Willi Muller XC Challenge July 31

Quite a bit of drama today as we had two accidents and a probably-averted one.  #1 was a Russian tandem pilot (unrated, uninsured) with extremely sketchy and unairworthy equipment (a 21-year-old glider!), as well as questionable judgement, attempting to launch in perfectly launchable conditions.  After 2 attempts he was shut down quite forcibly by two pilots who told him in no uncertain conditions that he was not welcome to kill himself or his passenger while we were around and to take a hike.

After said Russian tandem left it was a slow wait for things to turn on as it was quite stable-looking with a clear haze/smoke layer visible across the valley.  Finally pilots starting launching and scratching around the tits.  It was at this point that reports starting coming in about a possible PG pilot in the trees on the tits.  After ascertaining who it was and their location (based on their SPOT data) we started heading to his location while 911 was phoned.  For those who remember the Nationals a few years ago, it was more-or-less the exact same place that Jeff Whishney crashed, right next to the heli-pad.

Search and Rescue taking the downed PG pilot out from where he crashed on the tits.  Photo courtesy of Alex Raymont.
Alex got to the crashed pilot first and looked like some back pain and a broken ankle as he had broken off the top of the tree and landed with his glider on the ground below (hence he was invisible from the air).  Fortunately he was only 150 m from the heli pad which meant it was pretty easy for the paramedics to get to him and he was evacuated quite efficiently.  From last reports he is on his way to Calgary for the best treatment of his fractures.

Things that we noticed with this accident is that the pilot wasn't using the radio properly, not giving his identity or his location or the fact he had crashed and needed help.  Possibly his radio was damaged or the volume turned down during his crash as we could hear him but he couldn't hear us.  The other big thing is that despite having a SPOT, he didn't push the HELP or 911 buttons!  The SPOT device was inside his cockpit and not easy to reach, but also the device was very new to him so using it for its intended function may not have been foremost on his mind.  Also shock may have played a role in his non-use of those buttons on the SPOT.

We thought the day was finished but then we got reports of a hang glider pilot crashed in the 15 km field according to his SPOT.  He *had* pushed the help function on his device so rescue was already on its way, but Randy and Leif happened to get to him first.  A sliced nose from the wires as he swung through on landing.  This field is actually a no-go LZ right now as per the initial safety briefing due to the not-yet-cut-crop, but he apparently missed that part of the briefing and so when coming in he likely caught the basetube on the waist-high crop.  Plastic surgery is on his horizon.

So it was quite an eventful day and not many people went XC due to it being very stable and windy high up.  Fortunately no thunderstorms in the area so we at least had that going for us.

Willi Muller XC Challenge July 30

Today I chose not to fly but drove instead...a bit more instability vs. yesterday and a chance of thunderstorms in the afternoon.  But several pilots did fly before the skies got too big.

Mt. 7 with a storm cell brewing behind.
Up on launch it was quite switchy with a persistent dust devil periodically showing up around the ramp area and swirling around for a bit before disappearing, only to reappear a few minutes later.  It kept doing this for a good 30 minutes!  Not too many people went XC as the skies were getting big all around and with the Parson forest fire putting out so much smoke, it was difficult to see what the skies were doing downrange.

View to the south as of 7:30 pm: Igor was still waiting it out on a peak near Castledale under this storm.  Smoke from the Parson fire visible as the brown smudge mixed in with the lower cloud.
Excitement of the day went to Igor who went downrange as a thunderstorm was building; he top-landed just south of Castledale to wait it out.  On the phone to Al he mentioned he would relaunch if/when the storm passed, and if necessary spend the night out on top and relaunch in the morning.

EDIT: As of 8:45 pm Igor has relaunched and flown safely to the valley bottom where he is being picked up.  Looks like Igor will get to sleep in his own bed tonight!

Meanwhile a bunch of us went to Cedar Lake for a swim and to show Andy the rope swing, which he immediately tried to excellent effect with his Go-Pro attached for a selfie during the swing/fall into the water.  Hopefully he will get some non-blurry shots!

Willi Muller XC Challenge July 29

Big clouds in the Bugaboos spilling out into the main valley down by Brisco/Radium.
A bit of a change in the weather with possible showers forecast for the afternoon.  For Golden this means possible big clouds with associated OD so I was prepared for a shorter day.  The air definitely had a bit of an "industrial" feeling to it and more south wind vs. other days, so the going was slow.

