Thursday, March 10, 2011

Costa Rica

By Joanne Blanchard

Sometimes when touring around other countries, especially not-so-affluent countries, the challenges aren’t so much in the flying. What gets your heart pumping and palms sweating is the stuff going on while being a mere ground-trotting tourist like everyone else.

Cort Montague - Our Spanish language expert
       That’s Costa Rica. And really, it would help to know something of the native languages, something more effective than arm waving or currency waving, which works pretty well but tends to reinforce the American stereotype.

       When our diverse group of 17 hit the road in San Jose, Costa Rica in February, 2010, for a tour of the Pacific coast, we bragged of the big air we knew we’d spend all day, every day in. We loaded four rental vehicles, laughed, partied, hit the road. And pulled over. And turned around. And turned around again. We must have been a real spectacle by then because a local motorcycle Policia with blue light flashing, led us far enough out of town that we could not possibly return by the end of his shift.

Rich Hass at Dominacal, Costa Rica
       Everyone knows the harrowing experience of highway driving in such areas. But half a day later, at the hotel in Dominical, our vehicle doors flew open, the empty cans fell out, and we followed. Fearless, we were ready, in the morning, for a flying site discovered a couple of years ago by Rick Hubbard and Mike Freeman. Two mountain launches look over a valley and then an ocean to die for. Well, you could die for it if not conscious of the riptides and occasional wayward crocodile. Swimming and surfing was outstanding on water safe days.

Michael Freeman
       But we came to fly and that’s exactly what we took our 2WD overloaded van with wimpy tires to upper launch to do. Until we couldn’t get there. And we weren’t about to send one of the other three 4WD rigs through that swampy, slippery wet almost-a-road trail when we could let two local macho tree smugglers in an ancient Toyota four-wheeler pull the van free. (Here’s where some currency waving was completely legitimate).

Looks good.  You go first! - Tom Allen, Rich Hass, and Mike Brand
      Dominical’s launches are short, flat, with steep drop off, and a challenge in very light wind. But we all ridge soared and made either the soccer field or the beach. Fantastic, gorgeous place…until the local madman comes with a long stick and a short temper, making threats and prohibiting us from flying near his home or landing on the public beach. Yeah, whatever, we’ve heard that before.

Tom Allen
      We were assured by other locals not to be concerned and we were scheduled, anyway, to move north to Jaco Beach. A modernized, congested town, Jaco is popular with tourists and Costa Ricans from San Jose, who make the weekend trek for swimming and lounging. There’s no soliciting like “buy this, buy this” - a relief - but the other form of solicitation is legal and accepted….. Just a side note, no relevance to anything.

Joanne Blanchard
      From Jaco, we enjoyed flying Caldera, an hour north at a private home. A pilot offers his patio seating and large, manicured cliff launch for $5-10/day. Mid-day conditions are typically quite strong but flyable for some, and tapering to 10-12 for sweet glass off into glowing sunsets, landing at the beach below. Fresh seafood dinners were excellent everywhere. How about stopping for a coconut, hacked open with a machete and a straw inserted?

Tom Allen - Caldera, Costa Rica
       The non-pilots in our group toured native reserves, sat poolside, did the hang by your feet zip line and hand fed the crocodiles. Okay, they didn’t do that. But they did have a good time. Some earned 5 continuing education credits in Drivers Training, with extra credit for willingness to carry insurance in Costa Rica: How to load a GPS and load a cooler; Driving 2WD likes it’s 4WD; Traversing steep mountain terrain - Practicing the Hail Mary and Our Father; What to pay local machete-yielding gate keepers; and How to locate most XC pilots most days. Others earned 1 Phys Ed Credit for Ocean Swimming: Judging water safety conditions relative to alcohol consumption; The aggressive swim stroke technique while in a riptide; and Sharing the ocean with crocodiles - volunteer participation only.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The 2011 Oceanside Open Fly-In

by John Kraske

High over Maxwell Mt., Oceanside Fly-In Sunday 2010 – Photo by John Kraske

 The Annual Oceanside Open Fly-In is the longest standing foot launch free flight event in the northwest. Originally it was called the Oceanside Races back in the late 1970's when it was frequented by twenty to thirty hang gliders that had glide ratios of not much more than 3 to 1. Today's hang gliders have glide ratios of up to 17 to 1 or more. That's technology. In the late 80's this event was opened up to include the fledgling paraglider pilots, endeared back then by hang pilots as "bag monkeys". The glide ratios of early paragliders were still greater than the first generation hangs, but not by much.

This year's event is being hosted by the Portland based Cascade Paragliding Club with participants coming from all over the Northwest and Canada. Over seventy-five participants were registered for the 2010 event, but not many from the Seattle area. It seems a scheduling conflict drew most of our pilots to the Beach-In event at Lake Chelan. Events at Oceanside are scheduled with the tides in mind. High tide often can eliminate the landing zone.

When the forecasters predict varying percentages of rain it has often stymied many pilots from attending, however, when 60% rain is forecasted for the coast, that percentage of rain can come in a matter of an hour or less, leaving the rest of the day rain free. More important is wind direction. South, southwest, west, northwest and west winds and all directions in between can produce some darned good flying in one of the many sites within an hour of Oceanside.

"Squall surfing" is a term I use for flying the low lying dunes when the west wind is cranking, being driven by approaching squalls. The air is smooth and it can be a joyful challenge testing the various wind textures as it reflects off the various sized and shaped west-facing dunes that spread out for miles on the sand spits that create Tillamook, Netarts and Nestucca Bays. It's a good idea to carry a quick-cinch bag or large plastic garbage bag to quickly stuff your gear in. As a squall approaches it pushes wind in front of it. If you're in the air it's a good idea to get down and bag your wing. With a squall comes rain. Usually, once the squall passes, so goes the rain and we are left with smooth clean air to play in.

