Sunday, April 01, 2007

Best Thermal Clinic Ever

Doug called for a thermal clinic at Nanakuli today, and our fickle West Side gave it up for him and the ten pilots who heeded his call. I've never seen a day quite like it: even with such a big group, no one sank out, and by the end of the day almost every one of us had achieved our best West Side flights ever. By all accounts it was a rough day in the air, but as Doug said later, if every day at Nanakuli was this good, there would be no reason to travel beyond our humble shores.

Our newest thermal pilots, One-Eye, McStalker and Suicide, made it look easy. Jim and Jeff were cranking in the cores like old hands, and Peter cranked it up like a champ and made it to the back of the valley before calling it a day. Doug offered some great tips before the launches, and also helped the guys in the air get tuned into their turns.

Bob struggled mightily to get up above the peak, and once there he worked the peak for as long as he could bear it, before finally throwing in the towel. Greg also made it to the back of the valley for the first time ever, but on his return he found himself flushed into a field on the dump side. Like Bob, I also struggled mightily for most of my flight, bobbling around just above ridge height at Haleakala, while everyone else seemed to be dialing into the invisible elevators and heading off to exotic destinations.

Scrappy and Sandy were the true heroes today, leading the way to the back of the valley and waiting there for Doug, who led them on their first ever tour of Kolekole Pass and the missile silos in Lualualei, and then over the tallest peak on our island, Mt. Kaala. After that, Sandy landed out in Waianae Valley and Scrappy landed out in Makaha Valley. Doug continued on to Makua Valley where he scored a low save before flying all the way back to Nanakuli.

Don also followed Doug to the back of Nanakuli Valley, and as I was still trying to figure out the house thermal at Haleakala, he started the journey along the back range towards Kaala behind the testosterone triplets. I finally got a lucky break and squeaked into the back of Nanakuli Valley myself, rising up to my highest ever altitude there just as Don turned back from Kolekole pass to join me back behind Nanakuli.

The two of us just weren't very excited about the prospect of touring the missile silos (or "bombing" out there). So instead of following the cojones crew to Kaala, we hopped over the back for our first ever taste of thermalling the flatlands of Central Oahu. It was awesome - there was lots of lift over there and it seemed like we could have gone anywhere. The only problem was, we really had no idea where we should be going. So we decided to land at Waikele where I'd left my car, but instead we got confused about our bearings and backtracked to Kunia by mistake. Thanks to Bob and Greg for the retrieve!

Nick came late and hiked up to launch last, and met Doug over Haleakala as he was returning from Makua. Doug then led Nick on his first ever hop over the back, dropping him off at Kunia Road on his way to a landing at the Waipio Costco. After rounding up all of our wayward clinic participants, we met up at Waipio for a debriefing over burgers and cold refreshments.

Thanks to Doug for the motivation and information, and thanks to everyone else for making it such a fun day. I was proud to see so many pilots flying so well at our most challenging site. And I would love to hear other perspectives on the day - post a comment here or write your own article if you like.


Bob said...

What's the deal? Where are all those stories from you 'best flights at Nanakuli' types for this special day? As I launched I was in the smoothest Nanakuli lift that I had experienced to date. Sadly it did not last and I never got above 2200'. My day for jumping over the back or going down range will come and until then I need to live vicariously through you sky gods so get thee to typing so we can all be jelous.

Nick said...

The day started for me as a rare day to sleep in. Carpe somn! I was surprised to learn on windlines later in the morning that the clinic had moved to the early morning. I called Peter and he verified that Nanakuli was ON! Oops, better get a move on! I grabbed my GPS for the first time and 2 bottles of water and nuked a burrito! The sky was cloudy as usual in Kailua, but the air was still, which is a good sign for the day. On the way up H-3 I saw motorbike cops on both sides. I tried flashing my lights to warn people on the other side. Wonder if that worked? Thanks to Sandy and Scot for the warning! On H-1 now, I’m making calls to my friends in the mainland just catching up. Now H-1 is turning to Farrington and I start to barely make out some paragliders. Ooh, there are a lot of them there! I start to get that weird feeling of apprehension and excitement as usual before I fly. I tell myself that it is good to feel that way and if I ever stop feeling that way, I better stop flying. I start to go over some emergency procedures in my mind; mentally adding my new discovery of tucking your legs underneath your seat if things go twirly (lessens the chance of riser twists). Enough chair flying! Now time to crank up the tunes and try not to become a statistic of Farrington Hwy! I’m monitoring the radio and hear Don and Alex decide to go over the back. I hear that Jeff and Jim are going to land due to rough conditions…there’s that feeling of apprehension again. I decide to take a picture quickly before everyone split up. I managed to take a wide angle shot that captured 7 specks. Not exactly calendar material, oh well.

