Tuesday, September 28, 2010

200 Miles Downrange from Makapuu

Today, on the most shiny and beautiful light wind high cloudbase day in ten years, 17 or so pilots launched at Makapuu, and 14 of those crazy monkeys headed off across the Koolau range, the Hawaiian Alps, to rack up a cumulative total of just over 200 straight line miles, some landing out at various points between Kaneohe and Kualoa, and many flying out a long way and then returning to Makapuu.

A landmark day like this begs for more stories than just the usual single recap. Surely the best stories would be those of the first-time Makapuu cross country pilots, like Bonnie, Andrew, and Allan. What an incredibly pretty day to fly over Waimanalo, Kailua and Kaneohe for your first time. Then there would be the veterans' stories of incredible perseverance - like Mad Dog trying three times to round the Pali, or Scot battling to keep up with his buddies who kept ditching their favorite wingman. Or stories of pilots getting away with stupid decisions, like my landing on a little spit of sand surrounded by water. Or stories of incredible sacrifice and service, like the one where Duck interrupts his drive home after a long day of meetings to pick up pilots scattered all over creation and shuttle them back to Makapuu along with many cold beverages.

I'll lead off with my humble tale, and I hope others will chime in with comments about their experiences today.

Six pilots had flown to the Likelike and back the previous day, and a forecast of similar light conditions for today guaranteed a huge turnout. Mad Dog, Scot and I launched from Cactus and quickly made our way into Waimanalo, as Don and Thom were winding up their morning jaunt to Greenwalls and back. They both had to leave early, so they launched from Cactus at the first possible opportunity, along with Jared who was flying a tandem. Jorge, Pete and Bonnie showed up soon after and followed us down there.

Conditions were light and thermic, and the thermals were the nice kind you could make some good turns in. The few clouds around us were very high, with bases around 3,300 feet most of the time I was up. The only downside to the day was the increasingly strong northerly flow, which made it a challenge to get around the rotor behind each spine projecting from the main ridge. As usual, the toughest challenge was getting around Puu Konahuanui to the Pali Lookout, but all the rest of the spines were also fairly challenging.

I forced myself to swallow my usual nerves and try to take full advantage of each thermal today, maxing them out and not leaving too early. Numerous times I found myself around 3,300 feet up, sometimes at or above cloudbase, and it was a great feeling. I climbed efficiently and took some great lines to get around the rotor behind the spines, and ended up leading the way most of the day. Because of the scale of the mountains and the air flowing around them, not to mention the numerous vast areas of unlandable terrain, when I fly this trip I am typically too nervous to just boat around and soak up the view. Don't get me wrong - I adore the view, but I love it most if I'm passing over it at a good clip. Today I was less nervous because I worked hard to get high and stay high. In terms of nice thermals and high sparse cloudbase, today ranks up there with the day I had my other best flight from Makapuu, the one where Dave cajoled me into diving into boogaland and I ended up landing in the jungle behind Punaluu.

Most times in the past I've been content to head straight out to Kahaluu District Park near the Hygienic Store, but today I flew past and continued along the back range, along with Jorge and Mad Dog. Those two intrepid explorers tracked deep behind Puu Ohulehule, but at some point as I was trying to figure out the air on one peak with Jorge, I just got tired and decided to head out towards Waihole Beach Park. As I flew out I realized I wasn't losing that much, and I started to wonder if couldn't circle around the front of the low ridge coming out from Puu Ohulehule and get up on the other side. Wouldn't that be awesome! But I got around way too low, like just a few hundred feet, and there was no organized lift down there, not to mention no good places to land.

