Mt. St. Benedict July 22-23, 2021

 The BCXC tour is back in the Fraser Valley to escape the Interior fires and the wind at higher altitudes, the FV works for this since we are not allowed past 1981m anyways :)  After doing a quick orientation of the Virtue LZ, we headed up to launch, with a brief delay on the spur road since a film shoot was blocking the road while they finished a scene (a western-themed Hallmark film).

My original plan was to fly to Mt. Woodside, but after launching I was watching the clouds forming over the Steelhead region so I decided to play over there instead.

Waiting for some sun!  Photo courtesy of Richard Bruneau.

It was pretty easy to stay up over there and cruise around over the Steelhead and then the outskirts of Mission, making sure to stay outside the Mission CYR prison airspace.  Eventually the clouds started to fizzle so I turned around to return to the Miracle Valley side of things, when all of a sudden the clouds started to reform at a higher altitude, so I turned around again and found myself at airspace.  The RASP had forecast a "cloud event" around 4pm so it kinda made sense, and I wondered if it was just the up-high instability finally mixing down to the lower levels.

In any case I figured I may as well fly to Woodside since there was a retrieve there anyhow, but with the strong west wind coming over the back at Deroche, I was shot down in the rotor (the mountains face very SE there) and had to land at the base of Harrison knob in very strong windy conditions.  Fortunately there are a couple of large fields there and some barns/outbuildings to pack up behind!

Flight from Mt. St. Benedict to Mission and then to Harrison knob

The following day we returned to MSB, quite windy from the south the further to Dewdney we got.  Finally got to 1500m over Dewdney but wasn't feeling it was worth flying to Woodside, it seemed very similar to yesterday minus the yummy clouds, so turned back to land at the Virtue LZ.  Richard and Norm tried but ended up in Deroche instead.

William's Lake July 20-21, 2021

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'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!

El-Nido July 19, 2021

 Most of the southern part of the province east of Vancouver is on fire, and with the winds, we didn't have a lot of flying options.  Clearwater looked to be the least windy, although smokey, so the BCXC group headed there for the day.

Clearwater RASP for July 19

Hot hot hot as usual in Clearwater in mid-July :) and the wind was crossing from the west as per usual, making thermalling in the smoke difficult.  I stayed up for 30 min before calling it a day and landing for a swim at Dutch Lake.  Peter and James flew to Clearwater to land closer to the lake ;)  Too smokey to be really enjoyable, but it was nice to get away from the coast for a few days!

Short flight at El Nido.

A smokey and dry (look at the dormant grass!) El Nido launch. 
Photo courtesy of Richard Bruneau.

Upper MacKenzie Pemberton July 18, 2021

I have always wanted to do the Pemberton to Goldbridge run, but due to the fact the retrieve is a bit inconvenient, haven't actually done it.  It actually wasn't the *best* day to do it, there was quite a bit of wind about, but the advanced members of our group decided it was still doable so we alerted our retrieval team of our plans!

Hurley Pass RASP for July 18

There was quite a bit of cloud about, too much to really feel comfortable going over the back at Goat into the backcountry, so most pilots top-landed below Copperdome to wait out the sun.  I opted to stay in the air and enjoy the abundant lift and watch the sky.  Once the skies cleared a bit more everyone relaunched and off to Goat we went, where we eventually got to 3000m and committed to going over the back to Chipmunk Mountain.

Our LZ is the Gunn Creek river delta where it spills into Carpenter Lake.

It was windy up high, and with the Hurley FSR below us in the venturi, we figured it would be very windy on the ground too.  A bit scary, frankly, especially since there are essentially zero landings (at least nice ones) for the entire trip to Goldbridge.  There are cutblocks, and wide areas of the Hurley FSR, but nothing that would be entirely comfortable to land in, especially in wind.  However the terrain behind Goat is spectacular!

Looking west to Downton Lake.  Carpenter Lake is behind me. 
Our flight path from Chipmunk Mountain was on the left side of this photo.

Basically to get to Goldbridge you just have to follow the Hurley FSR, but you can either follow more-or-less right next to it, or go deeper into the higher peaks.  Most of us opted for the deeper line over the Waterfall peak complex, but Tyler opted for the next-to-the-Hurley line, and got shot down midway through the flight, landing on the road in not-that-nice conditions, and eventually getting a ride back to Pemberton via a returning car back down the Hurley road.  I actually returned to the vicinity of the road after getting to Mt. Noel since it was obvious we were going to make Goldbridge no problem, and I wanted to get some photos of Downton, Gunn, and Carpenter lakes, as well as see what was available for LZ's if you landed short.

Downton Lake with the dam, Lajoie Lake, and Gunn Lake

As you approach Bralorne and Goldbridge you have to pass over/by Brexton Dome, and in the amount of wind we were experiencing (we were doing 60+kph downwind at this point), you definitely don't want to be in the lee of that chunk of mountain!  I veered well west of Brexton Dome, leaving Mt. Noel at 3000m, which incidentally puts you over the marshland between Downton and Carpenter lakes, a nice emergency bailout zone if you are having issues reaching the LZ.  I estimate you can actually leave Mt. Noel around 2000m and still reach the river delta LZ since you are approaching continuously-descending terrain to the lake.

