Wednesday, August 12, 2009


Two years ago I said that I wasn't going back to Blackhawk again. I wrote at the time that either I have lousy flight or I have to end a good one early because of my motion sickness problem; either way, I end up on the ground in triple digit temperatures feeling absolutely terrible. But since I made that pact with myself I've been back there three times averaging 104 miles a flight. So now I have a new site that I'm never going back to, Garlock.

The forecast going into Sunday wasn't stellar, but it was consistent. From the beginning of the week on, each model run said pretty much the same thing; for the desert, light SE winds below 11,000 ft with lift to about the same height. Blackhawk probably would have worked, but with the SE winds there would be a chance that we would run into airspace issues. Because of that, and for a bit of variety, we opted to go to Garlock instead.

Garlock is located about 30 miles north of Mojave just a bit south of where the 395 and 14 meet. Don't quote me on this, but it seems to be the north terminus of the Tehachipi mountain range. Launch is just under 5,000 ft and is even more barren than Blackhawk. Take off faces south. The prevailing winds here are generally SW. Because of China Lake, which is located due north of launch, pilots going XC have to either angle NE toward the Panamint Valley or NNW toward the Owens. Going up into Owens and flying the Sierra Mountains is, by far, more desirable, but it requires a SE wind; on Sunday that is what we were supposed to get and so that was our intention.

On Sunday Jonathan Dietch and I met up with Tony and Eddy at Jawbone Canyon at 10:30 before heading up to launch where we were to meet up with Bruce, Owen Morse, another pilot named Marcus (sorry, I don't the last name) and of course Wally the driver. To my pleasant surprise, Chris Van Veldon was with them when we pulled up to launch. The wind was crossing from the east when we arrived.

The other crew was almost completely set up by the time that we arrived so we quickly slapped our gliders together to catch up. Only, when I finish doing so I noticed that I failed to tie my VG line off and it was nowhere to be seen. It had disappeared up the downtube. Let's just say that when something like that happens you just can't stick your finger up there to pull it down. The LS4 is a great glider, but Moyes' downtube corner bracket system is one of the worse designs I've ever seen. Luckily for me it was still cross; without all the help I received I might be still up there.

At some point while getting the glider back together the winds turned upslope and pilots started piling off of the hill with Tony leading the way. Although no one seemed in danger of bombing out, no one was skying out either. I had only flown Garlock one other time; after struggling around launch I finally found my ticket out by heading over to the eastern most spine on the ridge. Because of that experience I headed directly to the same spot after launching on Sunday. However, this time the spine didn't produce. Owen was there with me, and although we did gain some height the lift was short lived. At about the same time both Chris and Marcus were working something near launch. Owen made the first move in their direction and then I followed after. Tony, Jonathan and Bruce were already on their way north.

Because I was the last person to the lift I was the low man on the totem pole. And as we climbed out and drifted behind launch the gap widened. Sensing that was about to be left behind I decided to fly back out in front of launch to see if I could find something else. I was rewarded with 1500 up and quickly caught up to the other pilots.

Soaring with Owen at 11,000 ft

Up ahead I could see Bruce heading out on course, but I wasn't sure where Tony and Jonathan were. I had my radio volume switch set too low and so I couldn't hear what was going on up ahead. Eventually I managed to get to the switch but I still didn't turn it up enough. Enough, though, to hear that there was a lot chatter going on so I decided to leave volume where it was. That decision probably cost me a lot of extra miles as I will explain in a bit.

Boomer Ridge

After first giving Black Mountain a go and not really finding anything worth stopping for I took my 11k altitude and angled over to Boomer Ridge and the Sierra Mountains. Once I crossed the 14 I could see Jonathan on the ridge flushing out from the back high points. It has been my experience that whenever I'm drilled off the mountain like that it's either because I got caught in a lee or that there was a large thermal forming out in front of the spine, drawing all of the surrounding air to it. Because of that, I stopped to work any up air I could find at that point hoping that it would eventually turn on and drift me right over the spine rather than copping a glide right to it. None of the light stuffed panned out but right before flying over the ridge I ran into a screamer. Coming into the area at about the same time was Chris Van Veldon; both of us climbed out quickly.