I finally park at the trailhead and prepare the hike up. I rip off my shirt and slather sunscreen onto my perfect pecks and broad shoulders. I examine myself in the reflection of my Audi windows. I attribute the beer belly to the curvature of the glass. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. Shenanigans aside, I finally start hiking up the trailhead at about 1245 and the wind is whipping. I start thinking back to what Doug taught me on my previous flight; that if there is a lot of wind down low on the trail head, that’s not a good sign. Then Bob reports that he’s landing/sinking out. Hmmm, shall I turn around? Well I figure that I can use the exercise and can always sled ride down. The EIF was low, considering all the people on the ground. (I will define that acronym later). I make it up to mid-launch in 15 minutes, plus or minus 15 minutes. The wind is cycling nicely from calm to soarable in 5 minute cycles. As long as I didn’t mistime the cycle, it shouldn’t be a problem! By this time, everyone is long gone, or landed. Shiat! Alone in a thermal site. I put on my shirt (miraculously unripped) and for the first time…a jacket. I fully intended to stay local since everyone, namely Doug, was gone. Should have got there on time! For that reason alone, I leave my GPS in my pack. One of these days I need to fly with that thing and get used to using it. So I suit up instrument lite (alti-watch and audio vario). I set up and have to reposition a couple of times to face the wind. I still use split-A’s to launch and A’s and C’s to set up. Either I’m doing it wrong or my glider isn’t responsive to A’s and C’s?!? I feel like I have minimal lateral control of the glider and consequently I have to climb up to the glider a couple of times to “fix-it” for launch.

At 1315 I finally launch! Beautiful, drama-free launch and beep beep beep, straight up! Unlike last time, the thermals are bit smoother. It feels more like ridge lift. By this time I’m alone in the air. I can hear fragmented conversations from the guys downrange. Peter checks in to me and makes sure that I’m good to go. Now I have enough altitude not to feel the EIF. I zoom up to 2800 feet right away and ponder my options. Since I could still hear people on the radio, I decide to head to the Waianae’s. I remember someone giving Alex a pep talk about “divorcing yourself from the hill”. I decided to also “sign the papers” and head East. Of course as soon as I leave the hill, I encounter constant sink. “Doooooo,” squeaks my vario. I was starting to regret my decision. Then a big thermal introduced itself with my first ever frontal (unprovoked). Yikes! Might as well load ‘er up! I turned in that thermal back up to about 2800 again. Rock and roll! I remember a tip in Jocky Sanders “Performance Flying” DVD that if you’re getting rocked around, don’t concentrate on the jostling, just think about the lift it represents. I continued along the spine toward the Waianae’s. I pick up a little here and there, but continue to descend. I’m now deep in the Nanakuli valley. The EIF (extreme inconvenience factor) is rearing its ugly head again. I wasn’t worried about LZ’s, but I didn’t want to land out deep in the valley and …walk! It’s why I joined the AF instead of the Army, I like flying! Well boo hoo and whaa whaa aside, I turn around and head back to Haleakala, I’m probably about 2300 feet now. I’m I going to make it? I’m not picking up much from the spine, I try both sides with no luck. Now I’m flying into a headwind, in the lee of Haleakala. What is the speed to fly? I guess at half speed bar. I don’t have a GPS so I can’t determine my ground speed. Besides, I forgot all those equations anyway, my math is much better on the ground than in the air. Now I’m way in the lee at about 2000’, I’m getting really concerned about rotor. I figure it wouldn’t be as bad as trade wind rotor, but who knows? Damn the EIF, I want to live! So I turn towards the dump side to try to get around Haleakala on the low side. I didn’t go on the school side due to Haleakala’s more “rounded” edge on that side, which probably meant a bigger headwind from the venturi?!? Maybe there’s lift there too? I sneak around the north edge of Haleakala with barely a bump and NO lift. By the time I pass over the ridge, I’m only about 1200 feet. The lift is plentiful on the other side and I get up right away.

