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Our annual St. John record encampment started off with the usual problems. We got a flat tire on highway 5 on the drive to Stonyford. It was a slow leak caused by a screw in the tire. Once in Stonyford we stopped by Dick and Pam’s place to have it repaired. Nancy had a nice visit with Pam as she has lots of critters like Nancy has. About 100 yards from their house was a herd of elk. I have never seen elk at St. John before this. We had left early enough on Friday morning that we were in no hurry. We made it to launch by 5:50 pm. We set up the trailer and had a nice quiet dinner.

The predicted lift for St. John was not that great. Last week the sailplanes were getting over 14,000’, Saturday looked like a lot less than that. The predicted lift along our route to the northeast was also a lot weaker as well. We would have to just take what we are dealt.

On Saturday, Linda, Rich and Greg Sugg showed up by 10:30am. Matt and Lori came up a little later. For various reasons, it was just Rich and I to fly on Saturday. We were set up and ready to fly by 11:45. I always like going early, and Rich likes to wait a little longer. At 12:20 Rich jumped up and said let’s go. He spotted several CUs popping on a ridge across the valley to Snow Mountain. I was first to launch in a very nice cycle. I don’t think I ran more than 15’ down the 30’ launch ramp. Rich was off in the same cycle about 15 seconds behind me.

Looking back at launch.  The launch ramp is made out of local dirt and rocks so it blends in well with the terrain.  It is just below the gliders in the picture.  My tent trailer and truck are also visible in the trees to the upper right of the picture.

I worked a promising thermal to the left of launch while Rich caught a better one right in front of launch. He quickly out climbed me. I moved over to his thermal but there was not much left. He was now climbing at 700 fpm and I was scratching at 100 fpm. By the time I found a good one, he was passing 9,000’ (launch is 6,200’). As I passed 7,000’ he was at 10,500’ and said he could not wait and headed north. I found 800 fpm and was topped out at 10,300’ when he was about 3 miles in front of me.

On glide toward Red Mountain, at the red arrow.

Getting closer to Red.

I managed to catch up to Rich just before Red mountain.  This is looking east.

We found a decent thermal 2 miles past Red Mountain and climbed back to 7,500’. This was pretty good for that part of the route and I thought that we might have a decent chance at a great flight. Another long glide and we were down to 3,500’. This is starting to get low here (the ground level is 1,500’). We were just about to head out to the road to land when we found some weak broken lift. We spent 8 minutes to gain 1,000’. The thermal had no core to speak of and it was difficult to stay in lift for an entire 360. Rich was sure we launched too early, but this was the type of lift we would have for the next 3 hours.

The town of Paskenta is in the middle of the picture, just to the right of the right arrow.  Both arrows indicate where we consistently find thermals.

Lowery road is off the the right of the picture.  We seem to get better thermals right between the two rows hills in the center of the picture.

On glide toward Redbank road, about the 45 mile mark.  There is an LZ about every 3 miles along the road.  From far away it looks like there is no landable areas for 15 miles.

We were down to 2000' at the 50 mile mark.

In this part of California, you have to be very careful about landing in green LZ.  They may look like irrigated crops, but it is usually star thistle or tar weed.  In the picture the arrow points to an LZ full of waist high star thistle.

We were not too worried about the weak climbs with the 10 mph tailwind we were getting along this part of the route (bet we were far from excited about it either). Even climbing at only 100 fpm we were moving along our route at 10 mph. For the next 50 miles (from the 30 mile mark to the 80 mile mark) we only climbed above 5,000’ twice. This is like flying in Florida and staying under 3,000’ most of the time. Luckily we did not hit much sink after the weak climbs, but we were gliding less than two miles after each thermal. Even with two glides over 15 miles in the flight, our average glide was only 2.5 miles. When we did find stronger lift, the sink was so bad after leaving the lift that we would loose most of our gain in just a mile or two. What I don’t like about this part of the route is most of the LZs are narrow, surrounded by trees and run east-west. The wind tends to be out of the south.

