Friday, February 18, 2011

Four Alaskans and Three Locals at Nanakuli

The latest attempts to fly Nanakuli ended on a positive note with everyone getting off the hill safely and landing safely. Four Alaskan pilots and JK had great flights of two hours or more, while Maui Doug and I scratched to no avail. Maui Doug's attempt was quite masterful: it was just the dying thermals that were to blame in his case. I will recount the day's events from my perspective, bombing out and hiking twice, which may give the story a slightly jaded tone. Sorry in advance. I really did get a great workout in between my near heat stroke and dehydration on the second hike of the day. One plus that came out of the experience: it only took one Corona to get me completely buzzed at the end of the day.

Now for the more interesting story: the pilots who actually flew. Four Alaskan pilots made it out to launch and were in the air flying just in front of the main peak when I arrived. The group of friends were spending time playing in and out of the clouds, trying to decide if they could make any type of cross country out of the day. JK had given me a call around 1:30 pm, and I made the speedy trip from Honolulu to Nanakuli in half an hour. As I arrived, JK made it to the power poles on top of the ridge. Started my hike and caught him on the trail at low launch where he was getting ready to fly. JK launched successfully, and was able to thermal his way up to where the Alaskans were waiting in the air. I was unsure if I could scratch up from low launch, having borrowed an acro harness from Florian, our visiting Swiss pilot, but gave into peer pressure and gave it a go. I also had given back JK's vario, which I had used on my last three thermal flights. Extra weight and no vario -- this should be a piece of cake, right? Think that I had some type of mental block as I launched, but more on this later.

As I took off, my glider immediately sunk below ridge height on the school side of the ridge, and I began my eventual half hour bomb out. I kept repeating to myself "stay above ridge height", but eventually there was no way to maintain my altitude. Felt a few thermals but they were just so small I could not really turn in them, and immediately upon exiting them I fell into tremendous sink. I felt like I had an extra 50 lbs of weight in that harness -- it was more psychological than anything. Mentally it felt like I was being pulled down towards the earth at an ever increasing rate. As I got lower, lower, lower, I kept some faith that I could make a low save if I was just patient and persistent. It could have worked out, but did not in the end. Got some lift and decided to take the safe option and landed in the baseball field thinking ahead to hike #2.

As I landed, Maui Doug was on the radio, and he arranged to pick me up and drive back to launch. I packed up quickly and we got back to launch for hike #2. Determined more than ever to reach the five pilots in the air who were getting ready to explore the valley, I put my 50 lb bag back on, and ran back up the hill to high launch in the heat of the day, then laid out my wing, and launched. Thought I might have more of a chance of staying up as I maintained my altitude over the ridge for 10 minutes, but then I hit some horrible sink and ended up in the same position I had been in one hour earlier, except with very little lift left. Once again I headed for the baseball field and had a good landing.

As for the other more successful pilots:

JK got up from low launch and made it look easy skying out over the peak and making an attempt at the back of the valley. He ended up landing near the water towers in the ranch at the back of Nanakuli valley and meeting me at the baseball field after I landed from my second bomb-out. Great flight, JK.

Maui Doug started the hike to high launch with me, but forgot his vario, so he went back to get it. I was on the ground when Doug pulled up his wing from below high launch on the school side. He maintained his altitude at launch level for some time before heading to the baseball field to land. We all thought he was going to get up. Great job at finding the limited lift, Doug.

The Alaskan Crew got out to fly at the right time, and did a great job getting off the hill, according to JK. He said they launched from low launch, although there was some confusion about this point. Pilots all had 2 hour soaring flights, with several pilots taking a journey into the valley, before landing at the baseball field. It was great to meet you guys, and I will look forward to flying with the Alaskan crew in the future. That crew is a true hiking group. They hike for several hours in order to get an 8 minute flight during the winter in Alaska. I do not think that we have it so hard in Hawaii.

As usual, the residents of the valley could not have been more supportive and nice to us as we walked back to our cars. With a repeat of last week's hospitality, the park manager met me as I was landing in the baseball field, arriving on his golf cart with a big smile. We talked story for about a half an hour before I packed up and went back up for my second flight. On our walk back to the car, JK and I ran into several very nice people in their yards who we had great conversations with. One guy even refilled our water bottle with ice water as we were talking with him about flying.

I guess the lesson I have learned is to show aloha to everyone that I meet. It may take a little extra time talking to everyone who is interested in what we are doing, but if it keeps our sport in a positive light, it is well worth it. Also, there are a lot of dogs in that neighborhood, so it's not possible to get through without being noticed anyway.


JK said...

Allan, don't beat yourself up. You had two good launches and two good landings. For me, I can't say I had even half that. You exercised good judgment and airmanship, which is harder to do than catch a thermal pushed against a hillside to the top and boat around for an hour.

Man, the flow up the valley really took a turn. Your launch photo shows it blowing along the ridge for you, but it was blowing in from the power plant when we got up there. That's what must have hit me right when I launched, as I remember (which wasn't so pretty). It's no wonder you turned right instead of left. Sometimes it's just minutes between going up and sinking out when launching in conditions like that. I think it was still blowing UP at high launch. Low launch definitely took a turn and went cross. I think you took more from those flights than you might think.

Oh yeah, there was so much "aloha" oozing out of you that day, it brought a tear to my eye. You are an ambassador to the sport!

MauiDoug said...

Great write up and great flying out there Allan! Your flying and especially your hiking skills are really inspiring lately! Two Nan hikes to high launch in one day is a tough act to follow. Also, great flight today to Maile Point, way to go!

Doug said...

It took me a long time to realize this one Nanakuli factiod.