Last year we had squall surfing at its best on Saturday. Sunday the sky cleared and Oceanside was epic smooth.

Ross Jacobson flying outside of Rosanna's Café in Oceanside. When the wind is strong we launch and land from the vacant lot next to Rosanna's – photo by John Kraske

Two years ago I took second place in the out and back category. Dave Cantrell had gone to the valley and flown from Sollie Smith out to the Tillamook Cheese Factory and back again. Last year Brad Hill took the honors by flying several passes between Tierra Del Mar and Cape Kiwanda. That was on Saturday and what a day it was.

Cape Kiwanda on Saturday of the 2010 Oceanside Fly-In
The 2011 Oceanside Open will be held on Easter weekend this year, the 23rd and 24th of April. The event is low tide dependent and there's a good chance you'll see a flying Easter Bunny or two.

Regardless of the weather the Portland based foot launch free flight pilots are as friendly, helpful and fun loving gathering of folk as you'd want to meet and Oceanside is as spectacular a setting as anywhere along the West Coast.

If you'd like to register for this event you can go to to sign up. For more information contact Mark Sanzone at or call him at (503) 292-1753. There is no pre-payment but the sponsors would appreciate a head count prior to the event. The registration fee, payable at the event, is $35.00 and includes a pilot gift, dinner Saturday night and awards. Non Pilot guests are $15.00.

I generally reserve some large beach houses and share the expenses. For the weekend I charge $300.00 for couples and $200.00 for singles and I provide a couple of bushels of fresh oysters from Netarts Bay. These houses have nice private bedrooms, ocean views with all the bells whistles and alarms included. We usually ask everyone to bring a potluck dish or some such contribution to the feeding frenzy that usually occurs. If you'd like to join us this year call me at (425) 890-1312 or email me at The rentals go fast for this event so I must have a cut off and a $100.00 deposit no later than April 2nd.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

A Blanchard, spring is coming, day!

By John Kraske

Got a good view of my shadow in the glory hole above.  What magic!  I was the first to launch after the sun starting kicking up thermals.  I had  quite a few coaches yelling out, "I see thermals coming up", "the birds are going up", "the streamer is a little cross, now it's coming straight in", etc.  I always appreciate a team of launch coaches, but lean toward following my own inner guide. I offered up my spot to anyone who was ready to go.  Everyone declined.  I guess I was going to be the "wind dummy".  I was waiting for the trees on the sw corner to move in sync with the ground cover at the front of launch.  I picked my cycle after a couple failed attempts to pull up.  All my selected indicators looked good.  My wing felt solid overhead, and I was off, turned to the right, nabbed a thermal and tracked it across and over launch. Lost it, and turned back to the west and followed our feathered friends above, tracking to the northeast.  Wind Dummy, up and away.  The hordes were following.  The sky clearing a little; bluing up.  It was a little edgy and wild at first but later settled into a nice smooth pattern. I guess those dark waters of the bay and mud flats had been collecting the day's slow heating and were anxious to let'm go. Those babies came up with vile determination that rocked my world and made me want to cinch in my chest strap.  But I couldn't let go of my toggles without getting rocked.  Edgy little bastardo's! And, I was feeling a little rusty having not flown for more than a week. Soon the surrounding air was filled with bright colored rags, spread from out over the bay to high over the top of Blanchard and the coastline and hills to the north.  Muted shadows of wings were disappearing in the marine layer and clouds.  I picked a blue hole between two active looking grays and found a pathway to heaven.  It's cold there ya know.  I was tempted to push for a xc north and figured I could easily make the valley at Alger if the lift quit.  The lakes were gorgeous and the lift was diminishing with wings heading for the lz.  Ross had top landed and I heard Steve Forslund on my radio imploring me to get his truck. He was flying for Edison and a landing near the LongHorn.  His truck was parked on top so I abandoned my thoughts of an xc to give it a go.  I figured there'd be one chance.  I missed it.  I was the last wing in the sky.  Over an hour of cloud dancing and my fingers were like pop cycle sticks.  Before launching I thought, 'if I put hand warmers in my gloves I'll have a short sledder.  If I leave them out, I'll have a long flight.'  It worked.  My fingers didn't.  Big ears at launch would have saved me the shuttle time back up, but - hey - if I'd have grabbed any of my lines, my fingers would have shattered in a million bits.

Brewski's, grins and giggles at the Longhorn was a nice way to end the day.  Early March just doesn't get any better than that here in the Pacific Northwest.  Well, an afterthought, Kathy could have been there flying tandem with me.  I'm sure I wouldn't have been nearly as cold.

I hear it was good at Tiger too.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Vol Biv in the Himalayas

by Matty Senior

This year we had an awesome tour in Nepal. Decent weather (flying everyday) and some great flights had by many. Michelle Zeidman a new Pilot flying a DHV 1 managed to get around the Greenwall and back to Pokhara on 2 separate occasions. Heather St Clair flying a 1/2 had an impressive flight going around the Greenwall and back twice in one day. For those not familiar with the Pokhara area the Greenwall is an XC flying destination north of Pokhara at the base of the Himalayan Range some of which is over 8000meters high. The Greenwall is steep forested terrain that has a series of awesome spins that all kick off 1000fpm+ thermals. Flying from Pokhara around the Greenwall and back completes a 25 km Triangle.

