Sunday, June 22, 2008

3 Amigos fly to 29 Palms

The week up to the flight already foretold the possibility of long flights over the back or possibly on the front range. It had been a week of record breaking heat with some San Fernando valley temperatures as high as 113. Thursday although blowing down at Kagel, showed the altitude possibilities for the weekend ahead.

I was busy with work all week and barely had time to do any weather googling but "felt" the heat would provide ample altitude for a safe departure over the back of the San Gabriel mountains to get into the Mohave desert. The calls started Friday night to setup a truck and get a crew assembled with the usual suspects (although one would be missing due to family obligations, sorry Phill). Sebastain Lutges (Sebas), Ron Wiener and myself were to gather in the LZ around 11 am, we figured there may be others that would certainly follow since the forecast looked pretty optimistic.

The heat in the LZ was pretty bad, already over 100 when we arrived at 11. I felt that this would not be a great place to land mid day and made a mental note of the switchy conditions in the LZ, but the wind at the time was moving from a WNW direction to a SSE direction at the time. Richard Seymore also wanted a ride up the hill and we had room so we loaded up and left the LZ around 11:45 or so.

The temps on launch were noticeably cooler but it was still pretty hot. On the way up we all noticed the big development of Pine mountain and my thoughts of the paragliding crew going to Ojai wondered how all of them would do under such strong conditions. We could see really strong conditions over the area close to Castaic with a cloud that was very flat on the bottom and shading an area over 5 miles long. Shortly after that we started to see small development on our front range but the clouds would never last too long. Some of the regulars started to strategize about the easiest way to make it over to the clouds some 15 miles away (or so).

One by one we moved towards launch to join each other in the sky. Ron and Lauren were marking a good one over towers with Ron reporting good altitude going through 7k. Andy was climbing at the 1500 and Jonesy was marking a good one right out front. Off I went into the climb over the volcano and enjoyed the cool breeze now moving over me. A lot of things were going right early, launch into a climb right away, I had a feeling that the day had just begun. As we climbed through 7k Jonsey (Greg Jones) and Sebastian got a stronger core and separated from me with about 500' or more and left for Big T. I followed and we all had an easy glide to Big T, or so I thought. As I arrived I could only see Sebas, but never spotted Jonesy. I went to the climb Sebas was marking and we both climbed towards the white canyon reaching 8k eventually. Jonsey apparently had not found the climb, Sebas said he was low over middle T but I never spotted him although I repeatedly kept looking in that direction.

Meanwhile Sebas and I were climbing and drifting with a NE track. We had good comms and could hear both Wiener and Rob Bugis gliding towards Magic Mountain after leaving the 22. Sebas and I were now around 9300 and decided to glide straight over to Mt Gleason from just NE of the white canyon. Of course going through both of our minds was Phill Bloom's tumble as we approached the area where he encountered the air that lead to that event. I purposely loosened the VG when the air got a little too bubbley. I tried the climb right before Gleason but couldn't get really comfortable with the roudiness so left on a glide towards the clounds on the N side of Gleason. By this time Wiener was working from down low (5k) right around Parker with Sebas in chase a little higher. Leaving Gleason with 8300, I went to rendevous with them at parker. Wiener had found a good climb and was going through 9k, as I approached Parker I found a good fatty going up over 800'/min and was quickly going through 10k. While climbing I spotted Sebas up very high and gliding towards Crystal Air glider port. Our chase was now on the way, good comms with both Janice, in Andy's truck and Paul made the decisions to press on all that much easier. I think by this time we were aware that Rob Burgis and possibly Jim Thompson had turned around. Andy was somewhere around with us with no comms.

About the time we're all just S of Palmdale / Little Rock, Andy Pryciak is on Sebas's tail and trying to tell him something. They spent so much time trying to get that communication down that both of them lost around 4k and now needed to climb in the shaded area S of Palmdale /Little Rock. I saw both of them for a while but lost sight of them as I moved towards Crysyal Air at over 10k. The cloud we were skirting was looking like it wanted to erode so I pressed on, now flying NE towards El Mirage dry lakebed. SE of El Mirage is an airfield (Grey Butte), we all started using this and the green crop circles as a reference point as all of us were not using the same waypoints. Thinking that the guys were E of the crop circles I pressed on and was getting a pretty pathetic glide, sometimes as bad as 7:1. Now E of the crop circles with another sailplane airport in glide distance I fouind a good climb (500'/min) just west of my potential landing site at about 4800'. As I took this climb skyward I realized that Sebas and Wiener were now behind me. They were still W of the Grey Butte airport (about 3 miles back) and high, but my climb would prove inviting enough that they raced over to meet up. We were about 45 miles from Kagel at this point and it was nice to have 2 other pilots around, good comms, good climbs and plenty o thermal markers (clouds) to help guide us. The drift was noticibly WNW but we still hadn't all agreed on a direction. The general thought was we would try and get to Barstow (15 and 40 merge) and beyond.

