Monday, March 30, 2009

Over the back at Cape Look-out

The whole weekend looked too strong for flying. But late on Sunday evening there seemed a tiny window where Cape Lookout might work. Saturday had been such a wet, depressing day that a trip to the beach - even if it was only for a walk - seemed like a good idea. No point leaving early and by lunch time Steve was sending me reports that were in line with the forecast. Dan, Mary-Beth, Mark and I set of in the middle of the afternoon and arrived around 4.30.

We found a couple of hangs in the air and other hangs -including Steve - setting up. The tide and seas were huge and it was a little too strong and a little too W for my speedwing. We went to look at Tierra del-Mar but it was more than 45 degrees cross and strong. Half-way between Tierra del Mar and Pacific City was a little spot facing NW I could have soared in my speedwing, but we were hopeful that CLO would work so headed back.

The hangs had launched, it was still strong but a little straighter, I got my speedwing ready just as the beginnings of a squall formed 3 or 4 miles out to sea. I launched and stayed low and out front, hoping the squall would pass by to the N. It kept changing its mind, but in the end I went out and landed.

Back on launch the squall had passed, it was much lighter and the bags were starting to launch. People were getting high and moving out towards the point. I tried to be patient waiting for my chance. I got off at the back of the bunch, it was slow but steady climbing till I crossed the gap and climbed to 2500 in a single thermal. I was at cloudbase and I could see promising cummies going all the way to Pacific City. Only one way to find out if they gave any lift!

I radioed I was heading south and Mark radioed he was following me. He was a little lower than me and a little behind me, so apart from turning round once or twice, I didn't see him again.

No lift from the clouds, but the first part of the glide was very boaty and it looked as though I had Tierra del Mar on glide. Cape Lookout is easily one of the most scenic sites in Oregon and the scenery over the back was even better - deserted sandy beaches, pine trees and pale blue water.

Mark hadn't fared as well on the glide and radioed he was landing in the big car park before the outlet of Sand Lake. I was targeting the dunes immediately N of Tierra del Mar, hoping that the wind had turned more to the W - but based on my ground speed I wasn't very hopeful. And so it proved; I used the lift to extend my flight, but I couldn't soar. It was a little spooky transitioning from high-altitude flight to ground-skimming; I was hoping that I could get some lift from the rooftops at Tierra del Mar, but I had to face facts and land about 100 yards short of the first house.

Mary-Beth retrieved Mark and then came to get me; Mark was super-excited by his flight. We drove back to CLO just as Deanna and Shannon were landing. Everyone was very happy with their flights - suddenly Monday morning seemed a much more bearable concept!

Flights ->,

Photos ->

Friday, March 27, 2009

Cliffside XC - Not!

Cliffside is a pretty important site for Portland pilots. It's our most reliable single site, especially in the winter + spring months; a couple of years ago I logged 30+ hours there. It faces East and offers pretty reliable ridge soaring. It has a very rounded top; easy for top-landing, scratching and strong-wind soaring.

But air-time doesn't always translate into air-miles! It seldom works in the summer (and when it does it can be unbearably hot). There are lots of days when you can fly all day without getting 200ft above launch. The cold, continental air-mass that makes it work in winter can lead to lots of top-landings to warm fingers.

All week it was clear that the only decent flying day would be Thursday at Cliffside. But more than that, the predicted top of lift was near 5,000ft with a pretty constant 10kts to the top of lift. For me, this immediately raised the possibility of flying XC to Hood River. Unlikely, of course, but if you're going to make flights like that you need to look out for suitable conditions.

I couldn't get away from work until the early afternoon. Things looked great driving through, but near Cliffside there was a thin, high cloud layer inhibiting solar warming. By the time I got to launch, a bunch of pilots were sinking out and Steve (Forsland) was launching in obviously weak conditions. He did a very neat job of staying in a thermal; thermals always track back quickly at Cliffside, and today was no exception. Despite the weak conditions, Steve went straight over the back and all we got were occasional radio reports ("I'm at 3,500ft ....").

