It's been three weeks since I last flew. Andy really wants to get a 100 miler from St. John and it is one of my favorite places to fly so we agreed to fly there Saturday. Even though it is one of the more remote sites in the area, it usually rewards me with a good flight. We decided to meet up on Friday night at Letts lakes. We had scheduled a driver to meet us at Stonyford on Saturday morning so it did not make sense to drive all the way to the top of St. John to camp (which I prefer). I drove into town at 3:30 and headed for Letts lake. On the way their I past a campground called Dixie Glade. It was 6 miles before Letts and was empty. If we stayed there it would save us 12 miles. I figured Letts would be full of yahoos and this looked like a quiet alternative.
I pulled over in a turnout 100 feet past Dixie Glade and waited for Andy. On the drive up to Dixie Glade, after Fouts, I had passed a forest service truck with two rangers in it. I thought this was a little strange as I have almost never seen a ranger in the area, and never two in the same vehicle. After waiting for Andy for 20 minutes a truck pulled up behind me, it was the rangers. They walked toward my truck with their hands covering their guns, one on each side of the truck. The one on the driver side stopped short of my window in the classic police stop where they don't want to get shot, the other tried to sneak up the passenger side, stopping short of the cab. The ranger asked if everything was all right. I said yes, I was just waiting for a friend and we were going to go hang gliding Saturday from St. John. He had never heard of St. John or hang gliding there so now I knew something was going on. He then started to talk to me about skydiving wing suits while his partner tried to peek into the back seat of my truck without me noticing. After his story they left. While I continued to wait for Andy, they drove past me 2 more times. I found out later that the forest service district had received a grant to try to get the pot growers out of the forest service lands in the area. There was another forest service truck (from out of the area) with two more offices, plus several sheriffS on patrol that day.
When Andy showed up we set up camp. Saturday morning we drove to Stonyford at 7:30 to meet our driver Jeff. We picked him up and loaded all my stuff onto Andy's truck and headed up the mountain at 8:30. We were on top at a little before 10 and set up by 10:45 when clouds started forming to the left of launch. It started out a little cross but I have never seen launchable conditions for so long, from about 10:45 to 12:30 when we launched it was launchable about 80% of the time. We could have gone very early, but I was afraid that we could be too early for the condition in the valley to start. The clouds above only looked to be at 7,000'. Finally at 12:10 we decided to suit up and go. Even though we were basically ready it still took 15 minutes to get suited up and all the electronics connected. I was on launch for about two minutes before I took off at 12:28. Andy launched 30 seconds behind me.
I had some trouble zipping up and missed a thermal just to the left of launch, which Andy caught. I flew toward the switchbacks and caught a good one, about 500 up all the way past 7,000. We headed to the mother load and climbed right to 8,800' and headed north. I made only 6 turns over the mother load. It was only 10 minutes after launch, I think it was the quickest I have ever got up and headed out. We could see some clouds forming over the knees of the ridges ahead.
We took one turn in some bubbles over Felkner and found nothing worth staying for so we headed for the next ridge. There were wispy clouds above this one. Even though we were right under the wisps, we only managed to climb 600'. Just before Grindstone we climbed 1,200'. Looking back toward St. John there were nice puffy clouds filling in where we had just come from. We were about 5 minutes ahead of the really good lift. We crossed Grindstone at 5,100' and found another thermal on the north side of the ridge just before Red. We were able to cross over Red, where there was no lift. I headed for the waterfall 2 miles north and we climbed back to 5,500' there.
We followed my normal route which took us to the west of Paskenta, just to the left of the knarly ridge. I was aiming for the fields north of that ridge just past the creek that feeds into Paskenta. It was a glide of 7 miles and just like clockwork we found a thermal there at 4,000' and climbed to 5,900'. We had just flown almost 30 miles and it was 1:30, the same time we launched 3 weeks ago and just a little more than an hour had passed since launch. If we could keep this pace, it would put us in a good position to get past Fall River Mills (126 miles). We were hitting good thermals over the flats that were not spaced too far apart and there was not a lot of sink in between. But things started to fall apart for Andy.
I climbed 400' higher than him in the last thermal. Since my radio was working now, I was not so worried about sticking to him like glue and was flying faster and more my style. Because I was higher, I believe Andy started to try to fly my air instead of the air he was in. We hit our next thermal in 4 miles. It took Andy a little more time to get a core and he topped out 600' below me (I climbed to 6,000'). With that much separation, you really have to fly your own air. Use the other pilot to help find the lift, but your core will be different and you need to block out what the other guy is doing until you get a good solid climb established.
While on glide to the next thermal, Andy tried a couple of turns and only gained 40'. After 6.8 miles I centerpunched 700 up. There was no searching for the core, it was just turn and climb. Andy was now 1,600' below and trying to find what I was climbing in. Maybe if he changed to the solo mode he could have found something, but I think he was fixated on me and missed the lift. I topped out at 6,100' and just started to orbit over Andy and wait to see if he could get up. He finally had to land. I continued to circle over him trying to get in contact with our drive. It was at this point I realized there was a problem with Andy's truck radio. Andy pulled out his cell and could not get a signal. I had been circling over him for 10 minutes and had lost only 700'.
When he told me he had no cell coverage, I decided to fly back south down Lowery road and land next to a house. On the way there I heard Jeff say he was headed up Lowery road. He still could not hear me, but I knew he would have to drive past Andy. I climbed back up and decided to head down Redbank so I could be in better cell coverage. As I headed that way I decided that the Red Bluff airport was always a nice place to land so I went in that direction. The lift was good all the way there, usually over 300 up and I even had to leave lift early so I would not get there too high, and I still arrived almost 3,000' over. I did have to fight strong crosswinds, for each 1000' I climbed I would drift a mile north. My glides were down below 14 to 1 on the way to the airport.
I had an easy landing next to the taxiway in 15 mph laminar wind blowing right down the runway. I walked my glider over next to a hanger out of the wind and started breaking down while waiting for Andy and Jeff. They showed up 15 minutes later and we were soon on the road home.
The XCskies forecast was not as good as I usually see in the area, but it showed no north wind and lift from 5,000 to 6,000 in the valley. It also showed good lift past Round Mountain. Now that I have flown this route so many times and have kept track of the forecast, as long as the lift over St. John is above 8,000' and the lift in the valley is about 5,000', and no north winds, a good day could be had.
A satellite view of my track. The blue waypoints along my track are areas that I have found good lift on at least three occasions. When I first started flying this route I had programmed them into my GPS, but now I know it from sight I no longer put them in my GPS.
My track log.
Andy's track log.
Andy flew with his GoPro camera and made a nice video of the flight here: