Pemberton Canadian Nationals July 27

Yesterday was a cancelled day due to the forecast showing too much (30+kph) winds all day and at all altitudes.  And it's a good thing we didn't fly (even though the clouds looked awesome) since a pilot who hiked up Mount Currie reported back that it was blowing 50-60 kph at around 2200m!

Today it looked terrible in the morning: raining, low cloud base, everything was wet, and we had to wait an extra hour to even go up the mountain in order to deliver the gliders to a dry-ish launch, and any earlier and the shuttles wouldn't have even made it up the slick road!  But the rain eventually finished and up the mountain we went, an hour behind schedule.  It was forecast to be 20-25 kph from the SW, which is not great for holding a long task in Pemberton (if we had been free-flying we probably wouldn't have bothered even going up), but we hoped the wind forecast would be wrong and actually be a bit less, and if so, we wanted to be on launch, ready to go!

We had to wait an extra hour for the road to dry out, and we still had to push the shuttles through the first cross ditch!
We (the task committee) spent probably an hour going over options and building a task which would be safe, short enough to finish early enough to hold the awards ceremony, but doable by the majority of the field.  Guy also wanted (if possible) for the goal field to be at the Meadows Golf Course as he had permission for us to land on the fairways of holes 8 and 9, and had arranged for the Pemberton airport to be closed to all air traffic except us between 3 and 5pm since we would be transiting around that time.  So in the end we chose a 62 km task which would take us out to the Hurley Pass, back to the Barbor area, and then back to a large "wall" around Spindrift which could be tagged at any point along the wall's edge in case of too much wind along the mountain route.  We also put a control turnpoint in at the Cell Towers (close to upper launch) to force pilots to arrive back to Pemberton high (since you can't tag this turn point if you are too low), in case there was a Whistler Express happening underneath(which only extends to roughly 700m altitude on most days so we'd be passing overhead that) and then a goal at the clubhouse at the golf course.

As the ground dried out from the morning rain and the sun came out, the cu's were popping and it looked to be strong conditions out there, and the cycles on launch confirmed this as some rippers came though.  Several pilots were concerned about the strength of the cycles and whether we should shorten the task, or change it to elapsed time, or cancel it altogether, and after a brief meeting between the task committee, safety committee, and meet director, we opted to leave things as-is.

Tenquille Lake on a strong day!
Once the race times were announced there was the usual hoopla of pilots racing to get their gear ready and get into the air, compounded by the fact the cycles were quite strong, and pilots who were not on their "A" game were getting pulled up prematurely, dragged to the side, etc, until Launch Marshall Pete stepped in and had pilots hold for the strongest part of the cycles and only launch during lulls.  That worked well and pretty much all pilots were in the air, and slaloming around at cloud base with oodles of lift, by the time the race started at 3:05pm.  There were a handful of pilots who chose not to launch, which ends up devaluing the day by a small portion of point since a DNF is an informal way of declaring the task unsuitable for them, and thus shouldn't be fully valid.

The start was fast and furious, and in fact most of the entire course was fast and furious until some shade came in over the Hurley Pass for the slower pilots and they had to slow down from race mode to survival mode.  We did have 2 reserve tosses in the Barbor area, within 2-3 minutes of each other (I think the second toss happened before the first one had even landed), and both landed just fine in the alpine, and both (I believe) hiked to a better spot and relaunched and flew down, so no rescue was required for them.  As I was watching the first one drift down under reserve towards the lake behind Barbor I was a bit concerned in case he had the bad luck to land in that cold glacial water, but he missed it by a lot and landed on the scree instead.  I'm hoping he was thinking the same thing and was at least checking for his hook knife in case he needed it at the last minute!

Meanwhile the course was shading out near the Hurley Pass but most of us were beyond that and slowly making our way back to launch and the Cell Tower control turn point.  The SW wind was quite significant but the reports in the Pemberton LZ were of light winds, not yet Whistler Expressing, so it was "just" upper-level meteo winds.  Tagging the control turn point was a bit tough for me as it was windy enough that I was having to crab by it, and the radius was so small (we had left it at 400m) that I kept missing it and having to turn around, re-crab my way past it, and hope to tag it.  It took me something like 3 or 4 tries, while other pilots seemed to have no problems tagging it first time around and were passing me.  Annoying!

