With the abundant smoke in the BC Southern Interior, pretty much the only place, outside the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island, was the Cariboo and north. Fortunately we had a Williams-Lake pilot on our tour, Bill Goglin of Hillbilly Paragliding, with some sites he wanted to show us from near his hometown!
Most of us had never been to the Williams Lake area for flying, and it actually seems quite promising for flatland flying after a hill start. With the numerous cutblocks and FSR's, on a map at least you can easily fly 200+km from Williams Lake with minimal airspace issues or large mountain ranges to deal with. Following the river from Williams Lake to Quesnel is the obvious run for south-wind days.
Bill put us up at his property so we were camping in style!
With the SW winds and chance of overdevelopment, we chose Kaufmann's as the site of the day. It's so named since the bombout LZ is owned by the Kaufmann family. They have a large farm + airplane landing strip at their property, and welcome all pilots, just don't land in the crops and park off to the side to keep the runway and access to the fields open!
|Kaufmann's launch with the Kaufmann family farm/LZ below.|
The road up Kaufmanns is pretty good, 4WD in most places and only a few small mud bogs (now dried up) to get through. You end up on a small clearing which you can launch from as-is, or take a small tarp to keep your lines off the bushes.
The skies were getting a bit large, and it actually rained on launch for ~15 minutes or so, just enough to dampen the dust down and ease the heat. But up high it was forecast to be a bit chilly due to the instability, and once in the air we could see overdevelopment to the north and east of us.
Kaufmanns is located on a plateau above Soda Creek, so once in the air you are quite high up relative to the Fraser River. When flying north you cross highway 97 and have the option of following the river, or going inland and overflying Gibraltar Mine and staying more "inland". The mine is actually situated over higher terrain, and on a "regular" day would be the ideal option for staying high, but today was overdeveloping around the mine and to the east, so staying over the river was the better option.
|Looking to the NE from launch and Gibraltar Mine. OD to the NE.|
Unfortunately there was a cell just to the west of the river dropping rain, and it was moving very slowly, and we were approaching it as we flew north. Even hanging around and trying to slow down we were approaching the cell so had to detour around it. But the damage had been done...the ground had been cooled off by the shade and rain, and even though it was sunny again, we were too early for the ground to have had time to heat back up, and most of us landed within a few kms of each other. Peter and Richard got a few kms further, and actually encountered a headwind (from the north) as they got closer to Quesnel, so turned around to land at the same area the rest of us had landed at earlier.
Flight to the north from Kaufmann's launch in Soda Creek.
|Looking north towards Quesnel along the Fraser River. There is a ridge of higher land to the north which would be ideal to fly over on a non-OD day.|
Since this was our first time flying the site, we are unsure if a north wind (on a south day) is normal for the Quesnel area, so it's sometime to keep in mind if we fly here again. But I think this would be a great place to go big on XC (200km?) since the terrain is so wide open, the airspace is minimal, and there's lots of places to land with relatively flat/easy retrieve along the FSR's and no locked gates. We will have to come back in the springtime when cloudbase is high and OD/thunderstorm/fire season has not yet begun!
|We stopped at McLeese Lake on the way back to cool off. OD now visible to the west as well.|
The wind/smoke forecast for the more southerly parts of the province was still looking grim, so we decided to stay in Williams Lake for a second day and fly another site called Onward, located in St. Joseph Mission, just outside Williams Lake proper. This is a small site (~1000' AGL!) and faces almost due north. It is supposedly ridge soarable in a NE or NW wind, but the day we were there it was light winds, at least initially, so it was either thermal out, or wait for the NW to kick in. But the forecast was for afternoon OD so it seemed like a good idea to launch early. Launching at this site in light winds is not easy...it's relatively flat and there is a small lip to run over, and not much wind gets to the back part of launch where your glider is sitting...the bushes on launch really need a haircut :)
|We stopped at the Onward LZ and it was already overdeveloping to the west.|
The launch is so low to the ground it's easy to sink out, and James actually did, sacrificing his flight to the thermal-gods so the rest of us could fly XC, thanks James!
The skies were actually shading out quite strongly when I launched so I was happy just to not sink out. I was able to slowly climb to 2000m and then it was time to fly SE. Once again you have the option of flying over the higher terrain close to launch, or you can choose to fly next to highway 97...we all chose to fly over highway 97 due to the OD which was chasing us from the west.
|Onward launch looking NE.|
|Onward launch looking NNW.|
The going was extremely slow and the climbs were super-weak (think 0.5 m/s!), but so long as you patient, you could drift south indefinitely so long as you stayed in the weak climbs. In this fashion Claudia, Richard, and I drifted SE towards Lac La Hache. The sun was disappearing and the clouds were spreading out, so it was getting more and more difficult to identify spots of OD easily, and there was rain cells about, and then it started to get strangely lifty and no skill required to stay up. Meanwhile Richard, who had landed a few kms behind me, radioed that the north wind had died to be replaced by a rapidely-increasing south wind.
|Onward launch is a bit overgrown with bushes...Tyler and James parawaiting in the shade.|
Now in the past, when this phenomenon happens, I aim to get out of the air ASAP, since this usually means a towering cu or cu-nim is nearby and a possible gust front, and with all the shade about, I couldn't tell exactly where it was or how close I was to it. So I radioed that I was landing, found a field to land in, and landed in a light south wind with rain sprinkles about.
|Looking SE towards Lac La Hache, I landed a few minutes later when it became too easy to stay up.|
Flight from St. Joseph Mission to the SE.
About 10 minutes later, as I was just finishing packing up, the south wind rapidly increased to about 20 kph (the gust front starting up!) and the cell tower on the small hill across the highway (500 m away) was struck by lightening, I was looking straight at the tower when it happened so had an unobstructed view of the show. Time to get under cover! Fortunately the retrieve van was waiting for me so I was able to get to safety and escape the wind and approaching rain.
|Looking back to the NW; packing up just before the gust front hit.|
As we were south of Williams Lake and the weather was forecast to turn for the worse in the Cariboo region, we decided the best option for the next couple of days was the Fraser Valley, so we continued south, driving past the Flat Lake fire, the Ashcroft Fire, the Merrit Fire, and the July Mountain/Coquihalla Fire. I'm sure glad were were flying north of all that, since the skies in the southern Interior were super-smokey with low or no visibility. We will have to return to the Williams Lake area next spring to see what the XC possibilities are like, and try again when it's not so overdevelopy!