I was mentally keeping an eye on the clouds as I flew south, also looking back occasionally to see if my return route was being compromised, and prepared to turn around at Spillimacheen in any event.  But the clouds were getting quite big in the Bugaboos and several large cells had formed over Kapristo over the past couple of hours, so I was feeling a bit hemmed in.  Coupled with a bunch of sink at the 49 km mark I opted to turn back and head out to land.  The valley and lower spines were actually working quite well (possibly due to the large clouds over the middle of the valley) and I was able to essentially glide north until just past Parson where I landed for around 66 km.
Also getting big back towards Golden!

Looking up I could see a large cell spreading out around Radium and a cell had just dropped out over Kapristo, so I was pretty glad to be on the ground.  Other pilots with different tolerance levels decided to keep flying and I'm pretty sure there will be some 120-130 km OR flights done today.  In the end nothing happened and the skies pretty much fizzled, but this is Golden where big clouds are to be respected!

The Parson forest fire.  It hasn't gotten much bigger in the past 3 days, fingers crossed!

Willi Muller XC Challenge July 28

Classic Golden!
Another beautiful day in Golden with sunny skies, a few cu's (mostly in the backcountry), and light winds.  Today was out-and-return day!

I had pre-declared an out-and-return of ~150 km with the turnpoint at Spur Valley so was hoping today was the day to finally do it.  It certainly seemed possible as I flew down the range as the winds were mostly west.  It was light enough that the thermal development seemed to be the deciding factor in the local wind direction.

Cloudbase was super-high although it was mostly blue, and folks were getting 4000+ m at Spillimacheen and south.  I'm sure there were some airspace-busters as some pilots took thermals way above where I was pulling out to avoid the airspace (which varies between 12,500' and 13,400' south of Brisco).

Alex and Peter were just turning around at Spur Valley as I tagged my turnpoint so we flew back together.  Andrew, Al, and Andy had pushed on for the 100 km turnaround point for the 200 km OR.  They didn't quite make it back and landed in pretty much the same field as yesterday for just shy of 200 km.  Good job guys!
Just south of Kapristo: the highway to Banff and Beaverfoot valley.

The lift was still quite abundant at 8 pm and it was easy to close my flight by overflying the lookout, and then it was time to get down before it glassed-off!  I think it took 45 minutes to get down as I was just too tired to do wingovers etc to get down sooner.  My first 150 km out-and-return, and paperwork pending it could also count as a Canadian record!

Willi Muller XC Challenge July 27

Today looked like quite a good day but once I launched I wasn't enjoying the air.  It felt very rough and I didn't feel like putting up with that for an entire flight (and was still feeling a bit tired after yesterday's long day) so after climbing above Mt. 7 I decided to head out to land and have a slow and relaxing afternoon.

Those that rode it out reported that it actually got better later on (maybe I just launched too early) and enjoyed climbs to 4000+ m.  A whole bunch of pilots turned around at Spillimacheen and made it back for a 100 km out-and-return, while a few others opted to continue south to Radium or Invermere before turning around.  Martin N made it to Invermere airport for a new PB of ~102 km!

Of those that flew onwards to the turnaround point for the 200 km out-and-return, nobody made it fully back to the Muller Flight Park.  Peter and Andrew came up short a few kms, landing just north of Pagliaro for ~190 km.  Al made it back to Parson for ~165 km out-and-return.

Others flew north to Moberly and back to get some extra distance; Garth landed in the Blaeberry Valley next to his house and rode his bike back to Golden to get to his ATV parked at the bottom so he could retrieve his truck (a 3-vehicle endeavour apparently!).

The rest of this week is continuing to look epic, so hopefully tomorrow will feel less rough (at least to me) and I can get a nice out-and-return flight in.  At some point this week cloudbase is going to rise so high that busting airspace may actually become an issue!  One potential issue is a new fire (we spotted it yesterday, very small and on a steep hillside so we suspect it's lightening-induced) up one of the side valleys west of Parson...today the fire has grown and the smoke is now spreading into the main valley.

Results at http://thewillixc.com/

Willi Muller XC Challenge July 26

Lots of shade at Harrogate!
The coming week is looking good so far and yesterday (day 1) was a clearing day...clouds with the occasional blue hole but nothing solid until almost 3pm which is when the first group launched.  Many pilots reported trashy and "angry" air but I didn't think so; I found the air to be quite nice and possibly the nicest Golden air I've had in a long time.  But because it was so shady in spots I had to stop and wait for sun to appear ahead of me before continuing on, or race ahead of chunks of shade.  You had to watch the valley ahead of you and plan your jumps accordingly!

In any event the forecast was wrong with respect to the wind direction.  Supposed to be WSW but it turned out to be more NW and the further south you went, the more north it got (usually it's the exact opposite!).

