Sunday, December 19, 2010

3 Days on the West Side

IMG_9697The west side of Oahu has some of our best flying sites, with perfect thermic conditions, and great XC potential. When winter comes, we should be seeking it out more often.

I haven't had much luck on the west side this season yet. I had a sled ride in the late afternoon with Maui Doug that required me to run off high launch with a very lightly pressurized wing. Better than hiking down from high launch, but I really like to feel some solid pressure from my risers as the edge of a dropoff is quickly approaching. I was showed up by my student in ratty lift, on a day that had him go straight up as soon as he launched from high launch, and I went straight down to low launch altitude quickly as soon as I left the hill. And on another day, I hiked up to the first part of the ridge with Maui Doug and Allan, to find that it was blowing 20, before we called it quits.

I was hoping for a fun time out west with both the west side master, and the west coast master and friends in town, looking to chase it.

Thursday was looking good from Wheeler, and I was hoping to slip out a little early after an inspection of the runway resurfacing project with my boss. Doug, Rob and Marite dropped a car at Waikele KFC in the usual spot, and headed to the trail at 1:30. I had to finish my inspection that ended up taking a little longer than I had hoped, but I was not gonna bail out on my plan.

I got to Nanakuli at around 2:30. As I parked down the street from the trail head, Doug was deep in the valley near the antennas, boating around some high clouds over the ridge. Marite was getting verbal coaching from Rob in her first Nanakuli flight, and worked her way up above the peak in the thermals. She was doing great and was in an enviable position to go anywhere she wanted.

I got to low launch just after Rob launched into the lightening cycles. I watched him scratch at ridge height for about 10 minutes with little gain, and decided to keep hiking to reduce my chances of sledding. Doug was on a glide back from his circle valley tour.

Marite moved away from the peak of Haleakala as I launched, and she went in to land. Rob finally climbed up away from launch in the light lift, and had joined Doug above the main peak as I struggled in the lightening lift of the late afternoon. I worked whatever I could find, as Doug called down to me to catch up. I couldn't connect the thermals to climb above 1,300' and eventually lost the battle with gravity, and ended up below low launch, gliding out to the school.

Doug and Rob were already in the back of the valley at this point, and went on glide across the flats. I packed it up and drove to Waikele to meet up with them for some Korean BBQ in Waipahu.

Friday was looking more promising, and I managed to finish up my work a little earlier, but was still behind the early crew. It was ridge soaring conditions from the school side, and a deep gray overcast sky. Doug was landing a tandem with his airsick daughter as I got to Nanakuli, while Rob, Marite and Mariya were all up above the peak as I started my hike to low launch.

The wind wasn't too strong, as I launched and worked my way up the face, and it became a battle to get high. The ridge lift was starting to fade as I got above high launch, and I was having trouble working my way up. The three in the air glided out really high over the ocean, to boat around and do some whale watching before landing on the beach.

After about 20 minutes in the air, unable to make much climbing progress, I noticed the sky begin to clear, and the sun started to hit the valleys, which was an unexpected change from the completely overcast weather. The thermals started rolling in about 10 minutes later, and I made some small gains, but it was really disorganized. I moved over to the dump side face and spine, that points towards Waianae, at the suggestion of Doug. There was some strong but ratty lift that was really inconsistent, as I made a lot of passes looking for something to kick me up above the peak.

It took me probably another 20-30 minutes more to finally get up to 2,900', with some uncomfortable moments, mashing on my brakes to keep my wing open. I got some smack talk from the beach watchers for straight-lining in lift, and for voicing my minor discomfort as I got some strong thermic action up high. I directed my critics to the location of my car keys, and headed towards the second peak in the back, hoping to have the same XC as Rob and Doug did the day before.

After my first glide, I found some disorganized lift that kicked me from 2,300' to 2,600' or so, but nothing that was really substantial. I drifted with what I was finding to the depot side, and decided to try and move deeper into the valley for another climb. That climb never happened, and I found myself scratching the bowl in the back of the valley, wondering if I was in for a hike.

