Sunday, January 21, 2018

Boogaland Debrief

As you may all know, someone had to spend the night in the jungle (aka Boogaland) after landing out in the back of Kahana Valley last week. Mistakes were made of course, and there are a few things to learn. This "story" will hopefully relay these lessons and make all of us better pilots. I must apologize in advance for the lack of photos.

East-northeast wind was flowing at Makapu'u with light whitecaps on the outside of the bay. I launched from Crazy's in near-perfect conditions and tagged the lighthouse. On my way back over launch and to the north, I flew below one other glider and Maui Doug who was flying a tandem. Veso and the boys were about to launch (from Cactus?) to work on SIV/acro. The Ko'olaus generally had clouds a few hundred feet above them, with some touching the higher peaks. The ground was mostly shaded, so there wasn't much thermic activity.

When I checked my penetration, I had 10 kph with no bar. It was perfect for getting any amount of ridge lift desired. You just had to get to ridge height and then pick a line that gave you "zeros". If you get a little low, fall back. If you were getting too high, push out. Forming clouds on the ridge showed the lift, which gave added confidence.

In short, the entire range to Kahana (given the usual twists and turns) was amazing. I had a slight upwind component on this track and was oozing with confidence over how well it was working with this wind speed and direction. The conditions offered up clean lines with good margins and clear of clouds. Even pushing out in front of the Waiahole Valley to Pyramid and then down the middle of Ka'a'awa Valley to the ocean was comfortable.

I was watching Alex and Marc flying Kahana on FlySkyHy (via LiveTrack24). When I got there, I saw there were 4 or 5 others up. My radio batteries had given up the ghost, so I communicated to Alex via SMS, hands-free using Siri. It was really fun to not be alone anymore and share the sky. I have to admit that although landing and having beers was appealing, I felt I was on a mission. The range had worked so well coming over and I imagined it would be even easier going back. After benching up at Kahana Ridge, I pushed out farther north to Punalu'u and then dropped back to Sacred Falls. No one followed.

Just like the back range, Punalu'u Ridge was working well. I had the air mapped out in my mind and reality was matching it perfectly (so far). When I approached the air behind Pyramid (Pu'u Ohulehule), I got whacked a few times and began to realize that the conditions at ridge height were too strong to NOT have turbulence back there.

I doubled back on the main range and very quickly decided that I would try an assault on the north side of Pyramid to get to its windward side from that direction. I pushed out and told myself I would turn and retreat if I found bad or excessively sinky air. I got neither, but found no lift. I imagined air ahead that would allow this line, but it didn't exist. I remember holding on to my optimistic mental image a little too long. At some point, I flew past the point of no return. When I realized that I didn't have enough altitude to comfortably cross the ridge to the front of Pyramid, I turned back. I could not make it back to the main range, but there was another smaller ridge coming off the NW side of Pyramid. This was soarable, but I was stuck here. Alex and the boys knew I was still in the back somewhere, but I was out of mobile phone coverage and my LiveTrack24 position wasn't transmitting any more.

From my perch deep in Boogaland, I could stay up but could not get up and out. I figured I might be able to transition to the ridge that connects back to Kahana Launch. From this ridge, I might be able to scratch and fly toward the water tank. I didn't have any confidence in making it out this way, but I would at least be flying in the direction of civilization.

The other option was to wait for a thermal coming off the ridge, turn with it and drift back to the Ko'olau Range and hopefully bench back up and out. After 20 minutes of ridge soaring, I got some beeps and started to turn. I got 5 or 6 turns, after which it got quiet. I went on glide and remember getting two small bumps but didn't turn in them. As I approached the back of the ridge that connects to Kahana Launch, I could see there was no wind whatsoever. Searching for something, I transitioned still deeper to the back wall of the Ko'olaus. At 1,000 feet below the ridge, all the vegetation was still. I was in the compression zone and too low for any hope of lift. This is the moment that I realized there was no way out and I was about to be swallowed by the jungle below.

I still had some altitude and thought about using it to go on final glide down the valley, but there were lots of big, high (gulp) trees down there. I opted for one of several finger ridges ahead of me that had somewhat low vegetation and landed there.

Just before me was a branchless tree trunk about 15 feet high and nearly the girth of a telephone pole. I realized my "object fixation" at about the time there was nothing to do but put both feet together, turn to the side, and kick it as hard as I could. I felled it as I flared and my feet dropped down to spongy ground, buoyed by thick vegetation. My glider was propped up by three tall, skinny trees. I disconnected the harness, swapped out some batteries in my radio and made a call. Alex answered immediately and I let him know that I was OK.

It took me about an hour to get my wing down, but there was no damage. I packed up, made another radio call to announce I was beginning to hike and relayed that I would likely be spending the night, as I was deep in the Kahana Valley. I learned later that Alex flew for 7 hours that afternoon, extending his flight until near darkness to maintain radio contact for as long as possible.

I had a good vantage point from my perch in the trees above while freeing my wing. I could see that the valley below wound down to Kahana Bay. My plan was to drop down off this ridge and into the ravine below. From there, I would follow the water to Kahana Bay. The ridge I was on was covered with ferns. They didn't grow very high, but were very thick. The pitch down from my ridge to the gully was extreme and perhaps 50 feet. Still, I needed all my body weight to drive through the ferns. I realized that having to climb up and out through those ferns would have been impossible. The dry stream bed below offered about 30 minutes of stone hopping before it began to show water. Then, with steep drops and impassable sections, I was forced to venture into the jungle and parallel my route.

And this became the routine, from bushwhacking to stone hopping. Each had sections of steady progress, but this never lasted long. It was thick and frustrating. Pig trails were often the path of least resistance, but led to nowhere. They usually ended abruptly or led to various sections of plant growth that presented different levels of frustration. When deciding on direction, I would look up to assess each section of fauna. The ferns left the fewest marks, but powering through them cost me more sweat and fatigue than anything. I remember avoiding them.

After four hours, I found myself in an area of trees with branches 3” to a foot in diameter that grew in every direction from knee to head high. It creating a labyrinth of logs that was impossible to negotiate with a pack. I was enclosed, as if I had wandered into some kind of primitive animal trap. The ground was muddy. The light was dim. I was exhausted. This moment was the low point of my day, and I remember thinking, "embrace the suck" as I prepared to spend the night here.

I dug out my wing and took the strap off of the glider bag. With this, and a web belt that I was wearing, I hung my harness on a horizontally growing branch about 5 feet off the ground. To support my head, I threaded the strap of my wing's packing pillow through the carabineers and around my neck. Then I hung the wing over the supporting branch (still in its sausage bag). Later on, I fed one end down my back for added cushion and the other end over my shoulder and down into my pod, for warmth. For 12 hours I hung there, waiting for enough light to escape this place and move on.

I remember hearing water rushing down this upper section of Kahana Stream and having a very dry mouth, as I was quite dehydrated. The air was very still, save a few hours of light catabatic flow and cool air when I pulled my glider into the pod. It was very peaceful. Occasionally a mosquito would buzz by my ear, but only one bit me. I was able to rest and stay warm and dry, but it was not comfortable. I think I did get some sleep, but not much.

As soon as the sky began to lighten, I turned on my headlamp, got my boots back on and packed up. I hung my hiking shirt and socks out to dry, but they were both still soaked in the morning. I worked my way back out of the maze and went looking for water. I didn't want to drink any the night before, because I didn't want to get sick overnight and have issues on the day I needed to hike. I had a water purification system, but had never had to use it before. It was just a confidence thing. I drank a liter of treated stream water and felt surprisingly good. After that, I stopped to drink roughly once every 45 minutes. Because the route was along the stream, I never had to carry water, which was nice.

Early on, I tried my radio and got nothing. An hour later I was very surprised to get a response. It was Jorge, flying dawn patrol at Kahana with Alex! Eventually he had to go, but Alex stayed airborne to facilitate contact for the duration of my hike out. He was up for seven hours the day I landed out and five that next morning. I think we were both in our harnesses for the same amount of time over the past 24 hours, him in the air and me in a tree.

