Monday, March 30, 2009


Despite living in Los Angeles I rarely fly Kagel. Even before Bari was born, when I was flying every weekend, I only made it there two or three times a year. Because I learned in Santa Barbara, most of the pilots that I met and became friends with didn't live nearby and weren't inclined to make the drive south. It's not like I didn't meet anyone down here, but the Topa crew that I eventually fell into were like family. For me, besides spending time with my real family, there are only two things better than flying a hang glider: flying a hang glider cross country; and flying a hang glider cross country with a few of my closest friends. Kagel couldn't compete in that regard so it became a place of convenience instead; somewhere to go at the last minute when I just wanted to get some airtime in. Having said that, I have always wanted to fly from Kagel to Crestline.

I see the San Gabriel Mountains looming over the L.A. basin almost everyday; they have been calling my name for a long time now. If it's soarable in Sylmar and soarable at Crestline, why wouldn't it be soarable above the points in between? Of course, the flight has been done a number of times, just not that often. Because of the convenience more than anything, most of the flying at Kagel is "fiish bowl" in nature where the locals chase each other around chosen turnpoints. But the forecast for this past Saturday indicated that the flight to Crestline might be possible. I called ex-Topaflyer, and local pilot, Jeff Chipman on Thursday to see what he thought. He hadn't really looked at the forecast but was willing to give it a go. He'd put a crew together and leave a slot open for me. Everything would be in place, except for the fact that my son had a softball tournament that morning.

Huh-oh, another sporting event scheduled on a potentially good flying day. Luckily, the games would start at 8:30 leaving time to get to Kagel within a reasonable period. That is, if my son's team didn't make it to the finals. No one on his team played Little League baseball; they looked like the Bad News Bears at the start of their season. The chance of getting to the finals looked rather slim. However, the other teams were even worse. They looked like the Bad News Bears at their very first practice. Counting the week before, my son's team would win all five of their games and make it to the finals. I was there for all of his games the week before, and would be there most of the morning on Saturday. Surely he wouldn't mind if I left a tad early to go flying. After all, this was just an informal after school program. More like gym than anything else. And just like with my daughter and her lacrosse game, that is what I kept telling myself to help allay the guilt.

I met Jeff, Rob Burgis, Ron Weiner and Driver Dana at the Kagel LZ at 11:00. I had convinced Crestline pilots Dan DeWeese and Bruce Barmakian that a flight back home would be possible; they were there too. All together there were nine pilots that attempted the flight. Rounding out the group was Andy Pryciak, Sebastion Lutges and videographer, Jonathan Dietch. Andy and Sebastian would leave from the Kagel launch, while the rest of us opted for Towers.

By the time that we got to the Towers there were a number of people already set up over at Kagel. A few got airborne as we were setting up; they didn't do very well. Because of that I took my time -- probably too much time, but you know the drill with me by now: I don't like wasting non-airsick time bobbing up and down near launch in marginal lift. Things opened up, however, once our first pilot (Ron) got airborne.

*Most photos were taken off of Cal State University Long Beach's web site:

The earlier launchers had to fish around a bit before getting up and out, but by the time that I launched it had turned on completely allowing an immediate climb out. After topping out near 5k I made my way over to Kagel, getting passed by Bruce Barmakian along the way. There wasn't much near launch so I B-lined to Trash where a number of pilots seemed to be doing well. I must have caught the tail-end of the lift, because as you can see, I had to hang out a bit before the next pulse came through. Once it did I had a nice climb to 5400 ft. -- along with 4 or 5 other pilots in close proximity, including Dan and Bruce on their Atoses. After another little climb above the beehives I made my way over to Big T where Team Atos was already skying out. I was now officially bringing up the rear.

