Grouse Mountain Sept 23

My last flight at Grouse Mountain for 2017...a site orientation with Emily and Tom Furst and a quick sledride.  No lift that late on an overcast day, but the LZ was nice and mellow which is always nice for new pilot's first flights!

Woodside Sept 10

A nice mellow day at Woodside with low clouds initially, although we knew it would go up throughout the day.  Lots of people out and cloudsurfing the low clouds.  It never got high enough to make the jump west to Sasquatch Mountain but there were plenty of low clouds across the Fraser River, so a bunch of us ventured west towards Chilliwack and back to Woodside.

Cloudbase started off quite low.
Near the end of my flight I flew over the back to Agassiz Mountain with Peter and it was quite windy and getting more stable, so the return trip was a bit tough and rough in the lee of Woodside.  We ended up landing at the Dike LZ in nice laminar winds.

I believe there was a crew out at Mt. St. Benedict but nobody flew west from there.  Cloudbase stayed too low over at the Bridal side so I don't think anybody would have been there either...we usually stop flying Bridal by mid- to late September as the sun doesn't really get far enough around to make Bridal work in the fall.

Grouse Mountain Sept 1

A short flight with Fabian and JF in stable blue conditions.  Couldn't get above the peak but it was easy to stay up on the bailout cliffs.  This time of year the LZ is quite mellow for landings!

Sun Valley Aug 22

Alex goes flying after totality.  This is Riley Butte near the OR/ID border.
A quick trip to Sun Valley as we were in the area already for the Total Solar Eclipse.  The forest fire smoke had temporarily receded for the eclipse (yay!) but was now making its way back into the area.

A few minutes after totality.
It was a blue day for the most part and all the local XC pilots showed up at launch, so we knew it was going to be good!  An initial inversion around 10,000' but we were getting high enough to make the transition over to Sun Peak and work our way to Trail Pass.

Conditions were quite funky at the entrance to Trail Pass and I wasn't getting high enough to make the transition over the no-landings stretch of the Pass...Alex made it over as well as Gavin and Nate (eventually) but I just couldn't get high enough!

Cloudbase was around 23,000' in the back!
Eventually I decided to abandon the Pass and turned NW to Galena Pass instead.  The winds were actually pretty light (for Sun Valley) so the headwind wasn't that much of an issue.  And once I got away from the funkiness of Trail Pass the conditions improved a lot!  It was still blue, with the smoke returning quickly, but I was getting better and better climbs.  Just SE of Galena Pass I was getting to 17,000' and cloudbase (cu's had started to form in the back ranges) seemed to be around 22,000'!  Too bad the smoke was getting quite bad from the fires and I couldn't really see much...
Smokey conditions en-route back to Ketchum.

I could have jumped over Galena Pass with ease but I decided to make the return run to Ketchum.  Alex and Gavin had landed out on the other side of Trail Pass and was en-route back to Ketchum, and Nate was somewhere attempting a big triangle.  The return was quite quick and I actually did my final glide to Ketchum from 20+ km out.

Bald Mountain in the afternoon.
It was quite windy in Ketchum with the afternoon valley flow so pilots were hiking up Sun Peak for an afternoon flight.  I don't think anybody made it away from Sun Peak that day, but it was a nice end to an otherwise smokey day.

Pemberton Canadian Nationals July 28

After a couple of blown-out days we were very eager to get back in the air!  We also found out we now have access to the Rodeo Grounds goal field (near Lilloet Lake), however there was a Whistler Express predicted for this afternoon which meant it wouldn't really be safe to make a task that either went, or finished, in that direction, since it would entail overflying Pemberton during the windy period.  So, for safety's sake, we decided to make a task which would keep us away from the Whistler Express-ing area and instead up towards the Hurley end.

Because the previous task had worked well with a start and then turnpoint around Miller, we figured it would work again to keep the field spread out a bit over the ridge.  However when I launched I didn't immediately zoom to cloudbase like in previous days, so I could tell it was going to be a slightly more difficult day to get up over McKenzie and getting to Miller would not be a cakewalk!

