Sunday, September 04, 2011

Wild West

There is a place on this island that is known for big air and rough thermals. Only the toughest and bravest pilots venture to those badlands, and when they do, they bring their spurs, lassoes and six shooters. It's not exactly on the west side, although it's the westernmost of the windward sites. I'm talking about Kahana -- on a day that is perfect for Makapuu. Kahana only reveals its wild side on a ridiculously light day like today. On days like this, some call it Kahana-kuli, or Kahana-kekua. Many would call it a guaranteed sled ride. I just call it desperate scratching and pure thermaling, the most challenging and rewarding kind of flying I know.

Today was hands down the lightest and most thermic day I've ever bothered to hike up at Kahana. The sensor at Punaluu showed a pitiful 7 mph when we showed up around 10 this morning, but it only got worse throughout the day, down as low as 3 mph at one point. There was never even a hint of ridge lift. The tumbleweeds were putting down roots. Surely the easy choice would have been to follow all the other cowpokes to Makapuu.

But One-Eye Jim, the original outlaw iconoclast, had other ideas. He had bunked at my ranch the night before, and he convinced me to saddle up and give Kahana a try. Mainly out of laziness, to save us the two or more hours of round trip driving before coming back for Duck's BBQ at 4. But staying close to the ranch turned out to be anything but the lazy option! A whole posse of crazy compadres joined us out there: Scot, JK, Rich, and returning Hawaii pilot Lucho.

I launched four times before getting up, top landing each time in various places on both ridges. I watched four other pilots sink out after valiant struggles to stay aloft. I scratched low like a bandit for two hours, and thermaled high like an eagle for three. I rode a whole herd of bucking broncos and hung on to each one as long as I could before getting thrown.

Finally, I rode a few of those dogies high into the sky, to complete the now infamous chronic tour (out and back trips to both Kualoa and Punaluu) in pure thermal conditions, without a breath of ridge lift anywhere along the way. It was possibly my most challenging thermal flight ever on the island: five hours of flying, twelve miles of straight line distance, two tricky transitions, multiple low saves, hand of god thermals, finishing with a glorious cloudbase stampede from Punaluu back to Kahana. At one point I flew down Kaaawa valley halfway back to the pyramid, with thoughts of heading east. But without a trusty pardner, I turned tail and galloped back out front again. Next time!

Scot and JK both hiked back up and scored good long flights the second time. Scot got high enough to make it across the bay but didn't stay over there long.

Thanks to Rich for the rejuvenating slug of moonshine at the LZ. Thanks to Duck, Ginger and Scotty for the very fine vittles and high class hooch at the BBQ. And thanks to all the pilots at Makapuu for saving the epic downrange mission for next time!


Thom said...

I could not believe it when I heard your voice on the radio stating that you were at Kaaawa.

I read the sensor this morning and thought, even Alex will have to travel east today. I guess not. Perhaps Makapuu skies will never by his grace again. Unless of course the trip starts at KNA.

Great write and unbelievable flight.

I tried an early push and only made it to Puakona (spelling). Tried to go back to MPU but got low and beached out in Waimanalo. Thanks for the lift Laura. Later AllanC made an attempt for Olomana but dirted out somewhere behind it.

But it was an awesome day at Makapuu the list is extensive: 4Hangies, McStalker, Sidehill, Jorge, MauiDoug, Ginny, Laura, Gaza, Chili, Five-O, One-Eye, NikiJ,Sharky,Frank,JohnGoldberg, & possibly more.

Anonymous said...

I was also equally amazed by the day Alex especially when my vario rocketed up off the bottom to finally peter out at 1180 ft/min the cloud base was slightly low for Frank,Laurel and I to venture out much further than Green Walls, even the tandems were having the steadiest of climbs. I kept waiting to see a gaggle of wings come gallivanting in from the north. All in all it was a great session and beautiful day, which drained us both and we had to re neg on both of our gracious invitations to bbq or sail. Hope those type of days are in our future. Thanks for the coffe write up Alex. GAZA

Nick Johnson said...


Your literary talent never ceases to amaze me! I see you're putting your Rat Race skills to use!