Packing up in the 30+kph winds was difficult, so we had to use this tree to hide behind.

The LZ in this case was the river delta on Carpenter Lake, about 10km past Goldbridge where Gunn Creek empties into Carpenter Lake.  Here is the best-looking LZ, plenty of sand and also plenty of room if you get dragged in the wind, and it's right next to the main road leading from Goldbridge to Lilloet.  We actually had oodles of height and could have continued flying east, but there are no/not much LZ's further along Carpenter Lake, and we wanted to have a safe and happy landing!

James and Peter and Richard were already ahead of Bill and I, had landed already, and were reporting 30+ winds, so setup my approach well upwind and landed with lots of dragback room (but didn't need it).  The LZ is actually a bit soft with the piles of sand which was a bit unexpected...if you land here, prepare for some sinking in!

Celebrating our flight at the Gunn Creek LZ!

It was definitely windy in the LZ, and we all agreed that the flight was spectacular but quite burley.  Doing the flight on a less-windy day would definitely be more fun and allow you more time to enjoy the scenery and relax a bit more.  But I think Goldbridge/Carpenter Lake is always going to be windy, so choose your day wisely!

76 km flight Pemberton to Goldbridge.

Upper MacKenzie July 17, 2021

  I am part of the BCXC tour group, and due to the widespread fires in BC, we have limited areas to fly, so today we started in Pemberton.

Mostly cloudy skies and some Whistler Express coming in, so it was an extended sled run to the Beer Farm.  We did it mostly for the lulz and some of the BCXC folks don't get to fly Pemberton that often, so it was a treat for them.

Tomorrow is another Pemberton day with much sunnier skies forecast for the afternoon, so we may try the run to Goldbridge!

Pemberton Upper MacKenzie July 11

 Today was looking like quite a nice day with cu's reported yesterday and (compared to yesterday) lighter wind forecasted.  LOTS of pilots on launch today, great to see!

I launched a bit earlier than usual as it looked to be working around the corner to the SE, and after a few minutes of scratching around the corner from the Telus Towers I was able to get to 2700m and crossed to the Miller valley.  Tom Kitto and Dave A. were with me.  Over on the Miller side it was windier from the west than expected, so the entire mountain range over there was in rotor, making for very rough flying!  Lots of active flying, lots of weighlessness, and one big frontal blowout which I was able to control for the excitement of Dave who was watching ;)

Not wanting a repeat of the Mt. Morrison debacle of a few days ago, after enjoying the glacier scenery of the Miller valley I crossed to Mt. Barbour, where, despite it being more into-the-wind, it was still rough and generally not-nice air.  I wasn't feeling like getting beat up for the next 4 hours so I turned around and landed back in Pemberton, where pretty much everyone else who landed said the same thing "it was shit".

The group who went down to Lilloet Lake were saying the same thing, and 3 or 4 of them landed either at the snowshed on the Duffy Lake road, or at the south end of Duffy Lake.  I believe one of them was under reserve (but was OK).  All in all, a very rough, unpleasant day, a "Type 2" fun sort of day.

50km FAI triangle on a rough day.

Pemberton Miller Ridge July 6

 The forecast was looking quite light for the Pemberton Valley so we arranged a crew to drive and hike-n-fly from Miller Ridge.

Bring your bug net!  I brought mine and used it immediately.  Wear long sleeves and long pants!  Otherwise you will be eaten alive during the entire 45 minute to 1 hour hike, and the only relief will be when you arrive on launch and there (hopefully) cycles to keep them off!  For some reason the Miller side of the vallye is worse than the MacKenzie side for bugs, it may be because the Miller side has more water/late-season snow/glacier melt nearby to nurture the mosquito larvae.

Most of the group on launch were planning to go to Whistler and them perhaps the Wedge-Lilloet Lake jump, but I wanted to fly to Athelstan via the Miller side of the mountains and return via the MacKenzie side of things.  Getting up was a bit of a chore since there was quite a bit of south wind scrubbing along the side of the ridge, but I eventually got high and then set off to the NW.

Things were going great until I crossed the Ryan Valley to Mt. Morrison.  The south wind was manifesting as a SE and sucking into the Ryan Valley (usually is is blowing from the NW) so my plan to get up on Morrison was foiled by the wrong wind direction and I was flushed down (quite violently, I might add!) to the Camel's Hump.

Not wanting to land out so early, and in so crappy a spot, I recrossed the valley the base of Copperdome and arrived *very* low, basically over the bridge that crosses the Lilloet River to the Hurley Pass, and proceeded to spend the next 55 minutes scratching in the heat and stability a few hundred feet above the ground.  It was not fun!  But I was able to eventually scratch my way up to Copper Mountain, and when I had enough height to get back to the Beer Farm, I flew back immediately so I could land, have a cold drink, have a swim, and get out of my sweaty flying clothes!

