Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Pine 9/14

My LZs for my last two flights have been within 10 miles of each other. The only difference is that the second flight started 85 miles away. I didn’t do a write-up of my previous flight because there wasn’t much to write about. After 2 hours of bobbing up and down in front of Garlock I threw in the towel and landed right below launch. Sunday’s flight was a tad better.

We’ve had a heat wave here in Southern California over the last few days and the flying conditions have been just as toasty – everywhere. A few records have fallen. 

It’s not often that you see the tops on the front range match those in the desert. Because of that I was looking to fly either Kagel or Crestline, for no other reason than to defend my Marshall/Crestline out and return record. However, my Topa buddies had no interest in dealing with the LA traffic and were heading to Pine, and my Crestline mates were either in Santa Cruz, AZ or talking about doing an out and return out into the desert.  Since the heights were the same for the desert and the front range it made more sense to me to fly along the San Gabriels, considering the fact that the LA Basin floor is 3,000 ft. lower. I’m sure I could have convinced them to see it my way, but when the late Saturday night forecast didn’t quite match what I was seeing earlier, I opted for the safer call and joined the Topa crew at Pine.

Let me backtrack a bit here. As I mention, conditions looked good everywhere, and that included the Topatopa range in Ojai. It looked like it would be good enough to go OTB into the desert, a flight that only has been accomplished on a few occasions; once by yours truly. Unfortunately, you need a permit to fly Ojai and it’s hunting season; there was not one left to be had. However, the PGers have a hike-up launch known as the Nuthouse. Three intrepid souls opted to brave the 107 degree heat and go there, including Tom Truax who would go on to fly 111 miles, breaking the site record.

Although the forecast looked great the tops weren’t expected to be terribly high. Somewhere in the 12-13k range. Also, the winds at Pine had a bit more south than what you would like for a flight out into the desert. One of the reasons the PGs opted for Ojai instead. One thing that I didn’t see in the forecast was a call for mid to high level clouds. There was a slug of it right above launch when we arrived. There also a few lennys mixed in for good measure.  Our optimism took a bit of a hit to say the least. But, despite the high cloud cover, cumis began forming above launch just after 11:00. Not too long after that pilots began throwing off.  There were 6 in total, two in each crew. Tony Deleo was gracious enough to drive for TQ and me.


Despite the great forecast, no one was screaming to cloudbase. John Hesch and I had the same idea to search more out front, but that ended up not working any better than what was happening above the ridge. Eventually, though, everyone got up and out. Whereas the other pilots opted to go straight over the back I decided to give Reyes a try, with the idea of staying on the front side of Pine to perhaps Decision Point before going OTB. At Reyes I made a mistake that almost cost me the flight. Not getting very high on my first climb out, I decided to take what I had and head for the Chute rather than stick around for a better thermal or continue east to Haddock. I did this despite that fact there were no clouds above the Chute, compared to everywhere else (probably because of the south wind). Sure enough, I didn’t find anything above the Chute and had to bail off low toward Dry Canyon.


There’s a nice green valley between the Chute and the ridgeline just south the Dry Canyon. I didn’t realize, though, that the landable areas of the valley sit up on a plateau. The original idea was to work the ridge to as low as I needed to go before bailing out to land. The plateau gave me little room to spare. Down below 5k I had little choice but to give up the ridge and head back to the valley. Luckily, I blundered into something right above a ranch that got me back to 9k. Plenty high to be back in the ball game but not high enough to make the jump to Lockwood, especially in a south wind. TQ had already made the jump at that point.

Climbing out of a hole

It took a while, but I eventually found something to take me into Lockwood. TQ had reported earlier that he had found something above Boy Scout road. It was still there. I was soon close to my highest point of the day making my way to Frazier, albeit along a course line a little further north than what I would have liked given the wind direction.  

On my way to Frazier

But a little skip on the east side of Lockwood gave me enough altitude to get above Frazier comfortably. Up in front of me, though, a small fire had broken out on the NE side of the mountain. I had the altitude to fly over the air traffic dealing with the fire, but I ended up leaving Frazier lower than what I had hoped in order to clear the area has fast as I could. 

Heading out into the desert

I ended up crossing the 5 with just over 9k. My glide was on the wrong side of the cloud street, but I didn’t want to give up my precious altitude fudging more south. I had my sights set on a little foothill peak sitting in the sun right behind the cement plant, and at that point it looked like I had just enough altitude to make it. Somewhere on my glide I passed TQ, although I never saw him. He would end up landing nearby.

The Antelope Valley

I did reach the peak, but it was only good for enough altitude to continue on. Despite the clouds forming above the Tehachapis the range is a bit shallow in this area; I didn’t feel comfortable diving back to them low so I took a more southerly angle. After a series of skips, I lucked into the best thermal of the day, having the pleasure of sharing it with a redtail hawk. The lift would have taken me to cloudbase, but still being a bit wary, I opted to dive out well short of it. Still, I was close to 12k which was plenty high to step back to the ridgeline.

By this point I was the only hang glider pilot flying in the Antelope Valley. TQ had landed just north of Neenatch, and two of the other pilots landed near the 5, while the other two opted to fly north, with one flying 45 miles into the Central Valley. I was the only hang glider on the Tehachipis, but up in front of me was Tom Truax on his paraglider. He indeed made the connection into the desert from Ojai. Although I never saw him I think I passed him around the 60 mile mark, right about the time that my motion sickness kicked in. 

If you’ve read this blog before you know the routine: once I get sick I have about a 20 minute window before the second bout kicks in; if I can get on the ground before that, I’m pretty much OK. But if I have a second bout then I’m a mess for at least 2 hours after that even though I’m on the ground. So the idea is to fly as far as I can in that 20 minute window. I’m not sure how high I got in thermal when I first got sick, but I do know that I reported on the radio that I was at 7100 ft at 71 miles out. One more climb and I’d have enough altitude for my 100 miler. Soon after the radio report I hit some lift. I told myself that I was going to stay with it as long as I could despite feeling the way that I did. Unfortunately, I kept on falling out of it, and frankly, I just didn’t have the mental fortitude to stay with it. Soon after that I was on the ground.

Distance: 85.5 Miles
Duration: 3:45 hours
Max Altitude: 11,948 ft.