We did have a couple of incidents.  One pilot went into the trees just off launch but was retrieved OK, and another pilot had his reserve fall out as he was kiting his glider to the packing up area in the Nicholson LZ (he was already on the ground so it just inflated behind him like a giant drogue chute).

Final glide just before 9 pm.
A few low saves around Brisco and Spur Valley but otherwise I was at 2700 m, cloudbase was somewhere around 3000 m initially but rose to 3300 m by the end of the day.  Quite low for Golden!

Looking at Fairmont mountains on final glide.
Even though it was a slow-starting day I flew until almost 9 pm, landing past Swansea launch past Invermere for 123 km.  Alex had landed earlier at the 119 km mark, while Peter Spear landed in Radium for 90 km and Al landed in Brisco after getting low in the shade.  Lots of other pilots made it varying distances downrange.  I don't think anybody tried an out-and-return due to the strength of the WNW wind.

Today is sunny and possibly an OR day, we'll see what happens!


Chelan US PG Nats July 12

The final day of the comp and one of the pilots suggested a starburst-type task with an epicentre and multiple stabs to various cardinal points.  We thought this was a fantastic idea as it would keep everyone close with lots of thermal markers and make retrieve fairly straightforward on the final day.  So we set the epicentre at the turnoff to McNeil Canyon with stabs out to Withrow (south), the edge of the plateau (north), Mansfield (east), and back to the soccer field (west).

It was quite a fun task as pilots were crossing each other back and forth to the various stabs and the lift was abundant with lift to 4000 m.  But task close was early to allow for the final scoring and a bunch of us simply didn't fly fast enough to finish the course by task close.  I landed a few km short of the rim and guess who was the first car by?  Martin Henry coming back from retrieving a HG pilot who landed out at Waterville!  Small world!

Around 25 pilots made goal with many others landing within 10 km of the soccer field.  I believe Brett Yeates was the only Canadian in goal, most of the rest of us landed near the rim instead.

This was a hugely successful comp with 7 tasks flown in 7 days, no weather/rest days, and over 700 km of task setting, including the longest task in US PG history.  Final results can be found here.  Just about everyone who attended was raving about the flying and the site including some visiting Europeans and Asians who had never flown Chelan before and were blown away with the quality of potential flying here.  I bet the next time we have a comp here it will be hugely popular and possibly oversubscribed.  We were incredibly lucky with the weather however as it could have quite easily been too windy, or thunderstormy, or shut down due to smoke or TFR's.  A special thanks to Kim and Kari for putting on a fantastic comp and hopefully we'll have a repeat within the next few years!

Chelan PG Nats July 11

After yesterday's mega-task people were moving very slow this morning, in fact I believe some pilots took the day off to rest and recover.  So we decided on a straightforward task of Sims Corner and back (~94 km) which would not tax retrieve and not require a lot of mental expenditure of energy by the pilots.

Sims Corner at 4000 m, looking at Banks Lake.  Lots of smoke from the Entiat and Leahy fires.
We actually got quite high on the Butte so the glide across was OK, but I had a terrible start.  I was low and downwind, and I spent a good part of the flight battling to get high and stay high.  I actually hit 4000 m at Sims Corner but other than that it was a struggle, and I landed just short of the rim on the way back, maybe 10 km short.  Just didn't seem to be my day, maybe I'm still tired from yesterday's epic flight!

Big day Chelan PG Nats July 10

Whopper of a task today, 206 km to St. John near the Idaho border!  Many personal bests (including myself) and almost 40 in goal by goal deadline of 8pm!

Flight is here.  And results will eventually be posted here.

Initially I wasn't sure about this task as it was totally blue with lightish WNW winds...a good direction but not very strong for such a push.  And the smoke from the Entiat fire made the first part of the task interesting as it was very smoky and hard to see gliders once they pulled away from you.  But on the flip side the lift was abundant and smooth...I guess the smoke was calming things down a bit.

The smoke didn't clear until around Coulee City and it was then that I could see cu's in the distance marking the Blue Mountains and the border with Idaho.  But our course had no cu's so we had to rely on dust devils and other pilots.  Definitely a day to stick with a group!

The crux of the task for me came with ~30 km to go.  This was where we had to leave civilization and head over no-mans land towards goal.  I was slowly climbing at the edge of it, peering in the distance to see if I could see a road in case I didn't make it.  I saw a straight line and figured it was a road so off I went, bailing on the gaggle that was slowing me down.

Landing at the end of the day at 194.5 km.
As I glided into no-mans land and got closer to the straight line, I realized it wasn't a road at all but the railway line!  No main roads anywhere and a 30km walk out if I landed out.  So I went into survival mode and milked a slow climb for the next 30 minutes until I got to 2900 m and was going to make it past the no-mans land.  I wasn't sure I had goal on glide but I decided to go for it as I was over the last bit of brown fields and everything past this was lush and green...not good for thermal production I figured especially at 7pm.

