Saturday, April 25, 2009

Escaping Bingen

Bingen is a beautiful site in the Gorge above Hood River. Mt Adams to the North, Mt Hood to the South, green orchards everywhere, the river below... what more could you want? Well, decent flying conditions!

Hood River is supposed to be 'the world capital of kite-boarding and wind-surfing' and maybe there's a clue there. The Columbia Gorge splits the Cascades and funnels air up into and down from the US interior. It can be very windy, especially in summer. You can also get strange layered wind conditions where the bottom hundred feet or so is very windy and above it is relatively calm.

The net result is that Bingen is frequently blown out (even when all the forecasts have been perfect). When it isn't blown out, often the day has no energy at all and only sled rides are on offer. It's a fickle place!

Anyway, for Friday the XC predictions were excellent; only NOAA had indications of possible strong winds. Steve, Dan and I debated where to go; I couldn't leave early, Dan didn't fancy a long drive and we ended up going to Bingen. Top of usable lift predictions varied from 5,500ft to 7,000 ft with light and roughly NW winds. Not an ideal direction, but if the forecast held and we could get off and up a little, all of Eastern Washington and Oregon would suddenly open up for us.

Over on the West launch, there was a base wind and there were gusts, but it didn't feel very thermic. Steve tried to persuade us there were thermals out in front. We got ready slowly and launched almost together. I was first off and didn't find any useful lift until 400 feet below launch; already on the defensive. But the first thermal was decent if bumpy; Dan and Steve joined me and we were climbing fast over launch - things were looking good! But then we all lost the thermal at the same time and we were back, well below launch, in survival mode in small and nasty thermals.
Several times I slowly climbed 2 or 3 hundred feet only to lose it in a matter of seconds in sink. The wind was just breaking up all the thermals and making things very difficult. Eventually the lift improved, but it was just as bumpy. Dan had landed (after heading over to the quarry to look for something better) and Steve was well out front, not happy with the conditions, and about to land. Very slowly I got up to 3,600 ft but couldn't get any higher; the lift seemed to be converted into turbulence (cloudbase was much higher, so there must have been a shear layer). Then I lost all that altitude only to start the process over again.

The third time I got to just under 3,800 ft and I'd had enough. I really wanted to be setting off much higher, but I knew I had LZs in reach. So I pointed my glider east and went with the flow.

At the cliffs east of Courtney Road I got a nice thermal and was able to top up before crossing the Columbia. At one point I was thermalling above the river and wondered how useful my reserve really was!

Over on the South side I headed along the Columbia Scenic Highway towards the launch at Rowena. Less than 1,000ft AGL, I really needed a thermal. I flew through some bumps, expecting a thermal to follow. No thermal, and I probably should have turned back and looked at that point (woulda, coulda, shoulda).
Too late I found a thermal 100 ft from the ground. On gentler terrain with less base wind I might have tried to use it, but I got as far from it as I could before landing beside the highway.
As I packed up my wing, I talked to a cyclist called Nate who turned out to be a local HG pilot. He had taken a 1 hour tandem paraglider flight with Jay Carroll from Bingen. What a coincidence! And an average flight time of 1hr for Bingen may well be the world record!
Dan and Steve arrived and we headed back. I was glad to escape Bingen (my first XC from that site) and was glad my new wing had performed so well in such bumpy conditions. But we were all a little disappointed that Bingen had maintained its fickle reputation. Maybe next time!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

More Cliffside, Less Cripple

Last weekend wasn't flyable - probably just as well, my ankle appreciated the recovery time. This Saturday was flyable; another weak, high-pressure, thermic Cliffside day. Steve and I headed through together; we appreciated the spring weather, but were worried by the high level cloud and the wind seemed a little stronger than we wanted.

We found many wings on launch, but they were mostly on the ground. I took a flight in unpromising conditions and ended up down at the river in 'somewhat funky' conditions. Back on launch, Steve was getting ready to fly, but I needed to rest my ankle - the hikes up and twisting round to launch had tested it a little.

Steve stayed up and disappeared over the back. Dan and I got ready, but conditions seemed to be weakening. A half-decent cycle arrived and I took it and managed to work up over the hang-launch; for some reason Dan hadn't launched. I reached 2,400 feet and should have set off at that point (I learned later that Steve set off at around 1,800 feet); instead I lost the thermal and gradually lost altitude.

Later on I thermalled a bit with Dan and generally flew around a bit; most pilots got flushed to the LZ, I top-landed just as Robbie and Sarge arrived for a tandem flight and then went to get Steve at the Maryhill Winery.

Nice to be in the air again, especially on such a warm, pleasant day and the Winery is a nice way to round of the day.

Photos ->

Second flight ->

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Gordon MacGregor

Very sad news this evening; Gordon died in a paragliding accident this weekend. I've only flown with Gordon 3 times, once in France and a couple of times last December in Scotland.