I managed a climb from 1,200' to 1,500', along a nubby spine that runs up the left side of the bowl, and was hoping I could pull off a Doug-style low save for the win, but it was not happening. The baseball field looked really far from where I was, but the extra 300' I got was making me feel a little better, as I glided out on the advice of my watchers.

I found some pops on the way, and I arrived at the baseball field higher than I hoped, and went for a hard low turn landing. No epic XC, but I got some good thermal and bump tolerance refreshers that I need to keep updated on.

Saturday kinda looked like a bust to me, with kinda nasty weather, but possible onshore winds. I was flip flopping on what to do. Reaper was gonna do a west side ramble recon, despite conditions looking not optimal. My brother Stephen has been bored at home, with no car access for awhile, and has been dying for a real flight since his 2 sledders from Kahana weeks ago. I convinced him we should go have an adventure, rambling up dirt roads with Reaper for his B-day, and if we were lucky get a flight in.

We loaded up and met Reaper, Forest and Raven at his place, and jumped in the back of the Tundra, heading out with the wind blowing in our hair … or trying to blow our hair off. We grabbed Travis at Ko Olina and started our trip up the west side.

IMG_9573On the way towards Yokohama, Pete saw the beach flags blowing about 7-15, out of the SSW. We decided that it would be better to fly Maile Point/Davis Hill, since the direction was perfect. Nanakuli would have been a little too advanced for the beginner pilots, with a chance of blowing out.

I hadn't really expected to get a full soaring flight in for my brother, and had never flown here before. I had been tempted to glide to it from Haleakala before, but it always looked like a one way trip there, with nowhere to go.

We parked and hiked up the road to the water tower, and worked on finding some good places to lay out on the hillside amidst steep grass and boulders. The wind felt very cross, and we were wondering how good an idea it was. The bomb-out was a lot not very far below where we were setup, and has some big Kiawe trees in it. The rest of the area was knee high grass, with small boulders in it that are perfect for breaking ankles.

IMG_9577Reaper went first. After his initial inflation his wing wall was set up about 35 degrees cross or more. He went for it, and found plenty of lift once he made his way towards the front of the hill to our right.

I helped Travis set up and launch on his first cross wind launch, and he did just fine. Forrest was set up by himself at another spot, and had the launch of the day. He brought his wing up on the steep slope, and it pulled him off the hillside to the left when it was not perfectly above him. His body position was such that when it pulled him, it made it nearly impossible to turn left to uncross the risers, and instead turned him right, into a full riser twist with a nice pendulum swing to make it more interesting.

As he kicked and maneuvered to get himself untwisted, his glider turned left, sending him flying downwind towards the water tower at an impressive rate of speed, which prompted an audible "Oh SHIT!" from myself and Steve. He kicked out of it in time to turn back into the wind and stabilize, avoiding a close encounter with the tower, and he climbed out after a few choice words on the radio, and a comment from Raven that she was glad she didn't see that from Reapers truck.

Next it was Steve's turn. We had an extended flight plan discussion regarding the nature of steep slope cross wind launches, and the increased risk of riser twists in this particular configuration. He set up on the slope and had a nice inflation with a little extended kiting, and he was off. I was a little worried as the wind had decreased in strength, but after flying across the face for awhile, he was going up for his first full soaring flight.

IMG_9586By this time, the wind had decreased to the point that I was having trouble inflating my wing, so I move way across the slope and higher up, as I was now alone on the hill. My wing rolled down the hill 3-4 times, and I had to reset over and over.