So I had the giant 25 km final glide and saw I wasn't going to make goal but land short, so I milked it as long as I could, landing 6 km short of goal for 194.5 km.

Up to now my longest distance has been ~160 km (towing in Edmonton) so I was pretty happy to have bettered that by over 30 km!  The final glide was awesome as it was the end of the day, very buoyant, and I landed at 7:42pm with 18 minutes of taskable day left.

The next cool thing about the day was as I was waiting on the side of the road for my ride, a shortbus pulled up and Rob Sporrer poked his head out (he was driving it) and offered a ride!  The shortbus was from goal, from a local resident of St. John who was so tickled at everyone landing in his town, he loaned his bus (for free) to to get us back to Chelan!  We had an awesome ride back with the tunes going and stopping in Moses Lake for a late-night burger run, arriving back in Chelan at 1:30am!

Other stories include the retrieve van that was pulled over for pilots wearing no seatbelts (in the end no tickets were issued, just a warning), and the pilot that was given a ride to town by a police officer after a local reported "suspicious behaviour" by the pilot (sitting on the side of the road).  Jim Orava landed in the no-mans land at the 160 km mark and had a long walk until retrieve found him.
Watching the sun set in the Entiat fire smoke as I'm waiting for my ride.
We did have some carnage in the goal field however.  Two pilots landed downwind after seeing last-minute powerlines, one wrapping himself around the school's flagpole and the other stalling it in from 10' on his back.  He's OK after being checked out at the Colfax hospital but will be sore for a while.

Other than that it was a very successful day!  Despite the length of the task we still had almost 40 pilots in goal plus many just short, and multiple personal bests.  It was also the longest task in US PG Nats history!

Chelan PG Nats July 9

I got rimmed!

Initially we were thinking of cancelling the day due to forecast high winds later on but the morning winds on the Butte (30 mph) died down so up we went.  It was actually pretty nice on launch with nice cycles and not off Green Monster (a bad direction for windy days) so we set a shortish task of ~66 km to Coulee City airport, via Mansfield, to get everyone on the ground early before the forecasted winds as the front moves through this evening.  And instead of a race start, we used 4 start gates so pilots could transition over to the rim when they were high enough and not have to wait around, drifting out of the start cylinder, for a mass race start.

At least that was the plan.  In actuality most pilots chose to wait until the final start gate (only a few took the first one).  This was because we were unable to climb high enough for the glide across the Columbia river (usually at least 2400m and preferably more) as we were only getting 2000m.  Finally we were able to get to around 2200m as the final start gate came and went so it essentially turned into a race start anyways with everyone leaving at once.

I had a lovely walk today!
We headed across the gorge but we were much lower than usual, and a good chunk of the field dirted right at the powerlines.  I was frisbeeing across the flats and was heading into Tiger country and I decided to go for it...I kept frisbeeing further and further from the main road, hoping it would solidify into something more useable.  But nope I lost the little drifter and I was forced to land in no-mans land.

It was actually a pretty nice walk towards the main road to Mansfield and the retrieve truck actually came and found me so it was very efficient.  I had my sun umbrella and plenty of water so I wasn't worried, and saw lots of deer bounding off as I disturbed them from their mid-afternoon nap.  A beautiful walk and I wasn't too broken up about landing early, as I've had 3 good days of flying and lots of flight hours, and it's a treat to come back to HQ early!

Reports are that Andrew Berkley made goal as well as a handful (?) of other pilots according to the Chelan Flats SPOT page.  Congrats to Andrew on well-done flight!

Chelan US PG Nats July 8

Smoke from McNeil canyon fire dissipating...
Today looked like another good flying day with light-ish SW winds and a mostly blue sky with the occasional cu.  The fire at McNeil canyon looked contained and the canyon was open to traffic, but we still wanted to avoid the area since they were still mopping it up.  A new fire out towards Entiat had just started but was still small with no TFR yet in place, so we created a 105 km out-and-return flight from Douglas to What The Hell (what we are calling the US2WTH turnpoint) to past Waterville and then back to the Chelan Falls soccer field.

The flying was pretty easy after the crossing to the rim and getting up (although that was a low save over the powerlines), but the winds were pushing the smoke from the fire on the flats and Waterville was getting all smoky.  We then heard a 5 NM temporary flight restriction had been placed around the fire.  As we were approaching the final TP the smoke was getting pretty thick but it was still flyable, in fact I found the lift was more abundant the closer we got to the smoke than before.  It was at this point that several pilots started recommending that the task be stopped due to level 2 and IFR conditions in the smoke.
...Just as the Entiat fire grows and smokes out the courseline!
Discussion ensued and eventually the meet director stopped the task.

