(click on pictures for a larger version, all pictures copywrite by Rich Sauer)
After our big flight last week, we are back at Elk this Saturday. Bill was able to join us today after getting his glider repaired. It would be Me, Rich and Bill today. Bill is heading for Lakeview this week for the nationals. He has only 3 flights on his Atos. Linda, Rich's wife and our usual driver was off on a trip and could not drive for us. My wife Nancy volunteered to drive for us this day (which I'm sure she will never do again). I have been watching the weather forecast all week. Thursday looked the best, with cloud base at 12,000' and cloud streets over the mountains. Unfortunately, we are restricted to Saturdays due to our jobs. As Saturday approached, the predictions got worse. On Saturday morning the RUC was showing top of lift at 6,000' over Elk, down from 8,500' in the earlier predictions. The wind was supposed to be light.
When we got to the top of Elk, we did not even stop at the south launch, but drove down to the north launch. As usual this year, the sea breeze had already arrived and it was blowing up the north launch. The temperature on the south side of Elk, out of the breeze was 74°. At the north launch it was about 68°. It seems that none of the models ever get this right.
This is my wife Nancy, when she is still happy, waiting for us to launch.
This is Bill, he is practicing his game face for the nationals, either that, or he is thinking about the idiot who landed on his brand new glider and broke it.
I decided to take a nap on launch. I was waiting to see if the wind would warm up indicating a thermal. At 12:45 I heard and felt a definite thermal come through.
I waited for another thermal and saw a gaggle of crows out in front and below launch. There were almost 20 of them. They climbed quickly above launch at better than 500fpm. Rich snapped this picture with his camera attached to his base tube. I got up to get ready to launch and Rich did the same thing without either of us saying a word, it was time.
Rich launched first and got this picture of the Elk north launch. Bill is on launch with me just behind him. As you can see, there is about 1' between his wingtips and the tree on the left and the rock on the right. There is room for about 5 steps to get in the air before the bushes out in front. It is not one of my favorite launches, but the only one we have been able to use at Elk this year.
Bill and I spent a few minutes below launch, ridge soaring out in front waiting for a thermal to come through and get us above launch. Bill finally found one to the left of launch out by the point. Once above launch we could take advantage of some of the thermals blowing up the south side of the mountain. We were only climbing to 4,500' (about 500 over launch) for a while. When we finally broke through 5,000' we decided to head south and see what we could find.
Over Pitney, all three of us were working different thermals (probably the same thermal with different cores). Bill was a little higher than me and more East. I saw an eagle behind him with it's wings tucked in like it was going into a dive, but it was shooting up past Bill like I have never seen before. It wasn't even really circling, but opening and closing it's wings climbing almost straight up. I headed over and immediately hit 700 fpm up. One more turn and I was climbing at 900 fpm. My 10 second averager stayed above 980 fpm for over a minute. Playing back my flight I was hitting 1200 fpm on one side of my circle and 800 fpm on the other. After more than a minute, I felt like I had topped out and fell out of the thermal. I looked at the averager and I was still climbing at over 500 fpm. The lift has slowed so quickly, I thought I was sinking. I topped out at 7,000'. This one thermal was worth the entire flight. I have not had a thermal that good since Big Spring 5 years ago.
In the left side of the picture above, there are a couple of clouds. This was just one end of a 10 mile long street. They started over Long Valley and extended towards Williams in the central valley. They were forming and dissipating every 20 minutes or so. Each time they would form they would be a mile or two further south. It was like they were taunting us. Our goal was the Williams soaring center. If we could get to the clouds it looked like they would take us there.
Bill got low, so to make it easier on our driver, we waited for him to catch up. When he climbed back up, the clouds were several more miles south. At this point I was over Bartlet. I had climbed to 7,600' and was about 1,500' above Bill and Rich. Once again my Motocom headset was causing problems with my radio. It caused the radio to change frequencies. I think this is because the connector does not fit properly into my Kenwood radio. I pulled my radio out of it's pocket on the side of my harness and managed to get the frequency back to something close, enough that they could hear me again. By the time I was done, I had lost 800' and Bill and Rich were now 500' above me. They headed out on course and I stayed with them, below and low.
Long valley is in the center of the picture above. We usually fly along the ridge to the left of the valley.
In this picture you can barely make me out as I fly around Pinnacle peak, just to the left of the center of the picture. At the north end of Long Valley, I climbed about 400', just enough to give me a little breathing room. I headed down the ridge between Long Valley and Spring Valley with Rich and Bill following from above. This is where things went south for our driver. I told here we were heading for Spring Valley, which is the name of a valley, not a town. She entered Spring Valley into here Garmin Nuvi and headed 60 miles in the opposite direction. She has no knowledge of this area and did not have a clue she was going the wrong way. It was all our fault for not giving her better direction before we took off.
Spring Valley is in the right of this picture. Indian Valley reservoir is left/right in the distance and to the left of the picture. The ridge we usually fly down is on the right of the picture.
After being low for the last 10 miles, Bill and I changed places. The yellow arrow points to him. He did climb up from here and was able to join back up with us.
Rich and I headed across Spring Valley for Chalk Mountain to see if we could catch up with the clouds.
As we approached Chalk (the white spot in the bottom of the picture), the clouds formed again, and as usual further away, keeping up with their taunting.
Over Chalk, Bill caught us and was only a little below. The burned area in the top right of the picture was quite extensive. We climbed to almost 6,000' and had thoughts of heading across the dam at Indian Valley reservoir, but thought if we got drilled and had to land at the dam, Nancy would never find us. It turned out she had enough trouble as it was. She was now out of radio range.
Here is a picture showing more of the burned area. After toping out, we headed toward highway 20 and the LZ at the Cache Creek wilderness area. There is a large field there just off the highway.
This is a shot looking back toward the northwest, the way we had come. Bill was a little lower than us and headed for the intersection of highway 20 and the road into Spring Valley. On our glide to the Cache Creek LZ, Rich and I hit big sink and averaged only an 8 to 1 glide, in spite of a 15 mph tailwind.
Bill was able to climb up enough to fly over the Cache Creek LZ, but did not see us so he flew back west a mile down highway 20 and landed in the area marked in yellow. He had his second no wind landing out of three in his new glider. He says it lands to easy it is like it has auto land.
Rich landed first at the Cache Creek LZ and then got this shot of me landing about 30 seconds behind him. He did not have time to take the camera off his base tube. On my last 360 over the field, the wind was blowing so hard I thought I had set up too far down wind and would have trouble making the field. The wind gradient was strong and I ended up landing with no wind at all. I had another fine landing. I have 60 pounds on Bill and my glider has a smaller flare window. So far this year I have nailed all my no wind landings. Rich also had a great landing. He is 8 for 8 this year. I had one bent weak link landing in tall grass on my first flight of the year.
After landing, I grabbed the camera from Rich so I could get a shot of him for once.
You can see the frustration in my face trying to get hold of our driver.
After landing, we pulled out our cell phones and found we had no reception. We called Bill on the radio (he was about a mile away) and he had no coverage either. We tried to get Nancy on the radio, but she was out of range. A motorcyclist stopped to talk to Bill when he landed. Bill gave him Nancy's cell phone number and asked if he would call her when he got into cell coverage. He did, but could only leave a message. We sat around for over an hour when Rich decided to hike to the top of a hill to see if he could get cell coverage. Luckily, he has a phone that still will work with analog signals and he was able to get coverage. Nancy had left him a message that she was in Hopland, about 60 miles away. She had no idea where she was and that she did not have cell coverage. She was calling from a pay phone. She left the number of the phone she was at, but when Rich called back, it would not accept an incoming call. Rich called Bill's wife to see if she would come and pick us up. She said she would. We landed at about 4:00 and we figured we might get picked up by 9:00. Rich made the call to Nancy at 5:45. At 7:15, we heard Nancy on the radio. She had driven back to an area where she could get cell coverage and had got the message. She was also able to get Bill's wife on the radio and told here she did not have to pick us up. She found Bill along side the road, but the both of them missed the entrance to the wilderness area parking lot and drove 5 miles past us before I got them on the radio and turned them around. At 7:30 we were finally loaded up and heading home.
We had made several mistakes in our plan for a retrieval. We did not think about the lack of cell phone coverage. We did not give Nancy good directions of our route of flight and we should have been giving her better directions while we were in the air. I very glad that she took all this in stride and was not too upset. She drove about 150 miles for a 30 mile retrieve.
Our ground track and my vario graph. Our flight lasted about 2 1/2 hours and we covered only 30 miles. I think it was another good shake down flight for Bill before he heads to the nationals.
Vince's track log.
Rich's track log.