Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Family Vacation

We got an unexpected visit from my father for the holidays so we packed everyone up and headed over to the Grand Canyon for few days. But first a couple of Christmas shots:

I had no problem getting reservation so I didn't think there would be much of a crowd but the place was packed. Luckily we got an early start on Saturday and were able to gain access to most of the vistas before the crowds took over. They had a nice dumping of snow during the preceding week so the views were even more spectacular.

In case you hadn't already guessed that is my 85 year old father on the left. It was -4 degrees F on Saturday morning when we headed up to the park. My father lives in Florida now; a bit of a change I would say.

I believe this shot was from Mather Point. All the vistas were awe inspiring, but if I had to choose the best spots I would say that Yavapai and Lipan Points offered the most spectacular views.

"The oldest building in the park?" "That's nice." "I want one of those icicles!" Forget the Grand Canyon; the kids would have been just as satisfied just playing in the snow the whole weekend. Dad did plan ahead though and packed the sleds. There was a nice hill across the street from the hotel to be put to use -- and use they did.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

So Cal XC League Meet (Called)

Dean Stratton has been running a contest modeled after the Northern California XC League Meet called, well, the Southern California XC League Meet. Once a month, during a weekend, an XC contest is held at designated site in Southern California. The first two contests were held at Marshall and the last two in Santa Barbara. I didn’t attend the Marshall events but I had planned to participate in Santa Barbara during at least one of the weekends. I hadn’t flown since Blackhawk, so I had a couple of extra kitchen passes in the bank. However, in the morning of the first event in November I awoke to high clouds, a lousy 6k 7 degrees Celsius lapse rate and a splitting headache; I opted to crawl back in bed with Lauren instead of making the trek. But, despite the conditions they managed to get in a half-way decent task. I regret not going – although that Sunday’s task was cancelled.

The forecast for the December event wasn’t much better than November’s, but I decided that I would go no matter what, if for no other reason than to show some support. Anyway, RUC was actually showing the possibility of a pretty good day, albeit a bit breezy out of the east at the top of the lift band. Good, that is, if the predicted high clouds held off until everyone was on the ground. They didn’t.

One of the problems with a somewhat loose contest like this is getting everyone herded to together to get the ball rolling. Normally, during this time of year, Tony and I would be on our way to launch by 9:00 so that we would be set up ready to go by 10:00 at the latest. Well, the pilot meeting wasn’t scheduled to start until nine; in reality things didn’t start clicking until sometime near ten. The delay caused us to miss an opportunity to take advantage of the mid-morning clear skies before the high clouds rolled in – for the HGs anyway; the PGs got skunked outright.

It was decided at the pilots’ meeting that the PGs would use the Altinator launch and the HGs would take off from the Eliminator. Both groups were greeted with east winds. Despite the iffy launch conditions at the Eliminator a task was called: RR to the VOR then east to Romero and then out to the beach (I was hoping for at least a 35 miles task to put me over 500 miles for the year). But with the east wind a few of us were clamoring to head up to the Back of the Rack launch - named, btw, by yours truly. Some pilots, however, wanted to stay where they were to wait out the conditions. I argued that since the RR was going to be used as the start it didn’t matter where we launched from; those that wanted to stay, could. After some hemming and hawing my argument won out. Only when we got up to the backrange it wasn’t exactly the same launch that Tom Truax and I discovered many moons ago. We had taken off from a turn-out just east of where we would launch, but that area was now blocked with vegetation. At the original spot there are a number of places to set up, but at the new launch we were required to set up in the middle of the road. It ended up not being a problem as only 2-3 cars had to maneuver around us.

The Back of the Rack is located on the back ridgeline directly behind the Thermal Factory. It’s only used in an east wind and the flying is mostly ridge soaring, that is, until you get out to the normal trigger spots on the front range. When we first arrived it was still sunny but the high clouds were closing in fast. By the time the first pilot (John Greynald) got in the air, they were pretty much on top of us – although it was still sunny west of the RR. Meanwhile, the PGs had thrown in the towel after giving up on the Altinator and later the Skyport, because of the east wind. And not long after that, the day was called for the HGs too. John had gotten on course, but the day was deteriorating and he soon found himself low over the Holy Hills. As part of the task committee, I’m not sure if it was he or Dean who called it, but it was called none the less. Since there was no task everyone decided to play around a bit and then cop a glide out to the beach.