Much to my surprise Doug calls and says that he coming back to Nanakuli and that we can go OTB together. Awesome! I pump my fist Tiger Woods style. I’ll just do what he does and make it over the range! Then he tells me to go ahead to the back of the Nanakuli valley and tank up on altitude on the ridge, he’ll catch up. Yikes, last time I tried that I got “low”. I knew that I could never keep up if I followed Doug, so I banked my veritable steed East-bound again. This time I hit more stuff on the way to the ridge, including the nasty thermal I hit before. At the back of the ridge, I was riding on a combo of ridge lift and thermals. I was just maintaining altitude. The whole time I had EIF nervousness, but the rare view (for me) of the flatlands was worth it. I spent a little time trying to find H-1 (easy) and Kunia Rd (easy). Then I think that I have lowes in sight and maybe the Oahu central park. Come on Doug! Where are you? I don’t know how much longer I can keep this up. Like a fighter diving from the sun, I spot Doug above me, far far above me! He tells me to go ahead fly to the first big cloud, he’ll catch up. Gulp. Here goes! My first flatland flying (aside from my paramotor flights). Well I’m getting no lift and sinking like a rock. Those huge powerlines are a concern too. Can I make it over?

Well I’m all the way down to about 1500’ now. I start to scout out LZ’s that mitigate EIF. Then I catch a nice big fat juicy thermal all the way back up to about 3500’. Smooth as butter, like glassoff. Yeah baby! Little pieces of debris are outperforming my climb, but that doesn’t bother me…much. I point myself east again. Doug is still sky-high and ahead of me now. He’s shooting for the north side of the cloud street. I’m getting nothing now and don’t want to turn northbound due to EIF of the unknown if I sink out (uh come get me, I’m near a road called…road). I suppose I can whip out my GPS if necessary. I point towards the Oahu central park. The headwind is getting stiff now and it becomes apparent that I will not make it on glide. I push out on a little speedbar to help my glide ratio. Why did they have to put that big gully between me and the park? I see the park that Alex and Don landed in and start to head that direction. The headwind is killing me! I then see another park that’s a bit closer…right next to a golf course (kunia). On the way there, I pass over some red fields and they were pumping out some nasty bullet thermals. I couldn’t seem to core on them so I ended up just being rocked by them and not gaining much. I decide to leave the fields and head to the park. I try to get a good look at the roads as I come down to help the retrieve party. I had a little altitude to spare, so my plan was to fly over the park and hook a 360 back to land, pull a closed pattern. The park itself was kicking out bullet thermals, Yee-haw! Too high to try to land now! I try to core these thermals too, but I can’t seem to stay in them. I cruise out over the golf course, but it was also rocking me too. I look again towards Alex’s field, but I don’t have enough altitude…nothing put houses in between. My plan is now to fly a downwind and turn back to land, but I catch another thermal on the downwind and have to do another 360 to get down. I’m finally on final glide into the park and hit some really weird sink. I was coming straight down over the road. I came down so fast, it felt like a B-line stall. I actually looked up at the wing to see if it was okay. Then the sink/stiff wind went away and I flew forward and landed in the middle of the park to cheering locals. One of the little boys ran out to me and gave me a soda and water! There’s some aloha for ya!

After eating some great Hawaiian food and regaling the group with my death-defying stories, Scrappy shows up with minimal instructions and picks me up. As I leave the picnic, everyone gets a good laugh when someone says, “You’re welcome to drop by anytime!” Beer, stolen fries, and exaggerated stories come later. All in all a day we live for.

Thanks to all you for the company, both on the radio and physically. Doug, thanks for convincing me to go OTB with you, the EIF would have kept me from doing so otherwise. Thanks Scrappy for the quick retrieve. As I do more XCs, I’m sure the EIF will abate.


paliglydr said...

Wow, great accounts of an Epic day! Thanks Alex and Nick. Sandy! Scrappy! where's yours???