After not flying for two weeks, Rich and I were looking for a nice XC flight for the 4th of July. Unfortunately, between the smoke and weather, we only managed a short 20 mile flight. The weather forecast for all of northern California did not look very promising. We have flown St. John for the last 6 years on the 4th of July and figured it was as good a place as any to fly this weekend. I managed a 100 mile flight or better for 4 years in a row, then last year saw only a short 16 mile glide. This year was not much better. St. John was about the only place that was clear of restricted areas as well.
On the drive to St. John we could see clouds forming, which was good, but they were forming below launch, which was bad. We started to get into the clouds at the switchbacks, about 1,000' below launch.
This picture is looking west at Snow Mountain. There was actually snow still on the top in spots.
We got to launch at 10:30 and set up, even though the clouds were still below launch. As the day heated up, they would rise. We waited three hours. It was interesting to watch the clouds and see how the wind and lift was working. There was a breeze coming up the canyon from the east, as it got in front of launch it would turn up the mountain, when it got above launch, the west wind would blow back to the east. This was all visible because of the low clouds. At 1:45, the clouds were high enough above launch that we could get up and go somewhere. For the 3 hours we waited for the clouds to rise, there were strong cycles blowing straight up the launch, some of them lasted for 10 minutes. Of course when we were hooked in and standing on launch the cycles stopped. I launched in a weak one that was also a bit squirrely. I had to run all the way to the bottom of the ramp, and as soon as I was in the air I had to make full control deflections in each direction to keep level.
Clouds below launch.
After launch, the lift was easy to find as most of the clouds were working. The cloud base was only 600' above launch and it was very rough air. Lift and sink could be 400 fpm up and down in the same 360. While I was waiting for Rich to launch, I was holding on so tight to the base tube that my forearms were burning. Rich had to wait another 15 minutes for a cycle good enough to launch. Once he launched it was only a few minutes before he was high enough for us to head out. Once again my battery pack on my radio had a problem and I lost radio contact. I could hear Rich and Linda (in the truck), but they could not hear me. To top it off, my radio was cutting in and out of squelch about every half second. It was making so much noise I could not hear my vario. Rich figured out I could hear him so I did not want to turn off the radio for now.
This is looking back toward St. John. Launch is on the hill to the front of the picture.
We headed south, with our goal being the Williams glider port. We would have to be almost 2,000' higher to head to the north, which is our normal route direction. The sink was not too bad and we averaged 22 to 1 on the 11 mile glide. We were basically sinking down to the inversion layer, which turned out to be about 4,200' (only 2,800 agl.).
Even though the smoke was better than it had been in weeks, the visibility was still pretty poor, only about 20 miles. It is usually about 80 miles in this area.
I was doing OK in spite of the racket from my radio. Rich and I were able to work together and squeeze out a few thermals. We were only climbing to a little above 4,000' at each one. At my 4th thermal I missed the core and Rich climbed about 500' above me. I was at a point that I did not feel I could go further south because of a lack of retrieve roads. There was a line of clouds to the south, but they were just a little too far into the hills to try to get under. I headed east to land next the the main road where Linda, our faithful driver could find me.
You can see the clouds over the hills. No LZs and not many roads.
This is me stuck low and heading for the main road. The big valley in the center of the picture has a road only half way down the valley and it is behind a locked gate. I turned left more and landed in the valley in the upper left of the picture.
In this picture am trying to get up, but found only less sink. The red line is a set of power lines that cross the fields. The picture is taken looking east. The yellow line is my approach and landing path. I made some 360's over the field and dropped a streamer. The wind was out of the east which meant landing across the narrow side of the LZ. One of my reasons for landing here was a nice big oak tree right next to the road where I could break down in the shade and wait for my ride. Most of the fields in this area had lots of star thistle. Because of the color of this field, I knew it had very little star thistle. I landed in no wind and had to take a few quick steps to stop. Less than a minute after landing the wind picked up to about 8 mph.
Rich continued south down the valley. He only stayed in the air 7 minutes longer. Here he is heading down the spine between two valleys. The wind was out of the east, but the sun was on the west facing ridges. The two conditions conspired to mean no lift.
This is looking back up the spine toward the north toward where I landed. Rich made it another 4 miles further than I did. He cruised down the ridge only a few hundred feet above the ride line.
Rich landed in the field just to the right of the big black field, along the road to Indian Valley reservoir. This is Bear Valley.
This is Rich's glider waiting for break down. I really like this area and thought if I ever won the lottery, I would move up here.
We did not have much of a flight, but we did get some flight time and gave it our best. I think if my radio would have worked, Rich and I could have been able to work the thermals better and maybe been able to get under the cloud street. When I got home I replaced my battery pack so hopefully I will not have the problem again. I went 5 years without problems. I would like to say thank you to Linda who picked us both up with very little wait, in spite of having to change a flat tire on the way down from launch.
Between the fires and the poor conditions, this has been one of the worst years for us in a long time. We can only hope that things will get better. Once nice thing is Rich is 5 for 5 with good landings so far this year. I am 4 for 5 with a bent weak link landing in tall hay on my first landing this year.
Vince's IGC file.
Rich's IGC file.