However, I wanted to see if I could still do the task (plus our truck was parked at the T LZ) so after a few runs back and forth near launch – I’m still kicking myself for not taking pictures of launch and the back country behind it – I headed out on course.

High clouds rolling in.

Normally I would cut straight over to the RR but I noticed Aaron LaPlante climbing out above the Thermal Factory so I headed there instead. I didn’t get the best glide and didn’t find the same cohesive lift. After turning a few circles I decided to give up the high ground and try my luck out front. I found something just over the road behind the power lines.

As you can see by my track there was definitely some east influence. I thought the drift would take me right over the RR, but the lift gave out about half-way there. No worries, because I had plenty of altitude to reach the RR comfortably. Unfortunately, the RR wasn't working. Not one beep. Discouraged, I basically gave up on the day and decided to head out to the T LZ to retreive our truck. If I had to do it all over I would have at least tried flying directly over the Tit to see if I might have found some lift there. As it was I angled too far west to give it the proper shot. Anyway, after a long glide I made it to the T pretty easily.

If you look at my track you'll see a not so straight line where the green turns into yellow. Since buying the LightSpeed I've never really tried to air the thing out to see how fast it can go. The air was pretty calm and I had some altitude to play with so I thought what the heck let's give it a go. I pulled the VG full on and stuff the bar. Only as soon as I did it my left wing dropped which led to some PIO. At full VG I was experiencing negative bar pressure making it hard to slow the glider down to correct the situation -- of course I should have just popped the VG. After getting the glider to fly straight I made a second attempt with the exact same results. Either I have to work on my racing skills or perhaps make some adjustments to the dive sticks. I say perhaps because I had Kraig Coomber test fly the glider when I first bought it and according to him it flies fast and straight.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Random Family Photos


Our 13th wedding anniversary.

Lauren's parents' 50th.

Lauren's 46th birthday.

A vacation to Montana without dad.

Poppy season near Gorman.

First day of school.

More La Costa shots.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Blackhawk 9/14

I actually hadn’t planned on flying. Lauren had a conference at the La Costa Spa and Resort in Carlsbad Thursday-Friday and we had decided that she’d keep the hotel room an extra night and that the kids and I would drive down to meet her for a little poolside relaxation. There was some talk of staying even one more night but dad nixed that for a number of reasons, none of which, ahem, had to do with getting back in order to go flying – I hadn’t even looked at the forecast :-) But out of the blue (I tell you) both RebarDan and Tony called Saturday to say that they were heading over to Blackhawk on Sunday and wanted to know whether or not I wanted to join them, with Dan indicating that it looked like that there was going to be a pretty good turnout. I had to tell them that I would have to get back to them. “So, you want to go flying?” was Lauren’s response after over hearing one of the conversations. “I wasn’t even thinking about it, but…”

However, even with a kitchen pass in hand I wasn’t sure if I was going to go anyway as the logistics would be a problem for me. It’s a long drive out there and even a longer drive home when the prevailing SW winds set up. On long days that means I’m home close to midnight. On Sunday the winds were supposed to be ESE, meaning we would be flying toward home. Great, except that Tony was already out near Blackhawk camping out and Dan’s and John's crew would be heading back to San Bernardino at the end of the day. I could have left my truck out that way, but that would have meant another late night getting home and I just wasn’t in the mood for that. My ace in the hole was Jonathan Dietch.

