Monday, February 06, 2012

Magical Makua

Saturday was an unexpectedly fun day. I've been battling Scrappyitis since January 2nd, and I got a whole new head cold sinus infection last Sunday, and I've been on antibiotics since Tuesday. So  I wasn't sure I was up for some hiking and flying, but I was feeling a little better when Steve picked me up in the morning to go grab a used washer and dryer in the Salt Lake area.

After seeing the posts, I gave Alex a call as he was on his way to Makua, to get a report and to make fun of his endlessly positive attitude about conditions being the best he has ever seen. Steve and I had put ourselves on reserve to help refurbish a horse stall in Maunawili for a friend, and we were on standby until the call came in that we were free till next Saturday. After a little thought, and some encouraging reports from Alex, we headed towards Nanakuli and then up the West coast.

Once we were free, I was still a little wary of the drive to Makua. My last experience had me coming from the North Shore, back down the H2, and then up the west coast, in traffic that had me pulling several hours of driving that day, for what turned out to be a 30 minute flight. While it was cool to check out a new site, it was really not worth the drive for the scratchy short flight I got.

After stopping to pick up some barley sodas on the way, we arrived to see Five-0 getting geared up to hike, with Alex in the air above the peak to the right of the bowl, and Flystong laid out at launch. Steve and I chased Five-0 up to launch, after pausing halfway to watch Bill's progress. The path we were working was steep, and while fast, it had some loose spots where a slip would spell a long roll and doom for a pilot that didn't have a good purchase near the top.

Everyone made the ascent without slipping, and we joined Five-0, Berndt, Joey and Sharky, who was clipped in and ready to launch when we got there. Sharky had a nice launch in between some strong steady cycles, and was soaring the bowl in front of launch. I dropped my gear to help out with the launches for a while.

Joey set up next, in his shiny new Aspen 4, and got a little surprise when his new fast wing decided to fly faster than he expected, as he let out his Cs for a little overshooting excitement with a short runway. Berndt was up next, with a cleaner launch, just a light overshoot, followed by Five-0, and then Steve. While it looked pretty clear at launch, every single pilot had at least one bad snag or potential unintended line passenger. I helped with a little creative landscaping, but eventually everyone was off and flying. Laurel and Gaza made launch just as I was setting up, and I made it off with a little line issue and some help.

Alex had a date with the wife and wished us good flying as he winged it over to land across the street.

I cruised the bowl with the crowd for a few passes, till about 800 feet, and then followed Five-0 to the taller section above the cave, to climb up to Joey, Bill, Five-0 and Berndt. Steve crossed over after a few more passes, but retreated to the bowl again after finding nothing.

We all tried to work the spine back into the valley a bit, but the spine runs mostly parallel to the onshore winds, and the low prominent clouds over the island were keeping the thermals from developing. There were lots of whales breaching and spouting offshore, providing some good entertainment.

After a lot of boating around and trying to climb out, I wanted to get away from this small spot. We had two options. North to the next face towards Yokohama, or south towards Makaha. Being very efficient, Joey and I manged to climb up to about 1,600 feet, and I was trying to convince him to make a break towards Yokohama. But he convinced me that the wind had a more northerly component to it, so we should downwind it to the south. The clouds had started to fill in, and it was raining a bit, and some of the thermal lift that was present was starting to fade a little more.

Joey went first from about 1,600 feet, leaving from the front of the spine and heading south. He drew a line more inland towards some of the smaller foothills on the way to the main face before Makaha. I left at about 1,525 feet about two minutes later, after giving up on my try to get a little more lift. I chose an outside line that was more direct, towards what appeared to be the steeper faces past where Joey was headed. I got some zeros sometimes, and a few small 100 fpm climbs that got me to the foothills, where both Joey and I were getting nice smooth lift all the way from 1,100 up to 1,900 feet.

After a little prompting, and the temptation of abundant sweet lift, we convinced Bill to head on over as well. While he was on his way, I was setting up for my next glide. There was a large cloudmass headed onshore, and we were finally at cloudbase. I wanted to try to take advantage of the cloudsuck on my next glide, and not be stuck on the hill when the next mass came through. As Bill was climbing up below, and Joey was climbing up some more, I turned my eye towards my next target.

Makaha beach looked really fun below, but I set my sights further. I could dead glide crosswind down the coast, or hit up the next spine before Waianae. I left as the cloud bank got to the coast. I was away from the ridge for about 30 seconds and hit some 500-700 fpm sink. Darn.

I kept an eye on my vario, and decided that since it was a shorter glide than my last crossing, and I'd found plenty of lift at the last two spots, and I had lots of landing options, I should go for the climb at the next spine. My GPS was dead, but I could tell I was moving at a good clip on the way. I was approaching the thin spine and not getting any beeps. I saw some heavy grass movement as I pulled in tight, and turned into the wind. As I pointed into the wind at 1,000 feet, I realized right away that I was not penetrating much if at all.

Reaper had spotted us above Makaha on his way north, talking crazy on his way up about strong winds. I was hoping they had faded, but was kind of expecting to find them eventually. We had been having such an easy time boating around up high and penetrating when we wanted, that I was hoping I would be able to sense stronger conditions if I was keeping an eye out.

Joey asked me how it was at the sharp north face, and I had time to radio my situation. I was not moving forward and not really climbing. As I finished my transmission, the air went immediately silent and my brakes felt mushy, right before I got hit with a nasty thermal. I decided against climbing up immediately, as more altitude was not going to help my situation. I rolled off the spine in the turbulence and pushed towards Waianae Intermediate.

Joey and Bill got on the radio, asking what the conditions were like, but I had my hands full. Joey cut off mid transmission as he flew into some of the nasty air I was in, realizing I was busy. I was just on the downwind edge of the intermediate school field, and not pushing forward, as it got windier the lower I got. Joey and Bill were pushing out from higher altitudes, towards the field at the boat harbor, and having fun keeping their wings open, but at least they were making progress.

The huge dry valley behind me was bathed in sunlight, sucking air in pretty fast and building dark clouds deep. I was just barely downwind of my primary LZ, but my glider required a lot of attention. I was not penetrating enough, so once I got some smooth air I pressed bar. I was not gaining much ground, so I let off bar to look at my alternate LZ in the clear area behind the houses. I noticed with a little frustration that Joey and Bill seemed to push out easily to their LZ, from much higher than where I was.

As I got off bar, I looked back towards my LZ and then took a solid 75% whack at about 500 feet, losing a lot more ground. I was pretty uncomfortable at this point, to say the least, and turned downwind to clear the high power lines just before my target LZ.

I turned into the wind over the yellow grassy area spotted with Kiawe trees, and just focused on riding my glider to the ground as best I could. My glider needed a lot of attention on the way down, but the grass was looking pretty still, until a swirling wave hit me at about 20 feet. I sliced through it for a nice but tense landing and killed the glider.

On the ground safe, and the first thing I did was listen intently for the sound of dogs. I have seen semi wild pitbulls roaming this dumping ground of burned out cars, boats and trash. I listened for a minute, looking at Kiawe trees for a place to climb just in case. After two minutes I began to relax, unclip and pack up my gear. Joey and Bill radioed that they were setting up to land, and they were having interesting approaches of their own.

As I was folding my glider, I heard some loud rustling really close, and looked up just in time to flinch as two guys popped out of the bushes. They had been hanging out in their garage when one of their daughters saw me getting banged around in the sky before disappearing into the field. They were worried I might be stuck in a tree or getting eaten by dogs, which confirmed my earlier fear.

I asked out of curiosity what their plan would have been if I were having dog problems. The lean looking one said, run. I looked at the other one, and tried to be polite, as he was definitely not the running type. He shrugged it off with a smile.

I finished packing up and they led me out of the bush. I gave them my thanks for the honest concern, then hoofed it to the highway. Berndt came to the rescue and picked me up, by the library across from the intermediate school, and we headed back to grab Joey and Bill at the harbor field.

After grabbing some barley sodas on the ride back, we were treated to a mini acro flight by Jorge, and then we watched Dave launch in some gusty conditions as two waterspouts formed offshore. Steve and I finally fled so I could check out the concert at Sea Life Park.

This was a fun but short 5 1/2 mile flight. I wish I could have gone farther, but conditions were far from ideal, with a sea breeze providing most of the usable lift. Plus we were held down by the low cloudbase and then blasted by the strong valley suck.

Makua is a rare beast, and I would say everyone had enjoyable flights and amazing views.

I tend to write a lot in my stories, even for what was a short downranger that would hardly be noteworthy at other amazing sites. I don't get a ton of flying these days, but I am hoping for some more international action this year. New site experiences are still fun, and I am glad I got to chase something a little new for me, and share a little of my spastic flying analysis with the monkeys.

It's been awhile since I wrote an article. I could go back and edit this for grammar and coherence but that is a lot of work... I didn't have a tether for my phone so I have no pics from the air... hopefully later on we'll include some pics from Flystrong and some launch videos by me.

6 comments:

Alex said...

Scrappy, thanks for the writeup! I'm stoked you guys tried to go somewhere. I was chomping at the bit to cross some valleys, but I knew I had to land at my car and scramble out of there before long.

Still, I had a fun two hour flight, benching up on the big ridge and soaking up the sick views, and watching everyone else show up and start trudging up the hill. Bill was first to join me up there so we got to take some fun pictures of each other. I reached two grand a few times, and I think conditions were best earlier on for sure.

I'm curious to hear about Frank's adventures at Makua the next day. Some of us had some adventures on the North Shore the next day, but that's another story...

Alex said...

Roll call: BC Ian, Five-0 Mike, Jim, Scrappy, Steve, Bill, Sharky, me, Gary, Laurel, Jeff, Berndt, Joey, Reaper, Dave, and Jorge. 16 pilots, and 15 soaring. That's gotta be a record for Makua.

Anonymous said...

Scappy, thank you for your help in my clearing my launch site of snags. After applying your creative rock garden and horticulture skills at the launch site, no one else should get their lines grabbed like mine had.Five-O

Thom said...

Thanks Scrappy.

I must have missed this one some how so thanks for the call.

Great to read another pilots weave and get a different perspective of flying. Not that Alex's are getting boring but some fresh ink every now and then is a welcome treat.

Anonymous said...

Aloha to you,Scappy ! You might not get to post as much as others do ,but what a great post!! Just want to say "it really helps me during my 'healing time' all the posts from all you who get up there and then take the time to share your flight . Every little thing that happens ,the ups ,the sinks , the bullet rises ,the spooky sinks ,it all helps me and others I sure . Still healing and Hoping to leave this condition as soon as I can and finish working my way to P-1,P-2, and more , as well as PPG-1- infinity . Aloha to all of you and it is just sssooo good to be alive!! thebeeman (thebeeman@hotmail.com)

Frank said...

That was my first flight at Makua. Wind was straight in, bit of a snaggy launch - previous crew did a good job clearing. Benching up was easy - really wanted to go back deeper but had Super Bowl obligations. French Yanny joined me later. The approaching front could be seen over at Kaena point. Would love to get up try making the that point. Rare direction needed for sure.