Michelle on her way back from the Greenwall
After the tour this year Steve Pieniak and I planned on doing a bit of flying together. No real set plan just a bunch of ideas of possible flights coupled with the idea that we wanted to fly out, top land some mountains, camp out and fly off the next day. After everyone left we had a few days of OK weather where we did some SIV and flew locally around the valley, then it rained and we lost a day with no flying. As the rain departed the atmosphere was scrubbed clear and we were rewarded with a crystal clear view of the Himalayas. Normally when this happens we get a series of kick ass flying days so we pack some food, some water and a sleeping bag each and we set off into the mountains to fly with no real destination in mind.

Steve flying in front of Fishtail Mountain
With clear skies, beautiful mountain views and the thought of some bivy flying it didn't take much convincing to get Brad Sander to join us on our little adventure. On the 17th of Feb the 3 of us launched from Sarangkot and headed north to the big mountains. Crossing the Seti river we flew to the Greenwall climbing to around 2300meters, from there we headed west towards Korchon and a thermal we call the "hand of God", continuing further west to the Dhampus Greenwall we decided to search around for a top landing high enough on the mountain so we could get an early start the following day. After about 20 minutes of looking we found a nice SE facing grassy terrace at 1800meters where we all top landed within 50 feet of one another. That night we enjoyed the hospitality of the locals who bought us Chia (Nepali tea) warm glasses of Buffalo milk and some Dhal Bart (rice and lentils). Brad and I slept in our sleeping bags covered by our gliders and enjoyed a warm good night’s sleep. Steve tested out his warm flight suit theory after finding his new sleeping bag was to small and froze getting no sleep.

On the morning of the 18th we woke to the most amazing view of the Himalayas, a fire and warm buffalo milk. That day we flew north in a direction none of us had flown before and pushed around a huge SW facing bowl that was in the shade. Following Brads lead both Steve and I were amazed to find smooth dynamic lift that took us to 3000meters. Crossing a N-S facing spine we flew over to the sunny side of the ridge playing with and avoiding some small cumulus clouds that were forming beneath us. From there we flew back to Pokhara to restock with supplies, a new sleeping bag for Steve and formulate a new plan to take advantage of the nice weather and clear skies.

Brad coming out of the clouds
Stocked with food, water and a new sleeping bag our new plan was to travel by jeep to Sirkot 32 km south of Pokhara the following morning and fly from there to Kathmandu approximately 150km over 3 days and 2 night. Arriving at Sirkot on the morning of the 19th the day looked good but the base low. Potentially to low for guaranteed transitions. So for the first few climbs we all took turns at stuffing ourselves in the clouds for a couple of hundred meters before gliding north. This worked great and by the time we were on the 3 climb base had lifted and we didn't need to push into the clouds.
Flying past Pokhara the conditions continued to improve but it began to OD to the north so we landed just past our goal in a good position for the following day. Again we all landed safely in the same spot on top of a mountain. Perfect!

After we packed our gliders and savored a warm can of Heineken we collected fire wood and enjoyed a the hospitality of Meem Gurung who’s land we landed on. Meem lives there with his wife and one son. They only have to go to town once every couple of mouths to buy salt, oil and soap. Everything else they produce themselves. After a warm night’s sleep under our gliders we again woke to a breathtaking view of the Himal, and a warm cup of Chia brought to us in bed by Meems wife as the sun broke the horizon.

Steve on launch
The day of the 20th the sky looked good and the clouds began to form early. Starting early and moving through the sky fairly efficiently we past our goal for the day at around 1pm, flying another 40km past our goal we found another great place to land this time at 2200meters again we all top landed safely together around 3:30pm.

More than 75 km to the east of where we slept the night before we were rewarded the following morning with a fantastic view of the Garnesh Range of the Himal a section I had never seen before. Unfortunately within an hour of sunrise our route in front of us began to OD. Again we launched early this time to try and beat the over development but it shut us down about 12 km into the flight and 20km short of our goal. From there we glided back to wide valley and landed safely before the thunder started.

This is only a very brief description of our adventure but the highlights for me were the interactions we had with the people that lived in the mountains, the fact that all three nights we were all able to land, sleep and relaunch from exactly the same spot and the fact that there is always next year to try it again.

Steve’s flights can be viewed here:

Matty’s flights can be viewed here:

C.J. and George travel to Nepal

C.J. has shared her fantastic scrapbook of their trip to Nepal. Be sure to click on the pages and get a close up view.

C.J. and George travel to Nepal

Dispatches from Singapore

Lynn and Kingsley Wood are living in Singapore but recently vacationed in Nepal. Here are some links to Lynn Wood's blog.

Nepal Paragliding


Nepal Parahawking

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Sloggin’ Through the Blog

by Murdoch Hughes

I couldn’t stop laughin’. Chris Amonson elected/appointed/volunteered (whatever) to write the NWPC Blog? Chris’ idea of a flyin’ report is: “We drove, we flew, we drove some more”. Chris is nothing if not succinct. (Weird word, succinct.)

Anyway, Chris asked me to kind of keep everyone up to date on flyin’ in the North End. (Ed.’s note: in deference to Chris’ premium on brevity, I’m droppin’ most of the g’s at the end of the ing words, and that will make it seem like brief dialogue or somethin’ somethin’. Doesn’t really matter because no one reads blogs any more…that’s so ’09.

Okay, but this is supposed to be about Northend flyin’, and it is because, hey, it’s winter and this is what we do in winter, flyin’-wise. Nothin’. Especially this winter, with the friggin’ little baby bi#%h throwin’ its little tantrum of lousy weather at us for goin’ on 7 months now.

