Monday, February 14, 2011

Nanakuli to the Waianae Valley

It was three hours later than I wished. I left work as fast as I could, knowing the afternoon held promise. The graphic forecast showed all of Oahu with light south flow giving in to sea breezes by early afternoon. I had butterflies driving to Nanakuli. They were intense.

“It’ll be blown out”, “It’ll be over developed”, “It’ll be socked in”, I kept telling myself along with, “Expect the worst and be pleasantly surprised.” It was a mental ploy to ease my disappointment. But in the back of my mind, I knew those were wasted thoughts. It was going to be good. Other pilots in town made that clear. They were airborne at Tantalus, and it was “lift-o-plenty”. Joining them would have been a whole lot of fun, but no! “Stick to the plan”, I said to myself. I can't turn my back on her. It’s a chance to fly Nanakuli, go XC and explore the west. A quip on the chatterbox about where I was going got no offers to join up. Those destined to fly this day had made their commitments. I was a “late arrival” and on my own.

Scrambling up the trail, I was pleased to see it was not blown out. It was moderate, but within reason. It was not over developed, although the clouds did show healthy development. It was not socked in, but some of the highest peaks were capped. It was not perfect, but I could work with this.

After sending word of my intentions to fly (solo), I was off. I was without my vario, but looked forward to that, for some reason. The lift was blowing toward the back, and vertical movement against terrain isn’t too hard to see with that kind of reference. The wind was straight up the low launch and it was no problem making my way up to the top of Haleakala. (Aside: That IS the name of it, right? I don’t want to confuse it with Maui’s Haleakala, at a much larger scale.) From there, I shot over to the connecting ridge that lead to the back of the valley to figure out what to do next. It wasn’t difficult getting there. In fact, it didn’t seem possible to sink out on this day. If anything, the concern was to avoid being sucked into a cloud. Some of them were small enough to see through and good to use. Others were thick and well developed with bases not far above the ridge.

At one point while in the back of "the mitt", clouds came from both sides. It was a sort of squeeze play, with only one option to stay clear; head straight out into the center of the valley for a few minutes where it was consistently clear. The flush from the ridge turned into a bid for the opposite side. The plan now was to point to a low ridge that reaches out from the upwind plateau toward the middle of the valley. I remembered that Allan tried a variation of this a few weeks ago and sank out, so I expected it not to work. It didn’t. It was nice not having a vario at this moment, as it would have been making horrible noises. When I couldn’t stand it any more, I returned to the back and recovering to the ridge where lift was abundant. ANY monkey could stay up on a day like this, as I showed. But where to go from the back?

It was going to be a challenge returning to the front of the valley with this wind. Flying clockwise around the rim didn’t seem to be an option on this day. Perhaps it was, but there were low, well developed clouds on that end and I imagined the SE ridge was in the lee with this flow. Going back the way I came was difficult too. The NW ridge leading back to Haleakala was below it, down wind of it and in its lee. My only options seemed to be (1) get as high as I could and drive through the middle of the valley on speed bar (and hope for the best), or (2) get as high as I could and go over the back (and hope for the best).

I wondered, “What would Doug do?” Even now, I’m not sure. I think he would have tried to go somewhere, so that’s what I did. I studied Google Earth previously for routes over the back, and had something in mind. Up wind of me, a series of three small, see-through clouds made the decision easy. I waited for the first two to go by and turned north over the back with the third, catching up to the other two along the way. It worked to get me up enough and keep me there long enough to avoid any lee-side rotor. I honestly don’t know if there was any there with the wind speeds that day but I kept out of it, if there was.

The next 10 minutes were perhaps the most concerning part of the day. The glide was good for most of the way, but as I approached the back range, I got into some mild sink. I knew I’d make the wall itself, but only about a third of the way up from the floor. And yes, there were limited landing options along the way, Alex. I chose a line that gave me as many options as possible on my way to terrain that I imagined MUST be channeling the valley’s airflow UP. On this day, it seemed there could be no way to not have lift running up these two thousand-foot south facing chutes of lava rock. And there wasn’t! From my low point of 1,350 feet, I was back in the game at 3,150 feet in seven minute (based on GPS altitude).

The remainder of the flight was pure elation, and I only wish I had some monkeys to share it with. Flying along the back of the Waianae Valley to Kolekole Pass and finding a thermal over the huge caldera to it’s south was inspiring.

