more circuitous route via Bald but most of us took the direct line over Granny's and it was slow going!  Lots of slow climbs and wind, and I was forced to take some climbs downwind and stop in EVERYTHING.  But even though I took a different line I ended up meeting up with the lead gaggle out at the final foothills and we then tanked up for the push out into the flats to tag Orosi.  I saw many pilots low and landing out on the flats, and I was almost one of them as I finally got a climb over the gravel pit and then I was back in the game.

Flying the foothills on the way to Jesse

But it was still slow going and I was stopping in everything that was lift, even stuff was taking me away from the courseline, just to stay in the air.  It was low save after low save over the foothills until finally I was able to take the Jesse TP and then it was the downwind push to goal.  It was only when I had goal on a 6:1 glide that I actually believed I would make it, since there had been big sink before and I've seen 8:1 downwind glides go bad ;)

I estimated it pretty well and arrived over goal with maybe 200m to spare.  I was super-stoked since the entire flight was basically a series of low saves and low climbs; it was probably the most technical flying I've done in a very long time.  But because it was so hard, it was very satisfying to make goal when so many others didn't (only 6-7 pilots made goal).

Task 1 results.
On glide to goal!

Pretty tired now after an afternoon of glider management a
nd lots of active flying; tomorrow may be windier so we'll see what kind of task the committee sets up!
Packing up at goal!  Photo courtesy of Brett Zaenglein.

Dunlap May 24

Me in the air over Dunlap launch.
Photo courtesy of Guy Herrington.
After a long drive down from Vancouver to Dunlap (just east of Fresno) we are now in sunny California!  Such a change from yesterday, where it was pouring rain all the way from Seattle to just north of Medford.  And apparently we will have to find an alternate way back to Canada after one of the I-5 bridges fell into the river ;)

I had just changed the lines on my IP6 so I wasn't sure if the funkiness was the new lines, the air, or me.  Turns out it was the air as many other pilots reported snarly conditions and multiple wind directions depending on how high you were and what mountain you were over.  The flying here looks to be quite technical with many different routes, multiple valley systems (all with their own micrometeorology), and low-ish hills with potential long glides out.  I'm really looking forward to trying my hand at this type of flying in a comp situation with lots of other like-minded pilots!

A bunch of us landed in Squaw Valley in thermic conditions, and we had one pilot with a suspected broken wrist after sticking his hand out upon landing.  We've got about 30 pilots here so far for the Nats so it looks to be a nice intimate comp (for a change!).

Not sure where the comp results will be, but the Nationals website is here.

Camrose AB May 18

The skies started popping with cu's just after 11am so we knew it would be a good day.  But the winds were SE which is not the greatest direction....you have to detour a bit to avoid Edmonton airspace which costs time.  But we made the most of it; I got 149.5 km after getting shot down by a blue hole and a lot of wind; Alex landed a couple km's past me.
Heading north towards Redwater

It sounds like Alex and I had quite different flights since we were about 1 hour apart in getting into the air.  When I launched I had some virga to immediately fly through (with the associated sink behind it) so I had to scratch for a long time, and that pretty much set the pattern for the day.  I found the day to be quite slow and not easy and I never got to cloudbase; my highest was 2700m.  Alex on the other hand said he had plenty of lift and got cloudsucked at one point with hail.

In the end we landed about 2km apart from each other despite being 1 hour apart and Brett (the scheduled driver for the day) was right there to pick us up and provide an escape from the incredible mosquito swarms...I figure there must have been a mass-hatching or something just before I landed as I've never seen it that thick!

I think my flight can count as a new Canadian female OD record since the previous record is 135.5 km; we'll just have to make sure the tracklog is accurate and all the paperwork is in order.

A bit more of Camrose Alberta

Towing up Will on the Terraway N-S road.
A couple of days ago Brett and Alex had a really sweet flight to the NE.  It was ODing to the south so that was pretty much the only direction to go despite the NW winds, so it was a bit of a crosswind (and thus slow) flight.  I was the retrieve driver for the day so after picking up Will (who had headed SW until the OD, then turned around and landed just north of Forestburg) it was driving north to keep up with the boys as they cruised under a giant cloudstreet at 3000m for the last 40km.  In the end they got 170-180km, which is Alex's second-longest flight, and Brett's new personal best.  But the retrieve was long and we weren't back in camp until 1am ;)

I'm sure the Edmonton pilots are
familiar with this structure :)
We had one awesome-looking day where we could have flown 200+km, but it was a tad too windy (by 5-8km) for safe tows and possible mid-day landings, so we decided to stand down.  But Alex had a late tow at the end of the day when it started to lay down a bit (a demo flight for the local farmers) and got 70km in.