Jonathan was still struggling below on the ridge; I wanted to tell him that the thermal was out away from it to the south, but the lift was so strong I was afraid to let go of the base bar in order to key my radio mic. And speaking of radios, as I mention earlier having the volume turned down probably cost me a few extra miles. Had I had it turned up I would have heard Bruce say that the Sierra crest was working more than just fine. Whenever I fly down a mountain range I prefer flying over the front points and Sunday was no different. From Boomer Ridge I flew due north directly over the front points instead of using the altitude I had at the time to glide over the crest. Both Owen and Bruce reported later that once over the crest their flights were relatively easy and that they were able to take fairly long glides between thermals. I on the other hand, found strong sink over the canyons and choppy lift over the spines; a perfect combination for my motion sickness problem.

Still, at 30 miles out and at 11,000 ft I was in a pretty good position if not feeling all that well. Although faint, I could hear Owen on the radio say that he was at the exact same distance out at the exact same height. Only, I couldn't see him anywhere. I continued on. Near little lake another contributing factor to my relatively short flight presented itself in the form of a huge golden eagle. As I started to work some weak lift I got a sense that something was following me. I turned around to see the majestic bird just 5 feet off my keel. Thinking that he'd get bored and fly away I continued to work the weak lift. Four or five 360s later the eagle hadn't gone anywhere. I decided that it was time to move on despite not having the altitude I wanted to do so. A short time later I found myself unzipping my harness getting ready to land. However as I picked out the dirt road to land on I found something off the deck that would eventually get me back to 9k, eventually being the operative word.

Haiwee Reservoir

The climb seemed to take forever, which didn't do anything to help my mental state at the time. One more climb down the road a bit and I had had enough. I hadn't actually thrown up at that point, but I got on the radio to say that I was calling it a day and that I would be landing in Olancha. Only, half way through my glide it became painfully apparent that I needed one more small climb to make it. I write painfully, because feeling the way I did I wanted desperately to land on cool green grass and breakdown under a shade tree rather than out on the desert floor. About a mile out and unzipped again, I found some lift directly over 395. Circling just a couple of hundred feet off of the deck I gave the cars going by a show. I just hope that no one was outside looking up if you know what I mean.

Getting off the deck to get to the cool green grass

So now that's two flights from Garlock with both ending prematurely because of airsickness. I think a lot of it has do with the fact that because the site is new to me I don't have a sense of how long it takes to get from one point to another. Everything seems a bit far and out of reach so when I'm struggling a bit it's easy to give into my problem. Anyway, I'm not ready to give up on the site quite yet until I have tried flying down the crest from Boomer Ridge.

As far as they other guys: Bruce would win the day flying 135 miles; Owen and Jonathan would have personal bests going 126 and 83 miles respectively; Tony ended up landing on the south side of Owens Lake after experimenting with a line that didn't pan out; and Chris and Marcus ended up on the ground near Little Lake.

Distance: 61.17 Miles
Duration: 2:53 Hours
Max Altitude: 11,796 ft

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Completing the Circuit

I'm running out of personal hang gliding goals; I'm down to wanting to land on the beach in Fenwick Island, Delaware.

Because of my motion sickness problem I'm never going to fly great distances so my goals haven't been about site records or clicks on an odometer - well, except for breaking 100 miles (3 times to date) - they've been bit more modest: enter a major contest (Dinosaur Nats 1996); do the milk-run from Walt's to Janie's (finally in 2007); reach 17,999 ft (a number of times); fly certain routes; etc. One flight that I've always wanted to do starts at Pine Mountain, uses Frazier Mountain or Interstate 5 as a turnpoint and ends up on the beach in Santa Barbara. The flight isn't all that long but what makes it so neat and challenging is the terrain that needs to be traversed in order to make it happen. On Sunday the forecast looked like there might be a chance of achieving said goal. I've come close once, having had to settle with landing in Ojai instead.

With predicted SE winds over the weekend the best call for a long distance flight was Blackhawk on either of the two days. And, indeed, that ended up being the case for a few of the pilots that opted to go out there on Saturday. Tony flew to Quayle Lake for 115 miles; Bob Anderson landed in Neenach for 108; and Jeff Chipman and Chris Smith flew back to Sylmar for 91 miles, getting there above 10,000 ft. I could have joined them, but I opted to fly Pine Mountain on Sunday instead, mostly for the reason stated above. But also because I had just done that Blackhawk to the west flight the last time out. Not to mention that at the end of the day there would be a chance of landing on the beach and breaking down on nice green grass with a cool seabreeze in my face vs landing in the 106 degree heat in the desert. And finally, the flight would, coincidentally, complete my own little Race and Rally around the Southern California mountains that started back on Valentine's day.