What to do from there? I considered staying in the back and working my way around. But that would have put me deep in the valley where I didn’t see ANY roads. And it was getting late. I needed to get to a road and minimize the hike! From the caldera, I connected to a low-lying ridge that lead to the south imagining (hoping) I would find thermals spawn off of it. Some lift greeted me, but the ground track was slow and there wasn’t nearly enough to carry me the distance I’d hoped for. I was trying for a terrain feature at the end of that ridge line that looked like a perfect thermal trigger, but got there too low to work it. I landed out in a large grassy field below it, on the civilian side of the ridge. My wallet (with mil ID) was with me, but only by chance, not design.

Lessons learned? There were many. I am glad to have had three dollars for the bus and will take my wallet as a plan the next time. (One Eye, thanks for your future offers for help w/ retrieve on the west side. I have your number.) It was good to have a few swallows of water on landing, but more would have been better. I will start packing a headlamp for hiking in the dark and a glow stick or reflector belt to hang on my bag (for the cars to see). I didn’t need them, but saw the potential on this day. I need a GPS too. The iPhone GPS tracking IS free (and I AM cheap), but it depletes the battery. I could see needing my phone after landing out, and mine died before I got back to my car. Perhaps a GPS for GPS tracking makes sense….

For the lessons learned actually flying, I’m still processing. I would love to hear others with Nanakuli experience to fill in the gaps on this. The track log says a lot. If you have any interest in seeing it, be sure to choose “satellite” or "hybrid"to see the terrain and click on individual way points to see altitude, track, ground speed, etc.

The video is not so good and probably not worth your time. It's really only good as a way to see the conditions that day and add it to the track log to get an idea of where you might have gone. It's only clips from the first 30 minutes and the lens fogged up at the end. Does anyone else have an issue with their GoPro recording 43 minutes and then stopping?! It happens consistently to me. I know why the lens fogs up. It's due to the battery heater warming up the case. Does anyone know the secret to removing the water-tight door and replacing it with the vented one?

Final note: I really hope that we get to keep flying Tantalus after this past weekend. But if it should be taken from us, it might just make NAN our only reliable light-and-variable site. And that will be a very good thing. It gets lonely out there!

Nanakuli wind from iWindsurf

Wikimapia - Oahu

Post script (2/17/2011 08:00:00 PM):

I started to write an add-on comment to what Maui Doug mentioned below, but it got to be too lengthy. This is where it ought to go anyway:

I did a little post-flight research. I was curious about a few things; namely the Kolekole Pass and Lualualei (Naval Magazine).

This pass is beautiful and I understood it to be accessible with a military ID. I learned that rain washed out a portion of the road a few years ago. There was no money to repair it, but engineers deemed it safe if used “one lane at a time”. From my research, I learned that the road was open from Lualualei to Schofield in the mornings and the other way in the afternoon. It’s primarily open to accommodate military commuters.

A few days after flying over the pass, I tried to drive it (in the morning). But approaching Lualualei gate, I was greeted by a prominent sign that said “Kolekole Pass CLOSED”. The civilian guard at the gate didn’t seem too impressed with my ID and asked what my business was. I told him I was interested in crossing the pass but since it was closed, I hoped to have a look at the base. He said, "This is a closed base. Official business only.” The Kolekole Pass gave a reason to come here, but with that now closed (indefinitely), a simple card holder was not welcomed. He went on to tell me that rain had almost completely washed away the already eroded section of road. This happened last month, in January.

I wasn’t getting on. Hmmm… I thought to myself, “If I dropped in, I wouldn’t be too welcomed then either." I was frank with the guard about my next question. I asked him what would happen if I was flying my glider in the area and was forced to land within the base, with military ID in hand. He just shook his head slowly and with no hesitation said, “You’d be arrested.” It was silent for a few seconds. Then I asked him what I should do if it ever happened, with no intention… just an act of nature. He just started shaking his head again. Could it be the very low frequency twin towers that are used to transmit messages to submerged submarines? Maybe. Could it be the “stuff that’s stored here”, as this gentleman termed it? Probably. As it turns out, there are some would-be bomb-out locations (pun intended) on Oahu that would be a problem. Some of these security breeches relate to a “hazard” or a “safety” concern (like firing ranges). This place has what I would term more of a "national security" concern. It’s pretty serious.