Looking back at Mt. Barbour.  Forest fire smoke in the distance from the BC Interior fires.
With the SW winds the ideal spot to wait for the start was actually over Upper Launch since it would be more downwind to Miller, but I followed some pilots getting high at Fraser instead but I didn't connect to the clouds like they were.  And it just wasn't working for me; pilots all around were getting to 2600m but I could barely get above the ridge.  So when the start came at 2:30 I was nowhere near high enough to make the crossing and had to spend an additional 20 minutes working my way higher before I could finally get on courseline.  It was painful to watch everyone pull away from me and realize I had to be patient; if I blindly followed the lead gaggle from my altitude I would be on the ground quick.

Of course those who were high at the start were able to get away much easier, and they had the choice of which route to take to the Hurley Pass and Tender Mountain: either take a chance on getting high and taking the shorter but riskier Miller route to the Hurley Pass, or tag Miller and run back to the sunny side, and take the longer but more reliable route to Hurley Pass.  I saw pilots on both routes, and I think the Miller route was indeed a bit faster.  I was not so lucky in that I was still not very high from my bad start, so I had to take the longer route anyways.  Sigh.

Final gliding to the Miller LZ under a perfect evening sky.
Fortunately it was working fantastically at Barbour/Copper/Goat, and I was able to get to 3000+m which meant an easy crossing of the Hurley Pass in both directions and epic views of the Chilcotin and the BC Interior.  Pilots were doing much better at handling the crossing too today; I didn't see as many low or deep pilots unlike the previous day!

The rest of the flight was a very fast ridge run with strong climbs (6-7m/s) and cu's popping around 3000m.  The final turnpoint at Goat took a bit of careful work, as we (the task committee) had miscalculated and put a 1 km turnpoint around the peak, and it turns out that is very close to terrain, and in a turbulent spot when it's windy from the west.  We should have made it 1.5 or 2 km I think.  But as far as I know, there were no incidents, just a word of caution over the radio (thanks Jesse!), and it was uneventful from then on.  I ended up making goal slowly after my bad start, but that's better than not making goal at all!

Congratulatory selfie!
Once again there were oodles of pilots in goal and several personal bests for both distance, time, or altitude.  I think pilots are liking Pemberton!

Pemberton Canadian Nationals July 27 REST DAY

Walking through the wildflowers and the old cabin.
Another blown-out day in Pemberton which meant it was hiking time!  This time we went up to Miller Ridge (but without gliders) to check out the launch and the new cabin.

View from the new cabin, just past the launch area.
The mosquitos were terrible once we got high enough for there to still be moisture around, so we were very thankful when we achieved the ridge and finally got exposed to the strong SW winds to keep them off!

There's still a bit of moisture around so there are *lots* of mosquitos.  Come up on a windy day, or bring bug spray!

Pemberton Canadian Nationals July 26 REST DAY

It was predicted to be very windy in the skies over Pemberton as a front moves through so the day was cancelled and declared a rest day.  Many pilots went to Joffre Lakes but a group of us decided to head to Semaphore Lakes instead, near the Train group of mountains in the Hurley Pass.

Fantastic-looking clouds but they were also moving quite fast!  A very nice easy hike in and lunch at the lakes, looking up at the glacier, Face Mountain, and Locomotive Mountain, before returning to Pemberton and a fairly strong Whistler Express.  We did see one glider flying but I hope they were landing up the Meadows (and flyable doesn't equal taskable!), as landing in Pemberton would not have been wise.

Pemberton Canadian Nationals July 25

Today was looking like an epic flying day, light SW winds, high climbs to 3300m+, and a possible Whistler Express in Pemberton.  So we decided on a long-ish task of 84 km which would involve lots of valley crossings and a chance for pilots to see some of the bigger terrain NW of Pemberton Meadows.

