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.