We still managed to do some standin’ around on Blanchard launch waitin’ for a break in the friesen rain. (No it’s not misspelled, according to Ernie and Beth.) My flyin’ buddy, Sid, lives on the north end of Big Lake (which really isn’t that big). So he drives over to the Blanchard LZ pretendin’ to have somethin’ to do since he’s retired now. And he calls me up and says, “It’s lookin’ good, c’mon up, it’s a bit foggy but that should clear up by the time you get here”. It’s not that he’s lyin’, but in winter his glasses fog up and he thinks that’s the weather. I know all that but I go anyway, because standin’ around on launch is always fun with Sid.

Sid’s an artist. True, it’s set in concrete, which is an unusual medium (or extra large, in Sid’s case). But he’s a true artist with it. He can actually make concrete look like fake wood.

Anyway, we’re standin’ around on Blanchard launch, wonderin’ aloud how our Northend flyin’ buddies are doin’ down there in Costa Rica with the 100% humidity, giant cannibal bugs and endless Toucan escapees from Dizzy World. Just the image of all those nearly naked old pilots gives me the shudders. No thanks to that. I’d much rather stand around friesen on launch talkin’ to Sid and hopin’ for a wet sledder.
So Sid says, “I’m thinkin’ of buildin’ me an ultralight.”

Of course I immediately think of those concrete sailboats from the sixties that people made in their backyards. I saw one when we were sailing in the Sea of Cortez, that looked like it was made by a sleepy third grader out of papier-mâché (I don’t know…ask Spell-check, or the editor). It had a blunt rounded bow and tapered to the stern, and looked like a whale that same kid might have made out of the same stuff.
So I’m thinkin’(which is what I’m best at) that Sid’s concrete ultralight made to look like imitation wood just might work. Sure there were probably a few small details to work out, like weight, because I’m pretty sure they weren’t thinkin’ of concrete, imitation or otherwise, when they named those things ultralights. But that crazy (like a fox in heat) Howard Hughes guy did build a bomber out of wood, so Sid’s would only have to fly once and then he could put it in some museum and charge folks a dollar just to see it.

So I said, “Sidley, I think you’ve got somethin’ there. We could sell the idea to the Defense Department. They spend billions, maybe trillions now, on stuff that never works.”

Then a break in the rain came and we quick set up to launch, but then the rain started again and we had to pack back up and go home. We never did get to finish the conversation, but if you’re drivin’ to Blanchard this spring, don’t be surprised if you see an ultralight fly over you that looks like a whale made out some kind of imitation wood.

Next weeks Blog title: “Why pipefitters don’t fly hang gliders”, and the one after that is about how “Delvin and the Beanstalk” traded his cows for flying a paraglider.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011


By Chris Amonson

February 20th was a Sunday, and looked like it might flyable someplace local. Both Tiger Mtn and Blanchard had favorable forecasts. Tiger looked better to many a pilot, and better even by my check of the weather. However Patricia and I decided Blanchard was the place to be on a sunny light south wind day. I called Ernie and Beth Friesen and hatched a plan. We would meet in the LZ at noon.

The LZ was sunny but far from warm. The field looked damp, very damp with standing water in the low spots. A heron hunted frogs in one corner of the field. Almost no wind and what wind there was came lightly out of the east. We piled into the truck and headed up.

Reaching the top I was welcomed by a vast expanse of glistening mud. The tide is out and the flats are baking in the winter mid day sun. This is a good sign as decent lift is often produced when the returning tide slowly inundates the flats. On launch it was definitely south, not too strong but a few degrees out of the east making me slightly nervous. Several hangs arrive and begin to set up. Some high clouds moving in threatening to dampen our spirits and suppress what lift there is. Joel, a long time hang from the north end, got up to launch and as he waited for a good cycle I spot a local. A bald eagle, thermaling up from the edge of the clear cut below. This restores my view of the conditions out there. Joel launches and slowly makes his way over and above launch. Soon Beth and Patricia join him, tracking the thermals to the north, looking like they are having a great time. Ernie and I eventually get off the hill after some futzing around.

So this is my first flight with a new harness. Between all the adjusting and clipping of buckles, four buckles just for the flight deck!, I am the last off. Immediately upon launching I notice that the flight deck is press up against my chest, the radio antenna is poking me in the nose, and my feet are up in the air so I can't see what is out in front of me. Fortunately there is abundant lift out in front and I can still hear the vario muffled in my jacket. I set about getting some altitude before sorting this mess out.

After some adjustment and making sure my heated gloves are on I settle in to do some flying. The views are great, water, islands, and green fields. Patricia and I make a few turns together above launch. All together a beautiful day with great lift taking us several hundred feet above the hill with ease. It is very cold and Patricia eventually heads out to land and warm up.

I hang around for a while and spot an eagle climbing again from the bottom of the clear cut. I glide over to join in, arriving a couple hundred feet over her. I surmise that she is female been the larger of the two adult eagles flying at Blanchard that day, then again I could be totally wrong. We thermal up, tracking the lift which is now drifting from the west down low and from the south above a shear level, she cocks her head at me as we turn. When she banks over I can see the soft feathers of her belly ruffle in the wind. As I turn tighter to stay in the lift so does she, her wingtips spread wide with an occasional powerful stroke. I don't know if she stays with me because I'm on the best part of the thermal or if she is just curious about this clumsy object following her around. Evidently only part of her attention is on me and she heads east to fly with three other eagles. I follow and join her in another thermal before she outpaces me. I head back to launch where more of the nylon and string variety of locals have arrived. Also Patricia, Ernie and Beth are back for another round. Everyone launches in turn and for a while the sky is busy.

