The forecast for this Saturday looked good for Elk, but they always seem to look good. Lift at Elk was predicted to be 8,000', lift at Hull, 18 miles to the north should be 12,000'. Wind out of the south, southwest at 10 mph at altitude. Some possibility of clouds over the peaks. Rich and I are really itching for a flight from Elk over the Mendocino mountains to the northern Sacrament valley. We made 1 such flight last year and 3 the year before. Linda, our driver was getting tired of these short flight and wanted us to go long. She really likes do chase us.
We stopped at the south launch of Elk for a weather check. The wind at 10:30 was light out of the west (crossing from the right), but very light cycles would come through and straighten out the wind up launch. I released a helium balloon for a wind check. Just above launch the wind was out of the south, then for the next 2,000' the balloon went straight up, after that it drifted in a very light north west wind. There were no clouds which meant more sunshine than we had last week. The weather was looking good.
By 12:00 the cycles were coming in at 5 to 10 mph, straight up launch. Rich was getting nervous that the westerly's (sea breeze) would come in so we suited up to launch. I launched at 12:25. When I walked up to launch there was already a cycle coming through. I did not know how long it had been coming in so I waited about 30 seconds to see if it was going to die off. I could see that the trees 300 yards below launch were still moving strong so I launched. It was a good cycle, but I did launch very close to the end. I was able to make a 360 right in from of launch and was 100' above launch after my first circle. The second circle put me on the lee side and sinking fast. I flew to the front of launch in sink and had to give up and head over to the point 200 yards or so to the west. I hate having to depend on the lift over the point to get up. If you miss a thermal there you pretty much have to give up and head to the second bailout. If you work the point too long you could get stuck in the primary bailout which is half the size it used to be due to some signs the the forestry department installed in the middle of the LZ.
Luck was on my side and I started climbing at 30 fpm. After a few 360s the rate increased to 100 fpm. Rich had to wait a few minutes for another cycle, but he soon launched and started to climb out. We climbed to about 6,000' together when I left the lift to look for something better to the east. Rich stayed in the lift and continued to climb well, averaging 300 fpm to 8,000'. Not wanting to get stuck in a flush cycle, he immediately radioed he was heading for Hull. I was still 1,000' lower in weak lift.
This picture is taken just west of Horse mountain, about 15 miles from Hull. Rich caught a thermal in this area and started climbing. I was still back at Elk in weak lift at 7,600'. When I saw him climbing I headed his way. I actually found a different core to the east of his and climbed at 250 fpm. Rich topped out at 7,800 and headed on . I was still below him but decided to give chase from below. I did not installed my Optiglide at launch because I wanted to see what my top speed was without it. Last week I topped out at 78 mph. Without it, I just could not glide in the same league as Rich. He usually will have 100' or so on my after 5 miles, but today he was beating me by 100' every couple of miles. I started to think I had a worse line than him, but even when I lined up right behind him, he would still out glide me.
As we were circling up next to horse, we looked behind us to the south and could see the first CUs forming over Goat mountain. This was a good sign. After Horse we found another thermal a few more miles along our route. Rich climbed to 8,300' with me still a few hundred feet below. This is about as high was we have ever been in this area. I was thinking that the forecast might be right after all and we could get 12,000' at Hull.
This picture was taken when we stopped for our second thermal on the way to Hull. That's me low again. There are no landing areas on the crossing from Elk to Hull.
After topping out above 8,000' we had a 9 mile glide over to the south ridge of Hull. You can see above I was still stuck lower than Rich. So far the thermals had been very broken and rough, not very pleasant to climb in. They were so bad that I only turned on my video camera 3 times, and as it turned out I was never able to actually start the recoding. I thought I had captured some really good video. One time I was thermaling with a hawk just 10 feet in front of me. I thought I had it on video for most of 20 seconds.
The wind was 10 mph out of the west at Hull. Rich found a thermal right away and climbed up. I had to look much harder along the ridge before I found something cohesive enough to climb in. Rich headed for the peak and I stayed over the red spot. He hit massive sink over the peak and had to head back over the Hull launch for lift. I peaked out at 8,300' and was now above Rich for the first time. He was still working over launch.
As Rich worked the lift over Hull timberline launch, he got this picture of Mike K. and another pilot still setting up. I took my 8,300' (which was about 1,600' higher then Hull) and headed east of the peak where I thought the lift would be better due to the west winds. I found nothing to the east and had to fly back to the west in front of the mountain to get back in lift. About this time my flap cord decided that is was tired and would no longer grab the cleat in spite of me installing a new cleat. When I installed the cleat I had removed my backup cleat, a big mistake. For the rest of the flight I had to either try to thermal with no flaps or try to hold the flaps on by wrapping the cord around my hand. The rough air made it difficult to do either. If you look at the vario readout below you will see the lift was as high at 1,100 fpm (4 second average) and the sink would be about the same.
After trying to climb up over the top of Hull 4 more times, each time topping out at 8,400', we just about gave up. It was 2:00 and there were a few CUs in the distance to the east of Hull. Right about this time we saw a few CUs form to the west of Hull over Windy Ridge. This was the same place we climbed to about 10,000' last week. We flew over to the clouds and climbed to 9,500'. We could see that we were never going to get high enough to cross over the Mendocino's. I had set a waypoint on a peak on the other side and my vario never indicated better than -3,500' arrival height. With the 9,000'+ I told Rich we should try again for the LZ across the road from his house, so we headed in that direction.
