Friday, April 27, 2007

Baldy's New Record

By Tom McCune:

James Bender and I had been going back and forth about the weather at Baldy for April 23rd. It was a forecast we were trying to decipher from all our web knowledge and I think the sources were having a tough time committing to the predictions. It sure would be tough to be a weatherman for paraglider pilots, especially under a known name anyway. We trusted our sources in their predictions with wind, lift index, clouds, etc, etc. With a final commitment and some faith in the forecast, I put out the call on the open list and we ended up with 6 pilots in two trucks on that particular Monday.

Mount Baldy Launch

Mount Baldy launch, ready for a new site record. Photo by Tom McCune.

James thought it best to be on launch as early as possible. We watched on launch as birds soared for a while and then somebody asked, “Why are we on the ground right now?” With that little bit of prodding we all suited up and talked about which way was best to go XC. Radios were all tuned and working in harmony so nobody would be out of communication. As we launched, each pilot caught lift and worked it up. Kyndel, Stefan, James, and I took a nice thermal up over the mountain. Kyndel and I took off after topping it out at about 6 grand. I advised drifting with the lift since we were very low. Crossing the first canyon was easy but then Kyndel and I took turns getting low farther on. Since the lift index was good near the ground, we found thermals keeping us up and we slowly continued NE and eventually thermalled up over the hills north of I90 at the Columbia River.

Paul was catching up rather quickly. There were three of us thermalling up at the edge of the Columbia before crossing, and Stefan was getting closer to us. Scott had a good flight and I wish he would have made an attempt to follow us, but he chose to top land and drive down. Scott is a newer pilot and was not familiar with the area, but what better way to learn it! We are all thankful he landed and drove for us anyway. One good way to learn from an experienced pilot is to chase them in the air or from the ground. When you pick them up, you will hear all about the day and you can actually pick their wisdom since you have their undivided attention. There have been several pilots who were thrilled to pick me up and bring me back. They get a one-on-one lesson in XC. If they flew a bit beforehand, then they can associate the knowledge with the current day.

Tiger Mountain Launch

Tiger Mountain launch, earlier in the week. Photo by Kerry Ryan.

This was not an easy day but staying in lift paid off big. One by one the others were landing. Kyndel was low by Soap Lake and told me he was setting up to land. I knew he was tired and was wishing he could stay up, but I also know how it is to be out of shape. Passing Soap Lake, I went for farm land with dirt roads and no traffic but figured there would be lift. There was. I was not familiar with the area so I asked Kyndel what ‘reservoir’ I was flying parallel to. He told me it was the chain of Sun Lakes. Besides Sun Lakes, there were little ponds of water all around reminding me of an area north of Chelan on the east side of the river. Some of them looked like trampolines scattered around the plateau landscape. I kept on heading north as I contemplated returning to fish them.

At the north end of the chain of Sun Lakes, I was rather low—much too low for a low save next to a lake. After all, thermals do not come off water but my vario started to beep as I entertained the few cars passing by a few feet below my harness. I had only intended to entertain just enough to cause one or two to stop so I could get a ride part way back but the next time I looked down, I was high enough to go over the back of the plateau and get into the meat of the thermal. Bingo! It worked! Lots of lift and I was back on course. After saying thanks to all the Swifts who were there with me, I took off over the southern end of Banks Lake.

Photo by Kerry Ryan

At Tiger Mountain launch. Photo by Kerry Ryan.

Back out on the flats and feeling good, I decided to make a couple calls. After fishing out my cell phone, I called Paul. He was thrilled to hear I was in the air. They were heading back but he encouraged me to stay in the air and said Scott was chasing us. I called Kyndel and his response was “you must be on the ground”. After telling him I was quite high and 88 miles out, he was ecstatic and told me to “keep going!” I did, but that was my final glide since the day was nearing an end. A line of cues I had been trying to catch up to was keeping just out of reach. I got within a few miles, but they just would not hold still long enough. Had I reached them, the state record would have fallen.