Flight is here.  Results are here.

So after that it was an easy flight to Chelan Falls as that was the easiest option (plus the green grass and shade was hard to pass up vs a random dusty landing out on the plateau).  Most everyone had the same idea as the goal field was full of gliders and pilots wondering what had just happened.  Sounds like there may be a complaint or protest for the task stop ;)

Chelan PG Nationals July 7

Camp Canada at Beebee!
Late yesterday afternoon a grass fire started just north of McNeil Canyon and it was quite spectacular to watch the glow growing overnight.  The Canyon was closed to all non-local traffic which meant no retrieve possible using that route, and Mansfield was a no-fly zone due to the air traffic basing out of there plus all the smoke drifting over the town (in fact I believe there was a sort of evacuation of the town at one point due to embers coming down).  So we had to devise a task that would keep us out of that area and allow for retrieving on the flats using another route.  Wenatchee wasn't an option either as a fire is currently raging there too ;)
McNeil Canyon fire.

So we devised a 107 km triangle from Waterville to Sage and back to Waterville via a TP towards Banks Lake.  This would take us over new and very scenic territory as well as keep us away from the smoke clouding the northern end of the plateau.

Skies were blue with the odd cu and winds were light, perfect triangle weather!  The portion that we thought would be upwind, from Sage northward, was actually downwind lower down since the valley flow through that area was south, nice bonus!  And it was north up higher so the final leg was downwind too if you were high enough, which was necessary since if you got too low, you'd hit the south wind and be on the ground.
Heading for goal in Waterville.
Many pilots came into goal at 3000+m so after tagging goal they simply flew back to Chelan to save the retrieve.  Not me, I was too tired to keep flying after making goal with almost 7 hours in the saddle (2 of them waiting for the start as I'm an early launcher!).  Many other Canucks in goal as well...Keith, Jim, Al, Andrew, Simon, Guy, and possibly a few others I'm not aware of.  We are all punched and need to sleep before we do it all again tomorrow!


Chelan Nationals July 6

Well it turned into an epic day despite the wind on launch.  If you could survive the Green Monster and stay high and get across the powerlines on the rim, you were pretty set up for some distance with the 20+ kph SW wind!

Getting high to get through the shade section over Banks Lake.
We set a task of Wilbur airport via a control TP at the south end of Banks Lake, to keep pilots near roads and easy retrieve.  Total distance around 106 km.  The first 15 km or so were a bit slow as the cu's were just starting to form, but after that it was on!  The only slow part was crossing Banks Lake...a bunch of cu's had merged together to make it quite shady so several of us had to mince our way across and make sure not to get too low and sink out.  Having said that, I almost sunk out just before Hartline, with the mandatory uber-low save frisbeeing over the powerlines before the thermal broke off properly and I was able to climb back in the game.

I actually founds lots of sink between the climbs so I was able to use that to my advantage and come into goal with only 200m to spare, enough for a few turns in sink to land in the 25 kph winds.  Others came into goal at cloudbase (3200+m) and spent 45 minutes getting down!  When I left pilots were still coming in, so I expect somewhere around 50-ish pilots in goal, with several others landing just short.  All in all an awesome first day of this comp!

Results will eventually be posted here!
Fellow Canuck Brett Y. in goal at Wilbur airport.

Chelan July 3-5

So after a mere 4 days in Vancouver I'm on the road again, this time to Chelan for the US PG Nationals.  The town is BUSY and everything is full so it's a good thing we know people and got a coveted spot at Beebee campground, the primo waterfront spot right on the river and furthest from the camp entrance, nice and quiet.  Several other campers have offered to switch spots with us, but uh uh we're keeping our spot!

A bit high pressury now and I flew Friday, managed to survive the glide to the powerlines by diving into a dust devil on the rim, but not much after that (it was shading over with cirrus) and I landed on the next glide.  The farmer who gave me a ride was actually going the opposite direction, but turned around and gave me a ride "because you're a girl".  Nice.  Other pilots made it further but not much action really as the shade was getting thicker and thicker as the afternoon went on.

Saturday the official practice day looked blown out so I didn't bother, some local flights but I don't believe much XC took place.  We have ~120 pilots here with a good international presence (for a US comp) and tomorrow is the first task day.  So far it's looking sunny all week with temps getting into the mid- to high-30's so it'g gonna be a hot week!