Saturday, November 3, 2012

Cactus to Clouds

Hike starts from Art Museum in Palm Springs, elevation is only 144 m (472 ft) above sea level and goes to Mt. San Jacinto 3302 m (10834 ft). Last year I did the first part of the trail, which called Skyline, because it ends in the upper Aerial Tramway station, elevation 2600 m (8530 ft).
Cactus to Clouds trail map
We spend night in Motel 6, alarm was set to 3:00 am and I start hiking at 3:30 am. It took me again 6 hours and 2.7 liters of water to complete Skyline, there was probable 100+ other hikers doing the same thing. Sunrise was gorgeous with purple clouds:
Sunrise on Skyline trail
Eat and refill my water bottles in Tramway station while waiting for my wife and son, they supposed to join me for easy part of the hike. We left Ranger station at 11:20 and hiked together to Wellman Divide where they turn around and I continue to the peak. I was on the top at 2:45 pm.
San Jacinto Peak
On the way back to Tramway station after 2 initial switchbacks I decided to take more direct route and go XC instead of following established trail. It worked out great in many aspects: distance 5 km (instead of 8 km), time 1:45, no other hikers, no dust, met 7 deer. Mission accomplished.

GPS Track Log

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Mt. Ritter

Hike starts from Agnew Meadows 2540 m (8333 ft) near Mammoth Lakes and climb 1750 m (5700 ft) to Mt. Ritter 4005 m (13140 ft), its about 32 km (20 miles) depending on the route you take.
Trail to Mt. Ritter
I started at 5:30 am well before sunrise. Its quite different feeling when you're hiking alone in the dark versus following hundreds of other hikers on popular trails such as Mt. Whitney or Skyline, which also require early departure. Sunrise caught me near Shadow Lake. You actually can see Mt. Ritter in the middle of this picture.
Shadow Lake
Trail is pretty flat at this point following small creek in the forest. Next was Ediza Lake, 10 km (6 mile) from trail head elevation 2831 m (9288 ft).
Ediza Lake
Going around the lake along left shore is longer, but certainly has better view. I lost trail somewhere after lake and start to climb steep side of the mountain. Loose rocks made my progress very slow, I reached summit at 1:30, so 8 hours from trail head. Going down was not fast also.
Going down from Mt. Ritter
Going down I took slightly different route, but because it was steeper I spend more or less the same amount of time. Sunset again near Shadow lake. Back to the car by 8:00 pm.
Mt. Ritter
Here is my Track Log for Google Earth

Friday, September 28, 2012

Nine Mile to Benton, 132 miles flight

Combined North and South California XC league meet was scheduled for weekend of September 29 and 30, but many pilots decided to come early that week to fly from Walt's point and new hike-up launch Nine Mile, which is 40 miles south from Walt's.
Nine Mile launch
Dean was the one who picked the spot up from Google Earth and flew with Aaron first time breaking his own California's open distance PG record. Well, next week or so he flew again with Jimmy and they broke the record again. September is not good time to set a records because days are short and conditions generally mild, but 2 out of 2 successful attempts prove the site has a good potential and many pilots including Timo, Jug, Steve, Jim, Josh and others was excited to check it out.
PG Pilots on Nine Mile launch
Its 25-30 minutes hike from the road (500 AGL) and you need to be ready by 9:30. Launchable window is 30-45 minutes when wind from "too light" becoming "too strong". There is no LZ other then hillside landing (Cactuses, Joshua trees, rocks, etc) or landing on the road. There is ugly looking canyon below the road and glide to main valley from launch is 8:1. Josh was first to launch around 10:00 am, then Jimmy and I was off at 10:13 followed by Dean, Jug and others. We spend maybe 15-20 minutes to get our first climb from 5500 ft launch altitude to 11K and game was on. Lead gaggle Josh, Jimmy and Dean disappeared beyond horizon immediately. The rest of the pilots leapfrogged for first 100 miles along the Sierra with many pilots landing after Big Pine. Here is couple good shots from that part of the flight.
Olancha Peak
Kearsarge Pass
Just before Big Pine I was flying with Steve and blue Omega 8 and we was pushing hard leaving thermals lower and lower and eventually I found myself peaking up LZ in the foothills with prospect to hike about 5 miles to the paved road. The best way to handle such stressful situation is to accept the fact you already landed it helps to calm down and concentrate a lot. Anyway, I run into a good thermal, drift with it and took my time to get as high as possible before "The Crossing" toward Black Mt. in the Whites mountain range.
Crossing Owens valley
Start crossing from 11.5K just 3 miles west from Big Pine and arrive with 1.5K AGL. It feels like wind was still little bit from the east direction, so I was not in hurry to climb and ridge soar few mile to the north instead and only then took a climb. By that time there was few rescue operations under the way. One pilot had a hard landing after low collapse on Sierra side, he was ok, but have to hike out for couple hours. Another pilot throw reserve near White Mountain and his friend top landed to help. There was also huge overdevelopment on the Sierra side and entire valley got into the shade, so flying become quite challenging.
White Mountains
My goal was to break 200 km, which I did and landed at 6:13 pm few miles south from Benton, with total 8 hours in the air, 212 km open distance, my personal best so far. Thanks to Joe for picking me up.
Landing near Benton, next to highway 6
Track log:

