Friday, September 15, 2006

Over and behind the Koolaus

It was a nice 10 mph northerly day this past Thursday. From Puu O Kona on down, the cloud base was just floating on the top of the range. Of course I wished it were higher, but I headed on down anyway to see what I could find.

The trek down range was smooth and full of spectacular views.


However, the fun really started just past Temple Valley. That's where I caught a crazy ride on a 1,200 fpm elevator. At first things were normal, but soon it was anything but. Suffice it to say that there were a few moments when I was happy that at least a third of my wing was still flying in the same direction I was. When I reached 7,000 ft. I began thinking about going OTB. That's when it spit me out. The wicked cloud wall that lay behind me was just too vast to try and make a run down wind. So I took the time to snap some pics instead.


As I descended back to the ridge, I ran across two unsuspecting and surprised Hangies, Leo and Mike. I don't think they were expecting to see me there.


After chasing some small thermals over Kaneohe, I decided to head back to Makapuu. On the way back, over the Pali golf course, I happened upon a nice 500 fpm thermal. So nice, I decided to stick with it and let it take me over the back. Knowing full well that I was most likely going past the point of no return.

Things were going well until I fell out of synch with the core. When it happened, I knew I was too far back to try and shoot the gap. So I immediately turned and burned towards town. Along the way, I was fully expecting to get some rotor hits, but none ever came. I can only assume the reason for this was that I was high enough to miss them. Plus the fact that the wind was so north, they were not as fierce as they normally would be. As I continued to blaze on down the valley, I was hoping for a taste of a leeside thermal, but no such luck. Despite the lack of large rotors, I think the air was just too churned up from the venturi to allow anything to be organized.

During all of this, I was constantly looking for possible LZs. Let me tell you, from the Pali on into Nuuanu, there's not much in the way of open spaces. So I turned back into the wind and headed for a golf course I passed. On approach, I had ample time to pick out a fairway that was not in use at the moment. After an uneventful landing, I quickly gathered up my wing and cleared myself out of the field of play. I was greeted by some golfers on their way to the next hole. I asked them if I could play through. We all had a good laugh over that. After a few questions to satisfy their curiosity, they went on their way. Soon the course Marshal came by. I introduced myself and apologized for landing on the course. I told him a little about my flight and how, under the circumstances, the golf course was the only safe alternative place to land. He was incredibly pleasant and completely understanding of the situation. Never once saying a negative thing about my presence there. We talked while I packed up and then he gave me a ride to the Highway.

Great Day! Thanks to Scot for keeping in touch, and to Bob for going out of his way to pick me up.


Alex said...

Mark, that's a great story and those are some awesome pictures. I know I'll never take any pictures like that, because I'm not willing to take the kind of rough wet ride you endured to get that high - I'll have to wait for the rare day when cloudbase actually gets to 7 grand (yeah right) or there are a lot fewer clouds, or none.

But I'm glad we have a few guys like you around to show the rest of us what it looks like after you pop out above the white room. Wow. With seven grand of altitude over Kahaluu I'm surprised you didn't just head due west towards Kaala and Kaena! You could have made it to Haleiwa just on glide.

sandy said...

Great article, Mark. Thanks for posting. I love the picture of Kaneohe Bay showing sandbar(s).

I was especially waiting to hear about the rotor. I would have figured coming down that close into the lee side on a trade wind day would have been rough (guess you did too). Glad to hear it wasn't, although I'm still not convinced enough yet to gamble on it myself. But that's me.

It was a few years ago when some folks were starting to launch somewhat frequently from a C&C park high above the OCC on nil wind days. The last time someone launched, they called the cops while he was still in the air. With the cops waiting in the launch/top-landing area below, he had to choose between meeting them or actually trespassing at OCC (but probably would have beat them down there). He got a ticket top-landing. It seems that while most folks they encountered at OCC were pleasant about their landings, the higher-ups were not amused. I guess I'd just like to put out the warning that although you were well received on this occasion, pilots shouldn't necessarily expect that treatment there, and should "avoid" landing there (i.e., not include in a flightplan). The C&C launch is just "in my backyard", but I won't consider it, for one reason, because I know the only bomb-out is not an option.

paliglydr said...

Marathon does it again! Nice one, Mark. Just beware of solid objects inside of them thar clouds.

firedave said...

Way to go Mark, always nudging the bar up a notch, can't wait to see what's next?

Jetflap said...


You are f... nuts. And I love it.


Nick said...

Question for you paragods.

Not that I'm planning to fly in the white stuff, but IF I find myself in some seriously thick clouds...HOW DO YOU KNOW WHICH WAY IS UP? Other than the obvious dangers of not so big sky theory and the ever classic question of: What's that cow doing way up here in the clouds?, how do you keep your orientation in a cloud?!?. I'm a qualified instrument pilot, and I know that flying with performance instruments (altitude, heading, VVI, airspeed) is no match for flying with control instruments (attitude indicator and power). Since we only have access to performance type instruments, what is stopping us from slowly slipping into a spiral? The slightest weight shift will start a turn, the steeper we turn, the more unreliable a compass, gps, etc will be. GPS heading will be iffy at best when you take accuracy, update rate, and drift into account. Only a gyro-stabd HSI will give a good heading under G's. You'll know that you're turning when you start to feel g's, but which way are you turning? Tug on the wrong handle and you're either in a steeper turn (which might be good, at least your descent rate increases), or you're start to exit and maybe transition into some nice wingovers...yeah right!

