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

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