Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Launching Into The New Year. By John Kraske

Other than ending 2008 with a speeding ticket from a Montesano City Cop on my standard route to the North Oregon Coast, last year ended up not too bad. My 2009 started out with some great flying fun on the Oregon Coast on January 2nd, having just sort of vegged away on the 1st, recovering from the mad I had going over being bagged by what I thought was a pretty deceptive way to raise funds for the municipality of Montesano, Washington. Heading down to Oregon to bring in the New Year, I exited highway 12 at Montesano. You come off of the highway 12 off ramp to get on hwy 107 (the Montesano Cut), stop at the stop sign then accelerate across the north bound lane to get in the south bound lane. Turns out the speed limit there is 25 mph, even though it is outside the main part of the town and almost immediately turns into a 55 mph zone. A modern form of highway robbery, sanctioned by the city of Montesano. A word of warning to all of you who might take the 107 cut to destinations south along the coast. Beware of the Montesano Municiple Bandits.

From my perch in a small cabin in Manzanita, January 1st was looking like a rainy, blustery day not fit for flying. Even the pelicans were hunkering down, earth bound. So, rather than chase around for some dry air and less chaotic winds, I chose to stay in and tap into my creative inner resources and produced a cream of watercress and pumpkin seed soup. It turned out pretty good and took the edge off my Montesano Mad-On.

Friday, the Second, looked a little more promising. The weather forecasts called for relatively light northwest winds. Just right for Cape Lookout, (also known as Andersons). I packed my gear and headed south. I drove my little civic thru several areas of high water over the road. At Tillamook I was detoured around a closed portion of highway 101 and got to the launch at Cape Lookout as 3 hang gliders were setting up. The western horizon looked pretty ominous and the wind was coming in a little cross from the southwest. One hang launched and was up and over Netarts Bay to the south and east in no time flat. It looked to me like he had taken a little left wing tip dip on his way off launch which made me a little concerned about cross rotor from the south. I waited with the other two hang pilots. One took off and the third just decided not to. I was hoping one of the local bag pilots would show up and show me the way. Brad and Maren finally arrived and collectively we decided to jam south to Kiwanda. The wind at Kiwanda was a little too light and cross from the west/northwest. We mulled around a bit and Brad set up on the west facing slope just south of the beach access road. Sledder. A definite launch for a west wind though. I had a wild hair to give Tierra Del Mar a chance and scratched my way back up that knarley-
assed-access road in my low riding civic.  

At Tierra I got my wing out and ready just in case. The western horizon was filled with squall lines that seemed to be hovering on the verge of a shoreline assault. I’d guess these ominous looking beasts were at least fifteen to twenty miles off shore. It was much darker to the southwest and you could see some blue, just a little, to the northwest. It looked to me like we would be getting some wind soon. I watched the trees and bushes to the east above the highway and they seemed to be moving in the winds a little more as time ticked on. I got on my phone and called Brad and Maren and suggested they come on back to Tierra. They were picking up Joe, one of the local hang pilots, who had launched from Cape Lookout earlier and had just landed south of Cape Kiwanda at the Pelican Brewery. Joe was just finishing up his first beer. I set up and hooked in just as KC and Dave arrived. I pulled my wing up and kited just to feel what I perceived was an increasing wind and a somewhat solid lift. Brad and Maren arrived so I opted to wind dummy. It felt to me like the lift was just right there on the border of ‘sink to the beach’ and ‘maybe scratch and up’. I got lucky and was soon soaring up and over the road, around the corner to the northwest facing bowl above the wetlands. I scratched around the corner hoping to find enough lift to achieve an altitude equal to the highest houses above in Nantucket-Shores development. I didn’t quite make my goal and swung back around the point and came into land just as everyone else was clipping in. A couple more CPC pilots showed up and pretty soon there were six to eight wings in the air.

Tierra Del Mar is just a mile or so north of Cape Kiwanda with a west facing pine tree shrouded sand cliff that varies in height and direction as it runs south to Cape Kiwanda. This ridge, I’d guess, is anywhere from sixty to a hundred plus feet in height. The launch at TDM is about thirty or forty feet above the beach. Normally TDM works on a west wind, but due to the cold dense air on this day it worked with a Northwest wind.

Soaring south along this ridge there’s a Northwest facing bowl just north of the beach access road to Kiwanda, and a little rock cape that sticks out to the west. Flying from the north I could see the pine trees whipping at the top of the ridge and knew there’d be lift. It was like hitting a brick wall. The lift band stopped my downwind momentum dead and shot me vertical like a rocket. A little decerning but way fun once I got used to it, and a great place to get some altitude. From several hundred feet above the beach I attempted to run south to Kiwanda but kept turning back to check my penetration. A couple of the CPCers flew down to the Cape and back again. Because the wind was fluxuating in velocity and those ever threatening squalls loomed large on the western horizon I didn’t get all the way down to the Cape. I did cross the access road a couple of times but before I got too far away from Tierra I would check my forward penetration back to the north. At one point I just about didn’t make it. I guess I’m getting lazy and didn’t want to hike off the beach. Especially after flipping Brad sh_ _ for sinking out, after he gave me the raspberries about putting my Niviuk wing in a garbage-bag (my technique for protection from rain squalls during squall surfing days). Brad suggesting that Niviuk are garbage wings, I couldn’t help by respond with, “we’ll see.” Brad flies Ozone (to the beach, I might add). Just good fun banter with flying friends. Still I didn’t want to eat any of that stuff I had fed to Brad earlier. I did get some nice photos of Brad on the beach though. Besides, I’d never presume to be a better beach pilot than Brad, so it must be the wing. Or, maybe it was just my lucky garbage bag.

