Thursday, September 29, 2011

Shouting at Cloudbase

Everyone knows that I love to fly in the lightest possible conditions. We've been blessed with many days of light conditions lately, including some nice thermal days. Yesterday at Kahana turned out to be that kind of day, and I was lucky to thermal my way to Waiahole with my cross country mentor, Mad Dog, who was barking out encouragement all the while.

I met Mad Dog at Kahana just after noon, based on great morning sensor readings. Harvey and Kaaawa Larry showed up too. But the wind died just before we all got out there. The sensor was vacillating between averages of 4 and 6 at 55 degrees. It felt too light on the LZ to be worth hiking, but we hiked anyway. I sure don't mind scratching my way up. And sometimes I think I might have delusions of unsinkability.

When we got to upper east launch, there were actually some decent cycles. I realized I'd left my radio in the car, so if by chance we both got up high enough to think about going anywhere, Mad Dog and I would have to rely on getting close to each other and shouting to make our plans.

I got off quick and made a few passes in zeroes, then blazed straight for the rhino horn, where I got a little love, but couldn't get above the horn. There was no ridge lift, just some snaky little baby thermals. I was scratching like crazy. Then I snuck around behind the rhino horn, scratching all around and getting low back there for a moment, with visions of landing in the pastures, but finally hooking into some nice thermals and climbing out nicely above the horn.

From there I worked the front, and after some scratching I found some strong thermals in the light north flow. I saw Mad Dog launch and he followed my line around the rhino horn to the pasture side, where he scratched for a bit and then started to climb out nicely. Meanwhile, I tracked back to Puu Piei, but I think I kept falling out of the backsides because I couldn't quite get the drift right. I was definitely getting tossed around. I saw Mad Dog spinning up gracefully, high over the front, and I headed back out to get some of that. Then together we rode the thermals back to Puu Piei and tried to get as high as we could. It was a lot easier to see the drift and stay in the thermals as we worked them together. We did quite a few circles across from each other up there. Mad Dog shouted, "As soon as we get high enough we'll try to cross!"

Soon after that, when we'd reached maybe 2,300 feet, a bank of low clouds headed in at our height and Mad Dog shouted "This is our cloud!" We both headed down the spine a ways under that cloud, and Mad Dog was just on the Punaluu side and got massive lift up into the wispies. I was just on the Kahana side and didn't get much, but I tried to shoot over his way and find whatever was lifting him up. I got some of it, but I was still a bit below him as we set out across the bay from about halfway to the front of the spine. Not my most auspicious start to cross, but it felt high enough to start given how light the wind was.

Sure enough, we both came in over the Crouching Lion with plenty of height, maybe 1,500 feet or so, and continued around to tuck right into the shoulder of Hidden Valley. There was no ridge lift up there, just thermals, and we found some nice ones to get us high and over to the big triangular face. Just before we lost sight of Kahana we could see Harvey and Larry launching, but the cycles weren't quite enough to keep them up and they headed in.

Above the triangle, we tried to find some decent thermal to get us up to cloudbase for our next jump. Mad Dog shouted over, "The pyramid and the main range look too cloudy, so let's jump to Kualoa and then maybe glide to Hygienics!" That suited me fine. We tracked the thermals up together and found ourselves nice and high just as a cloud was approaching. We both headed out under that sweet puffy lift machine, and shot across Kaaawa Valley to Kualoa.

At Kualoa, the thermals were tracking straight up the ridge line, and they were not strong. We struggled to work them and get any kind of decent height. We were stuck around two grand for quite a while. Finally I got a nice column of lift just as a small cloud was passing over, and as I began to get wisped out I knew it was my best chance to go. I set a course for Hygienics. About halfway across the bay I could see Mad Dog had decided to head across too, although he hadn't managed to get as high as he'd wanted, without any clouds to help. He was definitely taking a lower line than usual.

As I passed by the kite park, I wasn't quite feeling like I had enough height to continue on to Hygienics. And Mad Dog looked super low, so I figured this would be a good place for us both to land. Just then, as I was still out over the water outside the shoreline, I got some nice beeps. Really? What's a thermal doing out here? I had a little height to play with, so I drifted back over the park a bit and then started to turn circles. Wow, this was a sweet and light flat land thermal, originating out on the reef or something, and tracking nicely back over the fields. I got to 1,800 feet or so before I kind of lost it, not up to cloudbase, but high enough to go places. Duck called as I was thermaling up and said Ginger might be able to grab us on her way home from Kaneohe. I was watching Mad Dog land down below, and honestly, at that point I was feeling pretty happy with our adventure, and didn't really feel like exploring much further on my own, so I headed down to join him.

After Ginger brought us back to Kahana, we joined up with Harvey and Jeannine for some refreshments, and Duck and Bonnie also showed up to hang out for a bit. Actually we hung out quite a long time! The wind was ridiculously light even in the trees. What a light and scratchy day for a thermal trip to the kite park. I sure wish I'd had my radio, but it was fun flying close to Mad Dog and hearing him shout out our plans, and then actually making them work.

Thanks to Ginger for the retrieve! And to Harvey for the lemonade! And to Duck for the grape juice!


Mad Dog said...

It was a funtastic light crazy day we love so much! But I must say Alex is on fire lately & unstoppable, you & your wing combo is hot to trot. Way to go & keep it up! Get high & go far my young one...

Ka'a'awa Larry said...

I'd sure like to see where you guys hide your motor/battery packs. They're not visible on the ground and it's funny how you only turn them on when you are just out of sight around a ridgeline. Pretty sneaky but I'm on to you both now.

Alex said...

Larry, keep on coming out to fly those light days and eventually you'll find you're the one climbing out while others might be sinking out. Learning how to scratch your way up on light days, or to scratch your way up from a low arrival at a transition, or just to make a low save somewhere, is a huge part of cross country flying. It takes a lot of practice but it's the kind of practice I like, so I never mind doing it. Hopefully you will like it too!

Thom said...

Dido Larry,
I agree with the master, scratching low where your comfy at KNA is good practice for when you gotta do it on the range with no comfy feelings or LZs that your used to.