Sunday, November 26, 2006

Thermal Adventures

This a personal account of the events of November 25th, 2006. I tend to ramble.

I have been waiting and hoping to have a full thermal flight for a while now. It has been a year and 2 weeks since my first solo flight and I have had nothing but the finest ridge soaring as only Hawaii can provide. I know I cannot survive on that alone.

As all of you know, our house thermal site is very condition dependent. I have made the hike at least 2 times where I had to trek back down. I have had one sketchy sink out on my second flight ever off the rocks, between the trees, nothing but dirt.

After being unable to go to Nanakuli on Friday with Ray, Doug and McStalker, I was hoping for a chance it would be working on Saturday. Waking up in the morning @ 8:30 the sky was clear and completely empty with no sign of the usual trades.

Alex called and was temporarily undecided about an easy flight @ Makapuu w/lots of friends or "Do you want to go get an ass kicking"? Of course I chose the latter and with that we were off. I arrived at the trail head around 10:30. Shortly after my arrival a new local pilot from Maui, Rob, shows up to check me and Alex out on our adventure.

As we hiked up in the pounding sun, I was asking Alex any questions I could think of about thermal flying. Where to look for the lift, how much distance to keep from the mountain, how to avoid becoming part of the landscape...

We make it to lower launch with some 0-5mph cycles coming from the dump side. So we huff it up to middle launch where it is coming in some good cycles to about 8-10mph but pretty cross compared to the launch layout. Wind was also coming off of the Nanakuli Valley side.

Rob brought his video camera and started filming the sites and our activities. Alex sets up and after a few aborted attempts to kite in the pretty cross wind, we finally get all the snags out and he is off across the mountain face and quickly rising way up and out. He makes it look so simple as he goes up and is off to the top of Haleakala.

I'm thinking, "Yea... I can do this. It looks simple enough.."

I set up my gear and I am explaining to Rob how the cross conditions are not recommended and can sometimes cause problems in the initial pull up of the glider. But not to worry as I have had great launches in much more adverse conditions and this would be cake. I get the tangles out, turn on the vario and gps that Reaper so generously loaned me (and wants back), pulled the glider up and promptly got drug through the rocks sideways, scraping my butt and bouncing off the launch with a bad swing. It was exactly like my launch 1 year ago for my 2nd flight ever @ Nanakuli while Doug watched in terror, with Discovery Channel filming a special on thermal flying. Both horrible launches caught on film but at least this one won't be aired on national television. I'll make sure I get it posted on You Tube or something instead for your viewing amusement.

I'm off across the main face of Haleakala, resorting to my ridge soaring techniques, keeping about launch height for about 15 minutes, trying to get used to the ups and downs of the thermal air rising from the valley.

Little worried, and really hoping not to sink out. That hike really sucked.

I eventually stop flying randomly and start hanging around the same spots I seem to be going up, and staring up at Alex trying to figure out what he is doing.

At 30 minutes I'm feeling more confident and am about half way up the mountain and still staring @ Alex above me.

At 45 minutes I'm right below Alex near the peak, still staring at him trying to emulate the red white and blue. Now I am high enough, I see Alex flying lazy circles. "Yea! I can try circles now" I go in and out of thermals trying to imitate the smooth large circles Alex was carving and not looking nearly as round or working so well.

At about an hour I am starting to feel much more comfortable falling in and out of lift and getting rocked all over the place at times. I am above the peak now looking down at Alex, still trying to emulate him and figure out what he's doing because I have no clue. He is looking up @ me going "wait a minute, what just happened and how the hell do I get up there?" as I hit Cloudbase @ 3500 ft for the first time.

Feeling worried again sometimes, as I get my butt rocked around so much worse than I ever have before. I will now fly in Rabbit rotor all day and feel thankful. I am trying to keep in cores but falling in and out. They are invisible and pretty slippery.

I sink back down to peak height again, and Doug radios up that he is on the trail and we are looking kinda low for such a high base, and he suggests I head to the back of the peak for the steady house thermal.

Alex, meanwhile, gets up higher than me and goes for a glide across Nanakuli valley, and I follow once I gain some more altitude, but am still much lower than him. I only make it half way across the valley without so much as a twitch in my wing and decide to return to the ridge before I get too low. Alex makes it deep into the valley, on a superb glide to the back peak of the valley, finding nothing but dead air, and begins to trek back. I get up to the peak again and find that house thermal in spades again, pegging the vario for a few seconds, pitching my wing back violently and making me question what I was doing so high in the sky out of a plane for a few seconds. After I get dumped out and calm down . . . I turn towards where I remember it being.