So what do you do if you find yourself DEEP in the whitestuff and you start to feel G's and you don't know which way is up?

My first thought is to pull a B-line stall and hope that your wing doesn't do anything crazy as it goes parachutal. Of course you can throw your reserve, but there's the danger of going UP with your reserve, maybe going way up, past 10K, past the oxygen required point.

Am I overplaying the theory of "in the absence of a horizon, you will start to turn due to weight shift"? When we're flying around normally, our brains automatically cages itself to the horizon and we subconsciously weight shift all the time to maintain level flight. One day maybe I'll do some experiments along the lines of closing my eyes for 30 seconds and try to keep a heading...

So to sum up my questions:

1) How do you know your orientation in a cloud? Any tips to maintaining level flight?

2) Best way to escape a cloud when things go bad, very bad.

This question is not meant to judge Mark's epic flight at all. I don't know the "character" of the cloud he encountered or whole situation. His story just got me thinking about being stuck in a really dense cloud inadvertantly.


sandy said...

Hi Nick -- you should talk to Doug sometime about his wild ride through some white stuff to 9000+ ft over Nanakuli. There's a pic and comment here.

From what I gather, big clouds can be very turbulent inside. And even if someone did possess amazing powers of stable piloting in absence of visual reference, the air around them would be altering their aircraft's aspect immensely. Somehow, a spiral dive doesn't sound so bad compared to cravat-inducing collapses, so long as the g-forces don't knock you out. And from what I've heard, you may still even go UP in a spiral dive in a cloud.

Let us know the results of your research :-)

firedave said...

Nick:I have spent afair amount of room in the whiteroom and I have found that as long as my GPS and ball compass are in agreement then I am doing fine.

Clouds aren't necessarily turbulent.I seem to remember Doug describing his 9k vertical flight as smooth 2000fpm up, it wasn't until he topped out in the cloud that things got bad. What does that add up to a smooth vertical mile beforethe bad stuff. Impressive.

As far as ending up in a spiral, try closing your eyes and you will be able to feel a spiral building and to which side. It is the slow unnoticed turn that causes the problems.

Having said that I was once in a cloud going up over Kahaluu and only had my ball compass. I thought I was flying straight but my compass kept turning, I kept countersteering somewhat puzzled and feeling that I was doing a bad thing turning. When I popped out I was out over Kaneohe going east. I guess the core of the thermal was rotating because every time I levelled off it the compass started turning (i.e. me).

The worrisome line I hear from many pilots is " I don't need a compass because I am not going to fly in a cloud, and if I do I will b-line out". 1) When you get sucked in by strong lift you do need a compass 2) There is a mountain in many of our clouds and if you b-line you might find it as you are usually getting dragged back. So up is your friend.

launch potato said...

Hmm, that objective discussion made me think that evading clouds can go too far.

Once in Maui clouds materialized just above me, with a field of treetops just below - only a few feet of clear in between. As the cloud suck increased past the ability of big ears, I could only think of adding spirals to the big ears because I couldn't afford any less-modulated drops into the closeby treetops. I was worrred because I had earlier read that BE+Sp can lead to pulling lines out, but it seemed to work.

But on reflection, a few things come to mind. I later noticed a few lines HAD detached, and just now connected it with this incident (Apco Xtra had odd short V line connections at top which can leave you unaware that one side has unhooked). I guess a full wing spiral must be safer for equipment, but we never got that far in a maneuvers clinic due to bad weather.

Finally, I had a ball compass, and maybe there can be a point where it's a lesser evil to just give in and use it to go upstairs. I was recently looking for an excuse to get rid of it to save space in my tiny mountain glider backpack, but will think about getting a more compact helmet instead (anyone selling a used bike helmet cheap - grin?)

Johan Hakansson said...

Firedave covers the topic nicely .. I want to stress that the compass is truly a piece of safety equipment. Do not think for a second You will be able to keeep Your direction with a GPS, it lags too much. All of a sudden you are cruising downwind at a nice speed and better pray for high numbers on Your vario.

The other interesting part of this is how the get out of the bad. On the windward side here you will worst case add a good ridge lift to the build of a cumulous. Personally, if I was drifting in a cloud without a compass and beeing low - I would full stall to get out of there immediately. It would reduce any horisontal drift to zero and get You out of the cloud.

Last point - flying over the back down a valley and find a spot for emergency landing is what I did the day of my bad crash. Next time I would definitely go for a ridge if not able to go way south and hit a beach or something. I hit downdrafts probably because the wind was not perfectly lined up with the valley .. and who would count on that beeng the case anyway :)