It has been three weeks since Rich and I have flown.  Last Saturday we drove up to Elk to fly.  The blips and XCskies both predicted no clouds and wind out of the south, lift to 7,000'. They both were very wrong as you can see in the photo below.

The clouds never rose more than 500' above launch.  The lift looked good under the clouds but there was almost no chance of going anywhere and the the thought of a creek bed landing in the conditions did not look worth the flight.  We bagged it to fly another day.

This Saturday (September 27th) looked good on the forecast, lift to 8,000' over Elk and 11,000' over Snow and Hull.  Winds should be out of the south at 5 mph.  With Linda driving we headed back to Elk.  We arrived at launch a little early, about 10:30.  The wind was blowing in at 15 mph without any signs of cycles.  We set up and waited, and waited and waited.  I sent up a couple of balloons, one at 11:30 and another at 1:15.  Both quickly drifted north without any sign of lift, and with their low angle of ascent, it looked like the winds were strong aloft.  Finally at 2:00 it looked like the wind was cycling more with much less strong laminar flow and more warm air with variable velocity that would indicated thermals.

I launched first at 2:03 with Rich about 60 seconds later.  I circled out in front of launch in 100 fpm lift, not wanted to risk heading for the point to the right of launch and sinking out until I was a little higher.  Rich headed straight for the point and hooked a good one, averaging over 300 fpm.  That was all the encouraging I needed so I headed over to the point and started climbing fast.   In less than 15 minutes we had climbed from 4,000' to 7,700' in our first thermal and were high enough to try to fly to Hull.  If we had climbed above 8,000' I would have wanted to try for Snow.

Hull was our destination today.  It is the mountain just past the lake (Pillsbury) in the picture above.  If by slim chance we could get to 11,000' over Hull we would try to cross over to the northern Sacrament valley. 

This picture was taken while still over Elk.  You can see the ocean about 35 miles away with the band of clouds above it.

When we left on glide I was about 200' above Rich.  After only a couple miles he was already 200' above me.  It seems he always beats me on glide.  I was about 1/4 mile to his right so I moved over to his line to see if I could do better.  With a tail wind of over 10 mph we were still getting a poor glide, only 15 to 1.  The sink most of the day was much stronger than the lift.  After a 7 mile glide I was about 400' under Rich and cursing my poor position.  He stopped for one 360 and did not find anything.  I stopped and found some weak lift, under 100 fpm, but was able to drift over a mile with the tail wind.  I lost sight of Rich at this point and never was able to fly with him for the rest of the day.  He went on for another 7 miles without any lift.  I few about 3 miles and hit a nice smooth 300 fpm thermal.

After Rich's 7 mile glide he found himself 600' agl over the end of the Gravely Valley airstrip.  I don't know how he found the time to snap this picture at the same time he was trying to climb out.  As Rich was trying to crawl out of this hole, I was relaxing in a very comfortable thermal.  It's funny how things can change so quickly.

After Rich has climbed to 1,000' agl he took this picture.  He still has to climb another 5,000' to get over the top of Hull.  I had caught my thermal just to the south and east of the LZ.  I climbed to 7,000' in this one, higher than the top of Hull.  After topping out, I headed toward the red spot.  About half way between the red spot and the house (there is a house at the house thermal at hull), I hooked another nice one and climbed to almost 10,100'.  During this climb a red tailed hawk joined me for several 360's, at one point flying between my side wire and the wing tip, about 10' away.   Rich had managed to take his little thermal he caught at 2,500' (600 agl) to 5,800' before heading out to look for something better. 

In this picture, just above and right of the center you can see an area with a red tint.  This is what we call the red spot and is usually a good thermal generator.

As we headed over to the  timberline launch, we heard from Roy, Mike, Jon J, Scot, Doug, Leo and several other pilots who had launched from Hull.  We were going to have lots of pilots to fly with.  After climbing above 10,000' I looked over the top of Hull and could not see anyone.  I was wondering what happened to everyone.  I did spot a sailplane low over the top of Hull circling so I headed that way.  Over the top of Hull I climbed back above 10,000' but not high enough to try and cross to the valley.  I managed to circle with a bald eagle for two 360's.  The sailplane never climbed high enough for me to see their tail letters. 

While I was over Hull, Rich headed for windy ridge and climbed to 7,500'.  This picture was taken from windy ridge.  The town of Covelo is in the valley just in front of Rich's wingtip.  We have talked about flying that way one of these days. 

Rich and Mike flying together over Windy ridge.

Rich left Windy ridge for Tule lake.  I flew over to windy ridge and came in 1,000' under Mike in his Atos.  This was one of the wildest thermals I have been in.  At one point I was climbing at 1,100 fpm and 5 seconds later was sinking at 250 fpm.  I made a video of my IGC file playback in SeeYou and posted it here:

Watch the vario number at the bottom of the video.  The playback is in real time.  The lift and sink were so close together, I was moving my base tube 12" for and aft just to keep the nose somewhat level.  If you have not flown an Atos before, 12" of base tube movement would normally start an inside or outside loop.  As I was passing 9,000' Mike radioed that I was getting close.  He was only 50' above me.  I did not want to fly formation in anything like this so I headed back over to Hull.  I only climbed to 9,500' over Hull so I headed for Tule lake to see if I could catch up with Rich.

Tule lake is the green meadow just right of the center of the picture.  When I first flew Hull mountain in 1999, Tule lake was still a lake.  Over the past 8 years it has filled in and formed a meadow. Rich climbed to 9,000' and headed back toward Elk. 

On his glide toward Elk, Rich took this picture over to Ukiah.  It is just past the lake in front of his wing tip.

When I got to the area Rich had climbed, I could not find any lift.  I headed back toward Elk as well.  After a mile I hit a nice one and climbed 2,000' to 9,600.  My vario said I had the LZ at Rich's house by 800'.  I went on glide in that direction.  The glide was going well until I crossed over the creek bed at the dam.  I was down to 8,000' and my ground speed dropped by almost 15 mph.  My glide went to 11 to 1.  My vario now said I was going to be 2,000' short.  Rich had hit big sink as well and turned east, then back to the LZ.  I headed east and found nothing so I was on my way to the LZ. 

Rich found a little thermal right over the LZ at 800' agl and climbed 3,000' just for practice.  When I arrived I circled in zero sink, watching the wind on the ground.  All day it had been light and switching.  It looked pretty good so I circled to land.  On final I saw Roy's wind sock change 90 degrees crossing from the left and then hang limp.  I landed in zero wind just past the creek bed of sink for a 2 + hour flight.

When Rich climbed up, Scot came over for a photo shoot.  After flying around in formation for some photos, they headed out to land.

Mike headed over to the LZ as well and the three of them circled down for landing.  The wind had picked up to about 5 mph straight out of the west and they all had great landings.  Linda had driven over from Elk and was waiting to pick us up.  It looked like about 10 pilots had flown from Hull.  Rich and I prefer to start at Elk and go for the extra challenge of making the 14 mile crossing to Hull.  It used to make me nervous, but now I know what to expect and can enjoy it much more.  After landing, Rich told me he was finding even rougher air than I had.  He had at least 3 big wire twangs.  Some of the other pilots had reported rough conditions as well.

On the drive out of the Lake Pillsbury basin, we passed a group of elk near the airstrip.  This is hunting season and they don't allow hunting in the basin.   The elk figure this out and come down to the basin.  They barely looked up at us as we stopped to take pictures.

Vince's IGC file.

Rich's IGC file.