Jonathan is back in the sport after a 20 year absence. He emailed earlier in the week to find out some information about Pine Mountain because he was thinking of heading up there on Sunday. I told him that I probably wouldn’t be flying, but Blackhawk would be a better call weather wise, and that for someone who is just getting started flying XC would be a better choice than Pine anyway (launch itself can prove to be tricky but once you get on course you can practically land anywhere). But I told him that if things changed I would call him on Saturday night to see if he wanted to throw on board. If the plan came together we would meet at my house in the morning and either hook up with Tony or Dan in Hisperia leaving my truck there for retrieval later in the day. Jon would fly to somewhere near the truck and then drive chase after that and we all would be home at a reasonable hour at the end of the day. Well, when I called him to let him know that my plans had indeed changed, he told me that he wasn’t feeling all that well and that he had decided to stay home and rest. “Well, if you just want to drive for me you can sleep in the truck all the way out to the Lucerne Valley” I sheepishly said in response. Jon was at the house at 7:00 and we were loaded up on Tony’s truck in Lucerne for the ride up the hill at 9:00. Dan and another crew from Crestline, including John Wright, would meet us at launch a bit later. All told I think we had at least 8 pilots up there.

Despite the predicted SE winds it was blowing straight up the NE facing launch when we arrived. Other than a few clouds over the mountains it was supposed to be a blue day with the thermal tops in the 12-13k range. At just before noon Tony was off first as is usually the case; he likes to be in the air when things turn on rather than on the ground waiting for them to. I would like to be able to do the same, but I don’t like wasting my non-sick air time bobbing up and down near take off so I always tend to go for a little later launch.

Anyway, once Tony started climbing out I got suited up and headed to launch. One last radio check and I would be on my way. UGH!! More radio problems. I just purchased a whole new set-up to take care of this crap and I wasn’t transmitting. While Jon and I jerked around with that, Owen Morse took my place in line. Eventually we got the problem fixed, but once I got into the air at about 20 after 12 another problem arose: the radio got wedged against my harness which engaged the PTT on the radio itself causing a constant high-pitched beeping noise. I couldn’t get at the radio where I had it mounted, but if I changed my body position a bit the noise briefly stopped. But after awhile that didn’t even help. I had climbed out a bit by then, but I couldn’t hear my vario and after no longer able to take the sound I decided to go out and land.

I couldn’t access the radio but I was able to grab the antenna. Even after a few yanks I still couldn’t free it up enough for the noise to stop. That is until I was well clear of the mountain and down to about 5k. With on last pull I could hear the Velcro coming undone and the noise suddenly stopped.

Once clear of the mountain the winds were as predicted out of the SE. My normal last chance thermal was nowhere to be found so I pointed the glider NW and blundered downwind. Luckily, it didn’t take too long to find something and after a slow climb I was back in the game drifting toward the 18 at just over 9k feet. Tony, at that point, was already in Apple Valley, Owen, a couple of miles ahead but still in the mountains and Dan, just getting off the mountain. Unfortunately, everyone else got caught in the SE flow and apparently barely made out to a landing area. There was also one blown launch.

After topping out at just above 10k just west of the 18 I continued on toward Apple Valley. As I pulled even with Rabbit Dry Lake Bed I opted to angle over to the Granite Mountains to give them I try. I wasn’t high enough to reach the spine that angles down to the SE and directly into the wind. I had to settle for a spine coming off to the south. The problem was that if the spine didn’t work I would find myself low on the leeside when I angled back downwind. And although I might have gained 100 ft or so I didn’t find anything cohesive and that is the situation I found myself in. Thinking that I made a big mistake I set my sights on a small rocky hill near the Bear Valley Cutoff. Down to about 5k again I started to pick up some scraps of lift before I reached the hill. It was another slow go at first, but it all came together for another climb out to 10k. From there I headed right down the 18 in very buoyant air.

Tony had called Joshua Approach in the morning to see whether or not R2515 would be cold. It was going to be so as long as we stayed above 6k we could fly up 395 toward the Owens Valley. But before I got in position to even consider that I had to first clear the Class-D airspace of the So Cal Logistical Airport. It ended up not being a problem as I crossed over the airport with about 5,000 ft to spare. However, by the time that I reached the 395 I was down below 8k. Couple that with the fact that Tony was struggling a bit up ahead and that there seemed to be more of an east push than south, I opted to head due west toward Palmdale and Lancaster rather than up 395 toward Ridgecrest.