Today's task: an exercise in instrument programming!
Initially climbs were to 2600m and it was all good, but a bunch of us got "low" (relatively speaking!) on the ridge about 20 minutes before the start, and we were starting to stress about the crossing to Miller.  But we managed to find a climb in time for the start, and the crossing to Miller and back was uneventful.  At this point it was game on and it was full-bar time for pretty much the rest of the course.

Crossing to Camel's Hump.
At yesterday's briefing we had told pilots how to go about crossing Hurley Pass, but despite our recommendation that pilots not cross low, or get sucked into the Pass by choosing to stop at the first lift they came to on the other side, we saw exactly that many times.  I saw countless pilots catching thermals too close to the mouth of the Pass, get sucked in, and have to push back out to the mouth in order to try again.  (The better lift is further to the west, skip the first lift you come to!)  I was able to cross from Camel's Hump directly to Zorah, bypassing the traditional crossing, and was able to catch up to a bunch of pilots who were doing the traditional jump and not finding good lift on the Goat side.

Zorah was zoom and boom as Jim, Jesse, and I climbed to 3100m in +6m/s climbs, yahooing all the way.  From then on it was easy climbing and zooming the rest of the course, and the final glide into goal was nice and boaty.

Looking up Hurley Pass.  You can see the forest fire smoke from all the BC Interior fires.
Goal was quite busy as pilots were arriving in 2's and 3's, some landing short of goal (the ESS was upwind of goal, and some pilots misjudged the headwind), and others arriving in orbit.  Very festive in the goalfield!

Recrossing Hurley Pass from 3100m.  Beautiful skies!
We did have 3 reserve deployments near the end of the day.  One (non comp) pilot tossed and landed up near Copper Dome, was OK, and relaunched to fly down to the goal field.  I watched one pilot toss just behind Owl Peak and come down softly into the forest below (he had a steerable reserve) where he reported he was OK.  And the 3rd pilot tossed around Mt. Barbour.  Last I heard Hawaii Pete was organizing a helicopter to extract those 2 final pilots.  Denis has an interesting landing behind Camel's Hump where he landed on the road...apparently he caught the entire landing sequence on his helmet cam!

Tomorrow is looking blown-out so we will reevaluate in the morning, but it could very well be a rest day, which some pilots would appreciate I think!

Results, when available, should be here.

Goal!  Photo by Alex Raymont

Pemberton Canadian Nationals July 24

Glider storage!
Today was forecast to be light winds but also some high clouds, but we were hoping the high cloud wouldn't impede our tasking too much.  So we came up with a task to Zorah (on the other side of the Hurley Pass) and then some back-n-forth between Camel Hump and Copper, before returning to the Miller LZ.  We wanted to do this so we could show pilots how good it can be beyond Mt. Barbour, and keep them in the higher terrain where the presence of high cloud would matter less.

We arrived to schmoo which stuck around for a long time.

However the high cloud was quite thick, wasn't dissipating, the wind technicians weren't "sticking", and it was getting late in the afternoon for starting a task, so we decided to shorten things a bit.  This way we could still have a taskable day without going so late it would become a safety issue (in case we needed to find a downed pilot during daylight).  So instead we did the classic Goat-n-return run, which would keep everyone on the ridges where the lift would be good despite the high cloud.

Crossing the Owl gap to Barbour as the shade disappears and it turns on!
Of course after launching in the shade a bunch of us beamed up to 2500m, at which point we realized we could have probably kept the original task as it was easy to stay up.  However since pilots were already in the air we were locked into the current task.  Oh well, at least it will be easy, short, and most pilots will make goal, which will be good for morale!

And of course the high cloud suddenly disappeared just as the race started, which meant it went from scratching in the murk to full-on drag racing for the entire 50 km.  Pilots were full-barring it along the Owl ridge and across the gap to Barbour with hardly a turn, and of course on the other side it only got better!

