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.