The Rosalind E-W tow road.
Yesterday looked promising with lots of cu's initially but it soon OD'd all over with virga.  I had a low save right over the tow staging area, about 80', right over Brett and Will, as I was circling for my landing, when I got a tiny 0.2m/s up which eventually developed into a solid 2-3m/s to 1600m.  I was sure I was away but the whole area then proceeded to go to 2-3m/s down, and I was shortly on the ground again.  In the end nobody got away and we packed it up for the day.

We've got a few more days here before we head to Dunlap CA for the US Nats, and the Miles in May folks are showing up tomorrow.  Wifi is kinda sporadic which is why I'm not updating this blog every day ;)

Camrose Alberta the past few days

Just below cloudbase on an average day in Camrose :)
Well it's been a definite change from the usual mountain flying I do in BC...here it's flat and you can see the weather coming for km's with nothing in the way!  After a beautiful drive through the Icefield Parkway we arrived in Camrose to meet Brett Yeates and his tow winch system.

After a day of learning how to operate the tow system it's been switchy weather, with a lot of wind and big skies.  As a primarily mountain pilot, I've been trained to equate lots of wind=bad.  But out here, lots of wind is normal and required if you want to fly far.  So we are slowly getting used to the idea of towing up in strong (30kph) winds and landing in potentially stronger (40kph) winds, because up high, it doesn't really matter!

Yesterday after a switchy start to the day, with us moving from a N-S road to a E-W road (it was NW), Brett and I were able to get away with Alex being the designated tow/retrieve driver.  Lots of shade around and the climbs were weirdly slow, so it was mostly a survival day of staying high and waiting for the shade to move off before continuing onwards.  Plus I had to detour around the Wainright CFB airspace which cost me some time.  Even so, I was able to get 91 km (84 straight line) in just over 2 hours, on a day considered to be below average (3-4) on a scale of 1-10.  On a real cracking day it will definitely be Canadian record-able!

Windy Pemberton May 4

Windy Pembie flight.

The NE winds were forecast to be quite significant today but it still looked doable so MacKenzie launch was quite crowded by 2pm.  No cu development we could see from launch (although later on we would see some in the backcountry) and clear blue skies meant it was clearly outflow aloft.

You can see the lennies forming in the distance.
The first people grovelled around for about 30 minutes before it appeared to turn on at which point everyone else launched.  I actually got up quite easily directly over launch, all the way to upper launch at which point the NE wind made itself quite known!  Once above the ridgetop we were basically pointing at the mountains and having to crab sideways to get any distance...it was quite slow going at times.  And the thermals were leaning way over the valley so after topping out, we'd have to tack back to the mountain to continue along or risk being flushed off the mountain range.

Thermals were rather strong but smooth up high, and we were getting to 2800m easily.  At this altitude my GPS was reading 25kph of NE wind and we could now see lenticular-type clouds forming in the interior...there was certainly a lot of wind about!  And it was funneling through every valley that had a north or east orientation: it was funneling through from just behind Barbour Mountain, and it was really squeezing through at Hurley Pass!

In fact at Hurley Pass I decided I'd had enough of the strong NE winds, so the next thermal I took drifted me into the Pemberton valley (like all the others) and I let it.  In fact I drifted all the way over to Camel's Hump and the east side of the valley.

Thermal-frisbeeing over to the east side of the valley.
The conditions were *so* much smoother over on the east side of the valley, I decided to stay and enjoy it!  Not much actual lift over there (it was quite late and the sun was completely on the wrong side), but I was able to find nice lifty lines along the ridgetops all the way to Miller ridge.  A nice climb on the sunny side directly over the hidden valley (still encased in snow) but not really enough altitude to glide directly to Mt. Currie (which I was thinking might be really nice just about now, facing NW and all that).

Because the MacKenzie side had produced much higher lift earlier in the flight (albeit very rough), I decided to glide back to launch and try to get the altitudes I had been getting before, in order to make the glide to Currie.  But now those of us below the ridgetop had a hard time breaking through 1600m...I ended up going after getting to 1800m, while those who had returned from Goat Pk etc and stayed high had a much nicer glide over to Currie.  I had terrible sink on the way over, 2-3m/s for a large part of it, and arrived on the slopes of Currie too low to make it work, and ended up landing at the airport.  But Andrew and Peter left from higher (2300m?) and were able to make it work.
Icefields on the east side of the valley.

