Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Blackhawk 5/3

Well, I told myself I wasn’t ever going back to the place again. As I write in my other blog, either I have a lousy flight or I’m ending a good one early because of my motion sickness (due to the lack of physical references the wide open desert terrain seems to exacerbate the problem); either way I’m sitting in triple digit temperatures miles from home feeling absolutely lousy. But I figured on a big day the Litespeed would get me 30 miles farther than what I would normally get with the Fusion before having to end my flight because of nausea; that would put me at about triple digits, making it worth the drive. And the forecast was calling for a big day: strong SW winds at altitude; lift to 13k+; and cumulus cloud development. However (there’s always a however), there was the question of whether or not we could even get off the hill because of the strong SW, and it looked like we would have to contend with sun blocking high clouds. Plus Bari was supposed to run in a track meet on the same day. Well, on Friday night Bari decided that she had more important things to do than run in the meet, and I decided that the positives in forecast far out weighed the negatives so on Saturday morning I threw the glider on the Pilot and hit the road.

I met Bruce, Wally and Rebardan for breakfast in Apple Valley. We would meet up with Tony, Carolyn and to my pleasant surprise, Bob and Marge at launch. At 10:00 there was already some cloud development above the mountains. And in another good sign, the winds were calm on the desert floor. It wasn’t until sometime after noon, though, that the first cumis started to form out over the flats. Because of that, we didn’t start getting airborne until sometime around 1:00.

Dan and Tony

I was second to last off with Bruce bringing up the rear. The other three pilots were somewhere overhead climbing out. Both Bruce and I found some nice solid lift just short of the front points of the mountain. I was on top and actually out climbed him on the way to 10.5. Tony had reported leaving to go on course at 11.5, but rather than search around for something to get higher, I left with what I had feeling giddy that I just out climbed the top rigid wing pilot in the country. However (there’s that word again), the giddiness didn’t last long when I found myself out on the flats below 7k listening to Bruce come on the radio to say that he was leaving the mountains with 13k. And it wasn’t until I dipped below 5k at about 13 miles out that I was able latch on to something again. Listening to the reports on the radio everyone but Bruce had close calls in the same area. Unfortunately, Dan couldn’t pull off the low save and landed nearby.

Looking back at launch

Now back at 10.5, I pointed the glider to a nice cloud street angling NE from Rodman Mountain out to the Cady Mountains between I 40 and I 15. I had a great line as there seemed to be lift everywhere, but I spent a lot of time circling without finding something to really set a wing tip into. It wasn’t until somewhere near the 40 that I was able to put the glider on its ear. At 13,383 ft., I had the highest climb of the flight; let me tell you, it was cold. The forecast was calling for -5 C at 14k, and I had no reason to doubt it. It might have been cold (and turbulent) at 13k, but because of the tail wind my GPS was showing 60+ MPH ground speeds.

Over the Cady Mountains I had a choice of staying with the cloud street or taking a more easterly track to cut some distance to the 15. I decided to stay with the clouds and was rewarded with another climb to just short of 13k above the rail road tracks at Afton. Both Tony and Bruce were 10 miles or so ahead of me and Bob about the same distance behind.


From Afton I dropped into the Cronise Valley in order to follow the 15 toward the NE. Conveniently the Interstate takes the same angle as the prevailing winds out there. I was about to match my longest flight from Blackhawk so I would have been happy with a flight to Baker which was just a little further down the road. About two or three miles short of town I had dropped down below 6k and announced on the radio that I would probably be landing shortly. However, just as I made my announcement I blundered into smoothest thermal of the day. Topping out above 10k, and not feeling all that badly, I decided to press ahead.

Over the next 25 miles, however, the terrain slowly climbs from just 937 ft MSL at Baker to about 4700 ft. at the summit near Clark Mountain before dropping down to the state line. Despite the thickening high cloud cover at that point of the day I found enough lift to press ahead up the shallow incline. At about 90 miles out I topped out in a thermal to the mid 9s; would it be enough to get me over the 100 mark? Perhaps. But the last reasonable landing area was at the 98 mile mark and I was too low to make it to the next one down the line – even that wasn’t all the great because I would have had to land down hill in an area covered with yucca plants and Joshua trees. Fortunately, I found something off of the deck that put me over triple digits and enough altitude to make the mountain pass to land on a flat surface and 107 miles from launch, my furthest flight to date. At about the same time Bruce was putting it down at the Nevada state line after a glide from Clark Mountain. Both Tony and Bob landed in Baker (77 miles).

Photos by Bob Anderson and Marge Variano