Thursday, October 24, 2013

Irresistible Numbers

On this diminutive island, every flight becomes familiar, as we soar laps around our back yard. But what a back yard! We are blessed to sail over this primordial landscape of cloud-kissed green peaks and deep forested valleys. On rare light wind days when the clouds lift to reveal a course line we can safely navigate, we are compelled to expand our horizons and soar ever longer laps among these backyard peaks and valleys. Here's to a million more familiar days like today!

Mad Dog called to cajole me out to Makapuu this morning, citing irresistible numbers there, and teasing me about flying laps at Kahana. But I couldn't drive past my closest backyard site without checking the conditions. I have flown downrange from Makapuu a million times, but I've only flown uprange from Kahana three times before, all within the past year. It's a much harder trip, and only two pilots have made it all the way to Makapuu (Fireman Dave and Marty Devietti). Mad Dog made it to Olomana once, but sank out there in strong north flow. The main reason it's so hard is that for conditions to be safely light along the main range and at Makapuu, conditions at Kahana have to be the lightest possible. If most people aren't sinking out, it's probably not the right day. It's easier if it's more northeast, but that doesn't matter much as long as it's light.

I couldn't ignore the numbers today at Kahana. The sensor was calling it something like 5 at 46 degrees. By the time I was ready to hike, it was more like 5 at 68. Woody told me he didn't think it would be enough. So I definitely had to try it! Larry Mac launched first and valiantly scratched for a while before hitting the beach. I kited my wing up to the rock before feeling a cycle I liked, and then proceeded to slowly scratch my way up above the ridge. I could see visitors Joris and Janet setting up to begin their own scratching session.

Once established above the ridge I found some seriously rocking thermals that blasted me across the bay to begin my adventure. I could hear the Makapuu posse over the radio as they began to make their way downrange. Wouldn't it be cool if we could pass each other midway?

Clouds were definitely not as high as we would have liked, with bases around 2,300-2,400 feet. They were hovering above Puu Ohulehule. But they were fairly well contained over the ridge lines, so it seemed worth jumping back. I didn't like the look of the clouds as I passed Kaaawa Valley, but from Kualoa the route was pretty clear, and I got another strong thermal over Puu Kanehoalani to kick off the trip.

I crossed Hakipuu and benched up in a sweet thermal at Ohulehule. I climbed to cloud base there and then took a slightly diagonal line to the main range, looking for lift above the gigantic trees in the back of Waikane Valley. I found a great thermal there and got established below a thick cloud bank, before squeaking past Waiahole Valley to work the prominent face behind Senator Fong's Plantation. That place can be rough but it always delivers the lift.

At cloud base again, I continued on to cross Waihee Valley, and worked the next spine as I glanced down to see if I could see a little red Smart Car in the back of Ahuimanu. I guess James wasn't home. There are some nice big fields down there, and if you ever have to scratch low it's nice to know a friend lives nearby! But today that wasn't a problem.

I continued on to cross Temple Valley and make the big decision of the day. From cloud base at the near shoulder of Haiku Valley, I scanned the skies uprange for a clear path, but it just didn't look safe. Kaneohe is a big suburban obstacle in the middle of an otherwise rural course line, and it is covered in airspace and buildings. It's not a place I ever want to sink out, so I want to be high for each transition here, which is only possible if the clouds are higher.

So I turned back, after having covered only about half of the 24 mile trip to Makapuu. Now the question was, did I have it in me to try and get all the way back? It's typically harder to return from the back range to Ohulehule, but it's always worth a shot. I retraced my soaring steps, and at one point I got super low at Puu Eleao behind the crazy huge manicured estate at the foot of the ridge. I scratched out a painfully low save and then tanked up at the cloud soaked face behind Senator Fong's.

From there I headed out … into a huge blue hole over Waikane. I definitely could have timed that better. I was aiming for the foot of Ohulehule, but after a few minutes on glide it was clear I was going to pull in at tree kicking height if at all. I didn't want to risk landing at the orchid farm, so I retreated to land at Waiahole Beach Park. Certainly one of our nicest landing spots! I was super happy with my flight. I was only sorry I had no company along the way. But I'm starting to get used to flying by myself. In some ways it's a much better learning experience. But I worry that I'm going a little nuts as I talk to myself so often during those solo flights.

As I was folding up I was serendipitously spotted by Attila, Woody's newest student, who was on his way to Kahana. Thanks for the ride, dude! I hope to return the favor one day.

I heard from Thom that the clouds shut those guys down before they could even get out of Waimanalo, with Mad Dog flushed at Olomana and landing at Enchanted Lakes, and Thom and Doug tagging Puu O Kona before returning to Makapuu. Ike flew with them too. James flew a nice long afternoon session out there later, as did Brian and Ashley.


Mad Dog said...

Alex, like yourself on the other side of that dreaded cloud street off the Kaneohe Marine corps air station, I was at cloud base waiting to cross at Olomana towards you but darker clouds kept coming so I opted the safe route in clear air upwind to Lanikai on the right side of the street. Just short as my 400m alarm went off I thought I was to low to make the ridge so turned back over the golf course to big school field by Thoms house. La Peste picked me up & lunch & bevies were in order on Lanikai beach. Man did Kahana look so clear & perfect from there!

Thom said...

Thanks for the right up. I learn so much from these debriefings and the track logs.

Maybe someday I can make it from KNA to MPU. I know you will and I am hoping to be on your coat tails.