I spent some air-time with several different feathered critters on that flight. Two adult bald eagles who didn't seem to mind sharing a thermal, two juveniles who kept their distance and a small falcon too fast for me to identify. This is one of the most amazing parts of flying for me. For days, or weeks I think about those brief moments of contact with these birds in their own element. How many people get to experience this and how hard it is for me to describe the event. Somehow momentous for me but likely just a brief interlude between fishy snacks for the typical bald eagle.

The cold temperature and weakening lift eventually lead me to the LZ. I join the crowd of good natured north-end pilots who came to fly Blanchard this day. Blanchard Mountain occasionally produces amazing conditions for flying, usually in the spring when the unstable southern systems are moving through the northwest. An even more rare condition is created by a westerly push producing lift far out over the water and if the wind is persistent the lift can last many hours. Just as I finish packing up the President landed. The President of the Northwest Paragliding Club, who while visiting family in the area convinced them to visit Blanchard mountain to take in the view…yeah right.

Sensitive Chaos

John Kraske

Sensitive Chaos is the mixing of elements that takes place and causes what we refer to as “rowdy conditions” while flying. It’s also the title of a book I recommend to all of my students. Sensitive Chaos by Theodore Schwenk is a great coffee table book about the elements of wind and water current, not a book that is necessarily about flying, but a book that will lend you an understanding of the infinite and finite elements that sometimes create everything from “butter milk” flying to “rodeo air survival” soaring, and everything in between.

Kathy and I just spent a glorious thirteen days in tropical Yelapa, Mexico where the paragliding is often not much more than the frosting on the cake of a vacation of unparalleled social and geographical magic. Breeching whales and slithering boa-constrictors, basking iguanas, darting blue/green macaws, soaring frigates and turkey vultures, marvelous food, unique music and some paragliding from two different launches; Yelapa Tapa at 2,000 feet MSL and Yelapa Tapita at 630 feet MSL. This year we only took a one day break from flying. Most of our flights from Tapa and Tapita were little more than extended sledders. The weather was cooler than normal but started warming over the past few days of our stay. And, the last few days we had our best flights. Last year my best flights were from Tapa. This year we caught a couple of days of pre-frontal conditions that produced some epic Tapita flights. Tuesday, February 22nd we hiked the 20 minutes up Shit Creek to Tapita and got Kathy set up to launch in some pretty steady straight in wind of about ten to twelve mph. It was about 1:30 when Kathy took to the air. With a grand total of sixty some flights under her belt of about half are solo, Kathy was on her way up right off of launch. “Relax and get comfortable.” Was my radioed suggestion. Still going up, she didn’t look all that relaxed. “Relax Babe.” I suggested. “Cross your ankles. Let the weight of your arms hang. Let your wing fly. Don’t fight it.” Yeah, right. The next thing I see is a 75% right side frontal. “Hands up!” Still I’m attempting calm. Yeah, I’m knotting up inside as I clip in to launch. “Relax Babe, it’s looking good out there. Enjoy your flight and let your wing fly.”

Yelaps Tapa launch is just to the right of the light colored paraglider. Photo by John Kraske February 2010.

Yelapa Tapita launch @ 630’ MLS

Apparently during one of the many pilot induced collapses, Kathy had inadvertently bumped the volume on her radio down and wasn’t hearing my broadcasts to stay out in front of the launch and out of the mouth of the river valley. “Kathy, please stay out in front and to the left of launch. Stay out of the venturi, that valley can suck you right upstream where you don’t want to go today.” She apparently wasn’t listening. I flew to her and shouted for her to get back over launch which she did. She was relaxing more and wasn’t experiencing any more collapses. We were testing her bump tolerance, and she was definitely dissuading other pilots from flying. Although conditions were settling somewhat and Kathy seemed to be enjoying her flight and seemed to have relaxed some still only two visiting pilots joined us in the air. Peter and Mike, both from Oregon were having a challenging time of getting off launch but once in the air seemed to be having a grand time. I was settling in and enjoying the air. Scanning about I’d lost visual of Kathy. “Ah shit, she’s gone down…” was my immediate thought. Finally I picked her red and orange wing out of the dark green background beneath her. She had flown into the river valley and it looked to me like might be setting up for a light wind approach to the beach. Not a good idea. I was on my radio asking her to kick her legs if she could hear me. She could. I didn’t bother asking her what it is she didn’t understand about my early instruction to not fly into the valley. I’d save that for later when were on terra firma. “Babe, fly cross wind to your left the back again 180 degrees to your right. Good, just like that. You wanna be high on your final…” She pulled it off and just barely got her forth successful spot landing. Turned out it was an hour long rodeo ride for Kathy’s longest soaring flight in Yelapa. I continued to fly for a half hour longer until I too joined her on the beach. It took me the full extra thirty minutes just to settle my emotions. Mike and Peter continued flying as Kathy and I hugged, had a little ground school session on venturi, rotor, ridge lift, percolating thermal activity and “sensitive chaos”.

So, here’s what happens: It’s not just black and white. Not just wind hitting a vertical surface or the sun’s heat warming the ground, the ground warming the air and thermals going up and with the wind. It’s much more complicated. It is “Sensitive Chaos”.