A slow steady climb at Big T turned into a ratty screamer once I drifted above the high point. I left for Lukens with 5800 ft coming into the west spine just behind Sebastian. Up to that point my climbs were getting higher and higher and the trend continued at Lukens. I climbed to 6800 ft but the reports from the earlier pilots indicated that I would expect to get above 8k once I moved over to near the towers. As I made my way there I was surprised to see Dan and Bruce just starting their climbs (Sebastian was also with them). I figured that they would be long gone. All three Atoses quickly skyed out. But when I eventually made my way under them I could only find light lift. I missed whatever propelled them skyward. Soon frustration set in as kept hitting a ceiling just below 7,000 ft. Eventually, I just gave up on the towers and made my way east. I would end up flying off the east end of Lukens with 6,000 ft.

While other pilots reported reaching Brown Mt. above 6,000, I limped in to its west flank at 4,800 ft. In my mind I was going to treat it like flying into West Divide in Santa Barbara: if I didn't find something right away I'd call it a day and head out to a landing field. Fortunately, the spine heading up to Brown worked and I was soon back bumping up against the 7K ceiling. From Brown I stepped back to Mt Lowe, but after not really finding anything to hang around for I made my way over to Mt Wilson.

I didn't have the altitude to fly over Wilson itself, so I headed to Mount Harvard. There was nothing above the peak, but when I slid out to the front points I found another nice climb to the high 6s, which was plenty high enough for me to head directly to Monrovia Peak, where at 7200 ft I had the highest climb of the day.

From Monrovia I angled directly over the dam of the San Gabriel Reservoir on my way to Glendora Mountain and San Dimas. Reports on the radio indicated that Andy and Sebastian were about to land at a golf course nearby. As I crossed over Glendora I spotted a glider climbing out with a hawk out on the flats near San Dimas Canyon. To my surprise it was Jonathan. The last time that I heard his name mentioned he was leading the pack to Mt Wilson. Anyway, after climbing out together -- kinda -- I made my way over to Johnstone Mountain while Jonathan took a more southerly route. Johnstone was only good for one or two 360s and so I soon found myself heading in Jonathan's direction again. But before I could reach the flats I had a change of heart and decided to take what altitude I had left and head directly for Frankish Peak, the far west front point of Cucamonga Peak. There Jonathan and I teamed up again, and played a bit of leap frog for the next couple of spines.

Me & Southside - 3/28/2009 from NMERider on Vimeo.

At that point the west wind had really pushed through. East of San Dimas the air was pretty buoyant, but nothing seemed to be going up-slope, just sideways. From Johnstone Peak on I never got above 5,000 ft. I'd hit a point, do one or two 360s across its face and then move to the next one down the line. And continued to do so until I ran out of mountain.

After flying off of the San Gabriels I did something, or I should say, didn't do something that I'm still regretting today. I was so intent on making it to Andy Jackson that I only thought of the most direct route to get there once I crossed the 15. After crossing the freeway with just 3k, I picked up a low slow leaner just south of the foothills near Glen Helen. I had visions of it drifting me right to goal. However, once I got on the other side of the hills the lift petered out -- or I zigged when I should have zagged. Either way at 3400 ft I didn't have the altitude to make it to Andy Jackson on a glide. But like I said, I was so fixated on goal I didn't even think about deviating due north instead to get to the much closer foothills of the San Bernardino Mountains. It would have been very close. From the top of my last thermal it was 2.5 miles to where I landed and only 2 miles to the foothills; the extra 1/2mile might have translated into enough altitude to play with. And it wouldn't have taken much of a boost to make it in from there.

Although I'm kicking myself for not trying for the San Bernardino foothills, I have to say that I'm stilled satisfied with my flight. At just over a mile from goal, I'm going say that I came close enough for it to count. Out of the nine pilots that attempted the flight; four made it in (Ron, Rob, Bruce and Dan); two within 2 miles (Jeff and me); one landed at the base of Cuc (Jonathan); and two near San Dimas (Andy and Sebastian).

Distance: 61.09 Miles
Duration: 3:28 Hours
Max Altitude: 7,250 ft.

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