It was probably the fastest run I've done of that course at and it just kept getting better and better.  On my way back from Goat I climbed to 3100m and the climb was still going strong; I only left it because I was getting way too high and didn't want to arrive over goal at some ridiculous altitude and waste time.  As it was I ended up arriving over the Pemberton goal in 1 hour and 24 minutes with something like 700m of extra altitude.

3000m and on glide for Pemberton and the goal field.
The leaders were already in goal and the sky was full of landing pilots.  I think a good portion of the field made it, with a handful misjudging the final glide and landing just short of goal, bummer!  And it was very festive in goal with lots of happy faces and "there I was" stories.  As it was, we could have had a longer and more difficult task, but it's so hard to judge if and when the high cloud is going to dissipate that at some point we have to pull the trigger and commit to a task.

Tomorrow is looking very good with big lift and a possible Whistler Express, so we will have to keep that in mind when selecting a goal field away from Pemberton.

Today's results should be here!

Pemberton Canadian Nationals July 23

Today was the first day of the Canadian Nationals!  We have a lot of American and International pilots in town, and I was excited to show them our playground.  Unfortunately there was some NW wind (30+ kph) forecasted up high, which would cramp our flying today.

Initially we set a task up toward Goat Mountain and then a goal at the Rodeo grounds, but the Rodeo LZ is still under negotiation as an official goal field so we had to find an alternative.  Unfortunately with the NW wind that was going to be an issue since most of our alternative goal fields are to the NW of Pemberton, which would make any flying we did today have a lot of upwind component.  So we decided to make the best of things by sending pilots towards Goat, back to launch, and then back towards Copper to land at the Van Loons LZ, which is nice and safe for NW wind.

Hope this truck has good suspension!
We have 80+ pilots in this competition so I was a bit curious to see how the launch was going to work out with that many.  After waiting for the clouds to lift and the skies to clear (which was slower than we expected), I launched and there was abundant lift right over the antennas.  Phew!  At least pilots will be able to get high while waiting for the start.

Big clouds (but not the overdeveloping kind) meant there was plenty of lift all over the McKenzie basin but the NW wind also meant pilots were topping out over the back range, which is not ideal if you get pinned back there.  I watched a few pilots go back there in lift and slowly make their way back to the front ridge so I was glad there weren't any landouts back there!
Launch is all ready for 100+ pilots and volunteers!

I actually had a pretty bad start; I got low about 20 minutes before the start and wasn't able to get back up to cloudbase (2600m) by the time 2:45pm came around, so I started the task lower than I would have liked.  But I decided to go for it anyways since there seemed to be plenty of lift and I thought I could get it later on, at Barbour or Copper if need be.

Task briefing.
At Owl it was quite shady but we could see sun on the other side near Copper Mound so I decided to make the crossing, figuring I could get back up in the sun on the other side.  Alas, my plan didn't work and I ended up scunging along below Copper, trying to scratch my way back up to the safety of the big mountains.  No joy, and I ended up landing at the Van Loon LZ along with a handful of other pilots.
Outhouse with a view!

Initially I was a bit bummed, then I realized that because of 25% FTV, we'll be able to throw away our worst day after 4 tasks.  So I'm looking at today as my probable throw-away day!  I'm just happy that we had a chance to show off the glaciers and big mountain views to everyone as the clouds cleared.  I'm also happy that the task was well-received by most pilots I talked to, given the wind forecast while at the same time keeping everyone safe.  The forecast is looking fantastic for the rest of the week sun-wise, we just have to keep an eye on the wind and stability.  Tomorrow is looking like very light winds so I'm hoping it will make things more comfortable for all the pilots.

Results, when finalized, will be available here.

Grouse Mountain July 15

Grouse Mountain with Crown Mountain to the far left.
Lots of cu's over Burnaby!
Went up for a late-afternoon flight with Alex and Bill, and despite the lateness of the afternoon it was still strong!  Cloudbase was just below our airspace limit of 1981m and there was plenty of lift under the clouds.  After an hour or so I went over the city and boated around over the golf course and the Capilano suspension bridge, and it was very thermic all over the city as well.  I'm glad we didn't land any sooner, as the LZ was still very thermic even at 7pm and a challenge to get into safely when it's blowing significantly from the SW even at ground level.