After he thought about it for a little while, and after I kept saying “but what if…?”, he told me that the best thing I could do is stay put where I landed. Don’t go anywhere. Don’t try to escape and evade. Just call the base police, tell them what happened and wait for them to pick you up. You’ll be surrounded by Constantina wire with no way out anyway. Running will just make it worse. And I have to add; you might call a lawyer while you wait for your pick up. What a nightmare.

It’s kind of nice learning all this from outside the wire, isn’t it? Let’s hope that no one ever has to use this number from the inside.

(808) 668-3007 – Lualualei police

What’s the “stuff” and where is the property line?

As far as I can tell from this wiki map, the government property runs right up to Haleakela's peak. The dump side of launch is OK, but the dump side north of Haleakala is government land. As we know, it isn’t fenced along the ridge. But along the road at the bottom, it is. It starts out as a ranch fence and gets more serious the farther you go down the Kolekole Road. The naval magazine itself is a mile plus down the road, which of course is fenced. Within the magazine, there must be an even more secure area with an inner fence (complete with Constantina wire). This is where I imagine the “stuff” is kept. I’m pretty sure that there is no back fence, just a mountain range. If I'm not mistaken, one of those ranges that substitutes a would-be fence includes the back part of the "Haleakala range". That's the one we fly to get to the back of Nanakuli Valley.

As for the now disused pass road, this may be the "path of less consequence" within the magazine. I found a video of a pass crossing that shows the road on the Lualualei side with fencing along both sides. Skip to the six-minute mark if you want to see a section of the fence-lined road. Harley on the Kolekole Pass (w/ AC/DC track)

If I found myself forced to land on Lualualei Magazine itself (and a whole string of other options would have to turn sour before even being presented with this option now), I would try to land on the road between the fences. That’s where you would be if the pass were open, so how bad could that be? Well… bad. But it’s got to be less bad, right?

On the day of this flight, the route I took from the back of Nanakuli Valley cut right across the storage area, and I wasn’t entirely certain I wouldn’t sink out. There is a route that goes deeper that would keep you clear of the bunkers, but that was socked in on this day. Berndt, you mentioned “big kahunas” I believe. Me? Nope. Those are reserved for people who take a risk knowing and comprehending the consequences. Those that are ignorant or stupid don’t count. I can no longer claim ignorance, so next time it happens, just call me “stupid”.

Fly "safe", everyone.


Anonymous said...

It is good to see someone charging nanakuli solo, next time when you have company you will feel even bolder. I have never made the run in that direction, though many have. Most of my good days usually start at high launch and either go straight back or cross the valley and get high in the back and hit the Kunia flats for some flatland thermalling. The route you took is committing in that you have a chance of landing somewhere you really don't want to, most people head that way on those 4k+ days, as you have more options available to you.
Great job, I am looking to get out that way after my house project is done, but right now I am just sucking it up, living vicariously.
I also think that Makakilo might have a launch for those light SE Tantalus kind of days, with far more landing options.
Fireman Dave

Puka Wai said...

Impressive flight, JK. It's been a long time since I have been air-horny enough to go flying solo, but I do remember what it was like in those days. Even back then, I don't think I would have had big enough cojones to venture all over a range like the Waianaes like you just did though. I was wondering if it would be you or Allan that would be stepping into Doug's vacant shoes next, or who's going to be in the lead at Rat Race!
If you look closely at the hinge on the Gopro's cover, you will see that it is open in one direction and you can snap the cover off that way. The Gopro does not seem to want to make any files bigger than 3.8 gb or so, but mine creates a new file after that and keeps going. These big files don't seem to open in Vegas Pro though, so I have to use a freeware utility to split them in half before editing.

Anonymous said...

Great flight!
On the fogging up of your lens ,'silika gel' packs saved from electronics gear or food packages [if they fit] inside w/p case of go-pro might be usful. Refresh their absorbent quality by gently baking them to drive up moisture they soak-up.

Doug said...


You are making me miss home!!!

If you want to see some of the classic routes check out some of my posted flights on leonardo.

I have also posted some videos on you tube under tandemflightshawaii.

That day looked like a 5... imagine the possibilities on a 10

JeffMc said...

JK - awesome flight and video! GoPro has known issues with certain brands of SD cards that are as you describe - recording "just stopping". GoPro themselves recommend Kingston and Patriot.

RE: Berndt - the 4GB limit is because of the file system used by SD cards/devices. But yeah, Sony Vegas crashes on video files greater than 2GB because a software bug that is not related to the camera itself. Just lazy, short sighted programming. Even their 64-bit version does it, which is downright embarassing.

