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.

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