Saturday, December 29, 2007

The Hazards and Solutions of Fort Ebey III

by John Kraske:
Part Three of a series. Photographs by Karen Wallman.
HAZARD: Scotch Broom (Cytisus scoparius). This pesky bush can grab your lines, put holes and tears in your wing, and scrape the living tissue off your body if you get dragged through it or land in it. Thanks to the Scottish sea captain, Captain Walter Colquhoun Grant who brought a few Scotch Broom seeds from the British Consulate in Hawaii (Sandwich Islands back then), a Mr. Wylie, to Vancouver Island in 1850. We now have this tenacious plant taking over large parcels of the park, not to mention the entire Pacific Northwest. And for those of us who suffer from allergies; thank you very much Captain Grant.
Scotch broom, waiting to sweep a wing.
SOLUTION: Our friends with their trusty bow-saw, or pruning shears. If you do get your wing or lines tangled in these horrendous demonic off-spring of that sea-going- idiot-botanist, Captain Grant, I implore you to carefully untangle. I’ve torn lines in an impatient display of frustration. I think its something to do with that adolescent brain taking over what should be a more mature fifty year old brain. Sometimes I’m a fine example of my gender.
HAZARD: There are several areas where old piles of rusted WWII barbed wire have been discarded over the cliff. These would wreak havoc on the human body and a paraglider.
SOLUTION: Know where these are before you fly. These piles of barbed wire are pretty obvious, but I would scout them out before flying. Just in case.
Barbed wire below launch.
HAZARD: The upper bench to the south of launch faces southwest. There is a not-so-visible nemesis that lurks in waiting for the unsuspecting. I call these little devils, para penetrating cacti. That’s the scientific name. The common name that I’ve overheard some of my paragliding cohorts call them is: what-are-cactus-doing-in-western-washington erosion repressors. Their two-inch spines are usually covered up by whatever the wind has blown their way; grasses, litter, dead leaves, bird feathers, one of my flying friend’s gloves. In the years I’ve been flying Whidbey these pretty little cacti have pretty much set up child-rearing across the face of the entire slope; prolific little green monsters! The species is actually called Biddle Cactus, a near relative of the Prickly-Pear Cactus. They’re very pretty when in bloom.
SOLUTION: Probably the safest bet for a side-hill bale out on this southwest facing slope would be a fresh slide area and only if the beach is covered by high tide. Use the beach if the tide is out.
HAZARD: Later in the spring, in the summer and fall there is a species of grass that dominates the launch and landing zone that seeks a nursery for its offspring. This grass has two inch spear-like spikelets that take up residency in your shoes and socks and bite at your skin as if you too soon will be growing fields of amber waves of grain. OUCH, these little mothers are really irritating and they can ruin a pair of Gore-Tex boots!
SOLUTION: I made a trip to REI and purchased some ankle high gators by OR. I prefer the spandex ones that snap at the top and hook onto your boot laces. They work wonders. Of course, in the beginning, I duct-taped plastic garbage bags over my socks and boots and that too works well, but makes a heck of a flapping racket in flight, and gives the general public a vision of you being a flying-bag-lady.
Mike never misses an opportunity for airtime.
HAZARD: Crowded conditions. It’s amazing how many pilots show up at Fort Ebey these past few years.
SOLUTION: The fact is that we all can fly there and it really doesn’t matter who was there first. It’s a state park, no one’s private property. On some days we have to share the air with RC glider pilots. Remember that their perspective of distance from the ground is different than ours is from the air. Give ‘em some room. With other paragliders, we just have to be sure to clear our turns and adhere to the ridge rules. Set up friendly dialogue with everyone. Communications can go a long way and is the key to diplomacy. I’ve had lots of really good conversations with many of the RC pilots. They all seem to be reasonable individuals. Accidents happen and it’s always a good idea to work out amicable solutions to prevent future incidents.
Our shared playground.
HAZARD: Erosion is a big problem along the shorelines of all the islands and it is a good idea to avoid all unnecessary activity on these fragile cliff faces that might encourage erosion.
Another chunk of earth, ready to drop from Fort Faultline.
SOLUTION: Each and every one of us needs to take responsibility and respect the signs that the Park authorities post. If we are respectful and responsible in our use of the park then it will be more likely that we will be able to continue flying there. If only a few of us recklessly abuse this fragile environment the whole paragliding community will lose; the paragliding at this pristine site will stop. The trail off the beach is at the south end of the launch and it’s recommended that we use that whenever we have to hike off the beach. If you are blown south and land on the spit hike the beach south to Ebey’s Landing – stay on the beach or the trails - and radio or telephone your buddies for a pick up. The time I was blown south to the spit my two friends kept flying, I didn’t have a mobile phone and my radio was dead. But I was certain they’d be coming for me. I walked all the way to Highway 20 and caught a bus back to the turnoff for Fort Ebey. The bus dropped me at Libby Road and as I began my hike for the Fort my good friends showed up in my car. It was dark and we headed for home. Make a contingency plan with your pals in case this happens to you.