Epic Pemberton July 22

Today was one of those rare days where Pemberton gets a combination of high cloud base and very light (almost no) winds, and it fell on a weekend too, so lots of pilots were out enjoying it!

No wind and high lift!
As you can see from the day's RASP, it was light and variable winds with a touch of north, and the lift was going to be through the roof!

I dropped Alex off at the Rainbow hike-n-fly launch in Whistler (he had his own XC plans for the day) and I then continued on to Pemberton to meet with the scheduled 10am shuttle to upper MacKenzie launch.  My day was not starting off well...I forgot my instrument and radio at home as well as my extra clothes and sunscreen at the LZ (in part because we left the house so early and I was still tired from the day before)!  Fortunately I was able to use my backup setup...XC Track on my phone and my helmet beeper vario, and I was able to scrounge a spare radio from Guy.

I didn't actually launch until around 1pm but I think I could have launched around 12:30pm...the clouds were looking delicious but the earlier launchers were sinking out and the pilots at Rainbow were just barely climbing out (and they were at an earlier site).  But once in the air it was clear it was ON.  I beamed out to 2800m and then it was time to decide what I was going to do...I had previously decided I wanted to fly down Lilloet Lake and return, before doing the usual Spindrift-and-return run, but at launch Stefan had suggested flying to Whistler instead.

Wedgemount Lake coming into view.  Armchair Glacier on the left.
I have never flown to Whistler before since I have always been leery of the route with few good LZ's, and the horror stories I've heard of those who have landed in that valley mid-day when it's thermic and windy.  But once in the air it was clear there was practically no wind and base was high, so I decided to at least fly over to Handcar to see what the potential looked like, and decide from there.

Oodles of lift at Handcar and it was light north, so I decided I was going to get outside my comfort zone (!) and go for it.  Stefan and Miguel and I crossed over to Currie, where it was actually significant north and the thermals were scrubbing alongside the rocks, and we committed to flying south.  This part was slightly scary since the only places to land to the south of Currie are not that great: boulder fields, the riverbank next to the Rutherford River, or in random clearings next to high tension power lines, not the most comforting places to set down into!

After the first few climbs I was able to get to cloud base around 3200m, the north wind died, and then I was feeling good about my options since I was just so high and I could actually make the glide to safe landing spots near Green Lake in Whistler, even from this far out.  The scenery between Mt. Currie and Wedge Mountain was spectacular with many overhanging lakes and glaciers all over the place, all topped with puffy cu's.

Wedge Lake and Wedge Glacier.
I was continuing to see single-digit wind speeds even at 3000+m, which is extremely rare in the Whistler/Pemberton area, and I was staying high as I crossed above Blackcomb and Whistler and the Peak-to-Peak gondola CYR between the two mountains.  I could see Black Tusk (the remains of an old volcanic plug, the rest of the volcano has eroded away) on the next mountain south but this is a tough one to reach normally (so I've heard!) since it's a long glide out and there are zero LZs...just a sea of trees and volcanic boulders and canyons all the way to the highway and Daisy Lake.  In fact Stefan had just reached it and turned around, and Simon and Miguel had previously turned back at Whistler.  But I was feeling confident and continued to push south under the big clouds forming directly over the actual Tusk, overflying the Tusk at 3100m.

Crossing from Blackcomb to Whistler Mountain.  Black Tusk and Daisy Lake in the distance.
I could see Howe Sound and the ocean, and there were much less clouds in Squamish, so I decided now would be a good time to turn around.  Once again the negligible wind at altitude was my friend as I recrossed to Whistler and Blackcomb, and continuing back to Pemberton was easy-peasy, and Wedge and the Armchair Glacier were doing their usual spectacular routine :)  I briefly considered crossing east to Lilloet Lake via Wedge (we've looked at this route before on a map), but there were actually quite a few clouds on that route and it was looking a bit shady, and I didn't want to push my luck by flying into a shady spot on my own.  So I continued on to Currie where I beamed up to 3700m and was shivering with cold.

Crossing to Black Tusk under a cloud street.  Mount Garibaldi and Howe Sound in the distance.
Up until now the thermals had been broad, silky smooth, and a joy to fly in.  Not the case back at Owl Ridge!  It was rough, sharp, and all of a sudden the almost-zero wind turned into 15 kph of west wind...WTF?!  I could still fly in it no problem, but it was like night and day compared to the Whistler route, and very much less enjoyable that what I had just flown.  But I continued on to Hurley Pass to get some more distance in and there will still a couple of hours of usable daylight left.

It was getting late, around 7:30pm, the sun angle was very low on the slopes past Hurley Pass and many of the ridges out towards North Creek were in shade. Given the time of day and slowness of the climbs, and the fact that I've never landed out at Hurley Pass and I wasn't about to start now (!), I decided to turn around and run back to Pemberton in the fading daylight.  As I overflew Copper Dome I could see a group of pilots who had landed for an overnight vol bivy on the ridge.

The Pemberton valley was starting to get dark, so even though I was in sun, the lower slopes were in shade, so if I got low I was unlikely to get high again.  Fortunately the slopes felt much like Bridal at the end of the day, where you can just contour along and there is enough light lift that you don't really need to turn.  I started my final glide from Copper Dome at 2300m, 20 km out, and arrived at the LZ with 1100m to spare :)
About to pass over Black Tusk.  Panorama Ridge, Garibaldi Lake, and Mount Garibaldi in the background.
The LZ was actually in shade when I landed just after 8pm so I had used up most of the flyable day, which is always a nice feeling to have.  I had flown 140km in around 7 hours (the first hour or so I spent climbing out and feeling out the conditions above MacKenzie so it more like 6 hours of actual distance-flying) and I was tired!  But my day was not over yet...Alex had just landed back at Rainbow after closing his 212 km FAI triangle and was needing a pickup!  Two happy pilots that night as we camped out at the base of Mt. Currie to sleep off our flights ;)

140 km out and return.

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