Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Kissing Ka'ala

Pilots flew opposite corners of the island, and everyone got super high in nice strong thermals, and many pilots got a workout of their nether parts. This is a story of the pilots who flew the western corner. I only wish we could have joined up those opposite corners! Next time…

The flow was due north and light, and the atmosphere was predicted to be pretty dry and stable. It was definitely dry, but I think I found some unstable parts! A small posse decided to check out the northern options this morning, and KMX was the first stop. It seemed flyable, but a bit light and cross from the north, so we continued on to Dillingham (aka HDH). It looked perfect there. Brian and Dop had already soared their mini wings and landed before we arrived. We hiked Kealia, and I decided to launch last for a change, sending Woody off first to show everyone how it should work. Next off were LE, Ben, Maui Tim, Motorhead Paul, Doug and finally me. I got off almost two hours after Woody launched! Now poor Woody knows how I feel, having to launch first all the time and wait for everybody!

While we were all sorting out our gear on launch, we saw sailplanes coring thermals up to the 4,000 foot cloud base. That's not something we see out there too often. It gave us a warm fuzzy feeling. Then Woody launched and immediately cored thermals to cloud base too. Oh boy! Finally we all got airborne, after many launch attempts on everyone's part, including me. Both Woody and I broke lines launching there. I wanna like that launch, but it's just not easy.

I launched directly into the mouth of the biggest monster thermal ever. It sucked me up and spit me out a few thousand feet higher in a few seconds, and at that moment I knew this was going to be a special day. Then I looked behind me and saw a golden Gradient wing flying deep, back at the crest of the ridge above Makua. OMG. That was my cue to just keep turning and drifting! What a shallow slope, but this must be the day to fly back to the crest!

Woody had come back to launch to fetch me, and make sure I didn't just cruise to the point. No worries there. I circled with him towards the golden Gradient, but I somehow magically out thermaled him and left him far behind. Wow, I must be good! Later he told me he ditched that line because it was crazy. Well, it turns out it really was. Motorhead Paul was the dude who had tracked all the way back there in his golden Gradient, and I thermaled back to join him, but when I got there I realized it was a terrible mistake.

Yes, it was amazing to be on the crest between Dillingham and Makua. But I mean, does Paul's radio even work? We were pinned back there. WTF. And we were sinking in a strong headwind. But I was higher than Paul and I blazed back forward immediately. Full speed bar, holding my B handles for all I was worth. He wasn't so lucky - I watched as he got pushed down to the height of the crest, and then he started to creep his way out forward along one of the shallow spines, trying to avoid spilling into the ravine on either side. That was the craziest tree kicking ride out of hell I have ever seen. Apparently at the end he actually ended up down in one of the ravines, but he managed to catch a little something and climb out to reboot his flight. Whew!

I knew this was a good day to fly towards Kaala, but I was feeling chicken and hoping someone else would go first. Motorhead was obviously delayed by his misadventure. Woody was thermaling in that direction with me, and he wasn't talking on the radio, but he gestured very emphatically in the direction of Kaaala, so I knew that was the plan. I blazed out that way, but then I watched Woody get flushed in a sink cycle behind me. I kept going, and he climbed back to join Paul and chase me. That was the only reason I continued on - if those guys hadn't been chasing me I surely would have chickened out. They were leading from behind! I blazed on, circling in thermal after thermal, trying to ride the line between too deep to get out and too shallow to stay up.

After a lot of pants pooping transitions over the shallow sloping ridges and deep ravines, I ended up in the biggest bowl on the face of Kaala, finding amazing lift and barely needing to turn. As I approached the summit I felt myself getting hammered in some violent air. Up until now I had been riding thermals - strong ones - but at least the air was predictable. This was something else. Then I noticed the cloud above me had a decidedly offshore drift. Crap! The Waianae side was winning! I was in the rotor. Kaala seems to create its own airflow, no matter what the sensors say. It's a pretty big fricking mountain, so who's gonna argue. I hit my speed bar and sped out towards Waialua, just trying to keep my wing open. I hit massive sink as I headed out, but at least I was escaping the violent part, and I was resigned to a landing in the fields down there.

I headed over to the Benedictine Monastery, and as I was almost landing there I got a few beeps. What!? Was this the hand of God? I turned half-heartedly, and then turned again, and then I turned as if my life depended on it. I didn't want to imagine that I could actually climb back into the game from here, but I guess it was worth a try. And man, if that thermal didn't take me right back into the game. What a low save. From there I watched Woody sink out and grovel on some low foothills before landing in a field somewhere down there. Yikes. That might be me really soon. In fact I headed straight for Woody, thinking I would join him, but I got distracted by some lift along the way. I worked any lift I could find, although my vario battery had died by this time. That vario was a gift from Woody. Hmmm. Did he plan for the battery to die just in time for me to sink out with him???

But I fought my way back up and above Peacock Flats to sail back to Kealia, where Doug and Paul were waiting. We all zoomed out to the point together, only to find the airflow had turned more NE, and we had quite a headwind returning. All three of us landed at the YMCA. One of us landed right in the yard. The dude there wasn't too stoked about it, but he tried to be nice. We asked if we could fold up on their grass. He said, "I'd rather you didn't." Okay. Wow.

Anyway, an amazing day at HDH. Aka, Dillingham. The best day we've ever had. Seven paragliders flew, plus four mini/speed wings flew. Some paragliders made it to four grand, and three flew to Ka'ala, with two returning.

HDH roll call: Woody, LE, Ben, Maui Tim, Motorhead Paul, Doug, Alex. Mini/speed wing flyers: Brian, Dop, Adam, Mason.


Thom said...

Wow, JK and I looked at your track log. Hehad to teach me how to read it. Even I knew when the line was fading from bright orange to light green we knwe you were getting green as well. Nice low save. If we can get a bunch more un chartered flights SkyGod Doug might venture back to keep his records in tact.

Gravity said...

Wow, crazy day. What's with the on-shore flow over vs. Makapuu ridges. Much more heating area below is making for stronger thermals. My biggest thermal on island has been behind the Dill runway.
Wow, you guys killed it.
I'm bummed I was in Wahiawa working w/out glider...
Good one!

sandy said...

Your encounter with Paul reminds me of when we were flying at Kahana on a rather northerly day. I saw that golden Gradient way high back at Puu Piei. Just prior, some folks had reported that the wind was shifting more normal NE -- so I thought, great it's good to go back there. I tried calling on the radio to ask how it was or if anybody knew who the golden Gradient was. No answer from Paul, and no good intel on who it was (too many Gradients around these days!). So off I went -- and go my butt kicked big time in the knarliest air I've ever felt back there. Turns out Paul had not gotten high working the Puu, he was gliding back from a cross-country run to the south, and had probably come over the Puu high enough not to feel the rotor back there. And he didn't stick around anyway, he pretty much just passed over it and continued on to Punaluu. Meanwhile, I could tell I wasn't in my familiar easy-riding Kahana anymore, and had to get out to clean air ASAP low against the flow. I managed to slowly make my way out squeaking frighteningly low over the spines.

Lesson #1: (this is reinforced and partly paraphrased from Alex's report of past experience's at Kahana:) On any day that Kahana has been northerly, DON'T go to Puu Piei! Stay around the front ridges! I had noticed on the north launch, that even though people in the LZ, in the air, windlines on the water, a boat in the water, and the sensor were all saying the day had switched from N to NE, that some of the streamers on launch were still flowing from the N. It was as if the flow that had set up close to the hill refused to turn with the prevailing flow. It was the persistent flow close to the hill that probably made the nasty rotor I felt at Puu Piei.

Lesson #2: Know who you're following and how they got there! You can't really follow in someone's flight path if you weren't at least visually following their progress from the start. Okay, so not a hard and fast rule, but just cause you see someone got there, does mean it'll be gravy for you. YMMV! Go for it, but with caution!

Thanks for the tales of the awesome accomplishments -- though with words like "crazy", "terrible mistake", and "misadventure", I'll be content to settle for the vicarious feeling of triumph :-)
Great flying, monkeys!

Alex said...

Well, my working title for this story was "Balls and Thermals." Fortunately I came up with something a little more poetic. But honestly it was all balls and thermals. I don't usually have what it takes to blaze out over unlandable terrain in big air, but having Woody and Paul right behind me helped me to man up a bit. Even so I chickened out in many ways - should have taken a deeper line up the Makua shoulder like Paul and Woody did. Should have just let myself get sucked up to that leeside cloud. Should have, would have, could have. But then I never would have scored that low save at the Monastery. And I can't complain about my flight. My highest and farthest and most exciting flight out there. I am excited to go back and try that again!