I flew a little further towards some fields at the elbow of the highway, but at the last minute I spotted the most ridiculous but strangely appealing landing spot ever. A little spit of sand, across a stretch of water, jutting out from the treeline encircling the fishponds at Kualoa. I was really getting low and wasn't sure I'd make it, but for some odd reason I just couldn't resist. The air was funky and swirly down there, and I was starting to wonder if I might not be cruising in for a water landing. I saw two guys fishing and marveled at their nonchalant attitude about a glider hurtling towards them. I swooped over the water and pressed a little speedbar to cut the headwind, and just barely made the beach, running forward to drop my wing on dry sand, right between the two guys fishing. "Oh Shit!" one of the guys exclaimed. It turns out they hadn't seen me at all until I hit the sand behind them.

Then I had to figure out how to get out of there. I found my way to a nice trail that led to a small jetty on the bay side of the fishpond, where the tourists are brought by boat for picnics. There were no boats available for me, unfortunately. I gazed across the pond and saw Duck and Scot over there, and we discussed the options over the radio. Finally we realized that if I kept walking north along the outer border of the fishpond I'd eventually connect to Kualoa Beach Park, and that's where they picked me up.

On the ride back, we heard Joey on the radio working heroically to get around the Pali, and we saw Andrew and Maui Doug high over the Likelike heading to Puu Keahi A Kahoe (the stairway ridge). Then we also saw Scrappy and Allan behind Maunawili and heading back to Makapuu, as the sun was starting to hang low in the sky.

Thanks to Duck for the heroic retrieve duty he performed tonight. He picked up Scot, me, Mad Dog, and Jorge, took us all back to Makapuu, and then sped out to Kaneohe District Park to get Maui Doug and Andrew. We all owe him a ride when it's his turn to put some miles on his glider.


Thom said...

Dam it, I read it already, someone else better get up earlier than me and scroll their efforts today in the history logs so I can enjoy my coffee

Alex said...

Thom, you need to learn to delay your gratification. That's what Duck tells me, anyway. Not sure what he means by that.

On another note, I just realized that today's landing was my third completely impromptu outlanding in three days of flying. Maybe that'll be a new goal for me. Never land in the same place twice!

Thom said...

Alex I think the Cobra is really trying to burn it's mark in your memory you have been having some great flights on it all over the world.

On another note I got my first XC Magazine in the mail yesterday and Josh used the Niviuk Peak against a bunch of Ozone R10.5 s to win the Chelan PWC.

But don't forget the Cobra and the big balls she has given you......maybe conservative flying is starting get edged...who knows but dam you have been having some flights lately. Again thanks for the read.

Great title too.

oh Donna mentioned that you should do a write up of the trip to Chamonix for the magazines too !!!

Mad Dog said...

Fantastic write up & your Phone takes better pics than my camera! Wow? Thanks for putting my set in with your article. Great flying with everyone this day with loads of knowledge to be gained by all...Duck huge MAHALO'S again, you are an amazing person, friend & pilot. I can't wait to be there for your retrieve. Lets do it again today! 3rd day in a row!

allanc said...

Alex, great story. I took off from Crazies with Scrappy at around 4:30-pm in a light north wind, gained altitude over the lighthouse, and then headed downrange. Tried to cross over the Pali Ridge twice but did not make it. It was incredible to be up there for flight 19 and a bit mysterious when Scrappy's radio could no longer transmit because of a low battery and we were communicating the old fashion way by yelling.

The most exciting moment was when we both flew into a cloud while gaining altitude to do the Pali crossing. It was a small one and Scrappy said we would be fine but it was kind of intimidating to have no visibility for a short while. I had visions of me turning the wrong way and ending up flying over Honolulu with no radio contact with Scrappy. Want to avoid this possibility.

On top of that took the boat out to surf Rabbit Island at 5:00-am in the morning with Jorge and his friend. Woke up again this morning and did it again. Could we have a repeat of the MOST EPIC DAY EVER?

Sharky said...

Waahhhh...Awesome write up Alex. I'm crying a barrel of tears here. This would happen at the busiest time of quarter for me. Sounds like awesome conditions to have fun with the monkey pack.

Thanks again for sharing the adventure!

Sharky said...