Meanwhile the boys who had headed to Whistler were experiencing some scratching conditions as well and some south wind, but were able to make it work and eventually get to Wedge, where they were able to get high enough (3500+m) to make the jump over the Wedge pass and down to Lilloet Lake.  It did sound a bit hairy in spots with lots of south wind down low and scratching in not-very-nice spots.  By the end of the day I think there were a bunch of 150+ km triangles by the Whistler-Wedge-Lilloet lake crowd, good for them for sticking it out on a rougher-than-forecast day!

Aborted Athelstan flight.

Pemberton Upper MacKenzie July 5

Today was my first flight on my new Phi Allegro X-Alps.  This is a lightweight EN-C and I decided to get it in traffic-cone orange for the best visibility in the skies and also contrasting against trees and mountains.

Weather was quite unstable with towering cu's in the neighbouring valleys so it wasn't going to be a big day, and we were going to have to keep an eye on escape routes in case a cell developed in the vicinity.  But initially the cells were behaving themselves so we estimated we had several hours before they would mature into cu-nims.

My new glider!  Photo courtesy of Alex Raymont

When kiting it a few days ago Alex and I discovered the risers are rather long for my short-ish arms, so instead of grabbing the A's at the ends, like for most risers, it's actually better to grab them at the base, in order to not "overpull" the leading edge when reverse launching.  They are listed as 570mm rather than Phi's technical specs of 540mm, but when I inquired, Phi confirmed they are the correct length for this size of glider and the technical specs page was out-of-date.

The first thing I noticed about this glider vs. my Lynx is that this glider is much "softer" vs. the Lynx.  I think that's partly a function of the fact that I'm in the weight range of this glider, whereas on the Lynx I was 2-4kg over the top of the weight range.  The turning is "softer" as well but quite nice, and the C-handles provide a good place to lever your hands when flying on speedbar.  I also noticed the Ronstad pulleys on this glider are a bit smoother vs. the Lynx Harken pulleys, although that may be because these pulleys are brand-new and no grit inside!

After a few minutes of thermalling to get familiar with the glider, I headed downrange to Goat Peak where I met up with Alex and we crossed the Hurley Pass together to Zorah Peak.

The 3 sets of towering cu's we were keeping an eye on

Meanwhile there was a group of 3 towering cu's on the Miller side of the valley which were threatening to coalesce into one giant cloud, but they seemed to be stopping just at that critical stage where they either go "kablooie" or fizzle.  However there was a rather threatening cloud over Mt. Currie which was dropping virga out and looked to be getting rather large in the distance, so we opted to return back to Pemberton and land at the Beer Farm rather than in windy Pemberton.  Turns out the cloud over Mt. Currie fizzled in the end as well, but rather safe than sorry!

Flying to the Beer Farm with the large cloud over Mt. Currie

All in all I'm quite pleased with my new glider and hope to get many hours and XC km's on this one!  And I'm glad it's a bit larger than my previous glider, as it will allow me to bring some vol-bivy gear and not feel 10kg overloaded which can be problematic when top-landing at 2000+m!

Pemberton vol bivy June 20-21, 2021

 The forecast was looking pretty average for XC flying, but perfect for vol-bivy flying, and with it being the summer solstice, we would be able to sky-camp on the shortest night of the year!  With the usual spot just coming out of the snow, there would be lots of water available (so less to tote ourselves) and less bugs to contend with as well.

Our usual sky camping spot near Copper Mound

Alex and I didn't actually launch until around 5 or 6pm, prior to that pilots were reporting it to be "spicy" and rather rough.  James Elliot who was planning on sky-camping with us was in the air already so it was just a matter of going down to Copper and meeting up with him there.  However the climb out was a bit slow and tedious, but once I got high I was able to get to Owl, the gap, and Barbour no problem, and then it was just an issue of top landing at the bivy spot.

The usual camping spot is still under snow (right) so we have to use the secondary spot to the south.

The bivy site itself was mostly still snow with a few exposed places, and the mine pits were also mostly snowed in, as was the amphitheatre down below.  So after doing a bunch of passes over the site, I chose to land in the snowfield just north of the bivy site and walk over.

Short flight to Copper bivy site.

This time of year the usual tenting spots are still under snow, so we used the secondary spot just to the south...I also saw another 1-tent spot to the north that will be useful if it's a busy night with lots of other tents in the usual spots ;)

Searching for cell signal...only in certain spots!

It was just the 3 of us (Alex, myself, and James) after Scott relaunched to fly back to Pemberton and work the following day.  We had a beautiful sunset which lasted for 2+ hours.  Going to bed around 11:30pm it was still red in the skies to the NNW, and when waking up at 3:30am, the skies were already red to the NNE.  Shortest night indeed!

Enjoying the shortest night of the year.  Photo courtesy of James Elliot.