Cold air moves to warm. I like the analogy of a soldering iron heating metal and drawing flux and solder into the metal. A cooler material being drawn into the warmer material. Same happens geo-physically. For instance in the evening as the land begins to cool below the temperature of the ocean a breeze begins to blow from the mountains to the sea. In paragliding we call this a catabatic flow. I like to think of it as the cat creeping down from the mountains to the sea. As the land mass gets colder relative to the temperature of the ocean that offshore flow gains momentum. In the early morning the catabatic flow can continue until, with the rising of the sun, the land mass begins warming and the cat slows its approach to the sea. Finally the land gets warmer than the sea. This is when we begin to experience “anabatic” or onshore flow. Now the sea is cooler than the land.

Now let’s consider the shapes and angles of the land mass where it meets the sea. There are numerous vertical slopes, variable directions of canyons and valleys, ridges and conical shaped mounds. All of these have variable effects and dictates on the volumes of moving air masses in relations to the terrain. Earlier in the day, as the winds change from one direction to another it can be like a slow churning blender. On the ground there are varying shades and colors of ground. There are trees and bushes that hold cooler air. There are open plowed fields that tend to heat more rapidly than the treed and brush covered slopes. There is the light colored sand beaches that tend to reflect the sun’s heat or darker colored fields that heat more quickly than the beach but can sometimes generate thermic activity more rapidly than the lighter colored fields and slopes. Early as the wind changes all of these factors; colors, shapes, direction, wind velocity, fluctuation in wind velocity and direction, all these elements lend to the chaos. As the day warms air density decreases, as does the resistance of lesser density. As the day progresses all these elements are looking to blend and form a constant pattern of consistency. As the air cools post afternoon, air density increases, these elements develop a more cooperative relationship which lends a more smooth and pleasant ride.

Another variable I failed to mention is opinion and I’m pretty sure that there are lots of opinions and experiences to add to the chaos of mine.

Our last full day in Yelapa Kathy and I flew tandem. Same good pre-frontal conditions on Wednesday as there were on Tuesday. We launched a little bit later than we had wanted as we had a surprise visit from our friend Bob McCormick at our Palapa which is about a third of the way up Shit Creek to Yelapa Tapita (the 630’ launch). We had a great visit and heard a phenomenal story that warmed both our hearts and endeared us that much more to Yelapa. On our hike to launch it seemed that the winds were backing off. “Perhaps”, I thought, “the weather front that was pushing the winds our way had passed by.” We took to the air at about 4:30 p.m. and flew for over an hour. My goal was to top the conical shaped, jungle covered hill behind and above launch and see what more we could achieve. Our dear friend, Dinaldo, was going to join us for dinner at seven and we had some cooking and cleaning to do before. We soared with turkey vultures, a white masked osprey, frigate birds and the beautifully blue-green colored macaws that darted through the air all around us. We viewed the whales at play just outside the bay. I demonstrated the proper high wind landing approach to Kathy and we were on the beach with enough time to make some final purchases for dinner, get on up Shit Creek in time for a couple of showers and our final dinner in Yelapa.

Kathy and I will be hosting a Yelapa Tour in 2012. We’ll plan it to include the Valentine’s Day Costume Party – the biggest celebration of the year in Yelapa – and will encourage our guests to costume up. It’s fun. We are currently negotiating some group rates at some fine beach view units with all the whistles, bells and alarms, even a clothes washing machine. Full WiFi is currently being installed. I’ve been visiting Yelapa since 1996, pre-electricity era. With the assistance of our local friends we have targeted all the best deals available; taxi service and how much to pay, all the fine eateries in Yelapa, kayak rentals, horseback riding, our friend Pamela is an exceptionally talented Salsa dance instructor, there are yoga classes, cooking classes, Spanish classes and, of course, paragliding, hiking, waterfalls, fishing, scuba, snorkeling. I’ll contact Brad Gunnuscio who has been conducting maneuvers clinics in Yelapa for anyone wanting to include some time with him. Les also offers tow ups when they’re not engaged in clinics. So, mark out a couple of weeks next February and we’ll get all the costs down and hopefully you can join us in Magical Yelapa, Mexico.

Contact: or phone (425) 890-1312

Saddle at Sunset

By Dave Norwood

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Goat or Not A Goat Kiona Ridge

December 19, 2010


John Kraske

Friday, was the week before Christmas Eve 2010, and I sounded “General Quarters” - Forgive me if I fall back into my shipboard military jargon - Saturday was “Battle Stations”, “All hands on deck” so to speak. With electrical power restored after a gusty Friday night, I alerted some of my air horny mates that either Saddle Mountain or Kiona Ridge was showing some promise for Sunday.

After a 3 p.m. phone call Saturday to my friend Dave Norwood, eastside flyability forecast guru extraordinaire, the word was out. Kiona would be our best bet. Saddle was looking to be too strong by late morning with a high probability of snow showers. Kiona looked perfect [1] with the chance of snow backing off at 11:00 and blue sky by 2:00. No more snow in the forecast until after 5:00. It was looking good for a window of late December foot launch aviation between 11:00 a.m. and dark. Dave posted his predictions with wind from the north at 18 to 25 mph.

I was thinking, Saddle would definitely be blown out. But, Kiona is a multi-facetted ridge with varying slopes and angles. If the wind is strong as predicted we could launch down low. If the wind is light we could launch from the 1,929 foot paraglider launch, the slightly higher hang launch or the 1,816 foot RC launch [2]. The truth is that Kiona has those plus countless variable options that do not exist at Saddle.

“Hit the Deck!” A few us met in Issaquah to depart by 7:30 Sunday morning. Would I be the goat should flyability end up being a big zero? Especially since this is the hibernation season and I alone would be the responsible party for an ungodly early Sunday morning rising. I’d be nominated for a Christmas lump of coal.

