Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The Best ‘Dirt out’ EVER!

Story by Steve Pieniak
Photographs by Dave Milroy

The most attractive aspect of paragliding for myself is learning. I learned so much on 5/17 during an XC flight to Mt. Si, I have to tell the club.

There was a discussion on Yahoo regarding LZ options for XC. Well, I’ve discovered incredibly easy to get to, and EXTREMELY REMOTE, LZ’s that only require one direction for retrieval: “turn left at North Bend Bar and Grill and keep driving ’til you see me.”

I’m still grinning 3 days after this flight… one of the best ever. I flew to Si in just over an hour and played around in rough air… I was very surprised to hear Dave Milroy on my radio when I got there! He hiked up to launch at Mt. Si earlier but was unable to join the rodeo because launch at Si was a toilet bowl. (He took some photos of me in the distance.) I didn’t even dare get close to launch for a photo op because the air was too rough. I was only able to speak to him after I was at 6G under a cloud and well above the ridge. At about 2:30-3:00pm there were still remnants of an inversion that made ridge soaring less than fun.

Photo 1

(PS: From past experience, never launch from Si or ridge soar that mountain when you know there is a well developed inversion below launch. Those conditions didn’t exist this day, but being battered by an inversion ceiling while trying to ridge soar Si’s raw crag rock is a wild ride. It’s the ugliest air and a lesson previously well learned. This is VERY GOOD ADVICE.)

I toyed with Si for some time, not knowing what my next move would be. My goal was Si, and I found myself there so quickly I was scratching my helmet wondering what to do next. A cloud street materialized north of Si… I saw the shadows of the clouds growing. The day was young and there were cumies everywhere. I told Dave I was heading North. Gulp. Hee hee… I love that feeling. Cloudbase was at 6G and I figured I could cloud hop to a town. As it turns out, being wrong was way more informative than being right!

Photo 2

I flew in this street effortlessly for about 8 miles when it dead ended. I was at 5G at this time and wasn’t worried…hell, I wasn’t even trying to find lift while clouds were overhead — I just went straight… until I saw the cloud street jump 3 or so miles east toward the foothills. Oops. Who wud’a thunk it? So far the day was entirely thermic… and even if it wasn’t and I could ridge soar uncharted (to me) mountains, I knew of no LZ’s and I couldn’t convince myself that I could penetrate a west headwind to safety if I was lucky enough to ridge soar mountains to the east to begin with… so I soon decided that there was no way I was going to go back even farther into the mountains (it turns out my LZ was already 1100ft above sea level).

So 5000 ft turned into dirt in a few minutes of blue sky. I didn’t feel so bad when I saw locals flapping over my head… even they were fooled. For perspective… Mt Si looked a lot closer than Carnation… and Carnation’s direction was into a light west wind. I have yet to look at my track log (it’s submitted to Tigertag, but I’ve been working… so I apologize if my miles aren’t exact, but feel free to check out the flight).

Photo 3

I landed amidst huge fresh clear cuts. Funny… I chose a darker clear cut to land in, thinking maybe it would donate a thermal to my cause… instead it gave me shit. Literally. As I made my approach I smelled very foul air… you don’t wanna know. When I landed I could only think of “this is the Pacific North West and we breed serial killers… don’t look around.” I was so relieved when I saw a posting (on the ground) that this was an experimental field for ‘fertilizer’ from our neighborhood sewage treatment plant. So I had that going for me, which was nice. I saw an industrial truck, and I was hoping they left the keys… that would have been fun! Nope.. gotta walk through this shit.

Luckily, the road had no yuk, so my wing is clean.

Two VERY IMPORTANT tools necessary if you are an XC pilot willing to land in shit 10 miles from help. YOU MUST HAVE A GPS which has up-to-date topographical maps. (This was a godsend.) I made a mental picture of the area at 5G so I could walk out of the maze of access
roads to this fat road I saw in the air — a useless mental exercise. I’d be sleeping with air worse than the aroma of Tacoma if I tried to walk out without a GPS. Twice I was totally convinced I needed to turn one direction, but my GPS said otherwise. Good thing. BTW, the sign said it would be unwise to forage in that area until mid June. Note to self.

Second thing. Personal Locator Beacons. I call mine “wife”… except it’s more reliable. The area has sketchy cell phone reception, and if I was injured the PLB would be my only safety net.

So, I hike 45 minutes and finally find what I thought from the air was a very nice forest access road. My jaw dropped when I saw it! It is as wide as a two lane highway and perfectly manicured… not a speck of trash. Paving it would be a sin. What a RUNWAY! You can literally land a Cessna back there in nowhere land! And best of all it’s at least 10 miles long! How do I know it’s that long?… because I was unfortunate enough to find mile marker 9.5 after 45 minutes…then 9.0….8.5….8.0. I had called Michelle previously to tell her I was ‘about’ 5 miles north of Si as I gazed at it and talked and walked. Mt. Si is deceiving… it was 10 miles away as the pilot walks. Hmmm…. that’s a long walk. Good thing I landed at 4:30pm and had a liter of water.

My GPS told me there were two parallel access roads leading back to Si. I was on the pretty one. Very scenic and quiet… very quiet… and remote… too quiet.

Then, after a couple of hours, I could have sworn I heard a car drive by. I was lucky enough to be at a section of the road that had a cut to the other road, and I saw DUST! I have since decided that I love dust. I think from now on I’ll park with my windows down.

I climbed over the gate that protected the pristine runway… THEN — beer cans on the ground everywhere!!! Praise be to white trash! Civilization! Within 10 minutes a couple of guys came by in the opposite direction in their truck sporting shotguns. They were very happy to show me. After my nightmare of landing in Jeffery Dahmer’s Diner, this was just fun. They were nice enough to drive me to…a BAR! And they were astute enough to spot Matt Amend in the air soaring Si as I babbled about paragliding! So I hydrated at the North Bend Bar and Grill and watched Matt Amend land. Heather, our beautiful chase car driver, picked up Matt and met me at the bar.

Those two are so polite… they got so sick of me talking about this big LZ, they let me show them.

So, as it turns out, the guys that gave me a ride call this public access road into the wilderness ‘county line’. The off limits big-ass-fat-Cessna-10-(or maybe 20)-mile LZ with lots of clear cut options is next to it. This opens such XC potential I’m giddy. Just bring your GPS, PLB, and smelling salt. And if you are nice, $20 to tip the hunters.