Click on the pictures for a high resolution version and check out the videos at the end of the report.
On the Friday evening flight up to Rich’s house and the Lampson airport, the weather looked promising for a Saturday flight from Elk. There was low pressure, 29.83” and lots of high level scattered clouds. I could see clouds over Elk, Hull, St. John and more further north. We never quite know what we will get, which makes it a little more challenging. Instead of picking the best day to fly, we fly on Saturdays and try for our best flight in the given conditions.
With just Rich and me flying and Linda driving (not too many pilots fly Elk anymore), we had the entire launch to ourselves. At 11:00 am the wind was already out of the northwest so we didn’t even stop at the south launch. By noon the wind was coming up the north launch at 10 mph. There would be no way we could make the crossing to Hull to the north so we decided to fly a task to Williams gliderport to the southeast. It’s 44 miles from Elk but closer to 56 with the dogleg we would have to fly to keep us over landable terrain. A hang glider pilot Todd Robinson works on and fly’s sailplanes there and we though it would be fun to drop in on a bunch of sailplane pilots. There is also a restaurant in town that Linda really likes and we promised her we would buy dinner if we made it.
Rich launched first since he set up closer to launch. He made several passes back and forth in front of launch without gaining any height. At the time this made me nervous about the amount of lift, but after the flight and looking at the pictures in his camera, I realized he was not really trying to climb, but just get some good pictures. I launched a few minutes after him at 1:15, turned left and headed for the point. There was good lift there and we both climbed to 5,200’ (1,200’ over launch). This was OK for a first climb. We hunted around and found that only one place on the entire mountain was working. On our third very rough climb to 5,600’ we decided to head south with what we had.
This is a view of the north launch I don't see very often. That is me on launch with Linda under the wing.
Thermaling over Elk. This was taken with a wide angle lens. We are a lot closer than it looks.
The next stop on this standard route is Pitney, a high spot on a ridge about 3 miles across the canyon. We found better lift at Pitney, but it was still rough and the thermals were very laid over with cores that moved around. If you have SeeYou, you can download the track log at the bottom and see just how much the thermals moved around. My climb over Pitney was to 7,000’ which was a lot more than I expected. The day was starting to look up. Rich topped out a couple hundred feet under me. Several times during the flight he left his thermal for mine, but with the snaky cores he would miss my thermals. Later in the flight he gave up on me and stayed in his own thermals which worked much better for him.
This shows our route over Pitney and up to Highglade.
Looking west from Highglade toward Upper lake. That is the ocean beyond the far ridge in the picture.
The next stop was 6 miles further down the ridge to Highglade. I found nothing over the top but spotted Rich doing well out in front over the saddle. The climbs were getting stronger (at times over 600 fpm) and the lift was getting smoother. I climbed to 6,800’ and we headed 3 miles toward Bartlett where we tanked up again to 6,800’. With Rich leading slightly ahead toward our next climb over the saddle at the north end of Long Valley. This climb was even better yet. At one point it got so smooth I thought that the lift almost died. When I looked at my vario I was still going up at 600 fpm. I was banked up watching for Rich, whose wingtip was about 40’ from mine. We were both in about 45 degrees of bank. It’s really fun when you can fly with someone so close and not have to worry. I could fly like that with Jim Yocom or Bruce Barmakian. Now we topped out at 7,900’. How much better could it get? And to top it off we had a 12 mph tail wind.
Looking south down long valley.
This picture was taken from the north end of Long Valley toward Indian Valley reservoir and Williams.
Here we are topped out at the south end of Long Valley looking west toward lower Clear lake.
This is the same location looking southeast. The white hill in the lower part of the picture is Chalk Mountain.
Another 7 mile glide and we were over the south end of Long Valley. This next thermal was really laid over. Each time I thought we topped out and I headed down wind I would hit the core again. I did this three times and climbed to 8,200’. Here is where we turned the dogleg and headed straight for Williams 26 miles away. Our Flytec 5030’s indicated we had the gliderport by 1,000’. I have never cut across this section before since we usually fly south more to stay in the mountains. We crossed right over Indian Valley reservoir. With the tail wind of 13 mph our ground speed was in the mid 50’s. It looked like an easy 26 mile glide, right up to the time we hit 600 fpm sink. By the time I was out of the sink, my vario indicated that I would need 2000’ more to make goal. As is the case some of the time, we hit lift on the other side of the sink. This lift was a result of the convergence line that had moved east of its normal position.
On glide over Indian Valley reservoir and on toward Bear Valley and Williams.
This is the dam at Indian Valley Reservoir. I like this picture because it shows the wind direction and an indication of the wind strength. The wind indicated it right on our tails.
This time we only climbed to 7,500’. We probably could have looked around for more, but our varios were now showing we had our goal by 4,500’. As I got closer my natural competition instinct would take over and I found my self flying faster and faster. Each time I looked over at my GPS my ground speed was over 60 mph. I would slow up a little but soon was over 60 mph again. Rich and I flew around for some aerial photography and still made it over the gliderport at 3,500’. I could see that the wind was blowing at a 45 degree angle to the runway so I chose to land in the field across the street, which was about a mile long angled directly into the wind. We averaged 38 mph the last 26 mile leg even though we stopped and climbed for 2,000'.
The town of Williams is in the center of the picture with the gliderport at the far end of town. This picture was taken from about 7,000'.
Lots of nice green fields to land in? Think again. These are rice fields that have about 12" of water in them. If they are brown they have drained the water to harvest the rice, but the rice will be 3' to 4' tall.
The gliderport at Williams. That glider parked at the end of the runway has two seats and a 90' wingspan.
This field will be planted in rice and it turned out that the rows were directly into the wind. The gap in the green at the left end of the field is a bridge across the irrigation canal. I saw this from the air and intentionally landed about 50' from it to make retrieve easier.
This is a picture of the windsock at the airport. It is in the middle of the hanger roof. Here is a tip. I could see the windsock from 4 miles out, but I could not see the direction it was facing, I could see the shadow it was casting and could judge the wind direction from that. Often times it is easier to see the shadow of obstacles than the obstacles themselves.
Another tip. After landing, if possible, face the tail of your glider into the wind to give other pilots in the air and indication of the wind direction. That is Linda in the red truck on the bridge across the canal.
After we landed, Todd landed in his sailplane 20 minutes later. Another 30 minutes later and another hang glider pilot Larry Roberts landed in his sailplane. There were more hang glider pilots there than sailplane pilots. Todd gave us a nice tour of the facilities and then we headed over to the restaurant to buy Linda dinner.
Todd landing his beautiful rigid wing.
We could have flown much further to the south, but we had a goal and it was immensely enjoyable to accomplish that goal on such a beautiful day. This will go down in my memory as one of the most fun flights I have had. The total flight time was only 2 hours and 6 minutes for the 56 mile dogleg flight.
My vario trace.
A satellite view of our track.
My IGC file.
Some video files:
Rich's launch, my launch, thermal over Long Valley, thermal near Chalk Mountain, and gliding towards Williams.
All the pictures were taken by Rich with a camera mounted to his base tube. The video was shot with a camera mounted on my helmet.