If I had found a nice buoyant seam on my way to the airport it was just the opposite on my glide from it. After starting my glide well over 11k I didn’t find another thermal until I was down below 5k a mile or so east of Lake El Mirage. But, again, after a slow start I had an eventual climb out to the mid 10k. And just like before, I found a great seam of buoyant air. After climbing out to the mid 11s on the east side of the lake, I B-lined to a large dust devil set up about half-way across it near its southern edge. Since the dusty was drifting away from me toward the SW it took surprisingly long to catch up with. But once I did I had the highest climb of the day to just over 13k. Looking down on the swirling dust I could see a number of circling crows and Owen screaming in from the east. Pretty neat.

Once topped out I continued heading west fully expecting to run into the SW sea breeze at any time. I was flying in another buoyant seam. There seemed to be pockets of lift everywhere along my course line, but when I stopped to work them they never panned out. I was content to just dolphin fly my way to the 14. Unfortunately, at about the 70 mile mark my motion sickness kicked in. After that I let Jon know that I would be on final, but that I would try to at least make it to the 138/14 junction.

Up to that point, Jon had been reporting L&V conditions on the ground; it wasn’t until he made it to the 14 that he hit the sea breeze. I was at about 4k when I reached the 14 but at that height I was still seeing an east wind. Thinking that I just above the lower level SW I continued my final glide to the west. As I got lower my ground speed numbers did indeed drop, but not enough as I ended up whacking it in going downwind 85.4 miles from launch.

What happened was simple: when Jon was reporting SW winds he was a lot further south on the 14 than I was; I was on the wrong side of the convergence line. If I had been feeling better and made that assessment earlier I may have scooted south to work the shear line. However, the line would have taken me directly into Class-D airspace.

Owen landed at Avenue H and 20th street for just over 81 miles, a personal best for him. There is a good chance that he might have flown farther. Not being familiar with the area, when I indicated that I was heading for the 138/14 junction he thought that I meant the one on the south end of Palmdale, not the one on the north end of Lancaster. The deviation cost him some mileage.

Tony and Dan both headed up the 395 and landed in the area of Ridgecrest.

Labor Day Weekend

I guess before I post an entry about a pretty nice flight from Blackhawk on the 14th I should do one on a not so great flight from Pine Mountain over the Labor Day weekend. To be honest the main reason I hadn’t posted the write up earlier was because I was going through one of my, maybe it’s time to give the sport up, phases and just wasn’t in the mood. I get that way every once in awhile, especially after a so so flight. In this case it was that and the fact that they had another fatality at Kagel, making it two in the last two or three months; when you have kids that stuff weighs on you. You think, is it all worth it? After such a short flight the answer at that time was no. But like every other time I started thinking this way the feeling past with time and I was right back poring over the weather forecasts for the next opportunity to fly.

Anyway, here is quick recap of my 15 mile flight from Pine over the Labor Day weekend:

On Wednesday the forecast looked perfect: 14-15k tops with cloud development and light SW winds. It looked so good that tried to shame the Santa Barbara crew to come out and join Tony and me for a day of flying. They were supposed to head up to the Owens, but I happily pointed out that other than Saturday the forecast was saying that it wouldn’t be worth the trip and that they would do better by staying home and flying Pine. It worked. Five of them showed up at launch.

By Saturday morning the forecast wasn’t quite as good as the tops lowered to 12-13k with an added 20 % chance of thundershowers. We also had to contend with an upper level north until we got out into the Antelope Valley. Once out in the valley each model seemed to predict a different wind direction, from SSW to due west.

Despite the chance for overdevelopment the sky was completely blue when we stopped by the north launch to check the wind direction (light north). However, by the time that we got to the south launch a towering cloud had formed just east of the Chute. The cloud formed so fast I thought that the day would be over before we even finish setting up our gliders. But after the initial burst of activity things stabilized a bit.

I launched first. As you can see by my tracklog it took awhile to latch on to something. Tony launched right after, and after an initial climb out found himself down in the same position. It was, of course blowing south at launch altitude, but once I got above the ridge there was a pretty good north push. Despite the abrupt wind shift I had a fairly smooth climb to the mid tens. From launch I took a glide to the backside of Reyes where I tanked up to the mid 11s and headed for the Chute.

As you can see by the track of the thermal that I picked up just short of the Chute we had pretty strong NW wind at altitude. By the time that I topped out in the mid 12s I was back above the front range just east of Haddock Peak.

Up until then I was in the sun, but to the east the whole area north of the Chute was shaded in with development. A while back Tony got caught in some cloud suck to 19k (from a 13k base – yes you read that right) in the same area so I was a bit wary of taking a glide toward Grade Valley under the darken skies that extended out into the middle of Lockwood Valley. Because of my worries I flew through some lift in the beginning of my glide because I wanted to maintain a safe cushion between me and cloudbase. That ended up being a mistake because I didn’t hit any lift at all along my course line. As I write above, the shaded area extended well into Lockwood Valley. However, the southern edge of the sun line was just a mile or two off my right wing. From my position just short of Grade Valley I had a choice of either eking a glide to the sunny side of Lockwood or save some altitude by veering off to the south for the sun there. The problem with heading south is that there is only one area to land in. I would have to keep the LZ within reach while searching for lift. The terrain wouldn’t allow me to just drift downwind. Because I didn’t think that I had the horse power to make it to the sunny side of Lockwood high enough to search for lift I opted to head south. Besides, there was a line of wispies that extended from the back side of Thorn Point (the east end of Pine) to Alamo Mountain.

Well, the decision didn’t pay off and I was soon on the ground less than 15 miles from launch.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Back To Pine

The east end of Pine Mountain

Sometimes the short flights can be more rewarding than the long ones; Sunday was a good example of that. I headed back to Pine after not flying for over a month. This time it was just me and Tony with Fast Eddie driving. Depending on the weather model the day was supposed to be either very good...or not. Great above the mountains but absolutely terrible on the south end of the Antelope Valley. The difference in the predicted lift tops between the Tehachapis and the valley floor near Lancaster was a whopping 10,000 ft. Never to such an extent, but you often see that kind of variation with strong SW winds; the sea breeze gets sucked right up through Soledad Canyon and spills out onto the desert floor.

The game plan going into the day was simple: get up at launch; head over to Frazier where we expected to get above 15k; fly up the Tehachapis; and either head up the Panamint or Owens Valley depending on how much west wind we encountered when we got to the Garlock area (since my motion sickness would be kicking in at about that time that last part would be Tony's game plan, not mine). Well, the first part worked out. I did get up at launch and I did start making my way to Frazier.

I write in my last post that once you leave launch and head east you have to cross over about 8 miles of unretrievable terrain. Now there's more than one way to make the crossing. One way is to stay on the front side of Pine and then go over the back from the east end of the range where the glide to Grade Valley, the next retrievable LZ, is relatively short. The problem with this route is that as you get further east on Pine the closer you get to Wheeler Gorge and the marine air that seeps through it.

The second route is to go over the back at launch or Reyes Peak, which located just east of take-off, and head over to a long connecting spine on the north side of the mountain known as the Chute. The LZs are on the west end of the Chute so the idea is to probe as far east as you can up the spine while at the same time leaving yourself enough altitude to make it back to the landing areas in case you can't find any lift. However, the winds on the north side of Pine are generally NW so you have to make sure that you don't probe too far east because you will be bucking a head wind on your way back. From the Chute you have a choice of either gliding to Grade Valley or San Guillermo Mtn. If I have the altitude I prefer Grade Valley. There always seems to be thermal just on the east side of the valley, but mostly because it sets you up nicely for a nice down wind shot to Frazier Mtn. Guillermo pumps out the lift too, but flying there puts you a tad north of the thermal generating foothills south of Lockwood Valley.