Anyhoo I ended up getting it eventually and then it was on to the golf course and goal.  The strong SW winds were quite significant over the airport and golf course, and Guy was advising pilots to tag goal and then land at the airport instead, rather than try to put down on the fairways.  It was also converging a bit over the runway (lucky me) which meant it was hard to get down, and there were maybe 6 of us who were on big ears but still going up.  From tagging the goal to actually landing probably took over 30 minutes, and as I was coming in to land the windsocks on the runway were actually blowing 15-20 kph from the east, completely opposite to the winds a couple of hundred feet higher!  It was hit that shear layer and discover that what was upwind was now downwind, and vice versa.  Of course about 10 minutes after landing things on the ground went back to the "usual" direction...

The goal field under a strong SW layer of wind.
We did have one pilot tag the control turn point a bit too low and have to land short, but other than that, I think everyone who tagged the control turnpoint made goal and landed at the airport.  I was pleasantly surprised to get the task off...the day started off so unpromising, and turned on so strong later on, that I was expecting it to be untaskable.  Fortunately Guy had volunteers stationed all over the course line to give wind reports on the ground and keep all the competitors in the loop, and had several pilots call out their opinion on safety conditions "level 1", "level 2", "level 3" (it was all level 1's) before the race start.

In the end we had something like 55 pilots in goal, with another group landing at the Miller Beer Farm after getting shaded out by the Hurley Pass region, and a 3rd group of pilots who DNF'd and drove down.  So it turned into an almost fully-valid day, with no injuries, and 2 self-rescues, pretty standard for a Pemberton task, really ;). I was very glad to have gotten a task off successfully, but I was also fully aware of the difficulty of managing a safe task for everyone and also considering my own personal safely, and trying to reconcile the two.  It was a bit of a pushy task in terms of launch conditions, but once in the air it was actually quite nice, and after a week of windy-ish tasks, most of the competitors had become "used" to the idea of flying in wind.  Had we had those conditions on the first day things may have turned out differently in terms of a cancelled day or numerous reserve tosses.

Link to my flight

Photo courtesy of Sea to Sky Paragliding
Once everyone was back at HQ it was time to do up the scores, eat, and get the awards ceremony out of the way, so those pilots who needed to travel could get south of Whistler before the Ironman Triathlon shut down the highway.  Guy and Ricardo had several neat raffle prizes to give out (each competitor had one ticket with their entry fee, and each volunteer received one ticket for each day they volunteered, so the number of tickets in the raffle were skewed in favour of the volunteers, which is entirely fair since they were the ones doing all the grunt work this week!), including a Mt. Currie heli-drop, Mexican para-vacation, and a Belize sun vacation!

The winners of the various classes:

Photos courtesy of Sea to Sky Paragliding
Photos courtesy of Sea to Sky Paragliding

As the winner of the female class, I want to give a special shout-out to Claudia, who for the second time has come in second place and is keeping me on my toes ;). I'm so happy for Claudia (and her husband Peter who came in 2nd place in the sport class) as it's so nice to have other female pilots flying well in Canada.  I would also like to say well-done to Kaylyn as well as she hasn't flown in Pemberton much, so doesn't have "home ice advantage" ;)

Photo courtesy of Sea to Sky Paragliding

I also want to give a special shout-out to Guy Herrington, the meet director, for putting on a safe competition and dealing with all the issues that come up with being the Person In Charge, but still maintaining a smile and a kind word for any pilot who approached him with questions or concerns.  Guy you did an awesome job and I'm sure many pilots (including myself) appreciated your hard work!

Pemberton is a beautiful place to fly, with many pilots referring to the flying here as a "slice of the Alps", but it can be intimidating at times, especially in wind, and with the lack of infrastructure in the backcountry, if things go wrong you can be stuck in the wilderness for a long time before being rescued!  Many of the visiting pilots I spoke to raved about the scenery and the potential for long distances and vol-bivying, and many are keen to return next year, either for a comp or to free-fly!

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