I met Chris Van Veldon and Jonathan Dietch at the Kagel LZ at 8:30 after picking up driver Dana. Some of the Kagel pilots were looking to get away from the inversion layer so we had another truck load of pilots joining us, including Ron Weiner and Rob Burgis. Since I wanted to point out some of the LZs and retrieval roads to the pilots who had never flown Pine before we opted to take the back way through Frazier Park and Lockwood Valley. The forecast called for higher tops and more cloud development than Saturday; the first whispies started forming over Mt Pinos by the time that we reached the west end of Lockwood Valley at around 10:30. The upper winds were supposed to be out of the SE, but it was blowing light NW on the deck on the backside of Pine, which pretty much ended any thoughts of attempting a flight toward Salinas. Something that was considered after looking at the forecast.

Although it was blowing light north at Pine's old north launch it was blowing light south when we arrived at take-off. Tony already had his Atos, with its brand spanking new Mylar sail, set up when we pulled up. By the time we got the gliders off the truck the clouds had begun to fill in on the backside of the mountain. From our vantage point they seemed to have a bit more drift than the 5-8 kt SE winds indicated in the forecast.

Looking out toward Lake Casitas from above Pine.

Tony launched first and got up right away if not terribly high over the normal go to spine just west of launch. But once over the back I watched him climb out toward cloud base before turning my attention to getting ready myself. Jonathan was airborne not long after Tony and was already on the backside of the mountain by the time I launched 20 minutes later, followed by Chris soon after that. However, Chris and I struggled to get up high enough to go OTB. After an initial climb to 8k I found myself back down even with launch for another relight. On the second climb I didn't get much higher, but when I heard Jonathan on the radio say that he was climbing through 11k I left with what I had. Unfortunately, Chris didn't connect and ended up landing on the south side of launch.

Looking south from the backside of Pine. Below looking north from the same spot

Once over the back it took awhile to connect with something. The air was very buoyant, but I couldn't find anything organized. That is until I flew just south of Dry Canyon, about half-way to the Chute where I had a nice climb to the mid 13s. From there I just followed the clouds eastward against, just like what was predicted, a 5-8 kt headwind. Once over the "Badlands" things really turned on and found myself racing from cloud suck at just over 16k. At the same time the Kagel crew were on the radio still on the south side wondering whether or not to go over the back. Me reporting 16,000 ft made the decision a bit easier.

Getting ready to head east over the Badlands. Notice the smoke from a fire on the Grapevine just on the other side of Frazier. At one point the smoke formed in a column that went straight to cloudbase. (Photo by Jonathan Dietch)

During our pilot briefing earlier I let it be known that I thought that it would be a day to follow the clouds rather than the normal go to spots on the ground. Unfortunately, I didn't heed my own advice east of the Badlands. There was a nice cloud street to the north over Mt Pinos heading east, and two or three small clouds lined up just south of Frazier, but that didn't stop me from B-lining it to Frazier itself. From a starting point of 16k just short of Lockwood Valley I found myself below 10,000 ft on the far east side of it. Eventually, I latched on to something to get me back to 13k, but by the time I reached the towers on the east side of Frazier I was back down to 10k. After turning circles in some ratty lift while not really gaining any height I had a decision to make: should I continue to work the ratty stuff hoping that it would eventually turn on; continue on east hoping that I might find something that would put me back in the ball game; or turn tail and use whatever altitude I had left to get back to Lockwood in the hope that my last thermal would still be there. It came down to what was more important, tagging Interstate 5, which was just 2 or 3 miles away, or making it back to Santa Barbara. The distance doesn't seem like much, but the longer the delay for the return trip the greater the chance of getting shut down by the seabreeze. Also the lower you are in the Tejon Pass the more susceptable you are of getting knock down by the prevailing north wind seeping in from the Central Valley. I decided that getting back to Santa Barbara was more important than a few extra miles so I opted to turn tail at the towers. You can see me doing just that in Jonathan's video below.