The third route is to go over the back at launch and head to Dry Canyon, the last landable LZ before the "Badlands." I loathe this route. Mostly because it hardly ever works (for me anyway). But by taking this route you are really only giving yourself one chance to find the lift needed to make the crossing. I recommend that you always try the Chute first. If it doesn't work you can always peel off to Dry Canyon for that one last chance of finding something. That's exactly what happened to me on Sunday.

I left Reyes Peak at 11.5 and made my way up the Chute where I proceeded to not find any lift at all. If I had kept going I probably could have eked into Grade Valley on a glide. But if I didn't find something along the way I would have gotten there too low to take advantage of anything that I might have stumbled on when I arrived. So instead, I turned around and made my way back down the Chute to the west hoping to find something coming up the spine. When I still didn't find anything I peeled off directly north hoping that I might stumble into the convergence. On the drive up it was blowing north almost all the way to the south launch so I figured it had to be out there somewhere. As I probed north I kept checking my ground speed for signs of the NW wind. I ran into it just short of Dry Canyon so I turned around and headed back the other way. It was obvious that I was in converging air, but I simply could not find any cohesive lift. NAM had predicted a 6k inversion layer and it seemed like that was what I was dealing with. I did manage to break though fleetingly to 8k at one point, but that was nowhere near the height I needed to make the crossing. After a bit more searching I threw in the towel and headed to the Dry Canyon spine for that one last chance effort before putting it down. As I would be north of the convergence zone I wasn't expecting much, but as I flew over the spine at around 5600 ft my vario started singing. Soon I was well over 11,000 ft and on my way to Guillermo. Go figure. At Guillermo I had another climb out to the mid twelves and then it was over to Frazier.

Lockwood Valley. Guillermo is the peak at the bottom right-hand corner.

Looking back at Lockwood from Frazier.

Going into the day I thought the tough spot would be Pine itself because of the marine air influence. I figured that if we made it to Frazier we would be well on our way because all of the models were saying that we should see at least 15k tops and cloud development. There were some clouds but they didn't seem like they were the result of any thermal lift. However, I got to Frazier in perfect position and as I zoomed up the SW spine with 50 mph ground speed I prepared to be yanked to the stratosphere. I'm still waiting. I don't think that I have ever been flushed off of Frazier before. But there I was at 6500 ft on the east end of it floundering out toward Hungry Valley.

Frazier with the Antelope Valley in the distance.

Of course, any time that you have a long glide in front of you it is nice to be as high as possible before leaving; it's especially true for the transition from Frazier to the Antelope Valley. The prevailing surface winds here are north as they funnel up and over the Grape Vine from the Central Valley. The most direct route to the Antelope from Frazier is due east to the Tehachapis Mountains, which make up the valley's northern V-shaped border. The problem is that if you're not high enough you will find yourself blown off the mountains in leeside conditions once you get into the valley. Ironically, the lower you leave Frazier the farther south you have to go, and the longer you have to glide in order to give yourself a chance of getting established in the Antelope. It's north along the Grape Vine, but just a few miles into the valley the prevailing winds turn SW. On Sunday that meant we were right smack in the middle of that thermal killing marine air that I wrote about above. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Looking south down I 5 with Pyramid Lake the distance.

On the ground Eddy was reporting north winds all the way to Quayle Lake, which is located near the start of the Liebre Mountains (the valley's southern border) a few short miles east of Interstate 5. I was hoping to leave the mountains with 15k so that I would be well above all of that lower level north, but instead I was down below 7k and actually flying into a bit of a headwind as the winds were wrapping around the east end of Frazier. Fortunately, the air above Hungry Valley turned out to be be pretty buoyant. Unfortunately, it also wasn't very smooth; my motion sickness problem kicked in a tad earlier than usual. But I fought through it and found myself climbing out to just short of 9k just west of the Interstate near Rte 138, which was actually not that bad of a position to be in in order to drop into Antelope. However, the air just on the other side of the Interstate before the start of the Antelope is generally pretty turbulent; due to the topography it seems like the winds come together here from every direction. This mixing zone usually provides plenty of lift, but because of the way I was feeling I elected to fly through it. That's the thing about feeling lousy: everything becomes half-arse. You would like to fly longer, but you no longer have the motivation to do everything that you can to make it happen; when you fall out of the lift you're working you don't go searching for it again; if lift is turbulent you fly out of it. And that is where my mental state was once I got into the heart of the Antelope. It would have been nice to have flown farther but I was ready to land.

