Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Soaring the Pyramid

Looming up from the foothills of the Koolau range, the pyramid of Puu Ohulehule dominates the landscape, standing sentry at the nexus of four deep valleys: Waikane, Hakipuu, Kaaawa, and Kahana. It towers over the surrounding foothills at 2,265 feet, reaching almost as high as the peaks of the main range that arcs behind it from Waikane to Punaluu.

In the last year we've had more flights connecting with that pyramid than all the years before. We're finding that it is a key stepping stone on a flight from the foothills to the main range, or the other way. But as we've found, the lift doesn't always work back there on that pointed peak. And it's often in the clouds. Also, it's generally downwind of two other notable formations, the long dragon's back ridge topped by Puu Kanehoalani (1,900 feet) at Kualoa, and the massive edifice of Puu Manamana at Kaaawa (2,100 feet). On ancient soaring charts they might say: Here, There Be Rotors. So we typically wait for lighter wind days with high clouds to venture to the pyramid.

Yesterday, Bonnie launched at Kahana just as Mad Dog, Scot, our two Norwegian visitors, and I showed up at the LZ. The wind turned super east and Bonnie was getting tossed around up there, so she top landed at low launch to wait it out. It finally filled in straight again, and we all hiked up to join her on upper launch. It was light now, but there were some decent cycles. We all got up and out of there, except for visitor Vanja, 20 kg over on her acro wing. She top landed low launch and kited back up to mid, before heading down to the LZ. Later, Jim and Kaaawa Larry came out but the cycles had abated too much by that time for them to get up.

Scot and Mad Dog got high above Puu Piei and headed across the bay, and I followed close behind. Scot plumbed the depths of the lift line at the base of the Kaaawa ridges before heading back to the LZ. Mad Dog and I fought our way up above the triangular face behind Kaaawa School, at which point Mad Dog announced his plans to head back to the pyramid, Ohulehule. I had just had a great flight at the pyramid the day before on the way past from Makapuu. It seemed almost too light to get up high enough to duck back, but then I got a nice little thermal and I went for it first. Then I got another nice thermal at the back of Puu Manamana, and I knew I would make it with plenty of height. I encountered some heart stopping sink as I passed behind Puu Kanehoalani, but I pushed through into the east facing bowl and found nice smooth lift to get me up and above the pyramid.

Then I relaxed and soared above the peak to watch as Mad Dog followed. He didn't get a great start, and he sank lower as he traversed the Kaaawa side of the valley. By the time he reached the back of Kaaawa Valley, he was super low, kicking the trees at the low ridge line in the back. I thought for sure he would land down there, for a long but scenic walk out of that familiar valley. But he scored an incredible low save, finding a little thermal and sinking his teeth into it, to spiral his way up towards me over the pyramid. He slowly climbed up, and somehow he didn't encounter the same sinky rotor I had hit - I think he snuck in below it!

We both soared the top of the pyramid for a while, almost to cloudbase, which was looking pretty low and gray. I could see rain falling at Kaneohe Marine Base. Mad Dog wanted to hop back to the main range but I was not excited about that, with the clouds looking a bit low and dark, at this late hour, and after having got home so late the night before. So we set course for Hygienics. Duck was passing below and waited for us at the kite park, but we pressed on low to Hygienics, coming in pretty darn low there but just making it to the near corner.

As we got back to Kahana, Kevin was enjoying the last lift of the day, watching a beautiful light show as the setting sun illuminated the towering cloud banks offshore of the bay. Thanks to Duck for the retrieve! Thanks to Mad Dog for the motivation, and for the beverages! I look forward to many more adventures at the pyramid of Ohulehule. I think we have barely begun to figure out where we can go from there!


Anonymous said...

I caught snippets of you big dogs talking over the radio from MPU. Mad Dog voiced his concern over leaving the ridge. I assume that the low save happened soon after. Later there was a point that both of you communicating about landing at MDKS. Great job to both of you “Path Finders” making to Hygienic’s. 5-O Mike

Bon Bon said...

Nice write-up, Alex. Man...this is such a big dream of mine. I can't wait to learn more and fly there with you guys.

Thom said...

Thanks for the coffee read Alex, again with the Hawaiian names of all the peaks and valleys.

You guys are definately mapping courses for future long distant runs.

I have lost non-jobber status this week, I am slammed and have a new harness hanging on the lanai that I may not be able to use till Sunday. Which I hope the trades hold back enough to use it then.

Alex said...

Bonnie, I know what you mean - for many pilots, being able to fly over their house or their workplace is a big dream. Yours is definitely achievable! Especially now that you have a glider that will get you there more easily. The most important factor is getting as high as possible to start. Use a vario, and watch other people closely, and use the lift under the clouds when possible. Once you know you're maxing out your starting altitude, it's just a question of taking the right line, which you kind of just have to learn from practicing a lot: head out there as often as possible on different lines, and see how it goes, then come back before you get too low, and try again. Eventually you will find yourself climbing over there before you have to turn back! And finally, it's a lot easier to practice cross country flying and thermaling by going the other direction. Work on thermaling your way to Pounders, getting familiar with how to work the Punaluu and Hauula ridges, and you'll be ahead of the game when you are ready to get over to Kaaawa and Kualoa and Ohulehule. I look forward to being with you when you make it over there the first time, and hopefully many times after that!

Kevin said...

Thanks to you and duck for hanging out with heather and Sarah on the beach. Great smooth flight that evening. I appreciate what you guys do. Thanks.