Downtown Vancouver, Stanley Park, and YVR airport in the distance.

Bridal May 27

A super-hot day in the Fraser Valley and not really conducive to long distance XC flying, but my goal today (shared by many) was to get high and try to overfly Mt. Cheam.  We usually get to do this a handful of times a year, usually in outflow conditions, but occasionally it will also work in inflow conditions.

Archibald and Mt. Baker in the background on a bluebird sky day!
Immediately beamed out to 1400m and I knew it was gonna happen!  Booted my way over to the shoulder of Cheam and rode the thermals up to the final ridge to the summit and then things seemed to fizzle; darn!  A bunch of us kept trying and trying, and we could see the summit, but not quite get high enough!

Getting high on the shoulder of Cheam, notice the cornices on the ridge!
But patience!  Usually this works later in the afternoon or even early in the evening, and we still had hours of useable sunlight left to go.  Eventually with a bit of blue-thermal scratching we were able to get higher than the summit (but out front), and then use the excess altitude to glide over to the summit and circumnavigate the peak.  Finally!  There was still oodles of snow, and no chance of hikers being on the peak (yet), so it was just us and the eagles and crows.  Lots of cornices and small snow slides to keep us occupied while we enjoyed the rare opportunity to fly close to the rock walls in the mellow evening thermals.
Mt. Cheam with Jones lake in the background.
Eventually it was time to head out to land, and I opted to top-land to drive a truck down.  The trees on the top-landing approach are getting a big high so we are hoping to have a work party to trim them to improve the safety of the site.  A beautiful evening!

Getting lower to warm back up!

Pemberton May 26

My first flight in Pemberton this year and it was pretty windy from the west up high.   Hard to get away from lower launch (although others seemed to do OK) and then it was tough to get high until Barbour.  Once high though it was easy to stay high, although the thermals were quite strong and rough, windblown I think.
At 3600m above Copper Mound, looking NE.  Blue in Pemberton but a few Q's in the Chilcotin!

At Goat it was quite windy, probably the windiest I have ever done the crossing in, and once I started across I knew I was committed to getting up on the other side as I was too low to make it back to the nice fields in Pemberton Meadows.  It was very windy and hard to penetrate, and after I got high enough to get some breathing room, I decided continuing the run wasn't for me and turned around.  80 kph on the way back!

Blue skies over Pemberton and still lots of ice and snow in the mountain lakes!
Back towards Pemberton it was doing weird things...pilots were reporting gusts to 30+ kph in the LZ, but from "Meager" (although I think it was actually from Miller, the strong west wind manifesting as a Miller drainage),  so a bunch of us decided to land elsewhere.  Andrew landed at the airport in 30+ kph, so Claudia and I landed further east towards the Mt. Currie Indian Reservation, landing in the largest field we could find.  My groundspeed during all this was in the low single digits, and occasionally told me negative single digits (which I very rarely see).

A nice big field to land in when it's windy!
We both landed safely and got a ride back to Pemberton, where it was not windy at all in town (where it should be during a Whistler Express), and only not that windy at all in the LZ from the Miller direction.  It was a weird windy day all around!

Miles in May, May 22

A dramatic difference from yesterday, as yesterday's instability and strong NW winds were replaced by moderate SSE winds and stability.  We opted for the Strome intersection since the ground winds were switching from east to south, and both directions can be used at this intersection due to no trees, fences, power lines, etc.
Yet more large farming equipment.  We like to give these a wide berth!

It was quite overcast and not looking that great, but we could see a blue hole coming from the west.  But when it came overhead it still looked very stable and not promising, although Andrew and I had set declared goals in Smokey Lake (~190 km to the NW).