Meanwhile some pilots had opted to go big and were past the Hurley Pass and onwards to Handcart or North Creek, turning around at the 40-45km mark.  Everyone reported strong winds and rough conditions on the west side of the valley, and much mellower conditions on the east side of the valley.  I'm kinda glad I decided against going big in those kinds of wind conditions...flying the Miller side was way smoother and much more enjoyable than the pummel-fest that you experience past Hurley Pass on windy days!

Epic Woodside May 1

81km FAI triangle

Salsbury Lake (melted) and Kenyon Lake (still frozen)
After yesterday's overdevelopment, today was actually a bit stable in the Fraser Valley.  The cu's were small and set quite far back, so we knew it was time-sensitive to get away before it baked out too much and escape to the big mountains where it was more unstable.

Stave Lake with Judge Howay and Robie Reid

After getting established over Sasquatch it was basically flying under the clouds all the way to Big Nick, making sure to stay under the magic number of 1981m (our airspace limit).  It was a bit funky at Dewdney, which we didn't really expect; it seemed it was quite north in spots and this was wrapping around Dewdney as well as coming down Norrish Creek.  But we were able to get out of there and once hitting Pattison and Gregory it was now a real effort to stay low, as there was lift everywhere.  No big cu's, just areas of widespread lift and we were all watching our GPS's to make sure to stay legal :)

The 5-6km of unlandable terrain just past Blinch.
I haven't flown north of Shotgun so it was a real treat to get up to Salsbury Lake and then Kenyon Lake up near the north end of Stave Lake.  Judge Howay and Robie Reid were right there and it was totally possible to glide across to the Judge, except it was very unlikely to get back and the only landing is the beach and a long wait for a boat or floatplane to possibly come by in the next few days :)

Looking up the Statlu.

Kenyon was actually the crux for me, as I was so paranoid about staying below 1981m that I actually got too low on the crossing, and arrived so low I didn't really have a proper LZ as a bailout.  I could have landed in the snow next to the still-frozen Kenyon Lake, but then it would have been a multi-hour posthole through the snow to a road and possibly a night out, and I wasn't really into that.  So I made up my mind to climb out of there, and managed to get back up to peak height and some breathing room while I still had some semblance of a road below me.
Banjo and the Chehalis River.  Woodside in the distance.

The next section (what most people would term the actual crux) is about 5-6km of unlandable terrain...no road, no cutblocks, and no retrieve.  It is soooo tempting to get really high to cross this stretch easily, but nope, 1981m is all you're allowed once coming back from Blinch.  So you have to climb high but stay legal, and keep surfing along until you reach the Chehalis drainage and a retrievable road becomes within glide again.  This is not something you want to do low, or on a too-unstable day (since if you get shaded out by OD, you're in trouble)!

Gliding towards Woodside.

Once arriving over the Statlu area it becomes easier as the valley actually flows downhill from here so you can, if necessary, just keep gliding and you'll make a cutblock.  But if you want to fly back to the Fraser Valley, you have to keep going and aim for Banjo!

No LZ's this side of Woodside...heading back to Chehalis LZ.

Alex and Al were at the bump just SE of Banjo but not climbing out, and reported they were going to land at Harrison Hot Springs.  I decided to see how close I could get to Woodside and then land at the Chehalis native reservation soccer fields; for the XCanada contest, you have to get to within 5% of your start to get the triangle bonus and Harrison Hot Springs isn't close enough ;)  It was actually quite easy to glide to the north side of Woodside, and had I been higher I may have been able to surf the north side back to launch and properly close my triangle.  But I turned around 4km from launch so I could make a safe landing, and the very friendly folks at the soccer field offered me a ride to the car right away!

Chehalis LZ with Woodside in the background.
It was a very special flight, but it's not something to do every day...you need light winds, the right amount of stability (the almost-becoming-too-stable-days at Woodside seem to be best), and most of all, it's best to do in a group for safety.  Landing out in the Blinch/Statlu areas would be full-on and it's best if you fly with a SPOT.  And keep an eye on the sky...it would be really unfortunate to reach the unlandable section just as the sky milked over (for example) or a big cu blew up and blocked your way back to civilization.  And watch your altitude if you want to stay legal and post your tracklogs...it's easy to get too high!