If you stand at the low launch and think this seems like easy ridge soaring; launch the low launch.

If you stand there and think I think I might maintain in this at Makapuu but it is light, it is probably about not going to work. If you aren't feeling any healthy cycles that you would anticipate you could thermal in immediately after launching it will not usually be enough to maintain or work up to where the thermals are better.

The low launch is especially tempting/tricky late in the day. I have on many occasion arrived at 3pm hiked to the low launch unpacked in steady cycles just to pack it all back up and hike up or down when the cycles died.

If you get there late think about what the day is doing is it fading? What time of year is it in December it will fade much earlier than in June. Think about who you are with, if you are with more than one pilot think about how long it will take to get all of you off the may be faster for some of you to hike higher more reliable launch you don't have to wait for.

If you get to the middle launch and there are cycles rolling regularly up the hill you can usually get up from there. Many years ago we had cleared a spot just below the middle launch we are using now facing both dump and school side, it was great but when it was only me (who prefers the high launch) it has overgrown. If you guys cleared it again it would be a great middle launch, its flat gives some room to ground handle and doesn't lend itself to getting drug off the hill.

If you get to the middle launch and it is light with periodic healthy cycles it may be worth hiking the last 100 feet to the high launch. When it it light the thermals seem to coalesce just above the middle launch and you seem to be launching into the bottom of thermals.

This may allow more experienced pilots to get up while newer pilots bomb out right behind them. If you are 100 feet higher up the hill your soaring probability at least doubles.

On truly light days the only place is the high launch.
Epic days seem to require little base wind and therefor usually require a hike to the high launch. There is nothing worse than starting your second hike when you hear people starting their XC on the radio.

Wind direction is the last thing to consider. The main face of the hill faces west, directly into the afternoon sun. It is not uncommon to feel wind on the school side until you get to the middle launch where it turns around. Even on days that are clearly school side once you get above the high launch the thermals may drift and strengthen over the dump side.

When in doubt hike it out.

Alex said...

Allan, thank you for the story and pictures! I can't be up there with you guys for a while but the stories, vids and pictures are the next best thing! Keep 'em coming!

allanc said...

@ Doug, again thank you for your insight. I think that I have come to the same conclusion about high launch. Will always hike to high launch unless it seems too windy in which case I will likely know this by the time I get to the first two telephone poles on the ridge and walk down.

Flew that last two days with cloud bases at 2500-ft and 2200-ft respectively at NAN. Clouds looked to be over developed at the back of the valley which was not getting any sunlight. Decided to fly to Maile Point Ridge and then down the coast from there for a little flat land practice. Almost made it to the next ridge past Maile Point but landed short.

Looking forward to getting a suitable day to go back into the valley and explore. Will give you a call to discuss conditions that are flyable out there other than the obvious. It seems like I may be able to fly NAN safely on more days than is currently generally accepted. What do you think?

allanc said...

@ Alex - As always thank you for your help editing my stories. I look forward to your constructive comments and will keep those pictures coming. I will include a few more pictures from NAN on two other occasions. Have managed 5-flights there in the last three days with 2 of them being long flights with some cross country potential and plenty of learning potential.

Doug said...

i think you are correct about the number of flying days on the west side. My dad and mom lived in Makaha for a few years and he would often tell me that in the summer it often blew on shore in the middle of the day and then would shift and blow off shore in the evening.

The thermals will hold off the trades on light trade days but there will be some rock and roll at altitude where the trades are blowing over the top of the valley. Be careful if you fly on trade days. You may want to read as much as you can about the L on Maui....they do it allot.

There are launches further west as well. The ridge on the east side of Makaha valley has been launched several times with success. It has a nice school bomb out and allows easy access to the back of Waianai valley and Makaha valley. It is common to get 4000+ over the peak making the glide to Nanakuli a bit of a cake walk.

There is allot of unexplored potential if you are willing to hike for it.

About 2 years before I left I thought the longest flight was going to start at Makua flying east... I have come to the conclusion that the biggest flight will start at Makapuu and end at Kaena Point! The hard part will be connecting the middle of the island with the Waianai's

allanc said...

@ Doug - Duck was just talking to me last night about possible launches on the east side of the Waianae valley. This would take the restricted military area out of the possible bomb-out areas for cross country flights. The three of us should talk as we are all looking to figure out the thermal flying out there. Duck is very knowledgeable on weather and I am learning as I go.

Do you think you could list the approximate GPS coordinates close to the location where you have launched in the Waianae valley?

Will post some more pictures and videos and give you a call from launch when we get a good day.

Doug said...

This is the ridge.
The link to the map I made is not working but you can check out google maps under tandemflightshawaii and look for the Makaha Launch map,-158.191302&spn=0.009985,0.016308&z=16


allanc said...

That is the same ridge we have been looking at. It is great to hear there is some kind of trail access. I will hike up there on the next really good day we get to check it out. Duck just posted a story and video of our last flight. He flew to Koolina.

Doug said...

Here is some info for you Nanakuli flying.,-158.012924&spn=0.402621,0.678406&z=11

Alex said...

Doug, awesome map. Seems like we should be able to add something like that to our site guide, and include details for all sites.

I noticed when I viewed the points and lines in Google Earth along with my airspace shapefiles, the "flats convergence" line heads straight into Wheeler's class D airspace. Probably not the best direction for the reasons you pointed out, but that's another reason. We also noticed that Ko'olina resort is located inside class D and underneath class B airspace. Not that it was even on your map, for obvious reasons, but again there's another reason.

Thanks for all the tips. Even old tired dogs like me appreciate the chance to dream about big west side flights.