Thom, if you were supposed to save that article till morning coffee, does that mean you had "premature gratification"? Muahahaha...

At least you getting some Skyalis...I got nuffin this week, despite having Roxy stuffed in the trunk (that sounds wrong).

MauiDoug said...

Great flying with you Flash! What an awesome trip, lets do it again soon. By the way, great launch from Manacs getting plucked and flying the wing in reverse, great kiting control!!! Much Aloha :-)

Here's a link to the slideshow.


MauiDoug said...

Alex, another great recap of an awesome day! Thanks again Duck for the cold retrieval beers and thanks Duane, Jared and Arnold for the ride back to MPU! :-)

Scrappy said...

I arrived a little late for the train after leaving my car at the park over near H3 where Pete landed in hopes of reaching it later. Thom gave Pete and I a ride to Makapuu where we met up with Joey, Allen, Jared, Richard(visiting pilot). We were passing the pier just in time to see Maui Doug and Flash beginning their travel into Nalo.

We got dropped at Manics but it was too windy to launch with the wind sock pointing way left of Rabbit. Richard had attempted a launch in his Magic 5 but had snapped a line in the attempt so we headed to the LZ to effect a repair.

While we were waiting Bonnie came in with a very exciting downwind landing into the fence at the hang glider parking lot. No injuries just adrenaline.

We all had nice launches from crazies with Allen and myself last. After a quick bench up on the lighthouse ridge Allen and I raced to catch up with Joey. Richard came back early this time to the LZ.

It was great down the range with the sun setting so nicely with a great view of the south side of the island. Joey tried once to push out around the Pali but couldn't make it. Jared pushed around low with his tandem passenger Arnold and was long gone before I ever got there. Joey waited for me and we all 3 gave it a try and failed again.

Joey was done but Allen and I pushed one more time to try and get to my waiting car. My radio died right about then which worried Allen a little on his first XC especially passing though a small cloud on our push.

We couldn't quite pull it off and began our return to Makapuu before it started to get too dark.

On our way back we were greeted by Jorge and his visiting friend in the great smooth boaty air flying down Greenwalls and over the valley not loosing any altitude playing with mashing full speed bar on my M2.

Jorge was flying hands off with his SLR camera from his pod. At one point while I was flying tip to tip with his friend in a Boom Sport Jorge is yelling at me flying towards me and it takes me a few seconds to realize he is yelling "Watch out!" because his glider turned unexpectedly towards me and he can't drop his camera to get control of the glider.

No collision happened and I hope some of the pics come out nice.

Allen and I played tag with Rabbit Island a bit before a nice landing just before full blackout. He drove me too my car at the end of the day.

Didn't make it too far but it was a nice warm up for the coming winter and a great first XC for Allen.

Unknown said...

Wow - now I know why you folks were talking so highly about flying Makapuu - I thought Kahana was heaven but the pictures from Maui Doug of the flight north were spectacular. What an incredible day for you folks. Back in Oregon, I'm longingly following your posts and descriptions. Thanks again for the hospitality from you folks. Thanks friends. Wish I was there.

Blazer(Portland) Tim

Brazilian Ray said...

I hesitate pushing the "read more" link, but I can't resist... as painful as It is, I keep on reading....

What a great write up! Not to mention the flying experience each pilot had that day.
It is pouring and I'm stuck in this little dimmer room. It is good to have a little electronic window to check on the outside world and best of all, to have friends flying and telling their amazing stories. Thank you!

Doug said...

WOW! Thanks for the great video it reminded me how beautiful it is there. Those EPIC days are few and far between.

Jon Malmberg said...

Whoa... great video Scott... Gotta say that those magic days going down range from Makapuu rank up there with even the best days I had flying the Alps. Hope to get back onto Monkey Island sometime this spring...

Jon Malmberg said...

Oh Doug, great flying with you this summer up at Nationals in Chelan. You made it into quite of few clips in that movie I did. Check out the videos on the USHPA site for a link to it...