California trip September/October

With the winter rains approaching and some free time, Alex and I decided it was time to revisit Marina and get some sand-dune flying in.  Marina in the fall can be quite nice, especially if you time it correctly to get the onshore winds.  But don't leave it until too late, otherwise you'll start getting the offshore winds!

Alex getting his new glider sandy.
Arrived to Marina to find it on already (the forecast had showed it being on for the past few days) so we immediately started flying from the ramp at Marina State Beach.  It was a tad on the light side (~9-10 mph) but doable, and we could see a group at Lakecourt.  Turns out it was Dave Turner with a tour group of Russian pilots of varying skill levels.

Point Lobos Nature Reserve, just south of Monterey
It had been a while since I had flown the sand dunes, but it came back quickly and much less sand in my glider vs. last time!  Crossing the gaps is fun if you are at all competent with kiting, as you can just kite your way the last bit across, and start flying where the dune starts rising again.

Some of the local HG's came out to play!
The next four days it was on every day starting around noon (W or NW 12-15 mph), and the last couple of days it blew out by 3pm.  But that's plenty of hours to surf low, do the Sand City run and return, or kite your way through the gaps.  We had company most days (in fact it was busiest I've ever seen at Marina) of both PG and HG, including a local HG who was a pleasure to watch...his launches and landings next to the ramp were butter-smooth.

The view into Yosemite Valley
Even though Marina continued to be flyable for several days after, we decided it was time to move on and we went to Yosemite National Park to do some hiking etc.  Despite it being early fall, it was still very busy in the main valley and even in Tolumne meadows and Tioga Pass.  Some days it was sunny, other days it rained or snowed, depending on how high you were.  Nights were below freezing!

Icy water in Tolumne!  The only reason it wasn't iced up was because it was flowing...
On the east side of Tioga Pass was Owen's Valley, a welcome change from the cold in the Pass.  It was a stable period with it being difficult to get above the 12-13,000' peak, but we were just happy to be warm and dry!  Met up with Kari and Cookie and Brian, plus a visiting pilot from Oz and a couple from Monterey, so we had a good crew most days.

Hilltop Hot Springs, near the Mammoth Airport
Finally it was time to return home to the wet NW for work, just in time for the first major rain- and windstorms of the season.  Until next time!

Beautiful fall colors around Convict Lake

Grouse Mountain September 10

We had a fairly large group at Grouse today...a bunch of guests, regulars, and the tandem operation.  Strong-ish west wind aloft and weird clouds forming, but it was easy to get to the clouds at 1500m and play around.  Peter and I started going to Crown Mountain but turned around since it was looking too shady.

Capilano Reservoir is low now.

 Lots of lift over the city as the clouds were forming out there too, and strong west wind until the last 100m or so, at which point it switched to the usual SE flow at ground level.  Capilano Lake is very low at this time of year!

Some instability forming out front in advance of the approaching north wind.

Miller Ridge Aug 23

Hiked up Miller Ridge with a few friends to try out the launch on the morning side of the Pemberton valley.  During the drive up to the end of the road we saw where the new powerlines are going in, and the possible new launch from the road!

Miller Ridge launch meadow.
Short 45 minutes to 1 hour hike, depending on your hiking speed.  The top part of the hike is quite flat and in the open, which is nice.  The old cabin is falling apart but the new ones looks nice!

Launch is quite high at 1800m and is in a nice alpine meadow just below the new cabin.  North wind aloft so it wasn't the best conditions, and in fact after getting up a bit on the Miller side I ended up crossing over to the MacKenzie side, where it was equally lame.

However in the shade I was able to get up to cloudbase (3000m) and played around on both sides of the valley, making the crossing multiple times.  At the end I crossed to Mt. Currie but it wasn't very good over there either so back to good 'ol MacKenzie and the LZ.

Miller Ridge flight.

2016 Can-Am fly-in Aug 20-21

Surprising as it may seem, I've actually never flown from Black Mountain in WA state.  Flown by it from BJ, but never launched from there!  With the fly-in this weekend and hot and sunny weather, I decided it was time to head down there.

