Sunday, December 18, 2005

Nanakuli Daze

(Originally posted by Frank on our old website)

The planets must have been in alignment - the wife was down hard with a cold and couldn't issue any "honey do's", the wind was out of the west and I was already driving across the Hawaii Kai bridge when Don called to issue rendezvous instructions - Nanakuli or Makua Valley - he, Alex and Greg were enroute on H3. After hiking up the day before and three times before that I was very familiar with Nanakuli's trail. I had either been there too late or too early previously and, not being familiar with the launches, didn't want to do something stupid and be the one who was responsible for losing a launch for the club. One thing Oahu excells in is it's challenging launches. What's the old saying? "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger." Chopper told me of his experience with Nanakuli so I'm always apprehensive - conditions have got to be just right - if I ain't feeling it, I ain't flying it.

On the hike down the day prior I passed Doug on the way up - it was tempting to join him but I still had to get to the yacht club for the Friday nite races at 5pm - 7 people were waiting on the boat. " of these days I'm going to have to fly this site..." I thought to myself as I trudged down, again, sweating like a whore in church.

We all gathered at the trail head in Nanakuli to check out the conditions - very overcast - no sun for thermals but at least there was wind to ridge soar. Greg drove ahead to check out Makua valley. Turns out both sites were good to go but since we were at Nanakuli and itching to get high we flew it. First group up the trail was Russel, Alex, Garth (Canadian visitor), Don, Jeff and myself.

Alex performed a flawless takeoff at low launch even with a wrapped brake line - it was a thing of beauty - no panic, he paused, cleared the line, turned and burned. In 3-5 minutes he was at 2k complaining of the cold. Don escorted Russel and Garth up to high launch while Jeff and I, happy with the conditions there, set up. Garth launched as Jeff and I watched him pull off one heck of a low save. He skimmed the valley floor and slowly climbed back up to join Alex and Russel in the ether. Russel had ignored Garth's plight and launched and worked it right up with Alex. Don hiked down to help Jeff and I launch. Don was doing yeoman's work getting all the Nanakuli neophytes into the air - thanks heaps Don!

It wasn't quite a no-brainer getting up - you really had to work it just right. I started getting low and started to scope out LZ's when Don came on the radio and instructed to head toward the beach where the spine descends. It worked like a champ - before I knew it I was up with the "big dogs" scrapping our helmets on the low ceiling. And, yes, it was cold. I had long pants on but the short sleeve T wasn't cutting it - next purchase is a flight suit. It was then I realized I left my camera in the charging unit at home - need that flight checklist.

Jeff was having his own issues gettting up and decided scratching wasn't his thing so he headed for greener pastures. Talk about timing, Gravity had just arrived to guide him in and give him a ride for a second go.

Before I realized it I was all alone. Alex and Garth had grown bored and cold with Haleakula and traversed over Nanakuli valley to Aircrafts and Russel had to depart early for an obligation in town. Don finally got up with me and tempted me out of my comfort zone with a trip to Aircrafts too. I reluctantly followed along always wary of bomb-out LZ's - the school's athletic fields are very inviting. We arrived mid-ridge and worked it back and forth to get up to where Alex and Garth had top landed. Alex was busy getting into his flight suit. It was nice and warm on that ridge - a welcome change. There is large flag on the end of that ridge that really helps assess the conditions. Don joined them with a top landing while I flew top cover getting to know the ridge.

That flag would show a wind direction change of up to 45 degrees. Sometimes showing straight offshore and sometimes straight out of Makaha. Nice to know as you get close to the ridge thinking about side rotor. The top landers re-launched with Alex getting some great altitude in the back and making the cross-over back to Haleakula. I just watched and wondered how the hell he did it. Garth soon followed. The wind had started to pick up and I was getting very little penetration making the beach and athletic fields seem out of reach since they were into the wind. I was starting to wonder where the heck I would/could land as my hands were getting numb - us AARP members have poor circulation - with my arms and hands in the up position for over 4 hours.

Things really started to get busy as Gravity launched his student and Jeff again from the ridge. Leo and Scrappy made the trip over to Aircrafts and joined us for some ridge soaring. Don did another top landing and I swooped in to see if all was ok just in time to see him hosing down the fragile eco-foilage on the slope. The radio was crackling with issues. Some strange fruit was happening on both slopes as the student scratched too close and Scrappy, getting low and back over Aircrafts, did a rotor tree collision. Don had relaunched again and we both circled overhead to see he was up and sorta ok. Scrappy has lucky to keep the wing out of the tree but the other incident was all about tree trimming. Heavy logistics were going on over the radio. Kept my mind off my hands and those frosty beverages waiting in a cooler in my car.

After 5 hours of boating around I was definitely ready for a soft landing and a cold beer. Don came through and said he'd lead the way to the beach. Departed the flag from the point at 1k and was worried about getting there. No problem, Don and I had plenty of altitude and did our S turns over the highway and held the stage as the crowded traffic below turned their eyes skyward. We both landed in the softest sand to the delight of a group of local children who looked at us like we were from another planet. Garth and Alex soon arrived afterward and Bob gave us a lift to our next flight - riding the cooler - where all the flights, altitudes, crash-landings were embellished. Great flying day guys - thanks for letting me join in.

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