Sunday, August 27, 2006

Thermal Warm-up Weekend

There are two kinds of flying in the paragliding world. There's Hawaii flying, characterized by the world's smoothest air and laziest bums, and then there's the other kind: thermal flying. Hawaii flying is the kind where you never have to check the weather, or drive far, or hike, or worry about staying up, or about turbulence. Thermal flying is where you pore over the weather reports, drive around the island, hike your butt off, and even then you don't know if you'll stay up, or if you'll even want to. You might wonder why anyone would choose thermal flying over Hawaii flying. A handful of us were wondering that after our second drive and hike on Friday. But at the end of the day, and then again on Saturday, a lucky few of us got a happy reminder of what makes it worthwhile.

Nuking at Nanakuli

On Friday, a handful of us headed out to Nanakuli to try our luck with the thermals out there. Despite the forecast of thunderstorms, and the huge black cloud that was swallowing the windward side as I drove away from there, it seemed like a great day on the west side: sunny, with a light onshore breeze. But the strong cycles at the trailhead should have tipped us off to what we'd find at low launch: the cycles up there were consistently exceeding 20 mph from the north. Oops. It still took us awhile to admit the obvious and hike down. After that little setback, we were still jonesing for rising air, so we followed Dave's advice to head out to Dillingham to see if the northerly flow would be working out there.

Death March at Dillingham

When we got there, it was nice and sunny, and the direction was great, but it was a bit light. Hard to believe it was on the same island as Nanakuli. But Dave and Gavin obviously thought the conditions were promising, so they ran up the Kealia trail behind the gliderport to reach the thousand foot overlook and show us how good it was. The rest of us, already feeling the pain from our little Nanakuli adventure, reluctantly forced ourselves to make the hour's march up the interminable switchbacks. It was pretty rough going for us - Sandy left her gear halfway and proceeded without it.

At the top, we found Dave and Gavin still trying to get into the air from the snaggy little launch spot up there. Working with infrequent light crosswind cycles and a six foot runway over a precipitous drop all the way to sea level, they both made multiple exciting attempts to launch before they both finally got up and away. They didn't fly long, since Gavin had a plane to catch, but they enjoyed the best of the day's lift.

This was Ray's first time out there, and after a few brave attempts he managed to get airborne just as the other two were landing. But the thermals were already starting to shut down for the day. Greg followed with a perfect forward launch on his first try, and I finished up with a lucky first try at a reverse launch. By then there was hardly any rising air left to keep us up, but I managed to milk the lightest of puffs to stay up about a half hour, as Sandy began to make her way back down the trail.

We finished up the day with a nice dinner at Pizza Bob's in Haleiwa. Not to mention long baths after we got home. What a long and exciting day. I heard that the Makapuu Cruising Coalition also enjoyed some nice afternoon flying in the north conditions.

Nanakuli Revisited

On Saturday the light SW conditions seemed to offer a better chance for Nanakuli thermals, so I convinced Bob and Sandy and the Germans to head out there with me, followed later on by Ray and Doug. Cloudbase wasn't very high, maybe 2500 feet or so, but a gentle breeze was blowing and there was plenty of blue sky available, so it definitely seemed worth a hike. The cycles turned out to be coming up nicely from the dump side, and Sandy and Peter set up at low launch, while Wolfgang, Martina, Bob and I hiked to mid launch for a bit more of a guarantee.

After a couple of heart-stopping attempts, Wolfgang got off first, and reported that the thermals were on the sparse side, but he got up easily enough anyway. Bob launched next, followed by me and Sandy and Peter. I found the air to be quite punchy, with strong thermals and many small collapses and weightless moments. Bob's heart wasn't quite in it and he landed early, but the rest of us worked hard to keep our wings over our heads and make the most of the thermals. Wolfgang shouted "Rock and Roll" at one point as he caught a thousand foot per minute rocket up through a cloud to his max height of three grand or so. Later he reported the air to be quite smooth compared to the strong alpine thermals he's used to. Wow. Good thing I'm out there practicing I guess.

I flew out towards Maile Point and also across Nanakuli Valley, but there were no thermals to speak of in either direction, so I landed soon afterwards, followed shortly by Wolfgang and Sandy. Doug and Ray hiked up as we were folding up, along with Bob for a second attempt, but by the time they got to low launch the high clouds were moving in and the cycles were shutting down for the day, leaving the latecomers with nothing more than scratchy sledders to the dump. Except for Bob, who managed to shoot the saddle gap for a spectacular roadside landing near our cars.

We finished the day with some cold refreshments and a gorgeous sunset view from the soccer field in Nanakuli Beach Park. Speaking of soccer fields, the guys at Mariner's reported some great thermal flying of their own on Saturday, and I heard they provided some exciting half-time and end-of-game entertainment to the kids as they came in for landings in the soccer field.

Three days of weather guessing, driving, hiking and flying, rewarded by flights at three of Oahu's best thermal sites. The conditions were not epic, but we certainly made the most of them, and it was a good warm-up weekend for the coming winter thermal season. I can't wait!


firedave said...

I was just trying to think of some other lost light wind thermal sites. Tantalus, Kailua Dump, Epics, Makua, Hang Glider launch. They all have their good days.

Alex said...

Yeah, we need to get that Kailua Dump site happening again. I never got a decent flight there but I heard about some great ones. We need a good bomb-out LZ there though. Um, not the RC park, of course.

And Tantalus would be better if we had a decent bomb-out LZ, but I guess the park in the back is the best we'll get. The roadside pulloff is NOT a good bomb-out option, despite what some guys think.

Epics (Temple Valley) has some potential but it's a low take off and there are no good bomb-outs. Probably never going to be a great site without that.

Makua - the farthest possible drive for a site with a low launch that requires some good W flow to get started - conditions we get once a year or so. I've had some memorable flights there but it's a fickle little place.

Hang Glider Launch - not sure what's so great about that one. Unless you mean taking off towards the SE on a SE day! Like the old nearby Mad Dogs site.

I don't think of these sites as lost. Just on the back burner.

sandy said...

Weekend includes Sunday -- what happened at Nanakuli Sunday? Ray, Doug, ...? Forecast called for thunderstorms, it was really wet to the east of O'ahu, but cloudbase looked wonderful over the Waianae range. I was detained at home. Did you guys check it out?