Of course with the shortest night comes the longest days, so we were up way too early to actually fly, so waited until around 9:30am or so before launching.  The plan was to get back to the Beer Farm at least, and maybe even all the way back to the LZ.  It was beautiful morning thermals on the SW faces between Copper and Barbour, and we took differing paths after that...Alex and I crossed to the Miller side of the valley, while James stuck to the Owl side of the valley.  Alex and I got nada on the Miller side, and James also got nada on the Owl side....he only made it back since he was able to get higher at Barbour before continuing on, and flying an EN-D he had a better glide.  Alex and I made it to the Beer Farm where it was far too hot, that early in the morning, to do much more than pack up and wait in the shade for Jame to come pick us up :)

The snow is barely gone and already the alpine flowers are coming out!

When we got back to the LZ there were several groups going up MacKenzie but it was way too hot so off to Gates Lake for a swim and then North Arm Farms for some goodies!

Lower McKenzie Pemberton May 29-30

 The upper launch is now open, however we have been asked to stay off the grass up there in order to let it grow and re-establish after a hard winter.  It's still early enough in the season to get away from Lower launch, so after chucking our bags in a truck heading to Lower, a group of around 12 of us hiked up to Lower via the Cloudbase Grind trail.  Hiking without the bag is so nice!

A nice crowd of pilots on launch and we could see some Igor and Vlad in the air already on the SE corner of McKenzie, having launched from Upper launch in order to have the altitude to get around the corner to the morning side.  However they were not getting away so it looked to not be an early, or fast, or big day.  That meant that our tentative plans to fly to Whister and then back via Wedge and over the back of Wedget to Lilloet Lake and returning that way would have to wait for another day with higher base.  We had also heard reports that pilots launching from Rainbow launch in Whistler had sunk out, so yet another data point that it was going to be slow-ish day.

Note to pilots leaving paraglider bags on launch unattended: Don't do this, especially if you have food/smelly items inside!  We had one pilot's bag ripped open by the local black bear after he left it in the bushes while he was taking his retrieve vehicle back down and then hiking back up (a period of ~2 hours).  Patches of repair tape later and a working glider and harness again.  The helmet will probably need to replaced though.  We think it was the scented sunscreen in the paraglider bag the bear was going after.

Looking up Pemberton meadows to the lenticulars beginning to form

After fighting to get high for a bit between Lower and Upper launch, I said forget it and started heading for Owl low...I figured I only needed to get past the gap and onto Barbour, and then I'd be home free.  But that didn't happen, and I scunged along until Copper where I finally found a good climb which took me to 2800m and a comfortable altitude for the Hurley Pass crossing.

Once west of Hurley Pass it was indeed a bit easier, but you had to take care not to get too low, sink into the stable-zone, and have to fight your way back out.  The going to Spindrift was a bit slow with all the sink around, and it was only on the return, after re-crossing North Creek, that things felt "easy".

While re-crossing Hurley Pass we heard reports that Slava had gotten too low and deep behind Goat Mountain and had landed somewhere near Chipmunk Mountain at around 1400m.  At this altitude it's still winter and snowy, so we were initially concerned for Slava's wellbeing, but he was OK and found a snowmobile trail, and shortly thereafter was rescued by some passing snowmobilers on their way back to civilization.  He was dropped off a the Beer Farm later that evening :)

All in all, a rather difficult day and good training for staying up and high above the stability!

111km OR in Pemberton.

Sprucing up the safety hut!

The following day was not really flyable, but a good work day.  A crew of us went to Upper launch to spread more grass seed and also to do some upgrades to the safety hut.  Most drove down after finishing work but a few tandems flew before it got too cross and windy.

Opening weekend for paragliding @ Grouse Mountain May 15

 Grouse Mountain recently opened up and this weekend was looking pretty nice, a bit stable on the front mountains but more unstable even a little way back.

Grouse Mountain has plowed a tunnel to the Grizzly Bear enclosure,
but after that, it's hiking in the snow!  Photo courtesy of Alex Raymont.

The gondola was pretty quiet, since the mountain is "between seasons" for the regular tourists, and with Covid, only a few people are allowed on the gondola in the first place.

After a *very* hot hike up (the snow reflects all the heat directly onto you, like foil in an oven!) we arrived on launch with light cycles and Tom and Paddy already set up.  The cycles were actually quite anaemic and it was a tossup between a forward or a running reverse, not easy in the snow!

Looking at Grouse Mountain from Crown Mountain.  Photo courtesy of Alex Raymont.

Once in the air it was indeed a bit stable down low, but most of us went for the spine just to the west of launch (rather than the bailout cliffs) and that was working enough to get us high enough to jump back to Dam, and then Crown, Mountains.  Once back there it was easier to stay up and we actually got high enough to think about encountering airspace at 6500', but we were able to stay below that :)

There is still oodles of snow on the Coast Range mountains, which makes the scenery even more beautiful.

Lower MacKenzie Pemberton May 9-11

 The forecast was calling for a period of sunny and unstable weather in Pemberton, and coincidentally both Alex and I were able to take full advantage of the weather window, going to Pemberton for 3 days.

Saturday was looking like a light-wind, high-base day so I wanted to do the 100km out-and-return "milkrun" to Spindrift and back.  Several other pilots were chasing me while some other pilots went down Lilloet Lake instead.

