Sunday, January 11, 2004


The forecast was S 5-15 which seemed just a little light for Diamond Head but not too strong for Nanakuli. So a few of us headed out west to take our chances with the thermals. And we were rewarded with epic flights all around. Nanakuli gave it up for us yesterday: an XC first (Doug), two personal bests (Alex, Ray), and a first ever flight out there (Johan).

We got there around 11:30 or so and raced up the hill, worried about the wind becoming too strong. We launched low on the school side, since the wind was already feeling plenty strong down there. It's a nice day when you only have to hike halfway to the top. As soon as Doug launched he was up, up and away. That was a good sign. A couple minutes and a couple thousand feet later, he radioed down to us that it was a strong day, 1000 fpm according to the initial report from his vario, and he warned us that it was the kind of day that would make us cry for our mommies. I thought that was a scary thing to say, but it was also kind of funny because Johan actually showed up today with his mom, who is visiting him right now. But she just dropped him off and then went home, so I guess he was out of luck.

I launched next, and got high pretty quick. On my first thermal I got a few feet short of 4 grand, my highest ever. When I checked it later, my vario showed me that at some point I had a max ascent rate of 1200 fpm. Even though they were strong, the thermals were drifting back pretty steeply, so after I topped out each one I would generally head back out front. It spooked me to be so far back in that steep of a drift. Plus it was getting pretty misty when I got up that high. Mommy! I followed Doug across Nanakuli valley at one point, although it wasn't really working over there, but we were high enough to just go check it out and get back with plenty to spare.

Ray worked super hard to get up, fishing around for a good long time before finally hooking something that would take him up to join us. A few times I thought he had landed already but then I saw him way down there still working hard. At one point I got quite low again myself, about the time Doug got to 4 grand again and blazed out towards Makaha. Ray had got up high by that time and tried to follow Doug, but he didn't quite have the same glide as Doug and he decided to turn back before he got too far into it. Landing out on nuclear missile silos would just spoil the day for everyone. Mommy!

Johan had a tough time with the launch, but he finally got off and away. He scratched hard but didn't end up joining us at cloudbase today. Next time, Johan! But he had to stick around anyway because he didn't have a ride. Hiking back up is always an option, but man, you have to be pretty committed to consider it. I think Johan already felt like he'd had enough of an introduction to west side flying for one day.

We saw Doug working his way up at the next couple of ridges in Makaha before he disappeared from sight, and the last we heard from him he said he had made it all the way to Makua, and was headed over the back towards the North Shore. He ended up landing at the Drop Zone near Dillingham Airfield. He said the wind was nuking offshore when he landed. Mommy! Jimmy was home and was able to give Doug a ride back.

Ray was hungry for an altitude record, and he worked the thermals like an old pro all day. Many times he disappeared into the white, remaining out of sight for several minutes, and then he would shoot out the top or the side, soaking wet, and crow his max height over the radio: 4 grand! And then later: 4500! His final max for the day was just over 5 grand, definitely his highest ever. Mommy!

At one point I flew to the back of Nanakuli Valley for the first time ever. There was lift back there, pretty smooth too, but I didn't hang around back there. Maybe if I'd had someone else back there with me I wouldn't have been so spooked. But it just seems far away from anything when you're back there. No landing options, a lot of really rugged terrain and strong wind currents. Mommy! Later on Ray went back there too, but like me he didn't really stick around too long.

What a great day. I was exhausted after almost 3 hours thermalling, for sure my longest thermal flight ever. There were still plenty of thermals when I finally decided to land but I was just too tired to keep working them.

I took a few pictures, although they're nothing like the ones Doug has already taken of this area over the years. And I know Ray got some nice ones too. Maybe those guys will find the time to post their photos and their impressions of the day.

And I hear those guys may be headed back out there today for more. The forecast is SW 10-20 which doesn't seem that great but it's always worth checking it out. I've got to work today but obviously I'm still thinking about yesterday's flying.

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