JK said...

Thanks to all for the feedback and insight.

F-Dave, looking forward to your house getting finished so you can show us the way out there. Makakilo sounds interesting. I may have to scout that out. Let me know if there is a launch out there that you’ve used.

Puka Wai, I don’t think we can begin to “fill Doug’s vacant shoes”, merely follow in his footsteps, where we can. Thanks for the GoPro hinge tip. The skeleton door is now on! I don’t mind the fact that file size is limited. The problem is that the filming stops. At least yours starts up again. Reaper suggested I reformat the card in the camera. I’ve done that and uploaded new firmware. I’m testing it now, so we’ll see...

Beeman, I’ll try those silica packs when I put the waterproof door back on. Going to try it with the skeleton door for a few sessions. Thanks!

JeffM, you know, someone told me to get either a Kingston or a Patriot card, and I just settled for what was at the store. My bad. I just hope I can tweak it and make it work. The video makes me queasy! I need to make a chest strap mount to settle things down. I move my head around like a pigeon when I fly!

Doug, your legacy is a tough one to chase! I had no idea whether my XC was any big deal or not, and after looking at your flights on Leonardo, I see now that it is NOT. Well, for me, it was an adventure. But I don’t know if I could fly even a fraction of one of your big flights and be able to contain myself! Wow! Scrappy actually clued me in on Leonardo through the chatterbox earlier today, and his and your flights there are simply epic! I hope you don’t mind, but I’m going to add a link to the mother of all Oahu XCs. You went well over twice the distance I did, then looped back, then went over the back to Schofield for flatland flying! That’s unreal! It was especially ballsy to make the middle of the MMR your turn point. Ha Ha! As I told Scrappy, the track logs that you guys have posted are a gold mine. I’m happy to have posted this flight report or I wouldn’t have been lead to these. I’ll be studying them to learn what works and hoping for even better days. I think Allan would agree. I'll be shopping for a GPS soon too....

Aloha, JK.

Doug said...

You are wrong about your flight.

You have just made the most important flight at Nanakuli.

You have taken the step that took me almost 6 years to make and have realized that flying XC from Nanakuli is not only possible but a great challenge and thrill.

The adventure begins NOW!!!

Thom said...

Thanks JK,

With Alex temporarily out of the writing department you have filed those shoes too.

What a batch of pilots we have gotten in the last year or so.

This XC makes us all jealous. Maybe mortals can be more like Doug not that you are mortal. You and Allan keep it up and I am sure we will see Doug scratching our skies again to keep his records or to do these treks finally with company.

I hope to follow you one of these days.

Thanks for the coffee read, I actually saw the post last night but somehow was able to restrain myself.

Go Team Sol

Thom said...

Thanks Again

Just realized that this was on my birthday. You scored me some huge points.

My wife watched the video with me just now. She saw the date and felt bad, she wanted me to spend the day with the family that day and I did.

We heard about the TAN fliers which didn't get any sympathy from her cause she knows I am not keen on that one. But she knows about NAN, the other woman, and after watching your vid it got me another kitchen pass.

I only got above the peak there once and that was the hook and your story is now the boot I needed to make the trek out there.

Thanks for the awesome present, I will be using my 'pass' soon I hope.

nick said...


Great article..felt like I was there. I was actually in the air at Nanakuli during Doug's "mother of oahu XC" flight. I remember it was a "Thermal Clinic" day and I arrived late and took off alone. Doug was already way north and I ventured to the back of the range and waited...and waited...and waited for Doug to "leisurely" join me and lead the way to the Kunia flatlands ;) I remember being so nervous about bombing out so deep in the valley. At the time I didn't even realize that it was a good flight even on Doug's scale...thought he did that all the time! It was my first OTB XC at Nanakuli. Great memories!


MauiDoug said...

Great flight and story JK! Thanks so much for the beer and ride yesterday and for sharing your Nan recon info about where those ICBM's are located. I just don't think I will be flying over that way any time soon!

Alex said...

JK, I can only echo the comments above: great flight, great story. And your addendum is a serious dose of reality. I have always been told we'd be shot down by blackhawk choppers. But either way, it just seems unnecessary to take the chance. Maybe if I was at 5 grand over the back of Nanakuli Valley I'd consider going behind that place to reach Kaala, but otherwise, I'm gonna stick to the front route. It's doable, though not as easy. But the bombout options are a lot safer. You know what they say: stay out of jail and fly another day.