RASP for MacKenzie May 9

The going to Hurley Pass was uneventful except for some rough air in the Owl-Barbour gap where I had a nice blowout on 2/3 bar.  Fortunately it was symmetrical so not too much required to fix and onwards I went ;)

Cloudbase was around 2700m at this point and there was ~15 kph of west wind, accelerating through the Hurley Pass, so crossing was slow and I had to do the usual "skip the first thermal on the other side, and use the next one away from the gap instead" trick.  Lots of lift on the other side and the same slow progress over North Creek as well.

Re-crossing the Hurley Pass after tagging Spindrift and the 50 km mark.

Getting around the corner of Spindrift and to the 50km mark was actually OK considering the headwind and clouds were forming all over the place, with big clouds starting to form around Birkenhead Peak and along the Duffy Lake stretch and down to Lilloet Lake.  It was time to return home before getting caught on the wrong side of one of those clouds!

The return was quick (!) and cloudbase had risen to around 3000m and pilots were starting to report strong suck and rain behind Mt. Barbour.  So it was quite easy to ride the leading edge of the cloudstreet all the way to Owl Ridge with few top-ups required.  The gaggle which had gone to Lilloet Lake had returned and were starting to go to the Hurley Pass but I believe most turned around early so as to not get caught up behind any late-day overdevelopment.

Back in Pemberton it was mini-Whistler Expressing so most pilots were landing at the Beer Farm and the taco truck that was also parked there.  I had parked at the new sportsfield so landed there instead to save the retrieve issues later on, and was able to tack on another 10km of distance to make a 111 km out and return flight.  The general consensus was of a fantastic flying day with some OD at the end to make things interesting and lots of smiling faces at the Beer Farm!

Socially-distanced camping after a fun day of flying.

111 km OR return in Pemberton.            

The following day looked a bit windier, and after the great flights of the day before, Alex and I decided to take the day off from flying and hike the Mile One Lake to Nairn Falls trail instead.  The trail was deserted (it was a Monday) and the campground at Nairn was still closed so we pretty much the entire Nairn waterfalls to ourselves!

Tuesday was looking like a slightly more-stable day vs. the previous 2 days, which was good from a flying deep point of view, but it made the MacKenzie basin climbout a bit slow.  But we were able to get to 2600m over the antennas and glide over Lil'wat Mountain.  I've always found the Lil'wat to Cassiope to Duffy Lake Pass stretch to be a bit of a "washing machine" with lots of turbulence and generally rough air, and today was no different!  It took me a while to get high enough for the glide across the Duffy Lake Pass to Duffy Peak on the other side; Peter and Alex were ahead by then, with Dave and Tom Furst below me.

Rasp for Twin Goat Tuesday May 11.  We actually got much higher than forecast!

Going down Lilloet Lake was pretty easy and I skipped one bump further than I'd been before, landing on Twin 2 Peak.  T2P was not working when I arrived so I had to hang out for about 15 minutes before I found a climb to 3200m which was plenty to get me back to Duffy Peak.  Alex and Pete had gone 5km further, to Priory Peak, but I was happy to get high enough at my peak to get back to "friendly" LZ's with no issues.

At Duffy Peak, heading SE along Lilloet Lake

Crossing back to Cassiope was easier than I thought it would be (getting to 3300m at Duffy Peak probably had something to do with it!) but there was a shelf of cloud forming between Lil'wat and the MacKenzie basin area, shading the area out.  I was already on the Lil'wat side so decided to try to run the clouds along to the Coyote launch and the Industrial Park, and try to reconnect with MacKenzie that way, while other pilots tried the direct over-Ivey-Lake route, and others tried via Mt. Currie.

Alex at Priory Peak, looking NW towards Mt. Currie.  Photo courtesy of Alex Raymont.

My route did not work and I landed at the new sportsfield and where the car was parked, so I wasn't too upset, especially since many other pilots who had recrossed successfully were reporting rough conditions on Owl Ridge and not having too much fun.  Fortunately the shelf of clouds over MacKenzie basin were depressing any tendency for Whistler Express so the landings at the schoolbus LZ were actually quite mild, and in fact the wind there was from Meager instead of Pemberton.

61km OR down Lilloet Lake and return in Pemberton.


Bridal Falls May 4

 The previous day at Bridal I had cut my "Sammy" short by turning around at the Butterfly instead of at Ludwig, so today I wanted to do the entire Sammy.  A not-especially high cloudbase day (1500m perhaps) and it was doing that "shelf" thing were the cu's merge together into a giant continuous band of overcast over the peaks.  Fortunately it was very cloud-sucky so you could pretty much just ride the edge of the clouds and run the ridge that way!

Getting down to Ludwig was easy and the return was slow, but not too bad.  Getting around the corner of Cheam can sometimes be challenging, especially on low-cloudbase-high-wind days, but it was not too bad and once around the corner, easy to beam back out to cloudbase and continue the run upwind.

