Sunday, September 19, 2010

Escape to Kualoa

Yesterday I dropped Logan off for a kayaking meet in town and was back at Kahana by 8:30. I was planning to pick him up at 2, so I knew I'd have to make the most of a limited early session. I ran up the hill only to realize that there was a wide squall line approaching - I launched anyway, got high quickly, and briefly entertained the notion of trying to escape downrange. Duck had told me he'd be available to pick me up if I needed a ride.

But I was already fairly parked up there, so I made the safer choice to just land in time to pack up before the rain hit. It ended up not raining much, but there was a gust front that made me very glad to be on the ground.

I was joined by Woody and Mark from Maui, Maui-built Tom, Chandler, Harvey, and Jim, and we made our way up the east ridge trail. But conditions filled in more north than we expected, and we found ourselves launching low from the east ridge in gusty cross airflow, trying to sneak around to the north side right away.

By this time I should have been leaving to pick up Logan, but he'd finished early and Dorothy was able to pick him up. So now I was pretty excited at the thought of crossing the bay and getting over to Kualoa for an aerial view of the event I had seen in progress that morning. I found out later it was a high school cross country meet.

I launched first, followed by Harvey, but the rest of the guys opted to hike down and back up the north side. Joey and Sharky cleverly arrived late enough to skip that first hike.

Joey and I spent a really long time patiently milking the top of the ridge lift in that northerly flow, hoping to reach at least 1,800 feet to attempt a bay crossing. On my first try I left with a little more than 1,700, and I didn't even get close to making it across. On the second try it took much longer to work my way up to even 1,700, and I headed across again, with dimming hopes of making it now.

A big squall was bearing down on the bay, and I would have to land soon anyway, so I was prepared to cut it closer than usual. I pushed in low over there, knowing I wouldn't need to make it back to launch, just the LZ. But I actually got a lot lower than I'd realized, as I pressed full bar to cut through the final section of headwind and pull in front of the knob. I was way below the knob itself, and really hoping there would be some lift down there. I had not left myself enough height to bail out back to the fishpond, let alone the LZ.

But I got away with it this time, and didn't have to get super creative with a last minute landing approach in the driveway of the condos. I carefully eked my way up the ridgeline, and breathed a big sigh of relief as I got high enough to pull in behind Bobo's.

But my relief was short-lived. The incoming squall had grown and veered onshore, effectively following me across the bay to Kaaawa. I could see the texture and windlines curling over the water towards me. So I worked my way up as fast as I could, hoping to get the minimum height I'd need to cross Kaaawa valley to reach Kualoa, which should surely be safe from the effects of the squall.

I was watching the texture on the water approach my position and hoping I wasn't going to start getting blown over the back before I was quite high enough to make my move. Finally my nerves gave out and I just bolted across, lower than usual but apparently just high enough to get around into some lift on the Kualoa ridge. I could see lots of cars parked at the cross country race finish line down below in Kaaawa Valley. So much for spending time over the event! I doubt any of them even saw me up there.

I rode my way up at the Kualoa ridge, and started to relax again, looking back to see the squall drizzling down over Kaaawa. I could hear Frank and Maui Doug on the radio over at Verbier, I mean, Makapuu. But they didn't hear me calling over to say hello. Sounded like they had some rain over there as well. I was still worried about a possible gust front even this far away, so I pressed on to set up a landing at Kualoa Beach Park. I buzzed in over a huge party in progress at the park, with a live band playing loud reggae music. It sounded like the speakers must have been pointed straight up at me!

I landed in the big open area in the middle, in wind that was a bit stronger than I expected, almost pushing me backwards as I touched down. Whew! I felt lucky to have made it safe and dry to this distant haven, after a flight that was a bit more exciting and suspenseful than I would have liked.

Thanks to Maui Mark for the ride back to Kahana after a quick stop at Bobo's. The squall had pretty much shut things down at Kahana and the party was starting at the LZ. Duck joined us with a fresh load of frosty beverages and we celebrated the day's flying in our usual fashion, hiding out from the ongoing showers under trees or in our cars.


mauimark said...

Thanks Alex for showing how it's done and all your local knowledge on the rain squalls.

I had a 1.5hr fight which is twice as long as any previous for me. Might be ho-hum as far as Oahu flights go but it was epic in my book.

Thanks to Joey for helping me launch (snag free) and to Jim, Harvey & Chandler for the entertaining and instructional stories.

allan said...

Alex, I saw you flying the Kualoa Ridge from my mountain bike in the 24-hrs of Hell in Paradise mountain bike race. I am assuming your glider had a yellow leading edge with the rest being white. Our team came in second place but I am exhausted. Hope to be flying with you guys soon.

Alex said...

Wow, Allan! Yeah, that was me. So maybe the mountain bike finish was what I saw down there in the valley. I saw tons of high school runners in the morning and assumed there was an all day xc meet, but apparently there were multiple events going on. Nice job on the second place finish. I am sure that was brutal!