Today's report is dedicated to a great friend of mine, Paul Pettit, who passed away on Thursday, 8/14/2008.
(click on the pictures for a larger version. All pictures copyright by Rich Sauer).
When I looked at the weather forecast on Friday, it looked like Saturday could be a spectacular day for Elk. The top of lift was predicted to be 9,000' over Elk. Rich and I planned to fly from Elk to Hull, then cross over the mountains to the east and into the northern Sacrament valley. From there we would fly northeast toward Burney and maybe a new site record. On Friday, the sailplanes in the area reported climbing to 14,000'. Our trusty driver Linda was back so we did not have to worry about being found after landing.
On the drive up to Elk, we could see the inversion layer over Clear Lake. This did not bother us much as it was only 10:00am and it would lift as the day heated up. What did start to concern us was the high level clouds.
By the time we finished setting up, high level clouds were forming and blocking the sun. At times they were so thick that we could not see a shadow. We had set up on the south launch. When the sun would come out for a few minutes, the wind would start blowing up launch. As soon as it was shaded, the wind stopped.
As with most hang gliding, there is a lot of hang waiting. When we think there is a change for a great flight (which we do most of the time since we are optimist) we like to get to launch early. The result can be plenty of hang waiting. Finally at about 12:30 the sun was shinning enough to cause some good cycles to blow through, even though there were still clouds overhead. By the time I was suited up, waited for a good cycle and launched it was 12:50.
Rich took this picture as he as standing behind me on launch, with his camera on his base tube. After I launched it was almost another 7 minutes before a cycle came through so Rich could launch. I turned right after launch and flew over to the point where I climbed at 240 fpm to 5,500' (launch is 4,100'). This was not a bad start for the amount of cloud cover we had.
Eventually Rich and I climbed to 6,600' and flew over to Horse to look for some thermals there. Once again the horse was dead and we retreated back to Elk for another try. The picture above was taken on the way to Horse. You can see and inversion of smoke at Hull. I think if we did get up at Horse and made it to Hull, we may have sunk out. Back at Elk lift was very broken and very rough, not the type of stuff you want to hang around in for very long. There was also very big sink at times. We got stuck in a flush cycle and sunk back to 5,000'.
I took the clip above while thermaling over Elk. I was trying to keep Rich in the frame, at the same time fighting the thermal and narrating what I was doing. I was trying to show that you can use another glider in the thermal to see the better parts of the lift. As you see Rich drop below me I turned tight to stay in the lift.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qrhXdiTDYFA
I put together another clip and overdubbed my commentary to better explain what I am talking about. This thermal was near Horse on the way to Elk.
Working our way back up, we finally broke through 7,000'. I did not want to try Horse again so I told Rich I was going to glide straight to Hull. The distance from Elk to the Hull LZ is about 12 miles. I was confident we could make the LZ, but we want to get there high enough to climb up and head for the Valley. After gliding for about 4 miles, we hit a weak thermal in which we gained 300'. This 300' would be crucial when we arrived at Hull.
When this picture was taken, we were still 2,000' agl (4,000 msl). We had a couple more miles to go to get to the mountain. We arrived at about 1,000' agl. The wind was blowing up the hill at about 15 mph. This was enough for me to thermal and ridge soar my way up. I was back to 5,000' when I hit some big sink and lost a bunch. Rich managed to fly around the sink and continued to climb out. After some more ridge soaring, I climbed up over the Hull timberline launch and above 7,000'.
As Rich climbed up, Mike Kunitani joined up with him. We flew with Mike, Doug, Roy, Charlie and Paul Gazis who had launched from Hull. Rich headed over to windy ridge as I continued to climb over launch. When I saw that he had caught a good one, I headed over. Rich topped out at 10,700'. We were to far west to try to cross to the Sacramento Valley so Rich headed back toward his house. I left the thermal at 10,400', which was a mistake, I should have topped it out. With the altitude we had, I thought we could make his house. My GPS showed I would arrive over his LZ at 1,600'.
The red line is the route to the LZ across the road from his house. It would be a 22 mile glide if we did not hit any lift. The hills all the way along this route were shaded and did not show much hope for lift.
This picture was taken about 5 miles from Horse. We still had 11 miles to glide. I was down to 6,800'. I knew I could make it to the Elk LZ shown by the red arrow, but I did not think I could make it over the ridge to the goal LZ shown by the yellow arrow. The thought of landing in the Elk LZ at the bottom of three intersecting canyons with the winds light and variable sent shivers down my spine. Instead of risking such a landing, I told Rich I was heading back to the Hull LZ where it was a mile long and 1/2 mile wide with a nice 10 mph breeze. He decided to do so as well.
This is the view of Hull after turning around and heading back.
Here is a nice shot of the Hull LZ. This time of year it is absolutely huge. There are three gliders on the ground in the yellow circle. How could you not want to land in an LZ like this?
On the way to the LZ with the air very smooth over the lake, I decided to see how fast I could get my glider going. I topped out at 66 mph indicated and 76 mph over the ground. The wind was light at altitude. My body could have been interfering with my vario at that speed. I had my optiglide installed so that limited my speed a little. At 70 mph my sink rate was 1,000 fpm.
Rich caught this picture of Paul landing. Even though the LZ is huge and the wind is usually straight, there is still one hazard the seems to catch lot of pilots. In the picture you can see a dry stream bed. It is just before the area you want to land. It is several feet deep. As you fly across it in ground effect, because it is lower than the area around it, you will fly out of ground effect as you cross and your glider will suddenly drop. If they are not aware of it, pilots tend to whack. Paul flared just as his glider dropped and he ended up fine, right in the middle of the dry creek.
This is a clip of my landing. I flared just as I crossed the creek and had a no stepper on the other side. Rich had an even better landing.
Linda and Rich relaxing in the Hull LZ. Linda bought Rich a baseball hat that has hair on the top the matched Rich's hair almost perfectly.
Overall it was a good flight, about 2 1/2 hours. We could have stayed in the air twice that long, but saw no point. We have about 4 more weeks left were the weather could be good enough to get us across to the Sacrament Valley. We have made the crossing several times in the last couple of years and would like to do it again before the season ends.
Vince's track log.
Rich's track log.
Postscript: I solved my radio problems by removing my Motocom headset and re-installed my Flight connections headset. For some reason, the Motocom would cause the radio to randomly change frequencies. The reason I made the change in the first place was the Motocom has two ear speakers to the Flight connections one. With two speakers I could have the volume lower. But, if I can't hear anything, it does not matter how many speakers I have. The Flight Connections headset worked perfectly as it has for the last 5 years.