Other pilots were doing Sammies as well and I believe Peter actually 2 Sammies back-to-back, with the second Sammy being with no turns, just running under the shelf of clouds.  Lots of happy faces in the LZ that evening as we were able to fly until 7pm easily, and with the days getting longer and longer, we'll soon be able to fly until 8 or 9pm!

42 km Bridal OR.

Bridal Falls May 2

 After dropping Alex off at Dewdney Bench (he and Pete were planning to fly to Bridal) I made my own way over to the other side of the Fraser Valley for an afternoon Bridal run.

A beautiful afternoon at Bridal.  Photo courtesy of Simon Beaumont.

I figured the wind would pick up in the afternoon so after launching I decided to head downwind first to the Butterfly, to take advantage of the lighter winds earlier on in the flight for the upwind return leg.  Easy cruising between 1000 and 1700m, not quite high enough to get over the peak of Cheam which is still very snowy!

Windy enough to kite in the LZ.  Photo courtesy of Rod Frew.

There were lots of clouds forming out over the flats at Rosedale as well as at the end of Elk Mountain, so I decided to push to the west under those clouds to Ryder Lake before the easy downwind glide back to Elk, Gloria, and back to Bridal.  A bit spicy in the LZ with gusty thermals coming through but doable, a nice change actually to have some wind to land in!  All in all a very nice strong spring day running under the forming cu's out front of the main mountain range.

45 km Bridal OR.

Pemberton April 20, 2021

A generally rough and turbulent day in Pemberton.  Light north wind forecast, but in reality it felt more like light NE up high.

There were several XC plans discussed on launch today...our original plan was to do the MacKenzie-Goat-Birkenhead-return triangle, but the Russians were talking about flying to Harrison Hot Springs so some of the other boys got fired up for that instead.  But I wasn't interested in that kind of flight so opted to stick with the original plan along with Curtis, Gary, and Dave.

I was ahead of everyone heading to the end of Owl Ridge when Alex and Peter and James radioed that they would be chasing Igor and Vlad down Lilloet Lake and onwards to Harrison Lake and the Fraser Valley.  So I guess I would be driving back the car to Vancouver!

When I got to Copper I realized the air wasn't that nice and didn't have a great feeling about plunging over the back to Birkenhead Peak, so I decided to just return to Pemberton the same route and go to Lil'wat Peak that way.  Curtis/Gary/Dave, who were behind me, had just jumped over the back at Barbour and were on their way to Seton Portage and Lilloet, so I was on my own.  Getting back to MacKenzie I was getting to 2900m, which is easy to cross to Lil'wat Mountain, but the air was rough and not very pleasant, so after tagging the shoulder of Cassiope I glided over to Mt. Currie for an eventual landing by the car.

Meanwhile the boys had gotten to the south end of Harrison Lake and were (finally) encountering the inflow wind that is typical at the Hot Springs in the afternoons.  Since we had all gotten a late start, they were especially late getting to the end of the lake and were racing the sunset at the same time as the strong headwind.  They were able to get a final climb and sneak through to the Fraser Valley via the "back way" at Hicks Mountain, landing in Laidlaw in 20+ kph of wind and a retrieve vehicle already organized by James.

The other XC group had gotten to Lilloet and landed in various spots and also had a retrieve lined up, so they were taken care it was an easy decision for Claudia and myself to drive our respective cars back to Vancouver and wait for the boys to get home from their XC flights.

Tunnel Bluffs April 17, 2021

 This was my first time flying from this 950m hike-n-fly site in Howe Sound.  There is no road access and (for me) a 3.5 hour hike.  Fortunately this is an afternoon/evening site (faces west) so I had all day to make my way up there!

View of Mt. Harvey, Harvey's Pup, the East and West Lions, and Vancouver in the background.    Photo courtesy of Alex Raymont.

The forecast was for rather stable conditions down low, but the potential for high climbs to 2000m+ if you could break though the stability.  For me, it took almost 1 hour of scratching below 1000m before I finally found a climb around the SW corner of Mt. Harvey and climbed out to 1500m, where I could finally see the glory of the Coast Range, the East and West Lions, Brunswick Mt, and of course Howe Sound itself.  The highlight of the flight was ridge-soaring up the NW side of Harvey, and flying directly alongside the sheer rock cliff and underneath the cornices still overhanging on the summit.  I saw lots of footprints going up the summit of Harvey (and Brunswick as well) but no people...probably a good idea given the time of day (late afternoon) and anybody still up there that time of day would likely get caught up in the dark during the return trip.

Looking north up Howe Sound with Anvil Island on the left, Squamish just out of view on the far right.

There was actually a bunch of NW wind up high (we are allowed only to 1981m here, due to Class C airspace above this altitude) so it was upwind going north up high, but upwind going south down low :). I chose to stay local and enjoy the scenery, while Alex and Peter (it was Pete's first flight here too) flew north to Deak's Peak and then back.

Sunset glide out to the Brunswick beach LZ.  Gambier Island, Bowen Island, and Gibsons in the distance.

Uncharacteristically, there was little to no wind at the Brunswick beach LZ (normally there would be a typical flowing-up-Howe-Sound-seabreeze), so landing was a bit hot and of course there is all the driftwood and barnacle-encrusted rocks to avoid.  But the tide was still low so we had lots of space...perfect for no-wind landings!