Not sure when we lost Andy as his radio was basically in a no transmit mode. I think he could hear us, but this likely put him at a disadvantage since we were not always within sight of each other. Sebas and I were pretty high and orbiting waiting for Wiener to get up out of the pinch he got. Most of the time we spent around 12k until we finally saw Ron get a really nice climb and moved to him. Now all of us were together just as a sailplane (ASW-27) came by to give us a look. Ron decided he would try a big cloud to the S of our position and pulled us all towards an eroding cloud. I was now the lowest (9k from previosly 12k) and turned E to stop the bleeding where I found another decent climb right before the 15 freeway. This would put me back over 11k. Still intending to go in a NE direction towards Barstow, I fly off in a NE direction chasing a good looking cloud line and some obvious thermal triggers on the NE side of Victorville. On the way there Ron spotted a red balloon, how he spotted it I'll never know, but the balloon seemed to be going faster than us, although when I went by I could see it wasn't the case. Now down to about 5.5k I found a decent climb about 300 up and stayed with it while until the climb improved to take me up over 12k. Ron was looking low from our (Sebas and I) position. So much so that we thought he may land at the Apple Valley airport, we notified Paul our driver that Ron was likely going down. But he really pulled it off the deck and finally got it and pulled it up to 12k. As Ron was working it up from down low our intentions to fly to Barstow began to seem questionable. Sebas still wanted to go, I voted no because of my last glide in that direction and the lack of civilization in that direction. Ron also voted no likely because of the drift and the long schlog crosswind. Somewhere along the line I think we all sort of agreed that Barstow was not going to happen. Sebas and I had been orbiting for a while to monitor his progress. At about 13.3k I had no desire to hang around as Ron was climbing well and the cold was getting to me. Not really waiting for the decision I moved easterly towards Lucerne Lake. Ron calls out "Chippy on glide eastbound", and so the decision was made.

Sebas's radio started to click and I knew instictively that his radio transmission days were coming to and end. Sebas was now communicating with clicks, but little did I know that he would now be over me for the remainder of the flight. As we left Ron the glide to the east was pretty bouyant and I was seeing ground tracks well over 100km/h (about 70mph) and glides improved to over 18:1. Stopping a few times to tank up on altitude and wait for Wiener, I was now calling 29 Palms airport as goal. Ron and I could still communicate so we had somewhat of an agreement to put it down at 140 miles out. We also needed to stay clear of the restricted airspace near 29 Palms Marine Corp base. With Ron now over 14k it be easy for him to cut the corner over the SW corner of the R-2501S. We spent a little time making sure he had visual landmarks that would be easy to recognize, keeping all of us from flying through the prohibited area. Check this graphic just how well we did. It helped somewhat seeing how I've been in this position and had studied the area extensively prior to this flight.

After calling goal, I went on glide towards the rock out croppings near "Giant Rock". Still no sign of Sebas after leaving the Lucerne Valley. Ron was now about 10 miles behind but we still had comms. Paul was motoring down the 247 with very little in the way of maps (I only had a few in the car and nothing all that good). Still he was doing pretty well and all of us seemed to be in good condition. I hadn't thought of calling Sebas but I guess he was still with me as I now approached Giant Rock after about a 13 mile long glide the air started to burbble again indicating a nearby thermal. It took a few minutes but eventually I found it a bit further downwind. It was now about 5:30 and the air was still going up.

The clouds further to the SE were showing better potential climbs just another glide away. So with about 8k of altitude I left and would come within .5 miles of the SW corner of R-2501S (Ron actually cuts the corner a bit over the SW corner of R-2501S, but plenty high). A road that turns S marks the area so I knew there was little to worry about. I found another thermal right before 6pm going up at 300'/min but it would soon turn on and take me to over 11k and into goal with much altitiude to spare. While thermalling up I spotted Sebas above me with about 1000' on me. Ron was pretty far back but at 15k and "enjoying" a 42 degree cooldown.

With goal assured, I stuffed the bar from 20 miles out and found a lot of lift along the way. It became clear that getting down would likely be more work than getting up. The glide into the 29 Palms airport was completely easy and in hind sight we may have had the Arizona border within 3 or 4 more thermals. The wind was now switching from a WNW direction to a due W direction and the really nice wind triangle at the airport showed that easily. Fighting to get down from over 7k proved to be challenging. Slowly I was able to get to an altitude that allowed me to make an approach and landed a bit further back from my intended landing "spot". As I walked to the tarmac, Sebas flew over my head to land on the edge of the tarmac. We quickly exchanged congrats and moved to the shade of the airport operations area. Shortly after we landed Ron Wiener was overhead and making his approach. It was really nice to share the LZ with 2 other pilots after flying so far.

Full Google Earth file

Distance: 140.4 miles
Duration: 4:35
Jeff Chipman personal best
Sebastain Lutges personal best
Sylmar Site Record

Setting a new site goal with two of your friends from the same truck, PRICELESS!

Our celebration would soon be cut short as I called my wife to notify her that we were on the ground, safe, in shade, had water, with friends, and chase on the way. While relaying the story she kept on trying to get my attention on a more important matter. While visiting the LZ there were emergency vehicles present (Police, Fire Department, Ambulence), she was told that Richard Seymour had died in a hang gliding accident while landing in the Sylmar LZ. She was pretty sad about the situation and I felt powerless, being so far away, to comfort her. The somber mood was now evident in our LZ, 140 miles away. It was a very wierd feeling knowing we had given Richard a ride up the hill and now we wouldn't see him again. Our condolences to his family.