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Kagel to Brian Ranch Airport, 37 miles

Forecast was for 10K+ cloud base, light SE wind for front (San Gabriel Mountains) range and NNE wind for back range changing to SW (and NNW) later in the day. When its east wind Marshall is more preferable, but since I did not have a driver for Marshall and my wife Karina volunteered to drive if I go to Kagel I choose Kagel. Got a ride on 10 am track, we were packed like sardines in the can, but starting early was very important. In fact cycles on launch was too strong and I was concerned I could not even launch, but wind during lulls was light and lulls last for few minutes, so I did launched successfully at 11:46. No problem with penetration climbed to 5.5K and went for Big T. SE wind there was much stronger then predicted in forecast. I could not go east even on full speed bar, so I turn around and fly back to west towers. I got to 8.2K there and consider jumping west to Oat Mt. or north-west to Santa Clarita.
Flying high over Sylmar
By that time most of Sylmar XC crew was in the air over Big T. discussing plans where to go. Jonathan went east on the front range and the rest of pilots jump to the back ridge aiming to fly OTB (over the back) via Mount Gleason. I was dreaming to try this route for a long time, so there was no question any more where to go. Ron reported 11K+ on the back ridge with other HG pilots joining him. I was last to commit and even though I had 10.4K it’s was one of the scariest move in my PG career. There is a 10 miles stretch with no place to land from Big Tujunga canyon until you get to Gleason. It took only 20 minutes to cover this distance and I arrived at 7.5K (1.6K AGL) over the last ridge near Gleason. As expected there was a strong thermal out there and I took it all the way to 13.5K, but higher I was getting the stronger north wind become, so I have to leave thermal and fly upwind toward the highway 14.
Flying over San Gabriel Mountains
Plenty of LZ after that point, but with north wind my progress to the east was slow. Most of HG landed at Crystal airport, but when I got there they was gone already, so I landed at 6:25 near highway 138 and 18 intersection for easy retrieve.
Landing near highway 138 and 18 intersection
Enjoyed beautiful sunset and stars, Karina get there around 8:20, back home at 10:00 pm.
My GPS track:

Friday, September 14, 2012

Crestline to Valyermo, 34 miles

Good forecast for 10K+ with east wind all day convinced me to take a day off. Usual suspects in our team, Rebar Dan, Jonathan and our driver Greg. Launched at 11:42 into a strong cycle, went straight up, barely penetrating forward. Go to Pine Mt. and climb to 9.4K right away
Flying high over Pine Mt.
10.9K near Cajon pass, easy crossing
Flying across Cajon pass
Jonathan passed me on the other side of the pass, taking more north route. I prefer to stay over small ridge along Long Pine Creek Rd. There is good trigger point before Wrightwood the only problem it's always turbulent and this time was not an exception. There was a shear line on certain altitude and wing was all over the place, luckily no collapses. After Wrightwood meet with Dan, he was in the same thermal, but lower.  11.3K altitude motivated me to start flying faster, so I did not top out in each thermal (mistake #1). Then I saw Jonathan over Devils Punchbowl Park climbing well and rushed there, but could not connect with his thermal. Get some altitude after low save, but was not sure I can jump safely to the back range and since terrain is rising I would arrive there low.
Devils Punchbowl Park
Instead I keep going over small ridge hoping to get another thermal (mistake #2), which put me to the ground early. Right decision was to stay in thermal and slowly drift with it to the back range.
Landing near Valyermo
When I was done packing my gear I saw clouds start popping over the peaks and sure enough convergence line was bearing toward the back range exactly where I hit sink and lost most of my altitude. Hitch a ride to highway 138 where Greg picked me up and we start chasing Dan & Jonathan. Dan landed between Lake Elizabeth and Lake Hughes, 72 miles out. Jonathan made 88 miles, but landed behind a gate, so it took us quite some time to get him.
Gate to Tehachapi afterbay
When we was going to the launch I had a conversion with another PG pilot and say that if he want to fly XC he need to be ready for getting back home at midnight and that’s exactly when I got home that day.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Chelan XC Open 2012

Exploring new sites is always fun, and Chelan was no exception. Site located in cental Washington, just 80 miles from Canadian border. It was quite a few pilots from SoCal who attended, inluding Dean, Ty, Marty, Arnie and Aaron. After some debate I end up driving with Aaron, which is about 20 hours from LA. Most of the pilots camped at Beebe Bridge Park Campground ($28 per day).
Beebe Bridge Camping
Its quite convenient place, main LZ located on the other side of river, and just 5 minutes drive from the camp. Here is view from launch:
Chelan PG launch
PG pilots waiting in the queue
Main arena for competition is flatland to the east from launch, but getting there especially with low cloud base was very difficult, in fact I bombed out first 3 days (4 with traning day). When you arrive low on other side of the river there are 2 options: try to ridge soar and catch thermal or push toward power lines low with hope to get something on the way. Another problem was that thermals tend to lean a lot from ridge, if you don't drift enough you lose a thermal, if you drift too much you may not come back to ridge line if you lost thermal. On the third day (second task) I was so upset to land again in canyon that I hiked back and relaunched, but was drifting back to the same canyon, I pushed out toward the river, but could not clear another ridge, so I landed, hiked again, relaunched and plan just to glider to main LZ. Instead I got a nice fat thermal and went straight to clould base, tag Simms waypoint and make 2/3 of way back. I probably can make it all the way, but was concerned that reterive will be gone if I don't make it, time was past 7:00 pm. Here is how river crossing looks like from the start:
Flying over Chelan
Last 3 days I was super careful about river crossing, basically you have to cross with main gaggle and need to start about 5 minutes after them and higher in order to get into the best thermal. This strategy worked great, so 3 last tasks was fun racing. Here is view to the launch.
Chelan launch from the air
Landed on the flats
Overall I came in 39th out of 49 pilots, not what I was expecting, but very good learning for me for sure. Swimming in Chelan lake and jumping from the bridge each day also contribute a lot to positive impression from the place.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Rim to river and back day hike in Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon from South Rim
There're multiple signs in the park that don't recommend to do this hike for a good reason. Its 18 miles (28 km) round trip with evlevation gain of 4600 ft (1400 m), which is not too bad, but day temperature of 115 in the bottom does not uncommon during the summer. To make it safely you have to start well before sunrise. We started at 3:00 am.
Bright Angel trail
Arrived to Colorado river by 6:00 am. Swim was wonderful in the cold water.
Colorado River
 Here is one the warning signs after Indian Garden.
Warning about Rim to the River and back day hiking
Way back was slightly slower (4 hours) because of the heat. Even though it's doable the best time for this hike is certainly not during the summber.