I've lived outside Scotland for nearly thirty years and I seldom get homesick, but Gordon was the very type of guy to do that. Funny, enthusiastic, self-deprecating, instant camaraderie - quite different to the typical US personality.

The last time we flew together it was just the two of us. We started late and went to the wrong site before driving to the right site. Late afternoon in late December in Scotland and a long walk-in ahead of us - hardly promising stuff.

We rushed up the hill; I seldom get left behind on a hike up, but Gordon left me in the dust. Gordon was off first and I just managed to get off the hill as the first katabatic puffs were starting. We retired for hot, warming soup at the pub at Bridge of Orchy, delighted at having snatched a flight from such a late start.

Tonight I had intended to enter for the British Open, to be held in France this summer. I'd already seen Gordon's name on the list and was looking forward to seeing him again. Some more photos of my day out with Gordon are here ->

Thinking of you, your family and your friends.... Douglas

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Cliffside Cripple

The Title
Cliffside Cripple is the name of a beer Doug Jackson made for a little fly-in we had a Cliffside a couple of months ago. It had a picture of a leg with a plaster cast on it. I drank some, but I never expected to be the Cliffside Cripple....

The Good
A good flying forecast for the weekend makes Friday more exciting and Cliffside had definite potential for Saturday. Unfortunately the soundings on Saturday morning were less impressive - a lot more wind - but after some debate we all headed out to Cliffside, worried it would blow-out.

Dan, Mark and I headed through together; spring doesn't last long in the eastern gorge, so we enjoyed the sunshine and green grass. Up at launch there were a lot more wings on the ground than in the air; a few pilots had just top-landed rather than risk being flushed. It looked like another high-pressure, thermic sort of day - choose your cycle carefully, stay with the thermal.

A whole bunch of pilots turned up (I think Dan counted 21 wings). I launched soon after arriving when there were maybe 4 or 5 wings in the air and had a short flight, getting a few hundred over but top-landing. I took off again and had a longer flight, getting quite a bit higher - up to around 2,500 ft. It was relatively easy to stay up, not so easy to get high.

When I thermal, I prefer to get high quickly, so I've got lots of elevation to play with (who doesn't?). Here I found myself thermalling relatively low in somewhat bumpy stuff for longer than I would have liked. More and more gliders flew, but generally they were well spread out. After a while a whole bunch of us landed - I was hungry.

The Bad
The wind was picking up, it didn't seem like an XC day, but Steve and I reckoned we'd give it one more flight to see if we could get away. Steve took off, I brought up my wing, the wing was above my head and flying and under control, I let go the C risers and started to turn to my right (everything is going great at this point). As I did this, the wing turns a little bit to its right. Instead of continuing my turn and sorting it out, I turned back round and take a step to the left (facing the wing) to get underneath it and then I get plucked of the ground, facing backwards. I'm not holding the Cs, so I can't easily kill the wing and I reckoned I would just fly out backwards and turn round.

However, almost immediately the wing turns sharply back into the hill, turning downwind. I hit hard and try to PLF. How do I know this? First, I remember most of it. Second, I've actually seen it on a grainy video. Looking at the video, it was all under control and happening slowly - including flying out facing backwards - until the last second or two when my wing turned into the hill very quickly.

I lay there as people rushed over to help me. Paula made sure I was OK, Deanna got me her hiking sticks, Gabe packed my wing, Hannes carried my backpack down. Thank you to all who helped. The walk down at Cliffside has never seemed so long.

The Ugly
A visit to the ER confirmed what everyone thought - a sprained ankle. It is nicely swollen and an interesting color. Given how hard I hit, pretty lucky really. I suspect it will get better quickly, but we'll see. In the meantime, The Flying Scotsman could be renamed The Limping Scotsman.

I'm still haven't come to any definite conclusions and I spent some time talking to Jim about it (he saw everything pretty clearly), but my tentative ones are
  1. When you let go of the Cs in strong conditions, you are vulnerable. Don't hesitate on the turn.
  2. I shouldn't have tried to sneak in an extra flight; I guess I was just too confident in my launching ability in strong winds, but the combination of strong and thermic can be more challenging.
  3. I had set up near the edge, and this probably contributed to my taking off when the wind gusted (rather than being pushed back or dragged).
  4. When I took off, I expected to just fly out facing backwards - I was pointed pretty much directly into the wind. So did the spectators. I considering pulling hard on the brakes to kill the wing, but I thought flying out was the better choice - I'm less sure of that now (maybe if I hadn't been near the edge, it would have been).
  5. Dan thinks I might have been better set up further to the L, where the wind tends to be a little straighter and I agree.
  6. When flying backwards, I wasn't really controlling my wing. This is a very disorienting situation and I've tried to practise it at an SIV clinic, but it is a hard situation to replicate.
Some pictures ->

Tracklogs ->,