Upper launch at Black Mountain with Silver Lake below.  Vedder and Sumas Mountains in the background.
~40 pilots had signed up for the event, but of the Canadians it was only Alex, myself, and Derek.  Where was everyone?  In any event, Saturday flying was quite nice with strong-but-launchable cycles and a choice of either the regular LZ, or the Silver Lake group camping LZ (which has been mowed for this event).  Having a lake directly below launch makes it easy to see the wind strength and direction so we were able to keep an eye on when the valley wind switched from the morning south flow to the afternoon north flow.  The earlier launchers got to 2000+ meters and later on it was more like 1700m, but I personally found it a big punchy and lots of holes in addition to the strong lift. 
Launch with a view!
A honkin-big BBQ with smoked ribs and chicken plus salads galore so everyone was groaning with full bellies as the sun set.  Then the telescope came out and we were looking at the various planets in the sky...a very red Mars and Saturn with its rings were easily visible.  We had a bit of a scare as, some time after we had lit the portable propane fires, a firetruck came into the campground with its lights flashing...we thought we were about to get fined or something (even though we had permission to have open flames for this event).  But nope, they were simply lost and asking for directions to another campground!

Mt. Baker is right there; the day before a pilot flew from Black to Baker and return.
Sunday morning we had a pancake breakfast and then it was time to decide to go flying or not...I had seen a few days ago that Sunday was likely to be blown out, and it was indeed as the wind picked up in the LZ, leaves were being torn off branches, windlines were starting up on the lake, and the spaceship lenticular clouds came out to play.  Alex and I decided it was time to swim in Silver Lake while (I believe) some pilots went to Blanchard in hopes of a soaring flight (although I think it would have been blown out there too).  As we drove back to Canada the area around Mt. Baker had completely OD'd and it looked like it could actually rain in the Cascades.

Willi Muller XC Challenge July 30

Andrew decides to get a quicky in before the storms arrive. Cell building in the background.

The cell is building!

Thunderstorms today, plus many pilots were tired after yesterday's epic flights, so only a few local flights before the storms shut things down. I chose to forgo flying but went up to enjoy the view.

Hailing in town as the storm just misses Nicholson and passes behind Mt 7.

Triple rainbow!

Willi Muller XC Challenge July 29

It was a really good XC day, not classic Golden, but close. However a bunch of us almost didn't get to enjoy it, because we almost launched too early!  A bunch of us spent a torturous 90 minutes scratching in the washing machine between launch and Willi's Knob, at 1600m or less, while the later launchers climbed out and started heading downrange.

Finally I got high and was able to get moving, catching up to folks around Parsons and Harrogate. Cloudbase was high...3600m, and getting higher the further south we went. Airspace was going to an issue!  It was almost due west wind, but starting to turn SW the closer we got to Invermere, with a significant headwind by Fairmont.

The view from 3600m at Harrogate.

I stopped my climb at 3700m at Windermere, cloudbase was somewhere around 4000m and in the restricted airspace, and decided to forgo the glide to Canal Flats due to the strong headwind plus the building cloud which was shading out Columbia Lake. It was the only cloud in the vicinity that was growing, but was parking itself over White Swan and starting to spit out rain and grow vertically.

Mt. Assiniboine in the distance from 3700m.
Landed at the north end of the lake for 144 km and was able to get a quick ride with Timmy et al who had landed in Canal Flats. Meanwhile a few pilots had gone over the back at Fairmont and were shot down in the back range and the strong SW wind. Al landed in a remote area short of Premier Lake and had to hike and Ford a river before Vincene found him; Simon had the pleasure of landing at a back woods gun range near a logging road.

In the end there was something like 45+ pilots south of Radium and a dozen personal bests. Best PG distance of the day (in the comp, Will may have done more but no track from him yet) went to Peter with 192 km... he did a mini OR in the middle of his flight to rack up more points ;). And Ross flew partway down Columbia Lake before returning to Invermere for something like 175 km.

