This flight was my second flight of the year and Rich’s first.  We have both been pre-occupied with other things in our lives and have not had much chance to hang glide.  The weather here in Northern California stayed in the typical winter pattern until mid June so we did not miss much.  Since Rich lost his hang gliding vehicle last year in an accident, I drove my truck up to his house to use as a retrieve vehicle.  Linda volunteered to drive for us, much thanks Linda. 

Rich shows me his new retrieve vehicle, but it still needs racks.  Our gliders are twice as long as the vehicle, so we might have to put them on the car sideways.

We decided to fly Elk, our usual launch site just north of Clear Lake, CA.  The weather prediction looked great with good south winds for the first time this year.   When we got to the top of Elk we did indeed find the wind out of the south.

This is the south launch and the windsock blowing in a great direction.  I lost almost 20 pounds since last year and purchased a new harness.  This one is much tighter and more streamlined.  I am hoping to be able to keep up with Rich this year on glide (he usually out glides me).

As part of my annual maintenance on my glider, I added an eagle decal to the tail.  Since our club now has 5 rigid wing gliders trying for serious XC, I thought this would help distinguish me in the air.

We were set up and read to fly at 11:00am.  We waited for most of an hour to be sure that the thermals were strong enough to get us up and out of there so we could head for Hull, 15 miles north.

This is me in my new harness and helmet.

I thought this was a nice artistic picture Rich took with the camera mounted to the base tube.  The paraglider pilots usually cut the weeds in the set up area because they use it as a launch area as well, but they have been slacking this year. 

I had a nice cycle come through and had an easy launch.  I was a little surprised that I did not go up right away.  I got a little gnawing sensation that maybe the thermals were not going to be as good as I first thought (or predicted).  I did manage to find something to the right, just over the point.  The climb was slower than I would like, only 200 fpm and then I topped out at 4,800’, only 700’ above launch.  I knew we might be in trouble.  We need at least 7,400’ to fly directly to Hull and 5,600’ to go over to Horse (3 miles north). 

Rich launched about 3 minutes after me and soon was above me.  My harness was a little tight in length and I had loosened the shoulder straps to get a little more room.  This caused me to have to push out the entire flight.  I was not able to thermal near as well as I normally do.  My hands off glide speed was 44mph, it is normally closer to 37mph. 

Here I am low again just in front of launch.

After that initial climb things got worse and worse.   After ½ an hour I was lower than launch.  I had to fly back and forth in the bowl in front of launch with my wing closer to the hill than I would like.  With each pass I would gain 80’, but when I turned away from the hill to reverse course, I would lose 100’.     Soon I was almost 500’ below launch and announced that I was heading for the creek bed in case I had to land.  I could not believe that with such a promising forecast I was getting flushed.  I turned away from Elk and flew about a mile south when I hit some lift.  I turned and was amazed to find 100 fpm for the entire 360.  Then I was even more amazed to see Rich next to me.  I thought he was still at 5,000’ waiting for me.  It was very unusual to find lift here.

This little thermal slowly took us both to 6,100', not high enough to fly directly to Hull, but high enough to fly the 3 miles to Horse.  We lost 1,000' flying to Horse, but slowly claimed it back in an area of broken an unorganized lift.  We could see clouds forming over Hull.

The clouds forming over Hull.

Back to 6,100' I told Rich I was heading for Hull.  I did not want to go back to Elk and the threat of a creek bed landing.  In the picture above, you can see that the Pilsbury lake is full and there is no landing along the shore.  6,100' was lower than I would want to cross, but I thought I could bail to below the dam if I had to.   So off to Hull it was.

After only 2 miles I hit a really nice thermal.  The average was 450 fpm.  After only ten 360's we had climbed 1600' to 7,300.  Now we were in a very comfortable position.  We could easily make the crossing and get there high enough to be able to climb out.


Me on glide half way to Hull. 

After a glide of 3.5 miles we hit another great thermal, averaging 500 fpm, and climbing 1600' in only seven 360's.    Now we had a great cushion at 8,100'.

We were really cranking around in this thermal.  Both of us at a 45 degree bank angle, wingtip to wingtip.  We could feel the temperature dropping as we climbed.  Now it looked like we could glide all the way to the timberline launch at Hull.  The higher we arrive there, the better our chances of climbing out.  