By the time that I made it back to Lookwood I was down to 7k. That seemed awfully low after being so high earlier, but I still had about 2,000 ft to work with once I hit the valley. Fortuntately I found something almost right away which took me back to the mid 13s. While this was all going on Rob and Ron had decided not to try the out and return and instead opted to take their then 16k altitude over the Badlands and glide straight to Santa Barbara. Listening to their progress it became apparent that I just needed one more decent climb on my route and I would be able achieve my goal.

From just south of Mt Pinos I followed the cloud street as it arched around the north side of Lockwood to the middle of the Badlands. And just like during the leg heading east, at almost the same exact spot, I was forced to race away from cloudsuck at 16,000 ft. Once clear of the clouds I went on my 30 mile glide to Santa Barbara. The decision to go was made easy by the fact that the Kagel boys had arrived at the beach with 8,000 ft.

Getting ready to cross over the San Rafael Wilderness Area on my way to Santa Barbara from Pine. Below a closer look at the terrain

A portion of the long glide to Santa Barbara

Crossing the front range (first three photos by Jonathan Dietch).

I arrived just under 6k so I decided to take a bit of a detour to the west side of town before turning around to land at the beach. Jonathan came in just a few minutes behind. Tony would end up flying out to Jawbone Canyon before turning around to land in Tehachapi (126 miles)

My flight was a bit of a disappointment as I didn't go out as far east as I had hoped, but it was a great day none the less. What was more of a disappointment, however, was the fact that on such a beautiful day all of my pictures came out lousy.

Distance: 71.77 Miles (measured from the farthest points)
Duration: 3:23 Hours
Max Altitude: 16,151 ft.

Completing the circuit around the Southern California mountains (about 310 miles)

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Growing Up and Moving On

On to middle school.

The "Aspirations" speech. I'd say that the "I want to stop global warming" speeches were down about 50% from when Bari had her culmination ceremony.

Mr. Brimble. Bari had him too. One of those teachers that you remember all your life. An ex-lawyer who one day decided to give it all up to teach.

Am I lucky or what?

One proud dad.

Miles Davis cool

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Down One Side Up The Other

My last three flights starting in Santa Barbara.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Blackhawk to I 5

Photo by Owen Morse

If you read the NWS’s discussion page they often talk how their confidence in predicting conditions is based on the consistency of the run to run model forecasts; the more consistent the runs the higher the confidence. Well, I started looking at the forecast for the desert for the weekend a whole week before and each updated run turned out to be a carbon copy of the one that preceded it, give or take a few degrees change in wind direction: Saturday 12-13k tops with east winds; Sunday 14-15k tops with somewhat stronger SE winds. The only questions leading up to the weekend was what day to fly and where. With the east wind picking Blackhawk for Saturday seemed to be a no brainer. Despite the predicted higher tops Sunday would be a tougher call. With a moderately strong SE wind there would be an outside chance that it would be blowing down at Blackhawk – although as I have said in the past, no matter the wind direction it just always seems to blow upslope there. Crestline had great potential, but one always runs the risk of getting stuck below an inversion on the frontrange. A SE wind is generally a cure for that, but the lower level stuff was predicted to be out of the west. That left Laguna Mountain near San Diego. In the beginning of the week Laguna looked like the place to go, but as we got closer to Sunday, I wasn’t all that excited about what I was seeing: 9-10k tops with 15-20 knot winds. In the end it was decided that Blackhawk on Saturday would be the safest call. Besides, a great day equals a late return home; Saturday night would be much better than Sunday.

I met Bruce Barmakian at his house along with Owen Morse, Chris Van Veldon and Wally our driver before heading out to Hesperia to have breakfast with Tony Deleo and Herb Seidenberg before heading up the hill. The early morning winds on the desert floor were light out of the west but it was definitely east at launch. Clouds started to form above Big Bear at around 11:00. We started piling off of launch at a little after noon with Tony leading the way.

I think I have mentioned this before but it bears repeating: at most mountain sites it’s probably a good idea to try to hold the high ground for as long as possible if you’re not climbing out; Blackhawk is not one of them. If you’re not climbing then head out. There is usually a house thermal that sets up just beyond the front points and you want to make sure that you have ample altitude to search around for it. Except for Chris, everyone had to rely on the house thermal out front in order to get up and out on course. Only Owen and I didn’t connect. Both of us were forced to turn down wind low. Needless to say, skimming the tops of Joshua trees wasn’t what I had in mind when I was looking at that beautiful forecast all week. Of course, if there wasn’t a “however” you would be still looking at a picture of the pie covered faces of my daughter and her friend Sarah.