A beautiful flying site, if you can handle the hike, with incredible views on-par with flying sites anywhere in the world.

The sunset view from Brunswick beach and our packing up spot.

Woodside triangle day April 11, 2021

 The forecast was looking very good, maybe one of the best XC days this year, so pretty much all the XC hounds were out in force today!  The forecast was for light north wind and high cloudbase, both recipies for a big triangle, or at least an out-and-return to Hope.  (Normally Hope is not in the cards due to the funneling effect of any valley wind, concentrating on that town to make it very windy.)

The north wind was causing a huge cu to form directly to the south, shading out launch, so it was closer to 11:30am before we could start launching when the sun came out.  Peter was first, and then myself, and a whole pile of others came shortly thereafter.

Today's windgram for Woodside!

I went straight up over the venturi between launch and the south knoll, and at 1100m I went for Agassiz Mountain.  I had a gaggle of 4 pilots chasing me but Alex caught up to me at Bear Mountain, where, unlike most north wind days, it was actually OK turbulence-wise, and we were able to climb out to 1500m for the glide to Hicks Mountain.

Hicks is a smaller mountain and usually has no clouds, but today the clouds were forming there as well, so it was not much of a delay to get high again for the glide to Squakum Peak.  Peter, ahead of us, said Squakum was not very nice in the north wind, and we discovered this as we had to glide around the lee of it to get to the larger Dog Mountain, which overlooks the Hope airport.

Dog Mountain was not very nice as well until you got high, the north wind meant most of the thermals were leaning out over the valley and were a bit messy.  But there were big clouds galore, so eventually I was able to get up to cloudbase, at which point I decided to turn around rather than do the extra 3km to Hope proper, and risk getting back lower in the less-nice air.

Crossing from Archibald to Green Hill.  Harrison Lake in the background; Agassiz in the foreground.

Going back I was liking the look of the highway #1 side of the river vs. the highway #7 side of the river, so after getting high at the west end of Dog Mountain I crossed the valley to Laidlay, trying to stay out of the narrowest part of the valley where the wind usually is strongest.  Arriving on the other side low, I had to scunge upwind to the sunny, windward (it was west wind down low at this part of the valley) side of Mt. Devoy to find a climb to get me out of there and into the nicer air up higher.  This happened to be directly over a group of people enjoying some target practice with a variety of firearms, so I was glad they weren't tempted to fire upwards ;)

Finally safely up high it was time to evaluate how to get around the Ludwig corner, which is another pinch-point for wind and usually no easy landings, fortunately this time of year there are lots of connected sandbars for outlandings.  I had to be patient and wait for a climb to get me to 1800m so I could push upwind and around/over Ludwig, at which point I knew I was in familiar territory and easy cruising of the Butterfly/Lakes/Cheam/Archibald stretch. top scores...look at all the Canadians!

Alex and Tom Gregg were still behind me, and I announced that I was recrossing the Fraser Valley via Green Hill since I had been watching cu's form repeatedly over that peak, followed by a continuous cloud over Agassiz Mountain.  Crossing over there was more north wind than I expected, so it was good thing I left Archibald at 1900m, in order to get to the very north end of Green Hill where the thermal was feeding the cloud.  Alex came in under me, and we both climbed out high enough for a comfortable glide to Agassiz Mountain, the waiting cu, and no worries about the Agassiz Prison airspace below us.

Home stretch to Woodside was easy, courtesy of a bunch of cu's forming the entire way (we had to keep an eye since cloudbase was higher than our allowed airspace altitude, over Woodside class B starts above 1981m), and Alex and I parted ways as he went to Banjo with Peter Spear, and I went to Sasquatch Mountain to stretch out the flight a bit.  Surprisingly, Sasquatch Mountain was lame and I thought I'd have to limp to Eagle Ranch for a landing.  But on the final glide to ER, I saw a group of eagles thermalling out at the base of Harrison Highlands and joined them to re-climb back out from 300m to 1300m.  I also had the pleasure of Martin Henry strafing me on his ATOS as he returned from his own giant triangle.

Western Canada XC Find and all the routes flown today in the Fraser Valley!

Of course, now I couldn't get down into Riverside since the sandbars were going off everywhere!  I figured a pilot could launch from Woodside, glide to Riverside, climb out on the sandbars, and repeat all the way to Agassiz.  Even at 5pm, pilots were still launching from Woodside and climbing to the giant cu which was still over launch, probably into airspace, and we could tell tomorrow's huge outflow conditions were starting up as the cu was forming from the NE and the wind started coming down Harrison Lake.

In the end we had a half dozen pilots go to Hope and return successfully, with many turning those flights into triangles.  Vlad and Igor flew up Harrison Lake and return after doing the Woodside-Big Nick run, making a triangle in that direction instead.  It was a rare day with light winds, high base, and strong conditions!  85km FAI triangle.