Some clouds are starting to grow by Canal Flats!
Pilots were scattered all over the place and littering the road from Fairmont to Parsons, but everyone was picked up and accounted for and returned to HQ before midnight, thanks to the live tracking devices!

Willi Muller XC Challenge July 28

A smaller chance of thunderstorms today, and there were some cells around. While we were climbing out on Mt 7 a cell developed to the SW and became quite ominous, and it started to rain out of it. Ahead of the cell it had shaded out the lower part of the mountain so those pilots caught low were stuck in the shade with approaching rain, so many bailed.

Those of us higher up were able to run back to lookout launch and wait out the cell there. I didn't feel there was much danger since the cell was tracking SE and with the NW wind, it would continue to track away from us.

Once the cell had fizzled we were away, about an hour later than we had hoped.  The going was tough as the lift was broken and it was a bit windy down low, but we managed to keep going, our group changing leaders every few thermals.

Onwards it was touch and go at Spur Valley, as I was unable to get high enough for the crossing for the Edgewater cliffs. Finally I decided to go anyways, trusting that I would be able to climb out on the NW flanks and avoid an inconvenient FSR landing with a hot walk out.

The last cell before our way was clear.  It had fizzled by the time we got to Spilli.
The others had caught a climb at Spur Valley and gotten ahead of me, and I could see some high cirrus coming at Radium. The shade was shutting things down, and those ahead of me were reporting having to possibly land due to it. I was able to continue to Windermere at 122 km while those ahead of me landed a few kms further or at Fairmont.

Getting shaded out at Invermere.
Despite the big clouds at the northern part of the flight it was beautiful and sunny the further south we went. Apparently another cell came through Golden after we had left but our course line was clear once we got past Parsons/Harrogate. It was unfortunate that one cell at the beginning shut so many down, in the end there was only a handful of us that got downrange.

July 28 flight.

Willi Muller XC Challenge July 27

Mt 7, home to mountain bike races. 

The skies are building!
More thunderstorms forecast this afternoon, so short, non-XC flights for most. A handful of pilots chose to challenge the weather gods and ventured south, landing at Parsons when the skies for too big even for them.

Time to land!
The afternoon was spent checking gear and measuring lines!

Measuring lines is thirsty work!

Willi Muller XC Challenge July 26

Possible thunderstorms forecast for this afternoon so we suspected it would be an early day. We were planning on a possible out and return to the north, but once in the air the wind was too strong to allow for that direction.

To the north it looked good, but too windy to reach. 
However to the south the storms were brewing so we couldn't go that way either. We were stuck between the NW wind and the southern storms so it wasn't going to be an XC day. 

To the south, not so great!
There were a few cells brewing nearby, one SW of us, and another about 20 km downrange, so after an hour I decided it was time to land.  Shortly thereafter it was raining paragliders into the Muller Flight Park as most other pilots decided the same thing. 

Packing up as the cell starts to spit out rain. 
We did have one launch incident with a hang glider tail hitting another pilot, causing the hang glider to mush into the ground below the ramp. Both pilots were OK with only a broken down tube to fix!  In the air it was a bit mayhemic as it wasn't that lifty, we were fighting to get to 2300m, and the thermals were a bit small.  So it was crowded and we had to keep our heads on a swivel to avoid any mid airs.

Stormy sunset.
A swim at Cedar Lake and some watching of the rope swing (we didn't go this time, it looked sketchy, and another person, not with our group, dislocated his shoulder falling into water).  Then a perfect apres-storm sunset to round out the day!

Willi Muller XC Challenge July 25

After yesterday's fatality today was designated a free-flying day and not a scoring day. Lots of pilots went for sled rides under overcast skies but a bunch of us went for a 4x4 adventure up the Blaeberry valley to the base of the Mummery glacier.

Lots of fun as we took the decommissioned road up, not realizing there was a perfectly 2 wheel drive detour!  Lots of river fording, mud bogging, and winching in the middle of a thunderstorm!

Album is here.

