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.