The flight was only 43 miles or so, and of course I was feeling sick at the end of it, but because of the low save at Dry Canyon, and the way I was able to work my way over to the Antelope in relatively good shape from my position at Frazier, it was pretty rewarding none the less.

Tony would end up just short of Mojave.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Pine Mountain 6/21

Photos by Bo Criss (from a few years ago) of Circling Hawk and Robb Milley.

Over 100 miles on my last flight, could I make it two in a row? The conditions were certainly conducive for a long one: lift to between 14-15k; nice cloud development; and a 15 knot wind. A Blackhawk to Arizona flight seemed like a good bet, but man, it was supposed to be over 110 degrees out there. The thought of setting up in the heat atop that barren landscape just didn't seem that appealing. At least at a place like Crestline you can find a little relief by setting up in the shade below the pine trees. However, driving all the way out there with a predicted NW wind seemed a bit of a risk. Plus just getting high enough to go over the back into the desert is always a crap shoot even on good days because of the inversion layer. Elsinore had some potential, but that NW would take us away from all of that high stuff out in the desert. Kagel? See above and the discussion about inversion layers. So where to go? The South Coast PG club was hosting a summer solstice fly-in up in Ojai, but in the end we opted for the site that had the greatest potential, Pine Mountain in Ventura County. It was farthest up wind, and even though there is no shade anywhere near launch to provide relief from the heat, images of the surrounding pine forest just made the place seem more inviting.

Looking back at Pine from the NE (Bo Criss)

South Launch (Bo Criss)

Pine really is a beautiful place and one of the best kept secrets in Southern California. At 7,000 ft it offers some pretty unique vistas. Toward the SW you can look out over the Santa Ynez and Topa ranges and see the Pacific ocean with the Channel Islands sitting just offshore; on a clear day even Catalina is visible. To the north, Mt. Abel and Mt. Pinos loom above the "badlands" that stretch out to Cuyuma Valley to the west and Lockwood Valley to the east. Not much to look at under hazy blue skies, but when cumulus clouds are present their shadows make the low lying peaks and valleys stand out and come alive. Of course, that same beautiful topography provides problems when trying to fly XC. Pilots have to cross about 8 miles of unretreivable terrain once they go over the back and head east. Saturday's predicted WNW winds would make the crossing much easier, but launching more problematic.

The Badlands (Bo Criss)

Pine has a south and a north launch so a predominately west wind presents problems getting off of the hill. Just to the right of south launch there is a rather large spine (the Knob) that creates rotoring conditions in a west wind. And the north launch is just plain sketchy, even when it is blowing straight in. Pilots rely on ridge lift conditions in order to make it over to the house thermal located about a half mile or so to the east. A crosswind doesn't help. However, get in the air safely from either launch in a west wind and you're in perfect position for a long flight as you can avoid Edwards' airspace to the south once you get out into the desert

After first meeting up for breakfast with Tony and Carolyn we picked up Robert Millington at the Rite-Aid parking lot in Ventura. Back in the day that used to be the meet spot; we would have 10-15 pilots shuffling gliders every weekend morning making preparations to head up into the mountains. Here it is on one of those days that you dream about and it was just the three of us (having said that, the PGs had close to 20 pilots at there fly-in). Anyway, after stopping for gas in Ojai - Yikes! - we made our way up Hwy 33. It was sometime around 11:00 when we drove past Rose Valley and there was already some cloud development on the backside of Pine.

Robb Milley's photo from the PG fly-in in Ojai. The back sun-lit ridge is the east end of Pine.

Like I said, the prediction was for moderate WNW winds. Because of that, I expected the winds to be blowing fairly strong through the summit gap. But, when we arrived, although still north, the winds were light. Seeing that, I thought to myself, "We're going to be suckered into taking off from the south launch;" not something I was looking forward to.

