Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Call of Ka'ena

We're really starting to get a handle on the flying conditions that work best at our distant northwestern outpost. On Tuesday, out of nine pilots that hiked the climbing wall trail at Kaena Point, eight launched, seven soared for hours, and three left the ridge to land out on XC missions. Congratulations to Duck and Gary for first flights there, as well as to Canadian visitors Lee, PMac and Sylvain.

The day started out with calm wind, and the Koolau range was completely clear of clouds. With sea breezes in the forecast, Mad Dog made the obligatory call for an epic XC from Makapuu. I drove out, and on the way I noticed that clouds were starting to form, super high, but all of them were flowing offshore. That wasn't a good sign.

By the time I got to the LZ, about 15 pilots were assembled there, moping around because it wasn't working, or at least not yet. The windsock was coming from the lighthouse and Thom reported airflow over the back at Manics. Apparently it was blowing strong onshore at Sandys. I knew it could turn around and get good at some point, but I was feeling antsy and I wanted to fly NOW.

I briefly considered taking all these visitors to Tantalus. Sea breezes often work over there, at least until they turn westerly. But first I checked the wind sensors. What's this? Mokuleia was showing due north at 7 mph. Wow! Of course it could change by the time we get there, but that is just about the perfect reading. I remembered we once got Harvey up in a sea breeze out there. I made my decision - the chase was on! Most pilots, including Mad Dog, agreed to follow me out there. I hoped it would be the right call!

Allan once told me he drove to Kaena from the pier at Makapuu in 35 minutes. So I told everyone it was only 40 minutes drive. Of course it was more like an hour. How the heck did Allan make that land speed record in his old beater truck, anyway? As I neared the halfway point of the drive, Mad Dog called to tell me he'd waited a bit before leaving, and Makapuu was starting to turn on nicely, so now he was planning to fly at Makapuu after all, for an epic XC with Don and Thom. Oh, great.

I dutifully posted his report on the chatterbox, and then I called all the folks following me, to let them know they had the option to turn around. Only visitors Summer and Doug took Mad Dog's bait - everyone else was up for the crap shoot at Kaena. And soon I got a call from Summer saying Mad Dog was the biggest fibber she'd ever met. She'd found no one at Makapuu, not even Mad Dog, and it was blowing down. What the heck? Had they all shot off on their XC trips that fast, in a little window of onshore flow?

By the time I got to Kaena, the sea breeze had strengthened quite a bit, and the sensor was reporting flow from the NW at 11 mph, but it seemed like it would still work. I posted Ray's excellent beach flag and ran up the hill with the Canadians. As I started the hike, Mad Dog called to ask how it was. I said it was working, but aren't you flying Makapuu? He said no, it had turned out to be just wishful thinking, and moments after he had called me, he decided to follow us. And now he was five minutes down the road from me. I told him Summer was gonna be pretty mad at him over this one!

We got to launch and I rushed to get out of there, knowing the fickle nature of a sea breeze. As usual at this launch, there wasn't much airflow, and the cycles were a bit westerly for this spot, which faces more to the east. By this time, the sensor was showing a due northerly flow again, but a bit lighter, at 5 mph. Mad Dog was up there complaining about how he'd never get his heavy wing into the air without any airflow. But then I got just enough of a cycle and got myself out of there, heading left right away like I did last time I was there.

Heading left paid off. I scratched and maintained all the way to the drive-up launch, and got some nice lift down there, working my way up to the ridge and above. Yes! Now I knew for sure I'd made the right call to come out here.

After a while, Lee launched and followed me, and I watched him scratch heroically for about a half hour, but finally he threw in the towel and went for the beach. Mad Dog launched next, and flew way down towards the point before starting to get up. Then PMac followed suit, heading west and patiently working his way up as well. Finally I would have some buddies soaring with me up there, in addition to the numerous albatrosses wheeling around the ridgeline.

Mad Dog and I flew the length of the ridge together a few times, and once we made it all the way out to the point to gaze longingly at the west side. Also, like the last time I was here, I looked longingly at several nice looking toplanding options, but I was never brave enough to try them. I needed Fireman Dave to try it first and show me it would work, like he did out here years ago. I think there are about five good toplanding options up there, if not more. One day we'll figure them out.

Sylvain launched next, and didn't have as much luck getting up, so he headed to the beach, but too low, so he landed in the brush on the mauka side of the road. Allan launched a bit later, and he wasn't quite able to make it up. Duck launched next, and scratched his way up nicely, and then Gary followed, getting up nicely as well. Lee hiked back up and launched again, as did Allan, and they both got up.

By this time I had been up for three hours, and I was cold and hungry with a full bladder. Also I had cold refreshments on my mind. Never a good combination. I landed and watched as a fat cloud band rolled in to start drizzling on various parts of the ridge. The wind had picked up too, and it turned a bit east of north at this point, but still a good direction for this place. In fact, it was better for the airfield side.

The clouds were getting thick and grey and provided lots of lift. Everyone who was still in the air was specking out, almost whiting out, and Mad Dog decided to take that opportunity to ride the cloud bellies on an exploratory XC trip. He made it almost to Waialua, and his GPS read 5.5 miles - the same as the distance to Pounders! Not bad for our first try. Duck followed and landed at Mokuleia Beach Park. I heard Allan did the same after I left.

I look forward to more chances to explore the XC possibilities out there. Over the back to Makua seems like it might work on a sea breeze day, if you can get to about 3 grand in a thermal. Also trips towards Kaala should be possible, as well as flatland crossings towards the Koolaus. I can't wait to start making some distance! But first I guess I have to get my fill of this huge amazing ridge - a five mile cornucopia of gorgeous scenery. The contours of the ridge out there are unlike any others we fly, interspersed with lots of huge canyons and gullies, and with a flat grassy top along most of its length. What a beautiful place. I can hear it calling me even now - but I guess I'll have to wait for the next light northerly day to answer it!


allanc said...

40-min from Univeristy of Hawaii.

Duck said...

Please do not forget that Allan also made an excellent XC of this site--he landed just west of the Skydive Hawaii landing field.

All in all a very excellent trip! I look forward to exploring this site and all its possibilities!

Anonymous said...

Alex, I've been Makua to the Drop zone a couple of times. Both times I left with 4500+ and made it easily....however it was all down hill leaving Makua from high over the ridge with no climbs. It will be much more challenging from the North shore. Similar climbs must be on that side as well you may want to talk with the sail plane pilots to see if there are any house thermals over the fields off the south end of the runway.

Send it brother

JK said...

Were the clothes pins I left still on launch to help out the tail-end charlie?

Thom said...

Wow, a coffee read that I was not expecting.


One of these days I will get that site and hopefully a monster xc.

I was at MPU when your post came up for Mad Dog but he had left 15 minutes prior to. I guess we have to ask people "Can I post that for others ???" before leading people astray.

I was there on the perfect day all alone and everyone went to KNA I posted continually with no takers and decided to go to KNA to avoid a solo down range which is not recommended by conservative pilots.

I never made it to KNA due to home invasion closing the road which caused 3 of us to turn back and other to end up at MPU for a local flight.

Moral of the story. POST only what you know to be true and if you change your position let ALL others know.

God, I would have hated to miss the chance for a DILL. Next time though.

Maybe this weekend!!!!!!