I talked my wife into going camping from the 4th of July to the following Sunday. Of course I planned on hang gliding as well so we headed up to St. John. I have been very lucky there for the last 4 years, always getting at least one great flight. We drove up to the top Tuesday night, with Rich and Linda driving up on Wednesday morning. The plan was to have Linda drive down early for the retrieve and have Nancy observe the launches. The temperature at the bottom of St. John was 104, the temperature at launch (and where we camped) was a much more tolerable 80 degrees.
The set up area at St. John. (click on any of the pictures for a larger image)
Rich and Linda arrived right on time at 10:00 Wednesday morning. We set up our gliders right away in case the day turned on early. We were ready to go by 11:15. We watched the cycles for a while and at 12;00 decided we had better get ready to go. There were no real cycles coming up the ramp, but it looked like we had better be ready if one did. I was standing on launch at 12:13 and for the next half hour nothing came up the ramp. The wind was out of the east. Occasionally a cycle would start up the hill and never make it up to the ramp. Finally a very week cycle came straight in at about 4 mph. This was the lightest wind I have ever launched in from St. John. I was off the ground before the end of the ramp (about 30'), but did not hit any lift like I had expected. At first I thought that I had forgot to turn on the audio to my vario, but quickly realized that I was indeed in light sink. I turned left toward the switchbacks and found some light lift and started climbing.
Rich's view for 30 minutes.
At St. John I like to turn in the first lift I find, even if it is light. I have had an occasion in the past where I passed up light lift, only to get flushed from the mountain. I hit lift about 1/4 mile east of the launch. My little thermal carried me to 7,000' (800' over launch) which was enough to let me look elsewhere. Rich was stuck on launch for another ten minutes. When he finally got a weak cycle, he could only find zero sink for quite a while. I had climbed up to 8,900' over the towers. I was able to fly all the way to the switchback without loosing much. Rich was still trying to get up. He finally found enough to get him over to the towers where we joined up.
We found a good core and climbed past 9,000'. I told Rich as soon as I topped out I was leaving. I did not want to waste any altitude. We topped out at 9,800' and headed north.
The beautiful terrain we fly over until we get about 30 miles north.
The sink was not too bad, but we hit a head wind right away. As we worked our way toward Red Mountain, we would find weak lift, but looking back on my track log, I almost never left any higher than I had entered it. Just past Grindstone canyon, I spotted a hawk circling and flew west to into higher terrain to have a look. Rich was a couple of hundred feet lower and had to head toward the valley. My hawk turned into a good friend and we climbed out together, gaining enough to keep me on course. I climbed again at Red and headed for Paskenta. Rich was stuck low in the valley, but was rewarded with a thermal with two eagles. Those eagles showed him enough lift to keep him going.
On the way to Paskenta I found enough lift to keep me above 4,000. I slowed down to wait and see if Rich could catch up, which he did just about even with Paskenta. Linda was reporting 108 degrees on the ground. We had an 8 mph headwind out of the north. We decided there was no sense in going further north and wasting gas since there was no way we were going to have a long flight. We turned around to see if we could fly back and land at Mary's for a nice 66 mile out and return.
The view heading south, lots of places to land, very few roads for a retrieve.
Every time I found a thermal, Rich could not work it and every time he found lift I could not work it, so we headed back working different thermals along the way. With the tail wind and some good lift lines I was averaging 29 to 1 on my glides, which was needed because I was only climbing to 4,000 in the thermals (about 2500' agl). At Elk Creek (15 mile from our goal) I had to fly east more to stay on the road side of a ridge. There was no retrieve if I landed on the west side of the ridge. As soon as I headed east I hit big sink as was quickly 1,000' agl. Rich was a 2 miles back in the same predicament. With the wind out of the east, I found a great little field that was up hill into the wind. I climbed twice in 200 up only to loose it after a few turns. Rich was luckier and climbed out of his hole to 4,200'. In the picture above you can see the Elk Creek reservoir. I believe since the wind was out of the east, the reservoir caused a lift shadow which was the cause of both of our problems with lift. Once past the reservoir, Rich found plenty of lift to get to goal.
I after trying everything I could to stay up I finally had land. The field was 100 yards long and about 50 yard wide and I was landing in the 50 yard wide direction. The edge of the field ended in a 20 cliff on the approach end and slanted uphill about 75. I hit my spot just like I wanted to. The Linda found me right away and told me it was 106 degrees. There was a nice oak tree at the top of the hill and I broke down in the shade. Even with the shade and lots of water I could not keep up with my water intake. By the time I finished breaking down I was wasted. I was 8 miles short of our goal.
The red arrow points to me on the ground.
The town of Stonyford and Mary's field are in the center of the picture.
Rich found one more climb to 3,800 and made it to Mary's field. It felt like the tortoise and the hare, where I was the hare and Rich was the tortoise, where the tortoise wins the race. I had 3 hours and 47 minutes and Rich ended with 4 hours and 1 minute. It was a good flight with lots of practice. Even though I like the heat, it was on the hot side. After we passed Grindstone, it was usually above 90 degrees in the air.
My IGC file.
Rich's IGC file.
Rich headed home and Nancy drove down to pick me up. We camped on the top of St. John for a couple more days. No other pilots or campers showed up, though Nancy was harassed by 6 drunk yahoos on quads and a motorcycle. An friend of ours called Rich and told him that Friday and Saturday was going to be epic. Rich had to work Friday and after seeing the sky overdevelop very quickly, I decided not to fly either. Saturday Rich and Linda drove up again for a predicted epic flight.
Once again the condition on the launch we terrible. The winds were out of the east again and each time it straightened out the wind would die completely. Since I had a decent launch in a 4 mph breeze Wednesday, I took a 3 mph cycle (if you could call it a cycle) and sunk a little less than before. As with the 4th of July, I found light lift to the left of launch before the switchbacks. Rich waited another 10 minutes and got his cycle and a good launch.
My launch video. The camera had hit the bottom of my glider when I picked it up and ended up pointing too much toward the ground.
I climbed to 7,000' and hit a strong west wind blowing 14 mph. This is not a good sign. A west wind usually means that the sea breeze 60 miles away had made it all the way inland. I flew over to the towers and was only able to climb to 7,700' in rough air. The thermals were layed over on their sides. I would drift a quarter of a mile or so in only 500'.
Video of St. John from about 7,000' just west of the swithcbacks.
Rich never made it over to the towers, but it did not hurt him much because by the time I flew over to him we were at the same altitude. There was no way we could fly north, so we decided to fly south. It has been several years since I flew in that direction. As soon as we left the mountain the air was much smoother. We would pass little bumps but every time we turned on them we only found light sink. About 10 miles out Rich found very light lift and gained about 500'. I continued on and never found much of anything, landing 15 miles from launch. Rich did not find anything else and landed in the same field. When we landed there were no cows in site, but 10 minutes later there was at least 40 jogging our way to see what all the excitement was. We hoofed out gliders out of the field through a gate (lucky it was not locked) and broke down the gliders on the deserted road.
The view heading south from St. John.
The wide angle lens is deceiving. I am only one wingspan away from Rich when he took this picture.
Me landing. I floated quite a way and ended up only about 40 yards form the bend in the road.
After packing up and making the short drive back to Stonyford, we got a call from air hand gliding/sailplane buddy. He reported only one glider towed up from the Williams glider port to the mountains, and they beat the tow plane back to the airport. So much for an epic day. It makes you appreciate the truly epic one so much more.
My IGC file.
Rich's IGC file.