Sunday, May 31, 2009


The West Coast Paragliding Championship is a bit of a mouthful, everyone calls it the WeeCeePeeCee. This is my first comp of the year. I still haven't made up my mind about comps, but try to treat them as organized flying vacations with retrieves. I try not to do anything I wouldn't do in a normal flight. This takes a certain amount of discipline - when you're flying with a gaggle and it heads low over a bunch of trees you have to decide if you'd do that on a normal flight. And, of course, you have to make these decisions pretty quickly.

Anyway, I like the WCPC because there are generally fewer pilots than at the Rat Race, with a higher overall standard. This makes everything (retrieves, meetings, launching, gaggles) less stressful. Tasks also tend to be longer and more challenging than at the RR.

I drove down early the day before the comp. Conditions were pretty exceptional with mushroom clouds going off at 11.00 in the morning. I got to launch and was more or less the last one of the hill and had a nice flight, but was flying by myself. I got over 8,000 ft - easily the highest I've been at Woodrat - but some of the pilots got to almost 10,000ft. Later in the day the clouds went nuclear and the thunder started rumbling. It looks as though this could be the weather pattern for the early part of the comp.

There are 5 CPC pilots at the comp - Brett, Sam, Dave, Oleg and myself. Here's hoping for good flying for everyone!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009


The Starthistle fly-in takes place on the Memorial day weekend (towards the end of May) at Woodrat. Pilots come from all over the Western US, attracted by the site and the spring-time conditions.

Woodrat is in the south of Oregon and offers great XC flying with some unusual (for Oregon) challenges. It consists of small, tree-covered hills typically 2,000 ft higher than tight little valleys. This isn't big-air flying; you seldom get more than 5,000 ft above the valley floors.

Valley winds are an important part of flying Woodrat; obviously they can present landing 'challenges' but they can also produce convergence lines that provide bumpy lift. Conditions can change frequently, so you need to be pretty alert. Typically, if you can get and stay high things are straightforward. Conversely, sink below ridge height and suddenly everything becomes much less 'user-friendly'.

The attractions go well beyond the flying - great scenery, friendly locals, wineries, good weather and cute little towns. If the flying isn't great, you can take in a play at Ashland!

I headed down early on Saturday morning; the forecast wasn't great but it was in the ballpark. Saturday was too windy to go anywhere easily but conditions were better on the Sunday and Monday. Saturday night was a Spaghetti Dinner (organized by the CPC - my local club) and Sunday night was the fly-in BBQ, so there was no need to worry about where to eat.

I had a couple of nice flights but was a little disappointed in my flying. Afterwards I came to the conclusion I was flying too fast. All my XC flights this year have been alone (even if I took off with others) and generally launching late; there's no point hanging around in these circumstances. But at Starthistle I launched early and frequently flew past groups of other pilots. In these circumstances, it would have been smarter to wait for them and fly together. In a week's time, the competition season starts for me at Woodrat with the WCPC, so it's better to learn these lessons now rather than during the comp!

The flying for the weekend finished when Dan and I landed at the Longswords winery after running out of lift on the run along Rabies Ridge. It's unusual to land and be presented with a glass of wine by a beautiful woman - but I could get used to it!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Pine Weekend

Pine Mountain is in the high desert, east of Bend, and it offers the possibility of long flights - the current and several previous Oregon state records have been set from it. Strong (or outrageous) conditions are not just possible but likely - flying there at midday can be pretty intense. It's a long way to go for a Portland pilot and you never know what you will get when you arrive; a four hour drive could be followed by a six-minute sink out or a five hour flight.

Dan, Mary-Beth and I met Mike Steed and some local pilots early on Saturday. The forecast wasn't great but was in the ballpark - it looked better for Sunday than Saturday. We launched from Antelope (normally a SE launch, but it was SW when we got there) and seemed to be always flying into a headwind. The highest we got was around 8,500 ft (low for Pine), we didn't go very far but the three of us got away for a short XC. In the evening we flew glass-off with some local pilots. Glass-off at Pine is a complete contrast to midday flying - smooth, powerful lift and super relaxing flying. We retired to Mike's condo in Sunriver, where Paula cooked us a wonderful meal.

Sunday found Dan, Mary-Beth and me back at Pine; the forecasts seemed to show a late start would be best. The cycles were strong and very cross when we arrived; they seemed to calm down and straighten out after a while; then they picked up again. Timing your launch at Pine isn't easy; most of the launches have a sea of trees just behind them. You don't want to commit to a strong thermal right off launch and fall out of it over the trees (imagine the
embarrassment - landing in a tree in the middle of the desert!). Ideally you want to fly out a little bit, then get your strong thermal so you have some altitude before crossing the trees.

