It has been a late start for me this year. The weather in Northern California has not been cooperating. We have had a very wet spring and the wettest June in 80 years. I decided to drive up to St. John for the 4th of July weekend for some camping and possibly my first flight of the year. When heading to St. John I always plan on a camping trip and if I get to fly, it is just icing on the cake. To do otherwise could lead to disappointment. My wife Nancy volunteered to drive (which is rare these days) so I definitely wanted to take advantage of her generous offer.
I call Rich to see if he wanted to go and he said he is not ready yet. He have been very busy and has not had a chance to get any of his gear together or do his annual on his glider. Andy and Greg called and asked what I would be doing this weekend. I mentioned St. John and they were on board. Greg had not flown St. John in two years so he was especially looking forward to the trip. It would be different without Rich, especially all his pictures, but I would have to make do.
With all my camping and flying gear we packed up and headed for St. John. After a 5 hour drive we arrived in Stonyford with plenty of daylight. I was told that the forest service had contracted to grade the road up to St. John. Immediately after leaving the Davis Flats campground I was having doubts, but after about half a mile the conditions started to improve. All of the big ruts were filled in and several places where large rocks were poking through had fill place around them. The road improvements cut 15 minutes all my 80 minute normal drive to the top.
We set up camp Thursday night to cool temperatures (the launch is at 6,200') and slightly damp conditions (caused by last week's rain). Friday morning came with bright sunshine and brilliantly blue sky. Andy and Greg were not going to arrive until Friday night so this was going to be either a solo flight or a day off with lots of relaxation. I have been working pretty hard this last month so I chose relaxation. We spent the day reading and some hiking. I set up all the streamers around launch to get ready for Saturday. While working on this, I saw a paraglider fly over from Potato Hill. They came within 300 yards of launch, about launch level and turned back toward the switchbacks. They did not find anything there and started to head back to Potato. About a mile from St. John, they hit a nice thermal and climbed back to launch level. I was glad I did not fly as this meant I would have just flown out to town and landed (assuming the paraglider pilot knew what they were doing).
Friday night Andy and Greg drove up and set up their camp. Andy had the latest soaring forecast which we looked over. Saturday looked the best for the weekend, with Sunday and Monday being iffy. The lift was predicted for only 8,000' or so over St. John, and maybe 5,000' over the flats (the Northern Sacramento Valley, between Redding and Redbluff). The winds were showing light west to southwest, and maybe a little southeast to the northern part of our route.
Saturday was bright and sunny with the same brilliant blue sky. No clouds anywhere. At least we would get a good watts per square meter. I had set up my glider the night before. Andy and Greg were were set up by 11:00. I thought it would be a later launch day, probably 1:00. On the good days I like to launch by 12:00 (which, as I read about other pilots flights is usually very early). At noon Kurtis C. showed us and set up his new bright orange T2. He was hell bent on flying to Hat Creek, where he was headed for his annual Berkley club get together. Our first cycle came through at 12:35 with another 5 minutes later. We did not get another cycle until almost 1:00 when I decided to go. By the time we were all suited up, hooked up, turned on and standing at launch it was 1:15. Greg was first and had to wait 10 minutes for a launchable cycle. He had a great launch in light conditions. He headed toward the switchbacks and started climbing.
I was next and had to stand on launch for another 10 minutes for a cycle. It was switching from left to right and was only straight for about 5 seconds when I launch in about 5 mph, which is pretty light for the St. John ramp. St. John required near perfect launch technique every time as a blown launch could be very ugly. Andy was at launch for only 3 minutes when it straightened out. It was pretty light so he asked Nancy how much wind Greg and I launch in. She said it was about what he had right now so he launched.
Greg and I climbed almost continually to the top of lift at 8,500' over the mother load. Andy was a little slower. Now, once again my radio was having problems. I could transmit fine, but with the volume turned all the way up, I could still not hear other transmissions. I have since found and corrected the problem, but once again it was going to be sign language and what I could transmit to fly together. We joined up at the motherload (the north end of St. John). I was bouncing between 8,300' and 8,600' waiting for Andy to join Greg and I. Was soon as he was close, I headed north. I don't like hanging around at the top of lift as it feels like you are always about to go over the falls. I was a little concerned about heading out first, if the guys hit lift behind me I had know way of knowing without a radio. I could look back, but I like to concentrate on things out front. I did not find anything on the first ridge so I continued to the second. I started working light lift there and as I turned, I could not see Greg or Andy. Great, I lost them already. Oh well, I continued on. On the third ridge, I started turning in some light lift and caught a glimpse of Andy, what looked like way out into the valley. I then saw Greg climbing great near Andy so I headed that way. I normally don't like to fly so far east. I like to come into each ridge about 400' over and if I don't find lift, I can always head down the ridge.
Greg topped out and headed north as Andy and I tried to climb up to Greg's altitude. As soon as we topped, we headed north and found some more lift just before Grindstone canyon. I don't like to stop so often, but I was getting down to 4,000' and I like to be 6,000' or above in this area. At Grindstone, we hit a good core, averaging about 300 fpm. Andy left at 5,500 and I moved over and found another core to 6,500. Now I felt comfortable again. From here I could easily glide over Red, 5 miles away. Greg had found some more lift at Red and we all joined up and climbed together. Andy and I climbed back to 6,500', Greg a little lower. Greg headed toward the prison while Andy and I flew out toward the road to Paskenta.
Click here to see a video Greg shot over our climb at red.
We all found lift and joined up again west of Paskenta. The lift was getting very reliable, about every 5 miles, but difficult to core and light most of the time. We were doing good to average 250 fpm. If you watch the video below, you can see how much we have to move around to stay in the lift. I was trying to stay back with the guys, but they were gliding painstakingly slow, typically 30 to 31 mph. I like to glide at 35 to 40 between thermals, which my VR seems to prefer. Looking back over the stats, I had the lowest average glide ratio at 18.1 to 1 (Atos VR), Andy had 18.7 to 1 (Atos VQ) and Greg 19.1 to 1 (Atos V). Greg's glide might be skewed do to his shorter flight, but I could tell when I was gliding next to him at 30 mph he was getting a better glide.
We worked together until the 45 mile mark when Greg lost the core. He headed out to find some lift and never found much, landing just before Redbank road. As we climbed, I could usually tell if we were at the top of lift or had lost the core by the feel of the air. When it felt like I was balancing on ball, about to roll off in any direction, it was the top of lift. If I just stopped going up and the air was relatively stable, I had lost the core and I new to search around for it. This doesn't work so well in those eastern thermals which tend to be fatter and have smooth tops.
This was my first flight in over 9 months. Even though I had been keeping physically active, my flying muscles were sore. I was making sure that Andy had to work very hard to climb with me, which meant constantly making adjustments while thermaling, eking every foot of altitude I could. If you want to go far, every foot of climb counts, and I like to get every foot that I can. I had fleeting thoughts of flying to the Redbluff airport since Greg had landed, being sore and making the retrieve a little easier, but Andy had never flown north of here so I pressed on. We were only averaging 20 miles and hour, and our late launch meant a 100 miler would be lucky at best, but I was going to try.
I usually headed out first, but even when Andy left first, I would soon pass him. The sink was a little stronger between glides from the 50 mile mark to the 65 mile mark at the truck scales on 5, but the climbs were better. We struggled again just before the truck scales and had to spend a lot of time in weak lift before climbing to 5,800' and heading across the big green sink hole northeast of the scales. This would be our longest glide, 11 miles. Andy watched me sink and caught a much better line to my east. I averaged only 15.7 to 1 while he averaged 20 to 1.
I thought we were done for and would have to land along hwy 44. I was down to 2,200' and had about 4 miles to hwy 44 when I found a really nice thermal, averaging 350 fpm for over 3,000', back to 5,500'. We were at the 80 mile mark and I started to seriously think we could make 100 miles. We had a pass of about 2,200' to climb over, then we could glide to the 100 mile mark. The last thermal was so good I thought for sure we could find another, but it was not to be. There is a nice field at the 90 mile mark, the last nice field before 100 miles. I have landed at a field at 96 miles, but it was tight and required my drogue and a bit of a hike to the road.
I had landed in this field once before when Rich and I set the record from Elk so I was familiar with it. I landed first and had a decent no wind landing. Andy had a great landing two minutes later. Discussing out flight, I found out that Andy was feeling worse than me. He was still getting over a cold and was sore and tired, so we both were suffering, but were determined to get the best flight we could.
Andy took the picture. You can see the power lines we follow from about the 50 mile mark, all the way to Burney at 116 miles (if we make it that far). Andy was the 5th person to break the 90 mile mark from St. John and his third best flight ever (though his 158 mile flight a few weeks ago is hard to beat). When we started I thought we might only make 20 miles, but with a lot of work, we turned a so so day into a great day. While breaking down, Kurt C. called to say he made 50 miles, his best ever from St. John. Congratulations!
Stats: 4 hours and 10 minutes flying time, 90 miles flown, 560 miles on my truck.
Andy put together a great video of our flight on SeeYou.
Here is the Vimeo link: http://vimeo.com/26040408
And the YouTube link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n5mwFBSAYuY
A satellite view of our track.
Click her for my track log:
Click for Andy's track log:
Click for Greg's track log:
Thanks for reading and have enjoyable flights!