At about the 60 mile mark, hwy 36 crosses from east to west as shown by the lower arrow.  The upper arrow points to a railroad track that looks like hwy 5 from a distance.  There is no road along it for several miles.  I was told by a rail road nut that this is a very famous bend in the rail road and even has a special name which I can't recall.

The arrow points to the CHP weigh station on hwy 5.  Note the green fields to the north.

We are just above the CHP weigh station.  This is your last chance to get high before crossing all the green fields.  I have never caught a thermal over them until crossing the Sacramento river by the large brown field in the upper left of the picture.

After crossing the river, just follow the power lines.

The arrow points to what we call the 77 mile LZ.  It is 77 miles from launch and about 200 yards long.  There is no live stock there.  Rich, Kurt and myself have all landed there at one time or another.

Hwy 44 is at the arrow.  It crosses from west to east.  There are many LZ along the hwy.  From here is it just a 3 mile jump to Oak Run road.

Oak run crosses at the arrow.

As the terrain started to rise toward the Sierra Nevada and Round Mountain, our climbs were getting lower, opposite of what I would expect. There were a couple of thermals we topped out at 2,500’ agl. At different times in this area (about 80 miles from launch), we each were down to 1,000’ agl. We finally hit a stronger thermal and climbed to 4,500’. The next three thermals were 1,000’ higher than the last. It looked like we might be able to make 100 miles after all.

Round mountain and the 100 mile mark (actually 102 mile) is at the arrow.  Rich's batteries ran out on his camera after this picture.

The pass across the mountains to Burney is over 5,000’ and covered with trees. Eight miles from the pass we got our best climb of the day to 8,500’. That gave us 3,500’ in eight miles to clear the pass. As we were gliding toward the pass, the ridge line was not going up or down in our view, this meant that we would make the pass by about 100’. I started to think the only way to make it was to fly through the road cut which was about 200’ lower than the mountains on either side. At about 2 miles from the pass we hit weak lift and climbed 700’ which rewarded us a lot of breathing room. The tailwind was now 20 mph as we approached the pass. This also helped get us to Burney.

We arrived over Burney at 5,700’. The ground level here is 3,300’. The next possible LZ is 8 miles away and there is a very solid forest of tall trees between us. If we could only find a weak thermal and climb 700’ we could make it. We looked for several minutes but never found anything. Linda pulled up to the gate at the field were we going to land. The land owner spotted her and came over to see what’s up. We were, she told him and pointed to us circling to land. The guy unlocked the gate for her and then stayed to watch us land. He was very nice. We landed in a nice 10 mph head wind at 116 miles. These were the third best flights from St. John. Not a record, but given the conditions, I would have never guessed we would even pass the 40 mile mark. This was my second most rewarding flight. Total flight time was 5 hours and 22 minutes. Our route was completely blue the entire flight. We used the ground for searching for thermal generators.

A satellite view of our track.

This is a 3D view from a program called SeeYou.

Neither Rich nor I was keen on flying Sunday. He got back home at 12:00 am and I got back to my trailer at launch at 12:15am. Nancy had driven down the mountain to pick me up in Stonyford. I was planning on driving home on Monday to beat the 4th of July traffic. I felt like I had got more than my share with this flight. Nancy and I spent Sunday looking for snakes and tadpoles (actually more Nancy than I). She caught 5 snakes (she let them all go) and a bunch of tadpoles. We had a great weekend!

Matt and Greg flew Sunday. From launch, conditions looked great with CUs forming right over the mountain. They climbed quickly to cloud base (9,300’) but after leaving the mountain found conditions dismal. Matt landed along Alder Springs road and Greg made it to Chrome.

Matt launching:

Greg launching

The launch looks a lot better in the videos. I have actually hit the rock to the left of launch with my wingtip when I flew a flex wing. Just in front of launch is a large bolder field of volcanic rock.

Rich's IGC file.

Vince's IGC file.

All pictures copyright by Rich Sauer.

Thanks for reading.