I had to cross the stream countless times while finding a route out. I eventually gave up on rock hopping to keep my feet dry and just slogged through the water. There was a big bend in the stream with quite a few pools. In this section, as was often the case, I had to find a route away from water. I was always happy when I found a pig trail. This time I happened upon a fairly wide one and amongst the hoof prints, I spotted a human footprint. Eureka! It turned out to be a branch of the Nakoa Trail system.

Now, after just a few more hours with lightening progress, I entered Kahana Beach Park. My back was pretty sore and despite stopping for water at least a half dozen times along the way, I was still dehydrated. I had immersion foot, but got the wet boots off and my feet dried out before the blisters could begin. I had lots of scrapes from the bushwhacking, but otherwise no issues. Hopefully, nothing will come from drinking the stream water. For eight hours of hiking and 12 hours of hanging in my strung-up harness, I had much to think about.

Threats and Errors (aka Lessons Learned):

1) Threat: Imbalanced focus on Offense. We have all heard the adage that cross-country (XC) Paragliding is like playing chess in the sky. To that I say, XC (like chess), is a balance between offensive and defensive play. Too much defense and you will not leave the house thermal or the launch ridge. Too much offense, and you will find situations with no option but the ground (checkmate). It's important to recognize when the fangs are out and the defenses are down and return to balance.
2) Threat: Incorrect air mapping without adaptation. The air you imagine is not always the air you encounter. You have to have some mental image of the air but when it's not right, you either have to readjust that image or in some cases admit you don't know what's going on or why and get out of it. I stubbornly held on to my image and pushed my vision of reality with what really was. After confusion set in, I should have escaped it and figured it out later, over beers.
3) Complex air behind Pyramid: There are confluences of valleys, mechanical turbulence and sharply contrasting terrain features on the back range in this place. When the wind is light (sea breezes), flying through this zone isn't too bad, as long as the sea breeze doesn't die. The wind on this day was 12-18 mph and the range was a lift machine, but behind Pyramid, it was a turbulence/sink machine. The best mitigation for this air was avoidance which is achieved by flying over it or around it. The clouds that day did not allow the first option. There was a way around it; namely the route I took to get to Kahana in reverse. The back way at ridge height was simply not an option that day.
4) No landing options: A good glider pilot always has “Landing" (LZs) in mind. Like hopping from rock-to-rock to cross a stream, you should go from LZ to LZ when flying XC. In the back of Kahana Valley, there are vey few reasonable options for finding terra firms safely and NO option without an eight-hour (+) hike. So, the defense side of the chess game needs to ramp up significantly if you go back here. If you have even the slightest indication that you won't find lift, you need to get out, or be prepared for a tough landing and a long hike out.

Over the years, I have thought extensively about what it would be like to land out in the jungle. I know it's nothing to be taken lightly. There is a huge difference between landing safely and being able to hike out and having an injury that impedes your mobility. After that hike, the latter situation gives me the willies. In any case, assuming you are OK and you have to extract yourself, there are a few things that I fly with that really made a difference.

1) Hiking boots: I fly with heavy-duty hiking boots. I would prefer to fly with something lighter, for sure. But when your foot gets pinched between big, wet, slippery rocks, and you have to walk through mud and up and down steep terrain with a 40 pound pack, ankle protection, rigid construction and a good Vibram® sole made a massive difference.
2) Leatherman: When I landed, I put my wing in a few tall trees. On one side, I was able to cut down the branch with my serrated blade. On the other side, I used the pliers to disconnect the lines from the maillons. Without my Leatherman®, my wing would likely still be in the jungle or I would have needed hours more to get it out.
3) Collapsible water bottle: I usually have a liter of water with me when I land. If not, at the very least I have a collapsible bottle that I can use to fill in a stream.
4) Steripen: I keep a Steripen in my bag at all times. It's lightweight and small and can purify a liter of water in 90 seconds. In Hawaii, drinking from any stream in an area where wild pigs forage will likely lead to leptospirosis, unless of course you have a way to purify the water.
5) Headlamp: Some kind of light is essential if you're spending the night. You could just use your phone, so this isn't essential, but it sure is nice to have your hands free. Plus, you can use the AA batteries for other things, like a radio.
6) Signal mirror: I didn't need this, but if I had broken my leg on landing, I would have called this my ace-in-the-hole to get a helicopter to find me. BTW, the ONLY open place a helicopter extraction would have been reasonably possible was at my landing site.
7) Misc: I had a Clif Bar®, but wasn't hungry until I got home. I had a lighter, but there is nothing back there that would burn. I have an InReach (at home), but don't activate the monthly use on it unless I am in a comp or planning a big mainland XC. I may rethink the inReach monthly charge.