Willi Muller XC Challenge July 24

After a grey start to the comp everyone was eager to go down range on a strong sunny day. Cloudbase wasn't that high, 2700m near Golden, but enough to try for an out and return to Invermere.

However in the air things were a bit too strong from the WNW to realistically do the return so I changed my mind to open distance. I actually had the first 45 km or so to myself, as the gaggle was always a thermal or three behind and I was maintaining my lead.

Approaching Invermere.
It was at this time we heard about an accident near the peak of Mt 7, involving a helicopter rescue. Since we were downrange and nothing we could do about it, we kept flying. It wasn't until later that we learned the pilot had died from his injuries. Since nobody saw the actual cause, we don't really know what happened, but the helicopter extractions supposedly very efficient, partly due to the organization knowing exactly where he was, but also due to Danny's professional handling of the situation with SAR and the RCMP (who had just dealt with a mountain biker fatality on Mt 7 the same day).

The air was rough but not particularly useful, weakish climbs. So it was slow going downrange. 4 hours to get to Invermere. But cloudbase was going up and the day was still going strong so I pushed on to Fairmont.

At Fairmont peak I climbed to cloudbase 3400m, and announced I was final gliding to Canal Flats. As I was gliding along the lake, I could hear pilots behind me saying they were going to do the same ;)

On final glide from Fairmont peak to Canal Flats
Arrived over CF with about 1000' to spare and started sussing out the nice-looking LZs.  The usual LZ was brown and dry-looking, and there was a beautiful ball diamond in the centre of town with nice green grass.  An easy choice for me!

It was kinda funny to watch the following gaggle land facing every which way with the growing crowd of CF kids watching, as the wind was very light. Vincene and the Muller-mobile were waiting so we even had a ride back to Golden!

On final glide to Canal Flats, looking at the back route.
In the end we had something like 15 pilots in CF. It was a personal best for both Martin and Kevin, and everyone was glad to have made it on a rather difficult day.

July 24 flight.

Goal in Canal Flats with lots of smiling faces!

Chelan US PG Nats July 16

After yesterday's epic task, people were very slow this morning. It didn't help that it was overcast, raining slightly, and forecast to OD and possibly thunderstorm. But the organization was relentless and took us up the mountain anyways ;)

Today's task to keep us away from the OD
Eventually the skies cleared and the cu's started popping.  The issue was if it would go big when the sun heated the ground, so after an initial task around the lake, the task committee changed it to a flatlands task which would keep us away from the mountains and the highest probability of OD.

Lots of concentrating!
We had a reserve deployment just before the start; the pilot had an issue which resulted in a sustained deep stall which he was unable to recover, so he tossed and landed safely on the north side of the Butte, he on the ground and his glider stuck in a small tree. Zack and the safety guys were on it!

The clouds on the flats were nice and still small, but filling in with lots of shade, so I decided to stay high and slow down, as I could see other pilots struggling in the shade. Above 2000 m it seemed ok.  As we were approaching the Douglas TP our group met up with the group which had opted for the deeper, under the clouds line, so that route didn't turn out any faster.

Lots of shade.  Notice the dust devil at Waterville!
There was a small cell south of Waterville, and a larger one behind the airport and the final TP, so there were a few level 2s. I felt it was still ok but was keeping an eye on the airport cloud since we would be flying in that direction next. But the TP radius was 3km which kept us on the Rim and away from the mountains where the actual cell was sitting.

Fallout behind the airport.  Fortunately we weren't going that way!
Brett, Bianca, and I were getting our final climb over McNeil Canyon and yelled to each other that it was time to go to goal. Final glide was buoyant ad usual and mist pilots were arriving plenty high, with the exception of a couple of pilots who landed short and were forced to land in the Powerhouse Park parking lot instead.

Final glide to Chelan Falls park.
Lots of pilots in goal and the final task was a success!  A perfect end to the comp, packing up on nice green grass and shade trees right there, and next to all our cars so no retrieve needed ;)

Tonight is the awards ceremony and party at the airport.  Should be a good party!  When they are out, the results should be here.