I took off and found nice lift straight away. I was able to work up in a thermal, push forward and find another thermal before letting myself drift back in lift. Dan didn't get off right behind me (two minutes into our flight and we are already on plan B!). He launched a few minutes later, but the lift seemed to have passed and after a few minutes looking around he headed out over the training hill, then a few minutes later he said he was going to land at the Y.

I climbed up to 8,500 ft and lost the thermal; I looked for it carefully, but that seemed like the top of lift for now. I headed E and a nice surprise - Dan had got back up from the Y. It looked like I could glide across the first power lines to him and we could fly together. I tried this but ran into mega-sink; on full bar my glide was 4:1. Dan was climbing and by the time I reached him he was at least 2,000 ft above me and I needed to find some lift quick!

There was some disorganized lift, I lost some more precious altitude before I got it sorted out and I very slowly climbed out as I crossed the second power lines. Dan was well on his way at this point; I could only catch occasional glimpses of his wing in the distance.

As I neared Brothers I decided to divert S to a promising looking cloud street. This turned out to be a big mistake; there was lift, but it was slow and disorganized. Worse, the glides weren't buoyant. I wanted a sip from my Camelbak but couldn't find it; I reached behind me and realized the back of my harness was open and presumably my water was gone. I really didn't want to land with no water and a 6 mile hike back to the highway, so I concentrated on making the best of the lift.

After some slow progress - max altitude was 10,700ft - I got back to the highway at the end of the cloud street just before the alfalfa fields near Hampton at 3,000ft AGL and felt pretty good. Pine is a big-air site, with big lift but big sink cycles, and the air around the alfalfa fields can be sinky so I wanted more altitude before pressing on. I found some super weak lift (less that 50ft / min) and went looking for something better. I looked everywhere but I didn't find anything; 12 minutes later I was on the ground after a 26 mile flight.

Mary-Beth arrived and as we set off after Dan we got a message he had landed. We found him 39 miles from launch, delighted with his flight! Very happy with our weekend (3 good flights each from 3 different launches, almost certainly the best 2 flights in Oregon that weekend), we stopped for ice-cream in Bend before heading home.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

1.828 Margaritas

Saturday had a great forecast and after much debate, Dan and I headed to Cliffside with Mary-Beth along as a driver. Conditions were established early on; 1 margarita for a 25 km retrieve. A price Dan and I were both willing to pay.... if only we could make it happen!

We arrived on launch around 2.00 in light conditions, having wasted time driving up Bingen. Some forecasts called for a west flow, some called for a switch in the afternoon and we needed to get off quickly in a good thermal. Two other pilots - Phil and Mike - were there and I let Mike launch first.

Mike sank like a stone for a minute or so before rocketing up in a thermal. Dan launched and went up as I struggled to get ready. I just got off in the thermal and climbed with Dan to 2,400 ft, drifting back quickly. Thermals always drift back quickly at Cliffside and if you lose one high you have a tricky decision to make - commit to the XC (and risk sinking out after a few minutes) or push back to launch (and risk not even getting back). As we struggled to find the lift, Dan and I made opposite decisions; I headed out as he headed back to launch.

Fortunately I fairly quickly found some lift, took some time to work it out but then climbed out over highway 97 on my way to Centreville. Things were pretty similar to my flight of 9 days earlier, but with almost no base wind. W of Centerville I got under a forming cloud and had my first strong climb of the day and got over 7,000 ft before heading WSW. This time, I managed to slowly climb over Stacker Butte as Mary-Beth and Dan watched from below. Once established over the summit I got my second and last strong climb and rocketed up to 7,500 ft .

Here I had a decision to make - head straight along the ridge to Lyle or cross the river at the Dalles. The ridge was the straight line to Bingen and an obvious thermal trigger. Going to the Dalles was indirect but there was a nice line of little clouds in that direction. I tried the ridge for a bit and didn't find any lift and didn't like my glide - the wind was now coming from the W. I wasn't sure I could reach Doug's Beach as a bail out, so I headed SW across the river, but got nothing under the clouds and arrived low to the W of the Dalles. I was ready to land there and had picked out my LZ.

As a last chance, I headed over a quarry (thermal source) on a knoll (trigger) at around 150 ft AGL. Nothing - but then some weak lift. There was no wind, nothing to produce turbulence so I decide to give it a try. I turned in wide, careful circles trying to minimize my sink; the lift was weak but consistent and I slowly climbed 3,000ft in 30 minutes. Really I found this low save a little embarrassing, because I would have been happy landing there.

