Sunday, October 25, 2009

Indian Summer

Paragliding is just full of surprises - some good, some bad. It's the end of October and, while today looked flyable, I didn't expect to get to 5,200 feet. But that's what happened today.

Forecasts were mixed but looked best in the Gorge. On the way out Todd phoned to say that Bingen seemed blown out. I wasn't that worried - if it wasn't possible to fly, the hiking would be good. Bingen was blown out, so a large group of pilots headed S across the river to Bald Butte. The Columbia Gorge can act like a pipe, funneling winds into or out of the American continent. Sometimes the wind is howling in the gorge but 10 miles N or S it is relatively calm - today turned out to be such a day.

At the standard LZ, we worked out logistics and headed up. Launch is beautiful with Mount Hood just to the South, Adams to the North and orchards below. The wind was strong but manageable, it was obviously soarable but I expected it to be purely ridge soaring. Everyone seemed to be waiting for someone else to launch; I got ready and launched immediately after Joe. After maybe 10 minutes soaring at launch height I caught my first thermal. Toby launched and immediately joined me. The thermals were pretty wimpy (it is the end of October...) and with the strong wind there was a lot of drift - but they were the means to get high. Others launched and stayed up but they seemed to ridge soaring just above launch while Toby and I got high.

The strong wind made it hard to get really high without drifting over a huge forest to the SE. I headed out over the valley, hoping for a mini-XC. I had to fly into the wind and didn't really get much lift; I headed to an 'approved' target LZ T (a local pilot) told me about and had picked out a really nice bail-out. As the bail-out was looking more and more likely, I saw a horse in it - damn! I turned back and landed in a nice field. Some locals took pictures and asked questions and took me back to the 'normal' LZ.

Everyone was really happy with their day. On the way back to Portland I stopped in the gorge for a quick hike. All in all, a really good fall day!

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Monday, October 19, 2009

Slow Sled Rides at Bingen

As fall sets in, flying changes. You have to downgrade your objectives. Air time replaces air miles. Getting out and enjoying nature becomes an end in itself, rather than something that happens when you fly.
Sunday had a decent forecast for Bingen, so Dan and I headed through hoping for some air-time, but just happy to be outdoors. There were plenty of pilots there by the time we arrived, some of whom had already flown. We headed up to the West launch; there was enough wind to make launching easy, but not enough wind or thermals to make it easy to stay up. I launched first, and struggled. The others launched and didn't do any better. Eventually Dan and I were left struggling after the others landed. After around an hour I tried round the corner, that didn't work and I sank out just as Dan seemed to get some lift; I landed as Dan soared.

Mary Beth took me and a couple of other pilots back up; another group of other pilots followed us up. Conditions had improved; it was easier to stay up, but still no-one got above launch. After maybe 40 minutes I landed (a little concerned by possible showers just across the river) with the remaining pilots. Not great flying, but good practice and nice to be outdoors - pretty much perfect fall flying!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Cliffside Blowout, Hood River Hike

One of my motivations for moving to France is to change my driving to flying (or hiking) ratio. Today wasn't my worst of the year but it was pretty close; I had around 4 hours driving for around 4 minutes of flying. The forecast was a little strong today, so it wasn't a complete surprise. But Cliffside went from too weak to too strong very quickly. The recorded winds (down at the dam) tell the story.

2:02 pm SE 14G18
1:47 pm SE 13G16
1:32 pm SE 6G09
1:17 pm S 4G06
1:02 pm E 3G06

Anyway, given the forecast, this wasn't a big surprise and I went for a nice hike near Hood River.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Back in the Saddle

It's been nearly 5 weeks since I last flew - by far my longest 'no fly' period since I started flying. Lots of reasons (e.g. poor weather, other things to do) and, to be honest, it hasn't been a big deal. Last time I flew was in the S of France at the end of summer; now it is fall in the Pacific NW. It's a big change - more layers and staying up (rather than worrying about retrieves) are the new priorities.

The forecast today was for strong E winds and blue skies. I had hoped to fly Cliffside - a reliable and simple site - but this morning the forecasts just seemed too strong. So I headed to Kutch with a bunch of local pilots.

In Yamhill I met Deanna, Joe, Leo and Todd - none of whom had flown Kutch. We cached Deanna's car below the bail-out LZ and headed up to launch. After the site briefing I was honor bound to launch first. It took maybe 10 minutes of struggling around launch height but then I got up to around 2,900 ft. As in all my Kutch flights, all my lift came from thermals. After boating around for a while, I headed over to the Flying M Ranch for a mini (ok, micro) XC. Todd joined me and we hiked back to Deanna's car. The other pilots had landed in the bail-out; Joe had a long flight trying to get up, I think the other two had fairly brief flights.

Back on launch there were a bunch more pilots and cars. Two HG pilots had decided against launching - too many trees around launch. Some PG pilots had arrived, flown and were back for a second flight.

Four pilots launched and had nice flights in boaty ridge lift / glass-off - completely different conditions from earlier in the day (Kutch is 'full of surprises'). Staying up was obviously easy, but they could only get 2 or 3 hundred feet over launch. I considered launching (I've never had 'easy' lift at Kutch...) but to simplify the logistics I took a car down. Not the greatest of flying, but not too shabby either - a perfect fall day.

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