We both arrived at about the same altitude over the red spot.  I worked a small thermal for 400'.  Rich did the same about a mile away.  As he crossed over the timberline launch he got this picture.

It was now 1:30 and no one seemed to be in a hurry to launch.

There was a cloud that had been forming above the bowl to the north of launch.  We both headed over there to see if we could find something better.  Surprisingly, I found nothing worth turning in so I headed back toward launch.  At the spine just north of launch I started climbing again.  Each thermal would get me another 1,000' and each time I would head a mile further northeast.  There was now a huge cloud street forming over the Mendocino range. 

What a great cloud street.  Too bad to follow it would take us over unlandable wilderness area. 

Rich had flown further northwest over the bowl than I did and like me, did not find much and headed back toward launch.  I was now close to 10,500'.  I just hung out under the clouds and waited for him.  After 25 minutes he joined me at 11,000' and we committed to crossing the Mendocino range and toward the central valley.  I was starting to get a little cold, but I was definitely warmer in my new harness.  I was not quite round enough for my previous harness and every time I went on glide I would get a cold blast of air down my back.

The cloud street extended all the way south of Snow (on the right of the picture).  St. John is just to the left of center.  Several other rigid wing pilot were going to launch from St. John and head north.  We had hoped we could get in touch with them and get them on our frequency so we might be able to work together after we crossed, but we unsuccessful.

This picture was taken about half way across the mountains.  With nice clouds like these, we did not have to worry about the crossing.

After an 8 mile glide and thanks to a good tail wind (we averaged a 25 to 1 glide), we hit our first lift.  Another two miles further we climbed back to cloud base, 10,300.  From here we went on our longest glide yet, 26.1 miles without lift. 

Our route will take us just left of the center of the picture.  Red Mountain is down the ridge in the center of the picture.

This is the ridge that goes down to Red Mountain, about 3 miles to the right of the picture.  The town of Paskenta is in the upper right.  The prison is just beyond the ridge.

26 miles is a long way to glide.  We averaged 50 mph ground speed due to a favorable tail wind and a 20 to 1 glide.   We also started out at over 10,000' and at that altitude our true airspeed was about 7 mph faster than our indicated airspeed.  At the early part of the flight we were averaging above 60 mph ground speed.  This glide lasted 31 minutes.  We finally found a thermal 2 miles northwest of Paskenta, just past where the double row of hills start.  It started out great, over 400 fpm, but quickly petered out after only 950' (we topped out at only 4,300' about 3,000' agl). 

I was flying much faster than I should have been at this point.  The lift was weak and broken, I should have slowed down, but I was still having to push out so much to slow down that I kept forgetting to.  Rich later said that we could have found more lift, but he was not too excited about it at this point because it was obvious that the condition in the valley were not very good.

The next glide was 10 miles.  We went as far as we could and still be over a decent LZ.  We spiraled down from 2000' agl to our LZ.  As we descended my GPS indicated a strong wind from the south, but the wind lines from the ponds in the area indicated a north wind.  On my last 360 into the LZ the wind was still indicating out of the south so I landed in that direction.  On final, I hit a thermal to the north of my field.  I made some S turns and hoped it would suck the wind from the south and I could get a good head wind.  As I was in ground effect I could see that there was no wind at all.  This was fine with me.  When I flared I did not have my hands as high was I wanted (this new harness makes this a little more difficult) and I had to run out my landing.  This would have been fine, but the field had thigh high star thistle and wild rye.  I was only  able to get two steps before the glider ever so slowly came over my head.  The nose just lightly touched, but it touched on a sharp rock that put a hole in my pristine nose cone.  I went all of last year without a ding in it.

That's me just as I flair.

And the nose just coming over.

Rich landed a few minutes after me.  The flight time was 3 hours and 10 minutes.  The distance with the dog leg at Hull was 61 miles.  As we were breaking down another rigid wing pilot who launch from St. John landed in the same field.  He said it was very tough going in the valley, which we had just confirmed. 

This was only my second flight of the year and the first one of any real distance.  We would have loved to get another site record on this day, but you have to work with what you are dealt.  This was the 4th time we have crossed to the central valley from Hull.  One other pilot has done it twice and 1 pilot once.  I always get a feeling of accomplishment when we make the crossing.

Satellite view of our track.

My IGC file.


Note:  I am using Century Gothic font in the report to try it out.  It is supposed to use 20% less ink when printed than the standard Ariel I was using.