Alex comes in low from his long traverse and can't hook anything to get him back to launch level so he lands by the cars. Doug calls down to Alex "Don't worry man. They have a name for people like you." "Whats that?" "Driver..."

Doug takes off and thermals up in one smooth climb and goes past me behind the peak and calls out. "If you want to go Scrappy, this is the time."

Thinking for a moment.

"Where are we going?"

We glide towards a peak near the back. I follow Doug up in another climb with him offering tips to 3400, and we go over the back on a glide down and across to the flats. I am on glide but don't see how I am gonna make it past those huge transfer lines in the distance, way in the back of the fields at my current sink rate. Getting lower, I find some slow beeps on the vario and I start some slow flat circles. Doug calls me over to a spot at the edge of a large gray cloud, where I get the smoothest fast climb of the day. I get lots of lift circling up and into the bottom of it. Just as everything starts to go a dark gray, I end my climb and head on my glide out the side of the cloud at around 3800 ft. Doug got out a few minutes before me and I can't pick him out of the background for awhile. I clear those power lines by thousands of feet.

I head towards Kunia Hwy but don't think I'm gonna make it because while my vario has been pretty happy with me all day, only talking to me of lift and kicking me, it now has this low angry tone that isn't changing no matter where I go.

I see a nice wide white line that leads to the road through the middle of the pineapple fields that makes for a nice landing. Doug makes a left off in the distance and I make a nice landing in the nice clean gravel road, and in the euphoria of the moment forget my glider and put it down on the other side of a 4 foot deep trench in the dirt. :P

Doug turned left and went downwind while I flew upwind. He landed next to the road. I have a long hike out of the fields. No big deal. Alex picks me up at the road with Doug and a beer.

Boo to red dirt all over your wing. Hooray for beer.

Doug convinces a skeptical Alex to go up for one more try off of lower launch or at least a sled ride. I am completely exhausted after about 3 hours + of flying, not to mention the hikes, and have my doubts.

Alex gives in, I resist and opt to drive.

I go to the dump side with my truck to watch. They get to lower launch and Alex sets up. It's completely dead. Alex forward launches and his wing tangles. He is promptly dropped off a small cliff as I choke on my beer. I radio and he's ok and gathers his wing up and starts to climb.

Doug sets up. Goes for the forward launch. Looks good as he goes off and then immediately drops off the same cliff. His wing finally starts flying and catches him right before he lands really hard. He skims the cliffs and lands by my truck in the dead air.

Alex sets up again. Goes for the forward . . . and falls straight off an even bigger drop than last time, as Doug and I watch. He radios he's ok despite how bad it looked. His wing put him down pretty gently which was not so obvious to us. We ask him to please not try a third time as we can't watch a third attempt.

He sets up a third time on the other ridge side, as the wind was stronger over there now. He coasts nice and slowly down to the cars as we turn into the valley. He would have had another beer waiting, but I had consumed the remainder by then.

We all part ways with plans to do it again next time. And so we will.

I got everything I could have hoped for and more out of my first thermal experience and hope it doesn't ruin my expectations of my next one. Big air, cloud base 4 times, XC, no collapses. Freakin sweet. I learned so much on this flight about all aspects of my flying that I can't even describe. I look forward to learning more and going farther.


Looking back here is my first flight log...

The stories kinda sound the same... My first flight journal.


Nick said...

Sweet article Scrappy. I feel like I was there. I had no idea you guys went back to the hill for 2nds. We should make some T-Shirts that say "Body by Kuli".

Alex said...

Neo, I know about that thermalling routine you downloaded during the flight the other day. The next time I jack in I'm going to ask Tank to download it for me too. I've been going about it the hard way all this time. There is no spoon...

sandy said...

Nice going Scraps. Was it beginner's luck? Nah... Surfer cross-training? Maybe ... Whatevas, I'm glad you got the good stuff. Nanakuli takes, and gives, bigtime. So what did the Oracle say to you?

scubado Rob said...

alright! I was wondering what happened after I left, that's outrageous 3+ hrs. of air. Good to hear your okoles intact too. I learned alot from you and Alex that day mahalo for the insight. carpe' diem

Suicide said...

Well done Scrappy! and well wriiten.
Sounds like a great flight. One thing I have learned about X-C flying . . . always, Always, ALWAYS . . . do what Doug tells you to do. Some of my best X-C flights have resulted from following doug. Be Doug. Doug is wise. :-)

Brazilian Ray said...

Cool man! nanakuli rocks! be there or be...

Anonymous said...

Hi Alex-We are getting winter weather here in Wa so no flying. Enjoy reading reports on WL. Here is a link for scrappy and others. Aloha to all, James

Anonymous said...