Click on the pictures for a larger version. All pictures copyright by Rich Sauer, 2008.
The forecast for Saturday September 6th over Elk Mountain, CA looked promising, better than it has looked for a long time. The top of workable lift over Elk was predicted to be 8,000' to 10,000' and over Snow and Hull Mountains 12,000 to 14,000'. It looked like we would finally be able to cross the Mendocino Mountains for the first time this year. Linda, our incredible driver was looking for a challenge and wanted us to go far. The pressure was on.
Rich picked me up from the airport on Friday in his 1971 Dodge Charger Super Bee that he is restoring. It has 440 ci engine that has been stroked to 493 cubic inches, along with 3 duce carburetors. It has 500 horse power. If he jumps on it, I think the gas gage and the speedometer move just as fast but in opposite directions. He has several classic cars.
After leaving the airport we drove over to Bill Vogel's house to look at his new harness. He just received his Moyes Matrix today. It is a really clean looking harness. I would not be surprised if he picked up a point in glide from his old harness.
Saturday morning after our standard breakfast at Judy's restaurant, we (Rich, Linda, Bill and I) drove up to Elk arriving on top at 10:30.
Now that I have a bottle of Helium, I made the obligatory balloon launch to check on the wind direction. The wind was out of the southwest for the first 200' then the balloon rose straight up. This was a great indicator that the west winds were had not reached Elk. I realize that I have a similar picture on several other reports, but I wanted to post this one to show how clear and blue the sky was. No more smoke from the fires.
I launched first at 12:39. Right out in front of launch I hit 400 fpm up that I was able to circle in for 2 360s, then I lost it. I tried for 20 more minutes to get above launch. Rich and Bill were waiting on launch watching. They were not going to launch until they saw me climb out. Right about 1:00 I finally climbed a thousand over launch and Rich, then Bill launched. After launch Rich turned right and headed for the point. He flew directly into a 700 fpm thermal, he did not even have to look for it. When I saw Rich climbing out I headed over toward him. Before getting to him I hit 900 fpm (it could have been the same thermal, I was about 1,000' over Rich). Bill had caught the lower part of the thermal under Rich.
I took the video in the link above as I climbed in that thermal. It was only the second thermal that strong I have had all year. It averaged over 500 fpm for more than 3,000'. I topped out at 9,000', (5,000' over launch) the highest I can remember ever getting over Elk. We had talked about crossing over the Mendocino mountains at Snow mountian instead of heading over to Hull as we have done in the past. I have never crossed at Snow. I know it has been done at least once before by Rich and another pilot back in the 1980's. It has not been done in the past 15 years.
This is Snow mountain. It's about 10 miles from Elk heading east, elevation about 7,000'.
This picture is of Hull mountain, just north of lake Pillsbury. Normally we fly north to Hull then cross over the mountains to the central valley. Today, we headed for Snow.
As we arrived at the southwest face of Snow we caught a nice thermal. I shot the video above there. I was trying to keep Rich in the frame and I think he was trying to keep me in his camera frame. After a couple of 360s I had to concentrate on climbing. Bill found a thermal on the way over to Snow so he was a little behind us. He ended up flying around Snow to St. John.
Snow mountain is in the foreground and St. John is in the background. There is a launch at St. John. We planned to climb over Snow then either head down the center of the range (north) or head over to St. John.
This picture was taken from the same location as the one above. Potato Hill is the small hill in the center of the picture. It is where the paragliders fly from. Not very many hang gliders fly from there as St. John is usually better. Fouts Springs is the little valley in front of Potato, and Stonyford is the the valley across the next ridge.
We climbed to 11,000' just in front of Snow and headed over the top. We did not hit any lift over Snow so we headed over the top of St. John. We could probably found lift if we searched around but our goal was miles not height. As we flew over the top of St. John at 9,200', it felt like we were just above the lift. Bill had found some lift over the switchbacks and climbed to 8,900' so we probably were above the lift. We headed northeast to look for some lift. We saw several paragliders north of St. John. I could not believe how fast they were flying. There ground speed was about 30 mph. Paragliders have gotten so much faster in the last 5 years.
We climbed about 500' a couple miles northeast of St. John. The mountain in the background of the picture above is Hull. As we climbed in this thermal, Rich spotted a sailplane circling above Felkner ridge. We headed that way and were able to climb back above 10,000'. After this climb we headed out on what would be an 18 mile glide to Red Mountain.
Red mountain is on the far ridge just right of the center of the picture. The air along the way to Red was smooth and indicated we were above the top of lift. At Red we caught a weak thermal and climbed about 500'. From here it was another 8 mile glide to just west of Paskenta.