Chelan US PG Nats July 15

A monster task was set to take advantage of the WNW wind. 224km to Fairfield, just short of the Idaho border, via Odessa.

Mega task today!
I was very ambivalent about flying the task because the launch conditions were a bit was strong from the Lakeside launch and usually that means rough and turbulent air next to the hill.  As well the climbs weren't great, which meant that going over the back to the Rim could be an exciting ride. But after watching other pilots fly around it looked pretty smooth out front, so I figured if I didn't get high enough to fly over the back and avoid the rotor, I could st least land at the Lone Tree LZ.

Alien art near Odessa!
In the air it was surprisingly smooth and despite the late start (I had to wait an extra 15 minutes to get high enough to go on course) I was able to cross to the Rim with a few gliders.

Crossing the highway on a perfect day!
The first bit of the flight was low and slow, as I didn't really get comfortably high enough until Jameson Coulee and cloudbase at 2800m.  Then I was able to leave behind some slow gliders and speed up, catching the next gaggle at Coulee City.  Cloudbase was going up to 3200m and it was getting faster (I saw 82 kph ground speed at one point, and others reported low 90's), and things were going great!

Final glide just past the Forest Preserve.
There were some big clouds just outside Odessa and a couple pilots called level 2 (although one call was due to a broken speed system ;).  I was feeling good about the flatland conditions and kept going, and only got low at the Forest Preserve about 30 km short of goal.

I had to slow down to get high enough to cross this area of no roads, and then another slow and patient climb on the other side, and I was home free!  I could see Fairfield and the goal field, and lots of pilots ahead of me and lots still behind me.

Goal margaritas!
Goal was a zoo with, in the end, something like 65 pilots in goal. Margaritas were being served, courtesy of Steve Forslund, and it was a goal party!  It was a personal best for me, distance-wise, and also average-speed-wise. It was also a world record for the longest completed task at a Paragliding competition!

I was impressed by the amount of organization that went into this task. There were lots of retrieve vehicles at goal, ready to take pilots back, and Owen was downloading tracks from our instruments right there (for those with limited or no data on our phones).

I'm glad I decided to fly today as the conditions were lovely once away from the Butte. We could have kept going; Matt Henzi decided to do just that and got over 300 km by dusk!  The scenery was amazing, watching the OD in the mountains to the north, and the palouse as we neared the Idaho border.  It was certainly a highlight of this comp for me!

Chelan US PG Nats July 14

A high pressure, blue, and windy day...not the best conditions, but hey it's a comp so let's see what we can do!  The task was to just outside Electric City, via an in-out-in TP at Withrow and Farmer.

Today's task.
Climbs over launch were not that great; we weren't getting much more than 1800m, which is *way* low for crossing to the Rim. But we went for it anyways, and it was amazing to see what happens when you throw enough pilots at a problem ;). We actually climbed out over the canyon.

At the top of the climb a bunch of us decided to go for it, and across the flats we ventured. But it turns out my gaggle was composed primarily of Enzos...and they climbed out while I sunk out in a moon dust field. I should have waited for a group of M6s or P4s instead!

Watching pilots struggling just past the Rim.

As I was packing up it was raining gliders all around me...the wind was picking up and the climbs so close to the rim were too low to effectively get on course. In fact a good portion of the field landed either before the race start, or shortly after, with only a handful still battling the wind as the afternoon progressed. Reports were of climbs that took pilots away from the TP, and by the time they pushed forward and had to start the entire thermalling process over again, they had barely made any progress.

Excitement of the day has to go to Brad.  I watched as he and (I think it was) Andy flew into a dust devil at around 300', Brad's Enzo did an incredible loop/inversion as he went over his glider, but he kept the lines taut and rode that dusty out of there!  But the "thwack" was very loud from my vantage on the ground ;)

This is what happens when you land in ankle-deep Chelan moondust.
In the end I believe there were 7 pilots in goal, an amazing feat considering the combination of wind and blue thermals today. Congrats folks!

We have a very full bus from the Rim!  And there were more to pick up!