Jim Baldo, Pete Reagan and Jacques de Villiers were all on launch, marooned in the calm after Steve's launch. I knew what they were thinking - it was an easy day to sink out. Steve + his unballasted comp wing can make a mockery of weak conditions and other pilots trying to fly them.

I knew that choosing a good launch cycle and staying with the lift would be critical to getting up and hopefully getting away. I took the first decent cycle after Steve, maybe 20 minutes later and got 500ft over launch before top-landing when the lift seemed to just go. Jim and Pete launched right after me (when the saw me good up) and top-landed just ahead of me.

I relaunched in the next decent cycle and got up to around 2,400ft, but then lost it. Lift was bubbly, high-pressure and hard to work, averaging less that 200ft per minute. I'd turn for 5 circles, the lift would vanish, I'd find it again, a few more circles etc etc. I flew back to launch, found more lift, got back to 2,500ft and lost it again. I just seemed to lose the lift both times at the same altitude, and I couldn't really understand it. Afterwards, I came to the conclusion I was not following the thermals back enough and falling out the front of them. Maybe I was subconsiously trying to sneak back to the safety of the ridge!

Anyway, I couldn't get away and never got really high again. Conditions weakened, Jim and Pete left, Jacques and I had a few short flights in very weak lift, where top-landing before getting flushed was the main objective. Steve came back drinking beer, after Doug Jackson retrieved him from Centerville, and we called it a day.
Paragliding is such a strange sport; the difference between a good and bad day's flying can be pretty extreme. Overall I had a great day, I seemed to by doing relatively well in the tricky conditions but I was a little disappointed I couldn't get high and get somewhere.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Peterson Butte

We can only fly Peterson Butte in the late fall / winter / spring months because of fire risk. It's a bit of a drive from Portland and if it is working, Chehalem (our nearest site) is probably working too. This means it isn't flown that often. Today looked like a S or SW, unstable, spring, showery sort of day. Chehalem and PB were the two obvious places to fly today and (because I fly it less often than Chehalem) I wanted to fly PB.

Jim Baldo and Joe Stermitz came to the same conclusion, so we headed to PB when the lemmings headed to Chehalem. It was very gray on the drive, the rain started just S of Salem and continued to launch. Had we made a mistake?

Shannon joined us, we headed up to launch when the rain stopped but it was gray and the wind was SSE - not the best direction. I launched, Joe followed, we tried hard but were flushed, and headed back up the hill just as Pete Reagan arrived.

Back on launch, things looked better. The sun was out and Jim and Shannon were soaring in thermals. Pete, Joe and I joined in the fun. The thermals were good, but they were tracking quickly back over the summit. We all top-landed together when the lift seemed to weaken.

Jim took off and went up, I chased him and we got high. The thermals were stronger now, so you could get high without getting flushed over the back. Around 1,300 feet over the summit I headed N and landed a couple of miles N of highway 34. For much of my flight, I was trying to find the least muddy field to land in! I had a really pleasant hike back to PB - lambs, farms, showers, daffodils; as I got nearer I could see Pete soaring just as the other were leaving.

Spring has sprung!

Pictures at

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Ecola Soaring

A bunch of pilots had headed for the coast while I was still at work, but they were getting frustrated by the strong, S winds. I arrived in Ecola just after they headed S, hoping for better conditions at Neakahnie or Oceanside.

I found Mark on launch; he had to be back in PDX by 5pm and couldn't follow the others. It was a little strong and a little South and the tide was a little high. I had my speedwing (Ibex 17) with me; that essentially took care of the wind strength.

Decisions like this are always difficult. Jerry had an accident flying here in S (or maybe even SSE) winds with a high tide. When one thing (e.g. wind strength or direction) obviously rules out flying, that's an easy call. When a couple of things make it tricky, that's more complicated.

After careful consideration and watched by Mark and Cleo I took off using my little wing. Right away, I knew I had made the correct decision. I could penetrate with ease, there was plenty of lift, my wing was just super solid and super fast.

Ecola is still a tricky place to fly; things can over develop behind launch, so I monitored lift and ground speed carefully. After 10 or 15 minutes I noticed an increase in lift and a decrease in ground speed. I didn't hesitate; with full bar I had 20mph groundspeed and landed on Crescent Beach. In hindsight, this was an over-reaction (the wind never really picked up) - but better safe than sorry.

Mark headed home, Cleo and I went for a hike to Indian Beach. Back on launch, high tide had passed and the wind had moved (veered or backed???) 15 degrees to the West; things felt better. Of course, I was alone now + had to be more conservative. Still with my Speedwing, I flew for another 45 minutes or so; slightly more lift (because of the direction change) + slightly less wind. Just as much fun.

I landed on Crescent Beach and was hiking back on the trail, happy with my day, not paying attention when I suddenly stumbled upon a herd of elk. I'm not sure who was most surprised!

Photos at

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Spring Thermals at Kutch

Next to Chehalem, Kutch is the nearest site to Portland. Just like Chehalem, it can be fickle; my first few flights there were all pretty good, lately I've had somewhat extended sledders. Landing used to be a challenge, but some recent clear-cutting has made that much easier. Launching has always been difficult; a flat set-up area with a steep drop-off and lots of problematic, growing trees.

And then there are the Kutch 'doldrums'; an ideal to strong forecast can translate into dead calm, with weak, cross cycles making launching very challenging. All the good flying I've had at Kutch has been thermic; there has never been enough base wind to make ridge lift a factor.

Today, the forecast looked good, but a little too strong. Good lapse rate, sunny, top of climb around 3000ft, winds around 15kts from the right direction. I probably wouldn't have tried to fly anywhere else with this forecast, but I wanted to see whether it worked at Kutch.

Last night, Mark, Jay and John were interested too. This morning, people were less keen. John couldn't do it, Jay didn't think he could do it, I began to reflect on my afternoon meeting, the possibility of snow on the road and the logicistical problems of flying Kutch. But Mark was keen, Jim Donaldson might join us, so off we went with Cleo (my dog).

On the drive there, we could see a stiff NNE breeze. At launch, for the very first time, there was real, base wind; maybe 8 to 10 mph. Beautiful sunshine, but biting cold. Excluding Cleo, we were four, Mark, Jim, Jay and I. Mark got ready first, he launched and - despite all this wind - didn't go up. He headed west, maintaining at best. I got ready and just as I was about to launch, Mark appeared well above launch. Good!

Off I went, appreciating how the wind made launching so easy, nothing straight off launch but withing 30 seconds I had some lift, and within a couple of minutes I was above launch. From then on I could find thermals and get well over launch (1100ft at the highest) and life was good. On at least two occasions, I got back to launch height but worked up again relatively easily. Higher up, the wind was at least 15 mph out the north; lower down it was maybe 10mph but gave surprisingly little lift - if you weren't in a thermal, you were going down!

At one point, Mark (who had top-landed to change gloves) told me Cleo was following me and I needed to come back to launch. Down a few hundred feet below, Cleo was running along the road, following my wing! I went back to launch and Mark locked Cleo in the car.

Jim flew and wasn't quite as lucky with the thermals - he stayed up for maybe 20 minutes but never really got high. Jay flew and went out and landed - probably the best thing to do, as he was new to the site.

I flew out and landed at the Flying M, Mark re-launched, got high and joined me. We packed up, happy with our flying. Back on launch, Jay went for a second flight and went straight up! He was able to flyout and land at the Flying M and was pretty happy with his day, too. Me, I headed off to work, with a big smile on my face.

Maybe the secret of flying Kutch is to look for a good HG forecast!

Photos ->

Tracklog ->

Monday, March 9, 2009

Stolen Flights at the Ridge

The Ridge is Chehalem, the only site near Portland. It suffers from a few problems...
  1. it faces the wrong direction for summer
  2. when the wind in strong enough to give ridge lift, you risk being blown back
  3. power lines behind launch (see previous point)
  4. a long glide out to the LZ
  5. power lines around the LZ (see previous point)
  6. the wind can be strong on launch but much weaker just below (so, not much lift)
I'm sure there are more problems, but it's near Portland. So we sometimes risk being skunked there when the weather is poor - it's so much more convenient than being skunked at Cliffside!