I sweated all the way to Kiona, Mark Heckler and I riding with Jeff Smith and Matt Becker riding with Ken Swenson. “Hey, the roads are in pretty good shape, don’t you think?” My attempt to keep a positive outlook on our three hour plus drive to a day that very well could scar my accountability forever. In Ellensburg there was wind early. Too much, I wondered. In Yakama, no wind. Plenty of sweat though.

No wind in the landing zone adjacent to McBee Road. The ridge tops of Kiona were encased in gray and the country side was powdered white. The snow seemed less than it had been a few weeks ago. The sky looked gray as sodden wool, but there was very little evidence of precipitation. A quarter of the way up McBee road we passed what Dave Norwood refers to as “Stupid Launch”, the area we used as our launch in high winds two weekends ago. Apparently the ridge to the west of “Stupid” sometimes produces rotor, and perhaps that might be the case with a northwest or even north wind. December 5th the wind had more of an easterly component which was pretty evident at the time.

1 Yes Kevin, 18 to 25 can be perfect for ridge soaring low and out front at Kiona.

2 All elevations are MLS

“Maybe the grass isn’t moving because it’s frozen solid.” I proposed as we continued our ascent.

At the saddle, also known as “RC Launch”, we parked and discovered a light wind hitting the slope from the north. It seemed to be picking up. Maybe I wouldn’t be king goat after all. I was hopeful. Yes, there was wind coming, but we were also at cloud base. Hopefully that would rise with the sun. Or maybe the wind would blow it away. Four of us launched. Four of us hiked several hundred yards back to the top. Heckler just shook his head and laughed at us, living up to his name sake. Il Bastardo!

He redeemed himself by offering to pick us up after our next sled ride. The wind had notched up a few mph by the time we were set up and ready to launch again. We actually moved down hill a bit. Jeff was soon airborne. Next was Matt. Two green Niviuk Artik2’s in the air. Color was needed and I was soon joining them on my red Artik. Plenty of lift and the three of us stayed out front and explored Kiona from stem to stern – approximately five miles of ridge from west to east. Jeff and Matt kept disappearing in the white room then reappearing as ghostly shadows of muted, inverted crescent outlines, finally emerging in full regal color. After an hour plus of chilly flight we landed in three part harmony where Mark was waiting to us shuttle back to the top.

Jeff, Matt and I on final – The lz is approximately 832’ MLS - Photo by Mark Heckler

Back at the Saddle, the wind was hammering at twenty plus mph. We’d attempt a lower launch and headed for “Stupid Launch”. Not enough wind here, no doubt this day’s northly wind being partially blocked by the ridge to the west of “Stupid”, so back uphill to a more appropriate spot. We parked along the road and were soon joined by Richard “Doc” Shallman who wanted to know which one of us was Ross. I pointed at Mark. Mark said, “Ross isn’t here”. Doc put the gun back in his glove box (just kidding). Once again we prepared to launch into a slightly cross from the left 12-13 mph wind.

Mark Heckler preparing to launch with Matt Becker up and out front – Photo by John Kraske

I stayed on the ground shooting pictures, happy to not be a goat. After shooting a gaggle of pictures I could stand it no more and I too prepared for some air time. Jeff and Matt both got in top landings just below the road where we had parked. Ken Swenson got his 27th, 28th and 29th flights at Kiona on his first visit there ever and had a couple of interesting landings: One at the top in 25 mph wind. “Way to hang in there and pull off an epic save, Ken!”

Jeff on ears, attempting to stay low in the growing wind – Photo by John Kraske

Yes, it was cold, but not nearly as cold as our previous visit on December 5. There was less snow this time too. We all had hoped for more. Apparently the snow that was present fell the day before and last weeks rains had washed away all the previously fallen white stuff. Dave Norwood’s predictions were not quite spot on, but damned close. And, I’m not a goat after all. We met another local pilot, Curt Boschek, in the landing zone. Curt had flown his speed wing down from the paraglider launch earlier.

Round trip from Issaquah to Kiona and back, with an espresso stop in North Bend and a fueling stop in Prosser, took a little over 6 hours of driving time, much of it in the dark. We arrived at Kiona at 11:00 and flew until 4:00. We were well satiated and all agreed that it was well worth the drive. A well deserved THANK’s to Dave Norwood for his excellent weather tracking and reports. We all look forward to flying with you next time.[3]

4 Dave was in Seattle on Sunday

Kiona December Magic

By John Kraske

December 5, 2010

The warmer west side was sucking colder air from the east side of the Cascades like an out of control giant shop vac, the easterlies howling down Snoqualmie Pass as we worked on our decision to try Saddle Mountain or Kiona Ridge for some chilly-ass December fly time. Fifty degrees forecast on the west side and twenty some degrees on the east. It looked like a cold one and a gaggle of us were heavily engaged in the standard circle jerk of what site would give us air time.

Our group was meeting at the Preston park and ride. As Ross, Todd and I were heading up Snoqualmie, Jeff Smith called from Preston and we had him meet us at the North Bend Starbucks. Another group had met in Issaquah and was set on Saddle.

Our discussion crossing the pass resulted in some group logic that the drive to Kiona wouldn’t take much longer considering the shuttle up and down the back side of Saddle would be close to the same amount of vehicle time. We further justified our decision that if the winds were strong Kiona, being a variably sloped ridge would give us more options than the hard vertical face of Saddle. Such is paraglider logic. In Prosser we called Dave Norwood who reported that it was blown out at the top of Kiona. We’d check the conditions lower down. Driving up Kiona on McBee Road was like driving on an ice rink. We parked about a quarter of the way to the top and found eight to ten mile per hour wind blowing into Kiona ridge. We soon had our wings spread out on the crusted snow and ready to go.

Ross was first in the air, Jeff took off next, I clicked away with my camera as Todd secured his truck. I too was soon airborne and found the conditions to be smooth and damned cold. Lucky for me I was dressed up in layers that included my winter flight suit over insulated bike pants, double layered polar fleece tops, wool and polar fleece socks, Eddie Bauer gloves and foot and hand warmer pads cooking in their appropriate places. Oh yeah, and a heavy wool stocking cap under my snow boarding helmet. I was fine warmth wise, and really happy to be flying in December.

Ross Jacobson taking to the air about a quarter of the way up as Jeff Smith prepares to launch at Kiona Ridge.

After an hour or so of flying and laughing in childlike bliss, a gaggle of pilots arrived with Ernie Friesen at the helm. They were soon laying out to join us in flight. As they prepared to fly, Jeff and I headed to the east testing the variable sloped faces of Kiona, making sure we were able to stay low and out front and out of the upper winds that looked to be strong enough to blow a paraglider behind the mountain. We spooked a coyote that seemed quite concerned about the large birds over his head. I was impressed with the coyote’s stamina, staying out in front of us, always on the move.

In my estimation, Kiona is an amazing venue for studying ridge lift. The various shapes and slopes that make up Kiona certainly lend to mindful ridge explorations.

My art work is a little rough, but I think it demonstrates the point.

With the wind blowing into the ridge from an oncoming direction of somewhere between fifty and ninety degrees the shape of the ridge lift will be determined by the angle of the slope. Fore instance in figure #1 the inverted tear drop shape will be higher and skinnier than it would be in figure #3. Figure #2, about a 45 degree slope will have a lower, fatter inverted tear drop shaped lift ban than slope angle #4 and #3. On the lesser slopes, for instance in the normal landing zone for Kiona, I’ve heard pilots refer to “ground effect”. As long as there is slope, there is ground effect. Keep in mind that the higher the velocity the higher and/or wider that tear drop will be. Air density also plays and important role. Colder air is not only denser and makes for better lift, it also creates resistance to the wind which usually will equate to a lesser variable in the wind gradient*

*wind gradient is normally in reference to a higher velocity of wind as one ascends in altitude.

While experimenting with lift bands it is important to give yourself a downhill escape, especially while testing slight vertical slopes. Remember your glide ratio and be ready to either do a PLF or turn away from the hill and into the wind.

Eastside Update - February Flying

Your East-side flying buddies have been working hard to maintain our hearty reputations. If the winds are right and the ceiling is high enough, we have been giving it a run without regard to wind-chill.

There have been five or six very good days of flying, and easily twice that many trips to launch with hopes of air time that resulted in either short hops or no-ops. Notable successful efforts include a number of strong wind, very cold days of flying at Kiona just outside Benton City. This site drew a number of West-siders early in the ridge-soaring season; but their numbers seem to have dwindled as the temperatures have dropped.

Those of you who have never flown Kiona you owe it to yourselves to invest the extra two hours (1.5 hours South of Ellensburg) and experience one of the nicest ridge sites in the state. It runs almost 4 miles end to end and faces NNE. There are several wind indicators that let us know when Kiona will work. The best site for current conditions is Hanford's Emergency Operations Center:


For strategic rather than tactical planning, look for North surface winds in the Tri-Cities 4-8 mph on XC-Skies.

The best day of flying, however, was at Saddle on Friday 2/18.
Winds on launch were NNE between 8 and 12mph for most of the day. We had some visitors from the South sound along with Paul M. Bob B. and myself. Everyone got in as much flying as their hands could take. I had one of my longest tandem flights that day.

Near sunset the winds were strong enough to justify a bit of a ridge run to the East. Three of us soared with almost no effort, often hands free, a hundred feet or so above the ridge. Saddle is such an amazing artifact of geological forces - it really is a stunningly beautiful formation, particularly in the early morning and late afternoon light.

We tracked East for two or three miles soaking in the beauty while oblivious to the reality that the waning winds and our lower altitude would combine to deny us a final top-landing at the trucks. It is always nice to have friends in this game, and Bob gave us a rig-retrieve in exchange for a couple of tacos at the Mexican place, beer included.

Lonely, but not to be forgotten, Baldy poked her head up out of the sand and gave us (Doc and myself) a reminder of her thermic potential. We only gained a nine hundred over; but it was thermic, not ridge, and that was quite a treat so early in the season. Had the winds been 5-10 rather than 10-15 out of the SW we might have gone XC. Later that day, we all went for extended sledders at Bob's bump in Yakima. Curt, Doc, Bob and I where happy to show Doug Hoffman, the Hawaii state XC record holder, our chilly training hill. Doug wants to fly Bob's mid-summer and was asking all the right airspace questions. I guess bright sun mixed with cold air will always give you a ride around 2:00 PM.

On our list of major efforts reaping minor rewards was the road trip Curt and Doc took on 2/11 to Lewiston ID. It seems every year there is at least one "extreme" effort of desperation in response to our "need to fly." I am fairly certain the duo logged over 8 hours of road time in exchange for 45 minutes in the air. - Well done, gentlemen; well done.

Eagle has also given up a couple of good days; but you almost have to live next door to time that micro-weather critical site. If you’re in the area, give Doc a call.

Updates on when and where we will be flying are on twitter @ewpg.

Come on over when you can and we will lend you some warm mittens for winter flying in Eastern Washington.