I’d say we had well over an hour of flying time before the winds picked up. Out on the western horizon I’d watched numerous squalls build into what looked suspiciously like forming cyclones. These little virga monsters would dance along the horizon, looking like they were anxious for an attack on any foolish two-leggeds attempting to be flying creatures. Once the wind became too threatening I headed in to land. Dave on his higher performance wing landed after me coming in deep on full speed bar. Tierra Del Mar is a slightly sloped bench that drops vertically about thirty to forty feet to the beach. The horizontal bench that serves as the launch runs from the west/northwest facing cliff face back about a hundred yards and is covered with waist to shoulder deep Scotch Broom. Dave’s approach was a little dicey and he took a pretty large frontal but pulled out of it just as he hit the tangle weeds. Brad suggested that he come in on “ears” instead. A reduced angle of attack in rotor will almost certainly make a wing more vulnerable to a frontal colapse. Obviously.

With the wind amping up everyone decided to head for Kiwanda and some sand soaring. I opted to head north and give Joe the hang pilot a ride back to his rig at Cape Lookout. On our way north there were a bunch of emergency vehicles with lights flashing just north of Tierra Del Mar. Apparently they were responding to a hang glider that had gone down in the woods east of TDM. Joe got on his radio. The downed pilot was okay and was hiking out. Tomorrow was another day, forecast to be southwest winds with a ten to twenty percent less chance of rain than this day. I was thinking Neahkahnie or Ecola.

The morning of January 3 waxed blue with beautifully feathered waves breaking along the beach at Manzanita. My inner surfer wished I had brought along my surfboard or surf shoe. The winds were blowing offshore but were forecast to switch to southwest. I bundled up and walked the beach to the base of Neahkahnie. A beautiful morning. After my hike I touched base by phone with several of the local pilots. It turned out I was the site scout designee. Several Portland pilots were opting for Oceanside. Ancil’s car was in the shop and he wouldn’t be coming. I called Brad and Maren who were possibly going to hit Ecola or maybe Neahkahnie, depending on my reports. Kim Smith had called me earlier and was on his way down with Cathy, but were opting for Oceanside. We’d be in touch. By eleven o’clock I was at Neahkahnie with wind blowing directly into launch, but cranking at over 14 mph. I rushed up to Ecola. The wind was a great direction, but nuking at up to 20 mph. I made my phone reports to everybody. Kim Smith reported light south winds at Oceanside with Reed setting up to launch. I made the hour plus long drive south. The flood waters from the day before had subsided and it was a clean shot all the way to Oceanside. Just as I rounded the curves and came into view of Maxwell Mountain (the launch) two yellow wings were descending to the beach. Too south and maybe too light, I thought. I parked at launch and walked out to watch Sarge launch and lift on his bright orange Airwave. I dashed back to my little civic and pulled my garbaged-bagged Niviuk Artik out and was in hot pursuit of Sarge. Pretty soon there were about ten wings in the air. Sarge got cold and headed for the beach. I came in and top landed which was a piece of cake in the laminar six to ten mph south wind. Cathy Smith was setting up to launch but was feeling a little “new site anxiety” and taking her time. She let me go ahead of her and I was soon soaring once again. What a beautiful day! I cranked out one more top landing and launched again. By now I was the only wing in the air. I soared around for awhile, enjoying the view then decided to head for the beach. I was beginning to feel the catabatic influence setting up. I landed on the beach and bummed a seat with the CPC pilots back up to fetch my little civic. Only about an hour long window of flying on Saturday, but hey, it doesn’t get any better than that on the second and third days of a new year.

Sunday the Cascade Paragliding Club pilots had an hour long window flying at Cliffside on the Columbia River. I had a ten hour road trip adventure in the pounding snow. Driving up the Washington side of the Columbia to Willapa Bay I was turned back at Raymond by the county cops. Highway 101 was closed going north. I opted for State Route 6, a dark and windy stretch between Raymond and Chehalis. I creeped along at 25 mph in the driving snow. Just another adventure to cap off the beginning of 2009. By all accounts, it looks like its going to be a good year.

Photos courtesy of John Kraske
[Pelicans hunkering down]
[Jim Baldo above Nantucket Shores development]
[Neahkahnie from the beach]
[Hang Glider launching at Cape Lookout]