Down below 5k just before the 18 I lucked into a low leaner. By the time that I finished circling I was ten miles from launch and still in the ballgame. Owen, after reporting that he was about to land, managed to find something too - although I'm not sure where. Chris, who is fairly new to cross-country flying, on the other hand, managed to get up at launch and get ahead of us --but not as far ahead as he was reporting on the radio. Apparently his GPS was set in kilometers; before we figured that out he had both Owen and I thinking, “Who is this guy?”

Even though I managed to get back in it my maximum heights at that point were about 2k below what everyone else was reporting on the radio. I had picked up my low leaner at the base of the foothills just NE of the Mitsubishi cement plant and had kept that same position relative to the mountains on my way to Ord. Up ahead just short of Ord I could see Owen flushing out of the foothills low toward Apple Valley. I crossed above his flight path by about 2,000 ft, but when I saw him eventually start turning circles, I decided to angle back into the wind to join him. With such a uniform surface in the desert the thermals tend to be far and few between; I thought it be wiser to turn back into the wind for a sure thing rather than continue on. The decision paid off as both of us eventually had a climb out to 10k as we drifted past the north face of Ord. At about the same time Chris was hitting the deck near the Mojave River wash. Bruce on the other hand, managed to make his way over to a line of clouds set up along the north side of Victorville and was reporting climbs to 13k. Tony? No clue. Due to radio problems and no cell phone we would not here from him again until we were on our way home at the end of the day. And that’s all I’m going to say about that.

From Ord and with Owen in tow I headed straight down Main Street in Hesperia where I had another climb to just over 10k above the Sante Fe RR tracks. With the cloud street to the north I was worried that we might be on the wrong side of the convergence, but when I looked head across the 15 I saw a dust devil doing its thing right down Phelan Rd. I had plenty of height to fly in above it comfortably. Or so I thought. After crossing the 15 I started sinking like a stone and the dust devil suddenly started moving steadily away from my glide path. Thinking that the lift was out of reach I was surprised to hear the vario start beeping. And it continued to beep all the way to 15,000 ft, my highest climb of the flight.

The Cajon Pass

The whole episode was rather intriguing: I was just a few hundred yards upwind of the dust devil and below the top of it when I found the lift. As I started to climb out Owen came in low from a slightly different direction that put him downwind of my drift angle, but still managed to find something. I guess the only explanation is that the dust devil was the remnants of the last thermal and we arrived in time to catch the beginning life of a massive new one.

Mountain High Ski Area

Regardless, by the time I finished climbing out I was directly over Rte 138 on my way to a cloud forming near the Crystal Air glider port. The cloud dissipated by the time I arrived, but I found something over the town of Pearblossom for another climb to the mid 13s. And it was a cake walk from that point on.

Lake El Mirage out in the distance

I reached 15k again just on the west side of Lake Palmdale -- I briefly considered copping a glide to Kagel – and had another climb in Owens Valley strength lift to the mid 13s right above Lake Hughes. At Lake Hughes with 100 miles about to click over on my GPS and suffering from back pain along with the usual stuff, I decided to call Interstate 5 goal. Bruce had already made the connection above Frazier, and Owen had decided to fly out to Kagel. He arrived at 11k so he continued west as far as possible in order to get his first 100 mile flight. He ended up putting it down near Magic Mountain for 104 miles.

From Lake Hughes on the air was very buoyant; I had plenty of opportunities to stop to climb out in an attempt to get high enough to get atop Frazier, especially above Booster Junction where the 138 runs into the highway, but I was ready to land. Instead I just used the lift to extend my glide to Gorman...where I proceeded to get caught downwind while landing and taking out a carbon fiber base tube. The flags in Gorman were all flapping north (south wind) when I arrived. And it was still blowing south when I dropped down into the LZ on final. That is until about half-way through when I suddenly started to pick up speed. After dusting myself off I looked over at the flags flapping south.

Bruce would go on to the base of Plowshare Peak for 183 miles and a new RW record. Or so we thought. Tony finally managed to check in to indicate that he landed up the road at 204 miles.

Distance: 120.04 miles
Duration: 3:55 hours
Max Altitude: 15,097 ft.