Wednesday, May 31, 2017

529 km in Owens

No, it's not a single flight, but still 529 km in 3 days quite impressive result for our annual Memorial Day weekend in Owens.
Hang glider launching from Walt's point
Saturday May 27, 2017. Still a lot of north wind in the morning, pretty late start at 12:51 and difficult turbulent conditions. I flew to Bishop, mediocre, warm up 101 km flight in 4:35 hours.
Flying over Sierra Nevada mountains

Sunday May 28, 2018. Conditions improved, prevailing SE wind whole day, no switch to SW even for Mammoth Lakes, so we decided to stay on Sierra side and it worked out. Started at 10:34, uneventful flight to Big Pine (by 1:30) and then transition toward Aspendell. This is first time I flew this line, so looking for landings, triggers and terrain in general. I followed not very distinct ridge, which worked out just fine.

Sailplane over Coyote Flat
By 2:30 I'm at Mt. Tom, no problems with lift, topping at 17K or so. At this point I'm making mistake, which cost me time and almost put me to the ground. Instead of going directly over Wheeler Crest (usually very unpleasant place), I'm going around. After one more climb at Crowley Lake I'm almost landed just before Mammoth Lakes.
Crowley Lake
Low save put me back in the game and I'm also in the convergence now, following highway 395. After almost 30 miles without turning (final glide) I landed at 5:07 at Lee Vining airport. I had some issues with blur vision during last hour of flight, one of the symptoms of hypoxia. Open distance 187 km in 6:33 hours.
Mono Lake

Lee Vining airport

Monday May 29, 2018. Potential for thunderstorms later in the day, wind direction changed to more south and it's also much stronger all the way to Nevada, potential for a record flight. I'm starting right after Dave Turner at 9:46 and with good tail wind speed is amazing. By 11:30 I'm starting to cross near Big Pine, Dave will stay on Sierra side entire day. Getting few small climbs in the valley, but my main problem is wind direction is still SE, so I'm in the lee of White Mountains. Typically cloud street (which marks convergence) is right over the crest, but today it's pushed all the way to foothills on the west side. I connect, but trying to stay in foothills or even valley, slowly getting into convergence. By 2:00 I'm at Boundary Peak, realizing this could be a record day. This is a key point where I made mistake by going NE toward Mina. Wind is still from SE and strong, which means I'm flying 90 degree to wind, wasting time and energy, clouds directly to the north also looks much better. I'm having my blur vision issue again and landing at Mina at 4:20, open distance 213 km. Dave flew to Tahoe, but got suck into thunderstorm and it's unclear what happened to his GPS track (device malfunction or he broke 18K limit?). For me ideal line after Boundary Peak was NNW toward Hawthorne staying under cloud street, directly downwind. My decision to jump to Whites was risky, since I could land early, but payed off later because I avoided thunderstorms over Sierra (from Mammoth to Tahoe).
Gym in Mina, Wow!

Our Crew

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Kagel to Yucaipa, 80 miles flight

Another dream flight Kagel to Marshall on front range finally come true! I was chasing this flight for last 10 years or so and most of the time landed half way around Glendora or San Dimas. I did flight in opposite direction (Marshall to Kagel) 2 years ago.

The key to this puzzle was right weather conditions. My initial approach when I just start flying in SoCal was to use SW wind to go from west to east. Right? No, not at all. SW wind means sea breeze, which is enemy of XC here, since it pretty much kills thermal. Moist and cold air absorb ground heating and base reduced dramatically. I could not even get to Mount Lukens on such days and landings was scary because SW is always strong.

Ok, how about south wind? Well, it does exist, but not for a long time. Typically after few days (or weeks) of Santa Ana north wind is switching to east, south and then to permanent SW. Pure south wind is transitional direction and typically last only few hours. Timing of north to SW switch is basically what determines how good XC day will be and where you can flew. If it switches fast you start at Kagel in SE wind, then fly with S for some time and as soon as SW breeze catch up with you, you're done. The longer transition the better.

Ideal conditions when we have moderate NE wind in desert, and front range of San Gabriel Mountains are in the lee with light S or SE and switch to SW is happening later in the day. Another good indicator is switch at Marshall should be late (2:00-3:00 pm). There are 2 disadvantages in this scenario, you have to fly against SE wind in the morning and there could be some nasty turbulence up high if north is spillover the back.

At Saturday May 20th, 2017 we had exactly such kind of conditions, so I give up on XC league at Lake Elsinore and decided to fly Kagel. Jonathan agreed to join, but unfortunately earliest ride was at 11:00 and full already, so my wife drop my off at 8:30 and after 1:30 hike I was on launch. Initially there was almost no wind with light cycles from the north. First thermals started at 10:45 and I launched at 11:22. Despite strong cycles on launch it was hard to stay in the air at first, I only start my progress at 12:15 topping out at 6K. Got a bit low near Lukens, but retreat to last climb, got up higher and continue.
Mt. Wilson

On glide from Monrovia peak
As I mention before most of my previous attempts ended up near Glendora, so I was concerned what gonna happened this time. I had enough altitude to push at least to San Dimas, but I don't need to, easy climb to 8K and I can continue without any problem.
San Dimas
Near Cucamonga peak air was predictably turbulent, but I still need to climb and search for north/south convergence, which hopefully was still there.
Cucamonga peak and Mt. Baldy behind
I climbed to 9K and let south wind push me to the convergence, turning toward the Marshall.
On glide toward Marshall
Fell from the convergence to south side and pushed to Glen Helen, picking up another thermal right over highway 15. I can feel presence of SW wind now with tail wind ~15 mph. Get to Marshall at 4:00 pm, only few HGs in the air, indicator of strong wind down low, but doesn't matter for me at 8K, continue home run down the range. Near the dam wind increased to ~20 mph and I'm also getting low near hw. 38, easy decision to land in Yucaipa. I'm not young and stupid to land anywhere near Banning pass in such conditions.
My LZ in Yucaipa
Took Uber to Marshall LZ and from there my friends Alex & Polina gave me a ride to home. Thanks a lot!