Sunday was an unstable, spring day. The coast looked promising for someone willing to wait between showers, especially if they flew a hang-glider. I was tempted but it seemed a long shot and I stayed at home.

Mark felt Chehalem might work, Dave reported conditions were good at launch - but all I could see were the negatives. Clouds, hail, showers, etc.... but I was willing to take a chance with a short drive, Mark made the decision, and off we went.

There was snow in the tree-tops when we arrived and a distant shower approaching; it didn't seem very strong at all. After we shuttled a car down, Mark launched and went up in bubbly thermals! Yipee! Dave, John Baldwit (new to the site) and I got ready. As this was going on, Mark experienced one of 'features' of Chehalem; because the LZ is a long glide away, as soon as you are below launch you need to be thinking about heading out. He hit a little bubble of sinky air and he went from 100 over to 100 under in no time at all and had no choice but to head out.

Dave and I launched and had a nice flight; John launched and did the sensible thing for a newcomer and headed to the LZ. Dave and I monitored the approaching shower and enjoyed pleasant thermals that kept us just above launch. It wasn't long before we headed out as the shower got nearer; Dave spiraled down just ahead of me, and we were both surprised how buoyant the air was - I expected a one turn spiral but it took several turns to get down.

Back on launch there were a few flakes of snow but the shower passed to the S. It was as before; not too strong, a little cross from the W, pretty inviting. Mark was the first off again; he didn't get something immediately, but did a good job of working up to the east and came back above launch. We followed him into the air and it was good.

I cored a punchy thermal right off launch and found myself at cloudbase within 60 seconds of launch; big ears and flying out avoided the white room. Mark, Dave and I flew together in some really user friendly thermals until we had to head out; lift was weakening and a new squall was approaching.

We packed up slowly in the LZ, all delighted with our day. Back on launch, it was snowing a blizzard! I haven't checked my log, but I suspect it's nearly two years since I got properly above launch in two flights in a day at Chehalem. All the better because it was so unexpected!

Photos ->

Track logs -> and

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Spring Flying at Sollie

A good forecast for Friday and a poor outlook for the weekend encouraged a whole group of pilots to head to Sollie. Mark, Pat, Cleo (my dog) and I headed through and met Jim, Gail, Rob, Jay, Casey (or KC), Steve M and Jacques. Up on launch there were nice cycles and as soon as we saw some birds soaring, Rob was getting ready. He was off first, followed by Jim and Jay (I think).

There was lift out there, but people were struggling to stay up. After 5 minutes effort Jim got well above launch, so that encouraged everyone to launch. I was second last off and never really got anything near launch, so I headed over to Sugar. I arrived there just behind Mark and managed to turn figures of 8 in weak thermals and slowly climb. After a few hundred feet things became easier and I got up to around 2,800, pushed out front and got a second thermal up to 3,300 feet. Jim was below me at this point, and I think everyone else had landed; it was time to decide what to do with this altitude.

I could see the tree farm around milepost 8 in the Wilson valley and considered heading in that direction. But heading S looked so much less stressful! So that's where I headed; there was a lot of sink + wind around at the start; I didn't go deep into the terrain so I could get back to Sugar if things didn't improve and fortunately they did. I worked some weak lift a couple of times, thermalling around 600ft above the Trask. The lift wasn't really organized enough to get high again but it extended my flight nicely. I landed out near the Aviation Museum, happy to get even a mini-XC so early in the year.

Rob came and got me in his rig and we went back to the LZ. The others had all gone back up for a second flight and were in the air; Jay appeared with his wing and Rob took us back to launch. I had a nice second flight; the sea breeze was quite a bit stronger and it was easier to stay up but less interesting. I mostly stayed in front of Sugar, flying with Jacques at the end of the day, and had a nice little excursion over the valley (which was very boaty) at the end of my flight.

Great day!!! Everyone else enjoyed it too. A nice sunny day with plenty of flying for all. On his second flight Jacques got to 4,600 feet! Thanks to Rob for the driving!

Photos ->

Tracklogs -> and

CPC Post -> where Jacques got some photos of me at the end of the day.