Nobody made it very far today: Steven landed just south of Strome, Alex just north, and myself a bit further farther north.  Andrew never got away.

Pretty stable-looking skies from my landing north of Strome.
It looks like the weather is going to fall apart tomorrow for a couple of days, and we need to be back in Vancouver by the end of the week, so we'll see about flying tomorrow.

Blown-out day during Miles in May May 21

Looking a bit on the blowy side ;)
After yesterday's epic flights, long retrieve, and little sleep, we were back up and out at the tow road just after 10am.  The forecast was showing more north wind and possibly blown out but we decided to try anyways, because if you don't at least go out, you don't get to fly!

Andrew volunteers to test out the winds aloft.
Out at the tow road it was blowing pretty much straight north and with a fair bit of grunt...20+kph on the ground.  The Q's hadn't started popping yet but Andrew and Peter went for a couple of test tows to see how thermic it was, and the tows were pretty rough with lots of turbulence.

Steven getting ready as the Q's start to pop on the horizon.
Finally around 11am the Q's started popping overhead (right on schedule!) and the cloud shadows were whizzing by on the ground at 40+ kph.  As well the ground wind had picked up and was gusting to 30 kph with dust devils popping off around us.  Frankly it wasn't looking that great for safe and enjoyable flying, although I'm sure if you could get off the ground and stay in the air for the next 8 hours you'd be OK as the wind would have died off by dusk.
Peter thinking should he go or not?

In the end we decided to cancel the day and save our energy for tomorrow when the winds looks much lighter.  Despite not getting to fly yesterday and wanting to get a new personal best, I'd rather not get scared or maimed trying to do it on a marginal day ;)

In the end we decided to pack it up as the wind-driven Q's pop overhead

Epicness during Miles in May Camrose May 20

What a forecast!
A spectacular-looking day in Camrose and it was my turn to operate the winch and drive retrieve (we set the schedule a couple weeks ahead of time, before knowing the short-term forecast, to make things impartial).  Moderate NW winds which is the ideal direction for going long while avoiding the various airspaces and international borders!

The boys getting ready on a record-setting day!

We have to be careful not to get the towline caught up in the local farmer's equipment...
We set up at the Rosalind tow road under blue skies, knowing from previous experience that it will transition from totally blue to Q's popping everywhere within ~30 minutes, usually between 11am and 12noon.  But Andrew wanted to do a test tow so of course after his tow he found an early thermal at 10:50am and was off!  After that it was a made rush to get off the ground and Alex followed soon after, followed by Peter and Steven.

Andrew getting ready for his "test tow"
I was just packing up the winch when I got the first text message from Andrew, saying he had landed due to not getting high and sinking out before it really turned on.  So I guess it's time to start driving!

Epic-looking skies from the tow road.
Picked up Andrew and Steven shortly after, and then we started making our way SE under very yummy-looking skies; there was a line of development in the distance but the radar showed it moving SE as well and keeping away from the pilots' tracks.  The winds aloft were more like NNW instead of NW, so the upcoming Suffield military airspace was becoming an issue.  Fortunately both Alex and Peter realized this and altered their courses enough to fly west of the restricted airspace.

Driving south chasing the boys.
I had estimated that they would land around 7:30pm and I think I was pretty close, as Peter landed just short of 300km and Alex landed at 334km around the same time.   Finally after 15+ years of trying, somebody beat the Canadian PG open distance record!  Also it was a personal best for both Peter and Alex, who previously had PB's in the mid-200 km's.

A happy Alex after landing 334km from the tow road.
The drive back was very long (the total retrieve took 12 hours and we arrived back in Camrose at 1:30am) but it was well worth it; everyone's phone was going off with congratulatory text messages for a lot of the drive.  The Aurora Borealis also put on a nice lightshow during our drive north, which was a nice way to keep us awake!  Tomorrow is looking very similar although windier so who knows, the record could be broken again tomorrow ;)

Aurora Watch predicted a spike in Northern Lights after midnight and they were right!