I picked up a couple of new climbs as I headed W, but the wind would push me back E in each climb. Back up at 6,000 ft I could see the LZ in Bingen, it was a reasonable glide, except I was heading into a strengthening W wind. It was nearly 6pm and the climbs were weakening and I had to reject most of them. I headed W, first following the road, then straightlining to Rowena.
Flying a paraglider into the wind in weak lift is an exercise in frustration, but that's what I had to do to reach Rowena. Carefully monitoring glide and applying speedbar as needed, turning in lift that exceeded 300 ft per min, applying a little brake in weaker lift.
Normally the last glide on an XC is relaxing, but not on this flight. In a W wind I didn't want to risk landing down by the river (in the lee of the cliffs at Rowena). If I didn't made Rowena I would have to land on the plateau and I would have had a long walk-out, which wouldn't please my ankle. Eventually, it was clear I would make Rowena and I could relax for the last few minutes of my flight. I landed near Rowena, exactly where I had sunk out in my flight from Bingen 2 weeks earlier. Even stranger, the same HG pilot was there to meet me - he had been following my flight from the ground from the Dalles!

Dan helped me pack up my wing. He had got back to launch and got higher - up to 3,000ft - but got stuck in sink before he could head off. Disappointing for Dan and it shows how fickle XC flying can be. I was a little lucky on this flight with a couple of low saves. An earlier start would have made all the difference at the end; a weaker W wind and/or stronger climbs would have helped a lot. But (after all the coulda, shoulda stuff) I was absolutely delighted with the result!
Dan, Mary-Beth and I headed to Hood River, where I gladly paid up my margaritas!

More info
Photos ->
Tracklog ->


Monday, May 4, 2009

The Oceanside Fly-in

This weekend was the Oceanside Fly-in. The forecasts were poor and Saturday was a no-fly day. Sunday had a better forecast and I headed through a little late to find the sky full of gliders - more gliders than I've ever seen at Oceanside. Everyone was well spread out and there was obviously lots of lift.

Conditions were gradually weakening and by the time I got on launch, there were fewer gliders in the sky. Those that remained were near launch - traffic would obviously be a problem. I launched and found I could maintain my altitude just above launch by working some tiny, punchy thermals. The skies gradually cleared as gliders were flushed. After maybe 25 minutes of interesting flying I run out of lift too and landed on the beach.

I flew again in the afternoon for maybe an hour. There was a lot of traffic at the start. As conditions weakened, the traffic lightened. Towards the end of my flight, I headed to the Capes, hoping to soar the houses there. I arrived too low and tried to scuttle back to Oceanside, but I didn't quite get all the way back before landing on the beach.

It was my first time flying Oceanside this year, and it's always a pleasure to fly there - launching in and flying over a town is pretty unusual! I appreciated the benign conditions but I found the traffic pretty intimidating. There were several reasons for that
  1. Normally, when I'm flying in Oregon I know every glider in the air, so I know what to expect. That wasn't the case today.
  2. The best way to fly today was to thermal; but most pilots were ridge-soaring.
  3. When conditions are weak the lift-zone at Oceanside is pretty small.
  4. Sharing the sky not just with PGs but also HGs makes things more complicated.

Still, as far as I'm aware, there were no serious problems with traffic, so everyone was managing pretty well.

Some pics ->

Friday, May 1, 2009

Cliffside XC

Ralph and I headed through, encouraged by a great forecast. We were disappointed when cloud cover increased after passing Hood River - the day had over-developed horizontally and the only blue sky was directly above the river. On launch, we were the first to arrive and it seemed too windy and too cloudy; we got ready slowly. Maybe another day when a great forecast under-delivered?

Mike from Hood River arrived and launched, he got a couple of hundred over thanks to a thermal at the hang-launch before top-landing. I saw this, waited for a decent cycle, took it, got 75ft over in weak lift and headed for the hang-launch. I was in a decent if weak thermal almost immediately and just stayed with it. Mark joined me for a while but left at around 2,000ft. I rode it to 3,700 ft before heading West.

Near highway 97 I was low and looking up at some threatening windmills and bumbled into some weak lift. It took me a long time to sort it out, but I slowly worked up to around 5,000 ft. At this point I had a choice; stay in the Gorge, where the terrain seemed more promising, but the cooling effect of the river could inhibit the thermals. Or head towards Centerville over the flats. Either way, the clouds were breaking and blue sky and cummies were replacing stratus clouds.

I knew I needed to protect my ankle and stay near easy LZs and roads, so I headed to Centerville - an easy decision really. Sinky glides, decent thermals, maximum altitude just under 5,500ft, light winds aloft - pretty pleasant flying conditions. At one point I got fairly low before working up again. A few miles W of Centerville the terrain was becoming less friendly for XC flying; more trees, canyons and fences as the terrain descended to the Lyle / Klickitat highway. I decided to head SW over the biggest hill (Stacker Butte, I think) towards the gorge but didn't quite reach it before running out of altitude.

I lay down in the grass at the side of the road, listening to the birds singing while waiting for Ralph to retrieve me. He arrived and was really happy with his day's flying - he had got above the windmills on the ridge to the NE. So we headed back to Portland, both very happy with our day's flying.