This is the town of Paskenta. The forecast was for much weaker lift over the valley, which is usually the case. We were down below 3,000' (lower than usual here) when we found a thermal to keep us going. Bill took a line slightly more east and was able to keep going. At this point his headset mike came unplugged from his radio and he could not longer transmit. He could hear us and he could click his radio by pressing on the transmit button on the radio. We were able to get some communications by asking him to click his radio if he was still in the air, which he did.
I like this picture because of the deep blue of the sky. Rich took this as we left the thermal at Paskenta.
I was able to stay above Rich for the last 30 miles, but somehow when it matters I find myself lower than him. Here I was about 300' lower and starting to worry. I was about 1,500' agl and could not fly any further without getting up. The only LZ within gliding distance was the one in the picture. We found a thermal when we needed it and started climbing. This was about the point the Lowery road turns east. We caught one more thermal just before Redbank Road.
As we were climbing I notice more hawks and buzzards than I have ever seen in the air at once. There were probably 10 hawks and 20 buzzards. We circled with one hawk for 2,000'. It never climbed up through us though. The link above did not turn out very good but it is some video of the hawk as we went on glide. Surprisingly, be climbed to over 6,000'. The thermals were far between, but the sink was minimal so we were able to make some good long glides.
At Redbank road we usually head north east, which is the direction we headed when we set the site record. With Bill's radio not working properly, I suggested we head east for the Redbluff airport. This would be easy for Bill to find. If we were to head north east, we start jumping across east/west roads and the retrieval would get difficult. We just followed Redbank road toward the airport.
The Redbluff airport is just about the top right of the picture before the mountains. The road we followed comes into the picture from the bottom right and heads up the center of the picture.
Off in the distance, just to the right of my wing, is the only cloud we saw on this flight. This it typical of Northern California flying.
Rich snapped this self portrait on glide to the airport. The camera is looking north.
When you approach an airport, fly across the center of the runway to check the wind sock and landing pattern indicator. The center of the runway is the safest place to cross because the planes are still on the ground at this point. Be very cautious though as airplanes that are unfamiliar with the airport will do the same thing. They will generally cross at 1,500' agl or higher.
This picture is looking back west, the direction we came. I wanted to point out the 5 sets of high voltage transmission lines crossing the area.
Rich got a great picture of the windsock and landing pattern indicator. The two "Ls" on the outer part of the circle indicate the landing pattern. At this airport the pattern is shown to be to the west of the runway. In this case we flew to the east of the runway to circle down to land. Also note in the picture that it is easier to see the shadow of the windsock than the windsock itself. In the shadow you can see that the windsock is not sticking straight out. FAA approved airport windsocks are designed to stick straight out at 15 knots. The angle of this windsock indicated a wind of about 7 knots.
We circled down from about 2,500' in nice smooth air, no thermals breaking off. We chose to land in the patch of grass (weeds actually) next to the windsock. Rich landed first with me about 30 seconds later.
This link is for my landing video. Instead of making a 360 on my final approach, I chose make an S turn so I could keep Rich in view the entire approach. The quality of YouTube is not very good, but you can just see Rich land past the windsock and just a bit left. I wanted to land next to the windsock to keep my walk to a minimum. I was about 10' short of my spot.
It was only 105 degrees on the ground when we landed so we took our time breaking down.
I remembered to grab Rich's camera and get a picture of him after the flight.
I broke down next to the "Large Aircraft" sign.
There is a reason we like to land at airports. One of them is the BIG 20' tall windsocks. No need to try and figure out what the wind is doing on the ground by dropping streamers or flying 360s and checking for drift.
About 1/2 hour after we landed, Bill made it in. He had heard everything we said and easily found the airport. I don't think he will mind me saying that he is 66 years old. He quit flying hang gliders 4 years ago because he was having troubling landing and had injured his shoulder which made it difficult for him to control a flexwing. Rich and I told him about the Atos VQ which weighed only 85 pounds (vs the 105 pounds VR which Rich and I fly). He bought the VQ and has about 11 flights on it. He has not bent a week link or touched the nose on landing. He says it feels like it has autoland.
My flight time was bout 4 hours with Rich about 20 minutes less. Our flight was 70.5 miles. I would say it was one of my more enjoyable flights I have had. Other than some rough air below launch and a few bumps here and there it was great.
This is our ground track on a satellite map.
Our altitude graph.
Vince's IGC file.
Rich's IGC file
Bills IGC file.