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)

1 comment:

NMERider said...

Great write-up, John! I couldn't have done my flight without all of your guidance.