We were gliding into a slight headwind and only getting a 15 to 1 glide even though we did not hit much sink. Once again after a few miles I was a couple hundred feet under Rich. It was obvious I was not going to make it so I turned back east, toward an area that we had our second thermal on the way to Hull. Rich stayed behind working zero sink hoping to find a core. I was southeast of Lake Pillsbury when I found a nice core going up at 350 fpm. Rich came in under me and was circling in the same core, but I was slowly pulling away from him. I topped out at 6,500', not near good enough to make it back to Elk. I set my vario waypoint to the Hull LZ. My plan was to fly south on a course to Elk while watching my arrival height back to the Hull LZ. As soon as it was below 1,000' I would turn around and head back.
I flew 1.5 miles south toward Elk and flew right into a 350 fpm core (averaged over the entire climb). I ran out of steam at 8,300', about the same as we had climbed on the way to Hull. I could see that I had Elk easily made so I headed on glide. Rich was stuck at 7,500', not quite enough to follow. I had a crosswind on glide, which was not much trouble, but I hit massive sink and averaged only 12 to 1 on the twelve mile glide.
This is what it looked like heading back to Elk. The red arrow is Elk, the yellow arrow is Horse and the blue arrow is Mid Mountain which I would have to cross to get to the LZ by Rich's house. I made it over Elk launch at 4,700' (600' over launch). The wind was strong out of the northwest indicating that the sea breeze had arrived. I flew over the point and climbed for 300' but drifted to the east, negating any of my altitude gain. I flew back to the point and climbed again to the same altitude, but again drifted east. I was not high enough to cross over Mid Mountain. Not wanting to get stuck on the Elk bailout I headed south some more to Pitney ridge.
This picture was taken a few miles north of Elk and the arrow indicated the LZ I was headed for.
I only had to fly a little over a half mile when I hit some lift. I climbed to 5,400' which looked like just enough to get me across Mid Mountain. As I headed to cross, I hit lots of sink and had to fly south of Mid Mountain to where the ridge was lower. I crossed the ridge with just a couple of hundred of feet to spare. I thought for sure I would hit lift on the other side (I had approached from the lee side), but continued to hit sink. My arrival height for the LZ dropped from 1,000' to just 300'. I was starting to get a little worried. I wanted to get over the LZ high enough to be able to tie my flap cord tight with the flaps down.
After another mile I finally hit some lift. As soon as my vario indicated I would be over the LZ with 1,000' I headed that way. As I approached the LZ I tied the flaps in the fully down position. Like it or not, this caused me a lot of grief. As I approached the LZ I hit 500 fpm up, even with full flaps on. I had the bar pull in the my waist as I tried to find some sink, but continued to climb at 100 fpm. (My wife says hang gliders pilots are always complaining, first not enough lift and then too much). For 15 minutes I flew around looking for sink with the bar pull in as far as I could. My arms were really burning. All around I could see leaves floating by that had been sucked up by this massive thermal. I would guess in the mile wide area I searched I saw over 50 leaves floating by, and these were oak leaves that don't fall off in the winter.
Obviously I made it down, but it was a wild ride all the way. When I first flew over the LZ the wind was calm, but only a mile away it was blowing 12 mph from the northwest. The thermal was right over the LZ sucking the air straight up. By the time I landed the thermal had drifted to the southeast and it was blowing 10 mph in LZ. Not wanting to get in a rotor from the trees at the highway edge of the LZ, I landed about 100 yards downwind and had a very nice landing. I did get a landing video, but the camera was pointed too high to see the approach. Also when I landed my Camelback tube hooked on my vario and pulled the end off when I flared. The water pored out and got the camera wet. Luckily I had a no stepper and the end of the hose was right next to my feet.
Rich was still battling the thermal gods trying to get up and over. He climbed 4 more times to 7,500', but was never able to get that elusive one that would let him join me.
When Rich turned around to head back to Hull, this is how the clouds looked over windy ridge.
After only 10 minutes they had dissipated. This indicated very short lived thermals.
As Rich flew back over Hull, he spotted a fire fighting helicopter with water bucket. They flew right over the Hull LZ with their load of water.
They dumped their load next the to the Hull runway. They did this twice as Rich watched wondering what was going on. After the second drop, the helicopter landed in the area where they had previously dropped the water. It turned out they had dropped the water so they would not kick up a bunch of dust and suck it into the engine when they landed.
While Rich was waiting to land, he got this picture just as Mike K. was flaring to land.
As soon as I landed I called Rich on the radio to let him know I was down safe. He relayed this to Linda. She did not want me to have to wait in the field for several hours so she drove to the only payphone in the Hull basin (cell phones do not work here) and called several people to come by and see if they could pick me up. Both her neighbor and son come over to offer me a ride to Rich's house (though it is only a 1/4 mile walk). I really appreciated her efforts, but I declined not wanting to leave a $20,000 hang glider in a field unattended. On the drive up to launch in the morning Rich had told me about a glider that was stolen from him in a similar situation. I carry a 6'x6' lightweight nylon sheet in my harness so I can pack up without getting a bunch of debris mixed in with my equipment. I just laid out my Nylon sheet and took a nap for a few hours until Linda and Rich showed up.
Resting while waiting for a ride.
Here is my vario trace.
This is the satellite view of our tracks. Mine is in red, Rich is in green.
As far as we know, this is the first time someone has flown from Elk to Hull and back to Elk. The total distance for my flight was 45 miles in 3 hours and 10 minutes. Over an hour was spent trying to get up and over Hull. Rich's flight time was 3 hours and 50 minutes.
Rich's IGC file.
Vince's IGC file.