I had brought my brother's and my Canon XSI that we split the cost on, in the bag, because we didn't want to leave it in the car. It is like a huge flight deck getting in the way. After resetting twice, I unclipped and set the bag down on the slope so I could try again. I turned for half a second to see the bag start to roll, and I took a leap on the steep rocky slope to get to it, before it could get too much momentum. I took another hop after it on the rocky hill, and saw it pulling away, as I was thinking that if I slipped I was going to look just like that bag rolling down that hill, but in a lot of pain. So I just let it go …

Steve is flying right overhead as this is going down … "Is that your helmet rolling down the hill?" "No …" silence … "Is that the camera?" silence …

It rolled about 100' or so down the hill before stopping. Fortunately, it didn't bounce hard, and just went for a spin. Opening the bag, the camera looked and worked fine once I checked it out.

At this point, apparently someone in the neighborhood had seen my bright red and orange M2 on the side of the hill, and they called HFD, thinking I had crash landed or something. Dave called Reaper, and Reaper called the Fire number to call off my rescue. No one told HPD though, and a patrol car parked in the neighborhood and was using his bullhorn to ask if I was okay for about 10 minutes, as I tried every gesture I could think of to tell him I was fine, though pissed off at this particular time. Eventually he went away, blasting his siren for all the kids who had gathered around to watch the show.

After climbing up and doing a reset yet again, my wing finally inflated, and I managed to build a wall. However, it swung into the wind at a 90 degree angle on the slope, and the higher edge started to roll down over the wing again. I somehow managed to get the wing inflated and off the hill, after some more swearing and cursing. The soaring was nice and mellow, and we had a nice view despite the overcast and slightly chilly conditions.

In the meantime, Doug was dropped off at Nanakuli by Caroline, for some of his favorite pastime. He was getting some big ups and downs over on the school side. He got some big sustained lift as well as some huge sustained sink, as we watched him go up and down like an elevator from our little hill. He eventually got high in the back, and went north to land in Waianae valley. Reaper went on the retrieve mission, while Steve and I played radio-relay to Reaper in his truck to give Doug's location.

I took a lot of pictures with the XSI, before going in to land for some beverages, as Allan was setting up to launch from a spot really high up the face.

Steve opted to stay up for as long as he could, for the 3rd flight of his career, but got a visiting pilot to join him unexpectedly: as he was soaring, a slow low-flying plane came over the ridge low from the valley side, and did a little wave with his wings, which was kinda cool. Then he flew out over the ocean, and came back for a fly-by right in front of the ridge, LOWER than Steve, obviously thinking this was a great idea. That was less than cool.

Fortunately, there were no more inter-wing communication attempts after this pass, and Steve came in for nice landing and some refreshmets.

Allan had an impressive light, crosswind launch, from high up a steep slope, for a nice flight and landing to join us on the beach.

IMG_9715There were lots of firsts on this day, for soaring flights, new launches, etc, etc., and Reaper was outspoken about libations owed, which we tried to ignore until later.

The West Side is good fun, and great for making better pilots out of all of us. I hope to get some more Nanakuli action, to get my thermal skills back up to par, and some nice XC flights, since I clearly need the practice. There were more visiting pilots than locals on these days, and I demand higher attendance of locals at these events for the sake of the honor and reputation of Oahu pilots.

It was great to see Rob, Marite, Mariya, Forrest and Doug (is he local?) out having a blast. Steve used some choice words to describe his 3rd flight, in challenging launch conditions. He was using paraglider lexicon to show his deep emotional connection, with terms such as "epic", "stoked", and "awesome!" He's looking forward to some more airtime.

See you next year when I bother to write another article.


Alex said...

Nice detailed writeup, Scrappy! You can definitely be counted among the small number of west side zealots we have here. Keep it up! The more great flights you score out there the more the faithful will be called to worship! I might even make it out there myself one of these light winter days...

Thom said...

You beat the pants off Alex's stories with this one. Even if we only get one every great now and then, it's worth it.

What is with our new pilots, they are flying spots all over....Congrats Steve !!! Alan just doesn't count in firsts anymore he doesn't have many left.

I have only had 4 flights in Nanakuli and got lucky with all but never had an XC and only got to the peak once. I am looking forward to going there again and again so count me in on the West Side Monkey Pack.

Thanks Again Scrappy