Wednesday, September 09, 2009

130 Miles in Sun Valley

When I heard there was a 4 day Mountain League Meet over Labor Day Weekend in Sun Valley, the gears started turning. Google Maps … "only" 7 and a half hours drive from home. A quick check with the wife … so honey, what do we have planned for weekend after next? Mental check … where did I put that O2 and those electric gloves? With clearance from the tower, I packed the car and hit the road immediately after work on Thursday. Friday was one of my normal days off, and Monday was a holiday, so it was going to be me, the tent and the glider for 4 days of comp flying. Life is good.

With the hammer down, I planned to camp at a hot spring about 30 minutes out of Sun Valley, and then drive the rest of the way on Friday morning. Without the kids, I managed to stop once to pee and once to fill the tank and get some dinner, and 7 hours later I was pulling into the hot spring under a brilliant full moon. It was just past 11 pm with the time change, and it only took me about 10 minutes to get the air bed filled and put in the back of the truck for a night under the stars. With the sound of the hot spring babbling just out of sight, I drifted off to thoughts of an early soak before driving into Sun Valley, but it was not to be.

There were no mosquitoes, but there was a flock of plovers nesting at the spring, and each time I rolled over, the bed would squeak and those vicious plovers would buzz me and peep at me. With the moon shining brightly in my sleepy eyes, it was a long night of squeak, peep, peep, peep.

The next morning, I packed up the gear and headed to Ketchum, which is the town next to Sun Valley but where the Sun Valley ski area is, HUH. The day was shaping up to be either a great day, or it was going to thunder and lightning and be blown out. After a quick briefing, we headed up the hill, and I rode with Nate Scales and Mark from town and tried to get the skinny on the area.  

When we arrived at the top, a quick head count was done, the task was called and we were off. The task was to fly up that canyon, follow the road until it T'ed, the T was goal and about 50 miles, no turn points, no coordinates, just a race start and the guy that gets there first wins. On launch it looked like there was some lift but not enough to get real high, so we waited around until some of the guys started climbing.

I launched into a light straight-in cycle, and glided out, expecting to fly into it any second. When I arrived at the LZ, the guys were still groveling at launch, so I quickly packed my rig and headed for the lift ticket counter to convert my one ride pass to a full day. When I got on the chair, I watched as the crew finally got established and headed out. By the time I got back to launch, it was strong, with cycles that were very cross, and wind that looked like it was a switching between up and over the back.  

After taking off, I was quickly above launch, with thermals coming up all sides. I could only describe the flying as full combat, with 1,500 fps up. I was at 12,000 feet before I knew it, and headed out on course.

Hearing the others on the radio was encouraging, but they were almost an hour ahead and nowhere in sight. I crossed the valley, got established on the other side, but the sky was developing fast. I was unable to reach the recommended 14,000 feet before crossing the big gulley at the end of the valley. I landed at about 10 miles, just ahead of a gust front and a short downpour.

Nate and two others flew for another 5 hours to make just under 130 miles, just shy of the Idaho State record. 

The next day was windy, and it looked like the rest of the weekend was going to be blustery with thunderstorms, so I loaded back into the truck and drove home … after all it was only 7 hours away.

All in all, Sun Valley was a great flight, and may have been my best ever, if I had managed to stay up on my first try. If you ever have the chance to fly there, it is a good site for a first mountain experience, not too big to be scary, but big enough to let you feel pretty small, and let you get really high.


Rich. said...

My Sister lives in Boise & my parents live in Eugene OR.
Who knows I might end up out there someday kinda soon.
Aloha Doug! Don't ya miss home a little bit?


firedave said...

It is good to hear that you are still charging as ever, and stoked as well. I have had quite a few of those days where I dirt out early, and watch everyone fly something long.

Jorge and I are heading to Valle in January, are you interested? Good times!

Alex said...

Doug, thanks for posting this great story. I can imagine how it felt to watch the other guys get away - that was the story of my last Rat Race.

I always feel like such a wuss when I read about your exploits and look at your pictures. I would like to think I'd be up for a trip like that, but honestly, driving over seven hours, camping, flying in full combat conditions at a big air mountain site for the first time, with oxygen and electric gloves, over what looks like a very remote mountainous wilderness, probably well stocked with ferocious critters of all types - I guess I'm just too soft for that kind of trip. On my flying trips I am partial to a nice bed, friendly mountains, gentle thermals, and lots of big green fields in wide open valleys with plenty of roads.

But even if I'm too chicken for that level of commitment, I am glad to read about your adventures and enjoy them vicariously! Thanks again for making the post.

Brazilian Ray said...

wow! that is so cool! but from the pics it doesn't look like there are many flat places to land...
Thanks for posting it!


Doug said...

Hello guys! Unlike the photos indicate there were lots of really easy landing options. It seemed to be a great place for an intro to mountain flying lots of easy landing options and terain that makes it easy to pick a good one.

Dave, I think I'll be using most of my leave to come to Hawaii in December and will leave the flying to winters there and summers here.


Doug said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Gravity said...


I flew there once with the Q, Charlie, and my brother tandem. Big air and big valley winds I remember.

Super fun town too.

Cya in December