When we arrived at the north launch it was blowing straight in. But after beginning to set up our gliders we noticed that the clouds had more of a west drift than NW. Also, a nearby portable weather station was showing some puffs up the south side. We decided to pack up and head up to the south launch, which is about a two mile drive up the mountain.

Got up to south launch to find the winds blowing every which way but up. After about 20 minutes of watching more of the same we opted to head back to the north launch to take our chances there. When we arrived after the two mile drive back the other way the winds were dead calm. No one wanted to take off with no wind from that particular launch, but no one was willing to throw in the towel with that beautiful cumulus filled sky above us, so it was back to the south launch again.

This time the winds were consistently blowing out of the west. Of course, not ideal, but if typical, we expected an occasional bout of upslope direction to get us off the hill. And sure enough, as we set up our gliders that is what exactly happened.

Normally in a west wind I turn east immediately after take off rather than head to the house thermal spine to the right of launch. That gets me away from the rotor, but it also gets me away from the south side LZs. Sometimes you just have to pick your poison. Tony took off first and headed right. You could tell that he was in some pretty rowdy air, but he made it work and climbed out above the spine. Robert launched next and turned left like I was planning to do. I was busy getting ready and I so didn't see how far east he had gone, but when I got to launch I could see him floundering back against the headwind to the spine Tony climbed out on.

After backing off from launch for some equipment adjustments, I finally got in the air myself. It was about 2:30. The winds at launch itself weren't all that strong, but I shot straight up into the air once leaving the ground. I once heard Steve Moyes say that when it's all said and done hang gliders are nothing more than leaves in the wind. That is exactly how I felt as I made my way over to the spine to the right of launch after deciding not to head east after watching Robert.

The wind noise made it almost impossible to hear my vario, but I had no intentions of letting up on the base bar. Both Tony and Robert were screaming to 14k by this time. At first I tried to drift up the spine with the lift, but I seemed to be getting more tossed around than anything so I tried extending my circle downwind to the east. When I continued climbing I put the glider on its tip. By the time the lift petered out I was well over 13k and somewhere between Reyes and Haddock Peak.

Normally I would make my way to the "Chute" hoping for one more climb out before crossing the badlands, but with the west wind I just B-lined it straight to Grade Valley. Both Tony and Robert opted to make their way to Frazier Mountain using it as a spring board to the Antelope Valley. They made it work, but with a WNW wind I thought it would be better to stay to the south and fly closer to Alamo Mountain. Besides, Frazier was completely shaded in and there was a sun line just north of Alamo.

Frazier Mountain (Bo Criss)

I had a little climb out above Grade Valley to around 12k and then a big one to 15,350 ft just north of Alamo. By the time I reached Hungary Valley just west of I 5 I was still above 14k and in great shape to drop into the Antelope Valley. It would have been nice to have been through this area earlier in order to take advantage of the clouds lined up above the Elibre Mountains on the south end of the valley, but by the time that I had gotten into position they had already shot their load and were dropping virga. I was forced to take a more northerly route out into the middle of the valley. But, apparently not northerly enough.

Antelope Valley (Bo Criss)

Both Tony and Robert were a few miles ahead and to the north of me. No one was reporting great lift, but they seemed to be doing alright. I, on the other hand, never found anything better than zero sink after leaving the mountains west of I 5. In a last gasp effort to stay in the air I angled low over to Fairmont Butte hoping that the relief would provide some help. When I didn't find anything out in front of the butte I knew that my flight would be over as I would be in the lee once I crossed the top. Of course you never want to give up; I spent the last 3 1/2 miles circling 200 ft off of the deck before finally, well, throwing in the towel and landing (56.89 miles).

Robert would go on to Victorville for a 110 mile flight. Tony? How about a new site RW record with a 208 mile flight to just east of 29 Palms.

Getting home is a story in itself. Let's just say that my head didn't hit my pillow until 4:30 am and leave it at that.

Btw, three pilots set a new site record from Kagel on the same day.