Friday, June 22, 2012

The Narrows in Zion National Park

Quite unusual hike, since you mosly walking in the North Fork Virgin river, mostly ankle deep, but sometimes chest deep or there are even sections where you have to swim. Summer heat compensated by cold water and shade, so its pleasant even when air temperature raise above 100°F.
Mystery Waterfalls in Zion National Park
Light and Shadow
Narrows trail in Zion
Day hike when you go upstream and then come back seemed more resonable then 16 miles one way from Chamberlain's Ranch. Orderville canyon was interesting to explore as well even though we did not made it all the way to first waterfall.
Orderville canyon
Drifting downstream

Monday, June 18, 2012

Onion Valley to Glenn Pass hike

We left LA Friday at 2:00 pm with hope to get our permit the same day. Eastern Sierra Interagency Visitor Center closes at 5:00 pm. We was late by 7 minutes and friendly ranger tell us to come back tomorrow. Its good idea to get acclimatization for high altitude hikes, so we went to Horseshore Meadow (10000 ft /3048 m) for this purpose. Saturday morning we finally got our permit, rent a mandatory bear canister ($2.5 per day) and headed to trail head (9212 ft / 2807 m). Easy hike to Kearsarge Pass (11,760 ft / 3584 m) took about 3 hours. Then I hiked to Mt. Gould (13005 ft / 3964 m).
Kearsarge and Bullfrog lakes from Mt. Gould
Looking south from Mt. Gould to Kearsarge lakes (on the left) and Bullfrog lake (on the right). It took me 2:20 to hike from Kearsarge Pass to Mt. Gould and back. Then we descend to the valley and camped near Kearsarge lakes.
Kearsarge lake
 Sunday we left most of our staff at camp and attempt day hike to Glenn Pass (11978 ft / 3650 m).
Little lake on the way to the Glenn pass
Gelnn Pass
Rae lakes from Glenn Pass

Monday, May 28, 2012

Sphinx Lakes in Kings Canyon Park

I normally hike on trails, but this year start to include some XC sections, which is totally different experience. Trail starts from Road Ends in Kings Canyon, go to Bubbs Creek where we went last year, then continue toward Avalanche Pass, but you have to leave trail before pass and go XC. Detailed description available here
This year snow melted early, but just few days before Memorial Day weekend storm pass over Sierra and left few inches of fresh snow.
 Crossing creek with iced rocks and trees:
 That's where I made it. Lakes starts on the left side of this picture:
I did not have enough time (yes, 11 hours was not enough). I think its better to camp at Bubbs creak and start from there.

Monday, May 7, 2012

SoCal XC League in San Diego

Saturday's task was Laguna to Anza, 64 km, elapsed time. This was my first flight from Laguna. Normal route after you get high over launch, which is quite small by the way:
to go to Granit mountain and then to vulcano, but east/west convergency was right in the middle of the valley after Granit, I was flying for 5 km or even more without losing any altitude. There was few pilots climing quite well over San Felipe Hills, so I decide to join them, but lost a lot of altitude on the way there and second gaggle pass me at this point. Most of them headed toward Warner Springs and eventually landed short of it. I took my time to get high and headed toward Ranchita and then continue over high ground (green track). That's where convergency was at this point.
The only problem with this route was mostly unlandable terrain, forest and no roads. Only Aaron had balls to keep following convergence and made goal (red track). Eric and Steve (blue track) landed at camp. I was following unpaved road to this camp for some time, but then decide to bail out toward valley and landed 5 miles past Warner Springs. Just for reference there is no road between Borrego Springs and Anza, hike out from that canyon would be epic.
Task 3 results:

Forecast for Sunday was better, but we end up with strong east wind and have to move to Horse canyon (my first flight there as well). Conditions at Horse was strong and launches intimidating:
 Jimmy and Enzo:
Some pilots, me included decided that its not worth it and watch the race from the ground:
By 4:00 pm conditions calm down, so we launched as well, but could not get high enough to fly task.
Task 4 results: