Saturday, January 04, 2014
On the last day of the year, six monkeys spent a gorgeous day chasing the wind at the most beautiful corner of the island, the corner of our banishment, variously known as Dillingham, Kaena Point, Kuaokala, or HDH. Drew hiked up to check out the Kealia launch in the morning and found the airflow too squirrelly up there, so he hiked back down. Later on, Steve, Utah Cody and I joined him to assess the conditions and options. The clouds were clearly streaming offshore but that little detail didn’t curb our enthusiasm.
The flow at the surface was quite light and very westerly, so we thought our only chance would be the pasture. But that is without doubt the worst hike on the island. It’s not even a hike. It’s an hour of super steep bushwhacking through tall grass and boulders. But the young whipper snappers with me bounded up like billy goats. I am out of shape from a month off from hiking or flying, and I was already tired from a morning hike in Hauula with Dorothy, but I did my best to try and catch up to the billy goats.
I was concerned to note that I lost my footing quite a few times, just from being tired and moving too fast and not paying enough attention. At one point I tripped and took a sharp thin broken stump of haole koa into the roof of my mouth, puncturing my palate and filling my mouth with the warm taste of iron. It was gushing pretty bad. I clamped my mouth shut and pressed my tongue up to staunch the bleeding. That would have been fine if I hadn’t been struggling to gasp in enough air from the exertion of getting to that point so fast. My little nostrils were flaring like crazy trying to inhale enough air not to pass out, while my mouth was clamped shut.
Finally my breathing calmed down, and I continued very slowly with my mouth closed, climbing up to the top of the ridge. Of course those youngsters had a smart comment when they saw my blood soaked visage. Alex! When are you going to learn not to hike with your face?? I guess they had a point. I always seem to crack my head on something or other during these adventures.
At the pasture the flow was coming quite steadily over the back from the Waianae side. While we’d been hiking we had felt nice cycles coming up the hill, but apparently those were just upslope curls of rotor turbulence. We could only imagine what kind of parachutal downdrafts awaited us if we could even find a lull to rush off the hill. But we were extremely reluctant to contemplate a hike back down that hideous overgrown cliff.
I called ATC and let them know we were planning to fly. They issued me a squawk code even though they knew we didn’t have transponders. And they reminded me to be on the ground by five, and instructed me to call them back when we were done.
But how were we going to fly in this over the back stuff? Visitor Cody had the creative plan to launch from the back of the tallest knob facing the deep Kuaokala gulch below. If he didn’t get flushed directly into the ravine he was going to try and thermal up and out of there. Who’s to say that wasn’t brilliant. I’m not a mountain pilot. But here on the island we certainly don’t think that way. Anyway we were willing to watch him go first.
But the cycles died off as soon as he got set up, and after an hour of waiting for them to return, he ended up canceling that plan and joining the rest of us on the last plateau of the ridge line before the hike down begins in earnest. Actually Drew couldn’t wait and started to hike down already, while Steve and I were waiting to see how Cody would fare. So now there were only three of us up there.
Turns out there was nice nice westerly airflow on that last shoulder of the ridge, at the mouth of the gulch. Definitely enough to inflate a wing. Who knew what the larger air mass was doing, but it all seemed to be flowing lighter in any case. It was getting pretty late by now, and the sun was dropping low in the sky.
The spot we found to launch was nice and grassy on top of the ridge, but it wasn’t very big, so after our lines were stretched out we would be standing on a little rocky ledge with no room to move or run. We’d need some decent airflow to pull up our wings and pivot in place.
Cody was all set up so he laid out first, and we helped him fluff up his wing. He got into the air on his second try and made it look pretty easy in his small acro wing. The air was definitely not doing much of anything, and he sailed smoothly out of the ravine and hooked a slow wide turn back to get back towards the parking lot. But he couldn’t help throwing a few happy acro moves, and ended up landing pretty short.
Next I helped Steve get laid out, and I fluffed up his wing so he could pull it up smoothly in a decent cycle. He flew out of the ravine and made the slow wide turn towards the parking lot. I think he could have made it there easily but apparently he decided to land down where Cody was, for camaraderie.
So now it was my turn. Why did the airflow suddenly feel so light? This is always the fate of the last guy on the hill. I laid out and waited for a cycle. I didn’t feel much. I was starting to panic, thinking I’d have to follow Drew and hike down. I thought I felt something and pulled hard, but there was no resistance at all, and I just fell backwards, almost off the rocky ledge. I was a turtle on my back. I held onto the high ground with one hand and tried to twist my hips uphill to get back up onto solid ground. After a few tries I was back on my feet.
But there were still no more cycles. I moved to a couple different parts of the ridge where I could see grass fluttering. On the first one the grass was way too deep to set up and run out, and on the other the grass was pretty deep and the ground underneath was super steep with very little room to run. I ended up back at the original spot thinking I’d just have to wait for a freak cycle, no matter how long that might take. Thankfully it only took ten minutes or so. I knew this was my last chance. I pulled that wing up and the angels were singing as it climbed sweetly overhead. I turned and blazed away with a sigh of relief.
I wasn’t ready to just sled to the parking lot. I actually got a few beeps as I crossed the ravine mouth. I wasn’t climbing but I wasn’t sinking either. Maybe there was some kind of glass off effect happening! I continued across the ravine and started looking for lifty lines to take me to the point. What if I could get around the corner to find awesome lift on the other side? The sun was almost down behind the ridge and I was mostly in the shade on this side. I didn’t find any thermals to turn in, but I definitely found some nice lifty lines on my way to the point, and I arrived there having only lost 150 feet from the 700 foot launch.
To my dismay, as I pulled around the corner of the point, it was clear there was no longer any awesome airflow there to keep me up. I might be able to squeak out a long glide in the direction of Yokohama, but man that would be a long walk back. So I turned and retreated back the way I’d come, hoping I’d find some nice lifty lines to take me back to the parking lot. But it was eminently clear right away that I’d be landing very short of that goal. I hugged the ridge as long as I could before getting worried about being able to cross the power lines, and then I set a course over the road to milk out my last little bit of altitude. I spotted a couple of trucks making their slow way out on the 4WD road, and I was hoping that if I could pull off a landing nearby they might give me a ride.
Which is exactly what happened! I landed in the tall grass next to the road just as a truck passed by, and they shouted out their thanks for the entertainment. I said, you’re welcome, and do you have any room? Lucky for me they did, and I enjoyed a scenic and beautiful bouncy ride back to the parking lot with a truckload of new friends. On the ride back, ATC called me to ask if I was on the ground. Doh! I’d forgotten about that. I assured them we were all down. It was almost five o’clock.
Back at the parking lot we celebrated the last flights of 2013 with some delicious cold beverages. Thom and Ike were there waiting for us, having wisely opted not to follow us up to the pasture, choosing ground control instead. As we all raised our bottles to toast the new year, a police car drove into view and we hastily lowered our beverages while he made a slow tour of the parking lot. After he left we relaxed and made a few more toasts, and we didn’t notice an SUV pulling up alongside us. The window rolled down and two uniformed officers were in there smiling at us. They asked if we were local. Um, yeah. Then we know about the laws regarding public consumption? Um, yeah. They said, okay, so be a little more discreet, all right? And have a Happy New Year!
I am pretty certain we will. Here’s to more exciting monkey exploits this coming year. Dorothy gave me the okay for a new wing. I’m not sure what I want yet, so I ordered a new line set for my current wing to milk it out for a few more months before making any big decisions. But whether we’re on old wings or new ones I know this year will be a great one for flying. The President and his family leave tonight so let’s get it started tomorrow! See you all in the air...
Posted by Alex at 11:31 AM