Friday, January 31, 2014

Two More Days at Kaena Point

Our winter flying has really taken off this January. The fronts are coming in such rapid succession now that we're not sure if conditions are prefrontal or postfrontal or both! But with a little luck and a lot of driving, many pilots are getting into the air at some rare winter sites. Last week we were blessed with our second pair of consecutive days flying both sides of Kaena Point, from the knob on one day and from Makua on the next.

The Road Less Traveled

Last Thursday brought us post frontal light north flow, high clouds, and a great lapse rate. Where were we going to fly? The popular and easy answer would be the east side. But a few iconoclasts were inclined to try their luck at the northwest peninsula. And it turned out that the strong morning east side conditions brought a huge number of pilots out to join us at that most beautiful and exotic corner of the island.

Sixteen pilots hiked the knob, and one hiked Kealia. Seventeen is not a record, but it's a lot for a weekday. It’s quite a crowd for the road less traveled! The thermals were quite nice, if a bit narrow, just as the skew-t had indicated. Pilots soared on all sizes of wings. We thermaled up above three grand at times, often over the flats.

I blazed out on an uprange mission and thermaled my way to the foot of Kaala with Woody hot on my heels, and then I groveled back low, rather than sink out at the monastery. A few low saves later and I was back in the game. I made a quick jaunt to the point, where the thermals were working great, and then flew to the meadow to join Woody and Steve to play with top landings.

The knob got a little trickier late in the day as the flow switched to the north and then the west. But many still made it up and out of there.

JK and Dave flew Makapuu later in lighter conditions, with JK tagging the H3 before landing at St. Stephens, and Dave stopping at Maunawili before turning back to soar at 3,300 feet over hang launch in the NW convergence.

Roll call at Kaena: Woody, me, Steve, Allegra, George, Gaza, Tim, Abhay, Dusty, Drew, Ray, Don, Pete Reagan, Berndt, Frank, Kevin, Brian.

Mysterious Makua

Friday dawned clear, cold and sunny. The BLIPMAP was jammed, but the graphical suggested light westerlies. Jeff noted the low dew point at Nanakuli, predicting a nice high cloud base. Meanwhile Mad Dog went out to Makapuu to soar his RC glider in bug farts and see if conditions might turn on there. Scot was at the top of the Haiku Stairs watching thermals go off up and down the Koolaus. Sharky was twenty floors up in Waikiki describing brisk southerly flow.

A typical winter day with no obvious call, vaguely prefrontal maybe, but mostly a crap shoot. And I had a short window because I had to pick up Amelia from school and then grab my brother at the airport. No obvious call, short window - probably should stay home. But instead I had the crazy idea to drive to the farthest end of the island and give it a try at Makua. I convinced Woody to carpool with me and off we went. Nanakuli looked good as we drove on by, but we were determined to scope out our most rare and beautiful west side site.

We arrived at Makua to find lightish flow with a hint of south. Not ideal. But it seemed worth hiking anyway, especially after getting so worked up in anticipation. There is no trail at all right now - we just had to blaze one through the grass and boulders and haole koa.

At launch it seemed promising but not guaranteed. I was hopeful we could at least soar the little launch ridge, and I launched off first to be the wind dummy. I stayed above the ridge, and found a few tricky little thermals, but getting around the corner above the cave was going to be a challenge. I tried once from about 600 feet, and got around the corner so low I probably should have just gone straight to the beach. Instead I dove back over the power lines into the little Makua launch bowl, at grass height, and somehow skimmed over the dead trees to work my way up the little faces of the bowl, finally back up to launch, and then above it. Whew!

I was more patient next time, grabbing a nice leeside bubble to 800 feet before trying to shoot around. This time I made it around a bit higher, but still not very high at all on such a massive formation, and the air was pretty still in those little canyons above the cave. But the still air was punctuated by gusty turbulent eddies, and I somehow made myself stay there and try to work that stuff. My glider kept trying to leave and I kept steering it back in. Eventually we got on the same page and started to rise up the ridge above the cave, getting established nicely high above to start drifting back for more.

Deeper back along the ridge the thermals were super nice, like the day before, and I cleared three grand easily, still nowhere near cloud base, but high enough to go places with the little time I had left. I'd been towards Nanakuli once before, but never towards Kaena. Today seemed like the right day for that, so I blazed across Makua Valley, and came in lower than I'd expected on the other side. The air was again still and spooky, punctuated by strange little gusts. Not thermals so much as leeside eddies.

Anyway I managed to squeak my way up and above the far side of Makua, where the thermals were really working great. I circled up and back along the ridge between Makua and Yokohama, enjoying beautiful views of the north shore, Makua, Kaala, and out to Kaena. Crossing Yokohama was pretty easy, and I'd never been higher over this side of Kaena Point.

I turned back from the point and retraced my steps, knowing I was running out of time, but hoping to milk the flight a bit longer. I joined Woody high over the Makua cave ridge, and we rode some rippers together before calling our window closed and heading out over the ocean to lose altitude and take some pictures before landing.

As we landed, Pete Reagan from Oregon was just benching up, and Thom was hiking down from the wrong bowl to try another route. Just after we left, Maui Tim and Dusty called to report that Pete was skying out over the cave ridge, at 4,500 feet or so, and I told them to tell him to head toward Nanakuli, which he did, almost making it there but landing at Maili Beach Park. Later he said he knew he should have flown back to Kaala but decided to play it safe with no locals to lead him.

Wish I'd had time to join him on that leg! Pete took some great pictures: I'm including a couple of his views from cloud base over the Makua cave ridge. I think that ridge is Ohikilolo. And Thom did eventually find his way to launch, and got himself up over the cave ridge as well, for his best Makua flight ever. I think it's safe to say all of us had our best Makua flights ever on this day. I guess that's what keeps us going back!


Thom said...

Well JJ Jameson stated it wasn't a coffee read but a Great Soup read.

Got back just in time to see a new story up. Thanks

Makua is a hard one to get. I got a good one but very jealous Of Pete Ragan's flight. I watched him get out ahead of me and by the time I snuck around the corner it was getting light. I struggled as I watched him head South towards Waianae.

Thanks for the Update.

JKS said...

Ahh, Makua! That most revered and sacred site. I think it worthy of the drive whenever it might be on. I'm thrilled that it was paid homage and that new lines were traced along its remote landscape. I think my most memorable flight on Oahu, and perhaps anywhere, was flown there. It's remote, committing and breathtaking. And as though it were a walk through an ancient burial ground, it's hard to shake the thought, "Am I allowed back here?".

For the record, that flight I had along the Koolaus ended behind Gaza & Laurel's house. It was just past the Likelike and short of H-3. The flight began with NNE flow in the sun . It was a marvelous flight in smooth, light lift along the ridge line of the back range. After high clouds rolled, the sea breeze effect was gone and the flow turned too north and too light. It was too north to even retrace my path. St Stephen's was the only option after finding sink south of the Pali. Later, the kindness of my fellow bus passengers allowed my to return to Makapu'u. Never fly without bus fare!

Thanks for a great write up, and same amazing photos!

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