I learned a few things on this adventure. Hopefully we all gained a little insight into the mysteries of Boogaland and how to deal with it. Inputs and insight are highly encouraged.


sandy said...

Well done JK! Great writeup AND flight (despite its mostly undesirable premature end) and hike. I imagine you were buoyed and made (over)confident by the heady height of 2795ft (one of the highest of your journey) when you made that fateful decision at 1:39pm to head toward Pu'u Ohulehule. I wonder if raw emotion didn't sneak its finger onto the scale while the rest of your mind was analyzing wind and terrain and such. I'm sorry it didn't work out, but very glad you were able to make it out okay. Your material, physical, and mental preparedness certainly helped you there. I hope others take your lessons to heart. (I carry most of the survival gear you list, but am likely too chicken these days to get myself into boogaland.)

Thanks for sharing your inspiring adventure, and three cheers for Alex and others who lent moral, communications, and other support!

sandy said...

addendum: re: raw emotion

Not to imply that emotion and buoyed spirits have no place in our flying decisions -- for without those, why fly?

Hele on down the range when your wants and wits and winds allow!

firedave2 said...

Great story! I loved how you really went for it that day. When I first heard you were down somewhere in Booga Booga, I just assumed that you started at Kahana because it seemed kind of windy at Makapuu. It is cool to see your tracklog and see what you were doing that day. I like how you skipped Maunawili and Boogas on the way out, but dove right in on the way back. When it is strong back there, Boogas loves to let you in, but you face a headwind either way you exit. Your story is a great adventure, thanks for the write-up.
The only comments I have is about hiking out and this is not meant for you in your situation, but the next pilot making a plan…. Most hikers in Hawaii get stuck or lost for two reasons, either bushwacking a shortcut trail or trying to follow a stream out. So a good rule of thumb is sticking with a trail or try to follow a ridge out. I don’t have much experience in the Kahana Valley, but over the back on the leeward side of the Koolau the streams follow a convoluted path and become steep sided gorges with some big drops in them. It is generally better to find a ridge as they run straighter, often have trails on them, are easier going and can offer a view of where you are going. Also try traversing your way up a to a ridge top if it is too steep to go straight up. I think it was Frosty a few years back,who after abandoning his glider and following a stream out the Poamoho side for two days, found there was a jeep trail on the ridge paralleling part of his route.
The other thing is if you find yourself in trouble or hurt and need a quick out, don’t hesitate to call 911 and get the Air1 helicopter for a pickup. You would be surprised with the kind of sling load pickups those guys regularly pull off, they can locate a better pickoff spot from the air or stick guys in to hike you to a better place. In this day and age, 911 already gets a GPS fix on your location from your cellphone, though admittedly in a place like Boogas with poor cell reception, the accuracy is probably low. Just know how to text your coordinates to someone in case.
Paragliding in Hawaii is awesome and for the most part we go incident free for hundreds of flights, maybe thousands in Alex’s case.

Thom said...

Great write up.

i made it through booga one time got super low on way out towards Punaluu.

That place is not a happy place its rough especially low.

Unknown said...

Glad you made it out!

Unknown said...

Always always always fly with a magnetic compass. A tree saw, water, shelter are mission critical. If it had rained...

I also fly with instant coffee, an oatmeal bar and baby butt wipes. Just because it's a long hike out doesn't mean you can't be civilized.

I only use my emergency communicator at comps or when planning to go big, but maybe we should re-think that...

-- Frosty

Unknown said...

Thank you JK for the riveting story, the attention to detail, and the lessons shared.