Lower MacKenzie April 3-4, 2021

 I was in Pemberton to cat-sit over the weekend, and brought my glider although early April is very early for Pemberton XC flights.

I decided to do the hike to lower launch on Sunday, and it's so early there are no bugs yet...yay!  The hike is snow-free, and the front part of launch is also snow-free, with maybe 6" remaining in the back top-landing area.  The actual parking lot is still fully snowed in however.

A fairly large crew showed up during the afternoon (both hikers and drivers) and the cycles started up around 1pm, with the occasional strong one coming through.  There was lots of clouds around, and I could see overdevelopment around Mt. Sampson, Birkenhead, and the Duffy Lake area.  So it was not to be a big XC day but rather stick locally.

OMG it was cold!  The air at cloudbase (2600m or so) was -10C, so I could only stay up that high for a few minutes at a time before sinking down to find some slightly warmer air to thaw out.

I did pop over to the Miller side of the valley (it was north wind up aloft) but no joy, so I had to limp back to the MacKenzie side.  Upper launch is still completely snowed-in with the hut buried under meters of snow, and the road to upper won't melt out anytime soon!

View of Squamish and the Chief from the Tantalus Lookout on a stable blue day.

The following day I opted to get a ride, and you can drive to ~10 minutes of lower launch.  Unlike the previous day, it was stable and blue, no cu's at all, a big change!  It was tough getting through 1000m, and many pilots kept around the lower launch, although I believe a few later pilots managed to get past Owl and out to the Barbour area.  I eventually landed due to the cold...

Lower Bridal March 31, 2021, test flight of Ozone Alpina 4 S

 My first Bridal flight of the season, and there is still a bit of snow on the launch.  Arriving on launch around 1:30pm, which is early, and the sun was still not yet on-face, with a little east wind about.

Even as we waited for the sun to come around it remained east on launch which made launching quite tough.  Even Alan (who normally launches very early and consistently) was having difficulties!

I was flying Alex's Alpina4, which we have since discovered has a tendency to "taco" (tips come up first, middle last) during light/no-wind forward launches (even with a perfect layout), and of course this is exactly what happened.  After a couple of tries I actually laid the glider out next to the picnic table near the top, pointing towards the lower part of the launch to the east, and took off that way towards the parking lot, doing a last-second diversion to dive off the edge and into clear air.

Lower launch is mostly snow free.

Once in the air it was light east, not as much as launch would have you think, but enough to be noticeable.  It was very stable and getting above launch was tough, so I spent most of my flight at- or below launch height, where you could stay indefinitely if you were so inclined.  Folks at Woodside were reporting similar stable conditions, and the Benny folks were having an easier time, so Mt. St. Benedict was probably the best site for today's conditions.

I was flying the Alpina4 near the upper end of the weight range (65-85kg), whereas I'm over on my usual glider (60-80kg).  So compared to the Lynx the A4 felt a bit floatier, and was softer in pretty much all respects (turning, brakes, agility, etc).  As a 5'1" pilot, I found the "bridge" between the B's and C's for rear-riser flying to be a bit too high to reach without stretching...taller pilots will probably not have this issue.

All-in-all, the A4 would be a nice C glider for the hike-n-fly pilot (although not for technical sites with a short and narrow runway and low or nil wind, where a perfect overhead inflation is required), or someone looking for a lightweight glider.  I've already ordered a Phi Allegro X Alps so the test-flight of the A4 was more for comparison's sake and because Alex has one!

Woodside March 13, 2021

 It was predicted to be a rather stable day, but Alex, Kevin, and Tom were going to be working on the lower trail section of the Woodside road, so I tagged along to hike up from their working spot.

Used the new upper trail section and it's pretty nice!  The main section is in the trees, nice and shady, and the last part is rather steep due to the fact it's pretty much a cliff face at that point, and it spits you out by the spot where the old hang gliding ramp used to be.  When walking up the final section, make sure to keep an eye out for launching pilots coming at you from above!

Met Martin and Mia who were flying their paragliders and it was lame-ish cycles so no rush to get ready.  Eventually they both launched and sunk out into Riverside as it was still quite still on launch and not even any birds coming by.

Eventually a group of more hike-n-flyers showed up and lobbed off in the heavy cirrus, myself included.  It was basically an extended sled ride at that point, although later on that afternoon it blued-up again with stronger sun and pilots were able to stay up for a hour +.  There were even 5 hang gliders on launch today.

Mt. St. Benedict March 8, 2021

 The snow is melting fast, and Al actually made it to launch with his truck, but the rest of us hiked up.  Once again the launch was snowy but melting away fast, exposing the black carpet!

It was only 4 of us on launch today and we took our time getting ready since it was blowing over the back for most of the day.  And in the air it was definitely north and east and pouring over the tops of the Miracle Valley was a blue day and the predicted turnaround to inflow never really happened.  

A few cu's started to form around 3pm but they were very scrappy and leaned over the from the NE, although it started to get better for altitude gains (1600m or so).  But the Rasp did not really match up with the actual day.  And for those at Woodside, they had to wait until around 3pm before it stopped blowing over the back and became possible to take off.