Scott retrieved Kyndel on his respectable 62.5 mile route and then they came to pick me up by Highway 2. Kyndel and I thanked Scott several times and then we filled him with XC knowledge and advice. It was a long drive back and we were all tired, but it was well worth the effort. Conversations were getting quiet and I almost fell asleep when we arrived in North Bend at my truck. Heading back to Tiger, Scott and I were wondering what happened to the three packages of deer burger I brought. We were supposed to grill them after flying, but I guess I flew too long. A new Baldy record of 97.7 miles was worth missing a good burger, but I still wanted one.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

From Blanchard to the Border

by Matt Senior:

At 10am on Tuesday the 10th of April the sky looked beautiful, huge cumulus developments everywhere and plenty of sun hitting the ground. The only problem was, this is the sort of sky you want to see closer to 5 or 6pm rather than this early in the day. With the forecast, the sky and my buddy Nick Nearly all saying “go to Blanchard”, Steve Pieniak and I jumped into his big old Dodge truck and headed north.

For those who haven’t been fortunate enough to make it to Blanchard yet, it is one of the most scenic flying locations I have ever been to. It’s situated about 10 miles south of Bellingham overlooking the San Juan Islands in the northwestern tip of the United States. Launch is about 1100 feet directly above Chuckanut Drive and the ocean.

As we approached launch we saw a lady and her dog soaking up the view. We asked her where the hang glider went that just launched; only to find he’d sunk like a rock. As we unfolded our wing she became curious about our paragliders, having never seen one before. While chatting with this nice lady she asked us what the difference was between a hang glider and a paraglider. Steven and I both replied, “We’re going to go up there” pointing at cloud base, “and the hang gliders — they always seem to go down there.” Igniting some happy laughter between us as we step in to our harnesses.

With the sky to the east of us completely over-developed, everything to the west was blue. Things looked perfect when we launched at 2:10; strong thermals right out front being marked by the resident bald eagles out for the day teaching their kids how to thermal. Steve and I wasted no time and both climbed out to around 4500 feet and were on our way north with a nice 5-10km/hr tail wind. Having made the flight to Bellingham and back a week earlier along the coastal mountains I was excited to re-fly the same route again just a little higher along range.

Chuckanut Mountain

Photo 1: On glide north towards Chuckanut Mountain. Bellingham in the distance.

Steve on the other hand headed northeast towards Lookout Mountain, under some fairly over-developed sky, only to find himself running into a lake crossing. This probably wouldn’t have been a big deal for him had there been sun on the ground on the other side.

After dribbling across Chuckanut Mountain in a couple of week climbs I headed for a group of deciduous trees that I got a bomber from a week earlier. Arriving only to find a few bubbles I turned and waited in zeros for about a minute, and then boom! Off it went. Within no time I was back at base with a cloud street heading to the northeast as far as the eye could see, blue to the left of it and some scary looking clouds to the right. On glide from that climb I started to realize the special flight that Mother Nature was handing us.

As I changed my course to follow the clouds I could see Steve off in the distance playing the waiting game under a cloud working his way along the edge of a lake.

We joined up under the cloud street above Squalicum Mountain at the north end of Lake Whatcom and glided off together under the clouds, only stopping for the real good ones.


Photo 2: On glide past Mt Stuart.

It wasn’t until Bellingham looked to be about 20 miles behind us that I began to think about the border, so I changed my GPS to the map page and zoomed in, only to find I had the Canadian border on glide. But what about the cloud street? A whole bunch of possible outcomes started to flood my mind. I wonder what would happen if we just casually followed this cloud street a further 20 miles across the border? I wonder what will happen when I land? What about my passport? How will I get my passport? What about the club meeting? How are we going to get back?

Leaving the cloud street

Photo 3: Leaving our cloud street on glide to Sumas.After a quick wing tip to wing tip discussion we decide best if we go land in Sumas. As we approached the small border town we could already see the patrol cars tracking us from the ground. As we landed at the school the kind people of Sumas sent out their greeting parties of kids, parents and of course the border patrol, state patrol and police, they were all there.

After we showed the boys in blue and the boys in green our track logs and let them search our gear we were on our way to Bob’s Burgers and Brew for some celebratory beers while we waited for our very kind driver Heather to come and pick us up; it was the perfect end to the perfect day.

A copy of this flight can be found on Leonardo on the Paragliding forum.

Border Patrol

Photo 4: Steve talking to the authorities with our cloud street over his shoulder.