Saturday, March 28, 2009

9 Pilots down range

Probably been a while since so many pilots pushed to get down range, but on Saturday March 28th 6 Sylmar pilots headed east from Sylmar attempting to fly to Crestline. For me the day started on Thursday when I received a phone call from a fellow Team Topa pilot, John Scott (aka. Southside). He wanted to know what I thought about the upcoming weekend and whether or not Crestline seemed do-able on Saturday. From the data it looked the more promising of the two weekend days since Sunday was likely to be much cooler and the inland temps on Saturday were approaching the low to mid 80’s.

We agreed to check back in on Friday, but we both saw about the same thing, possible to make the trip, but epic conditions were not in the forecast. Enter Ron Weiner. Ron calls a few hours later and asks me how the weekend is shaping up. We spoke about the previous phone call with Southside and that Saturday was the preferable day. He had already set aside Sunday and with a little convincing, I helped changed his mind. He had work to do in changing plans and said he’d call back. Later in the day Ron gets the driver and fills my truck with the one remaining slot (Rob Burgis, Ron Weiner, Southside and me, Dana was the driver).

Anyone paying attention to the various weather reports on the web could see that Saturday held promise but the epic conditions some were sighting just didn’t add up. Altitudes of 7ish seemed most likely, but some were saying 9 to 10. I was taking a wait and see approach. We needed heat and a good lapse rate. The lapse rate was likely to be there, but the heat wasn’t. One other small issue was the wind. Several forecast predicted NW winds at altitude, while others had it more from the west. Launch conditions were likely a non issue according to the Air Sports Net web site. Ron has been using the site regularly and has made the connection that “usually” if the wind forecast at Van Nuys airport shows it blowing in, then it’s highly likely Kagel will have favorable winds at launch. However if Van Nuys shows it blowing down, then Kagel is iffy depending on the velocity. The higher the velocity, the more correct the forecast. I think Ron’s observations are pretty much correct when trying to determine if the wind is the correct direction. Hoping for increased predicted high temperatures and counting on the lapse rate, I knew we needed to wait for the 4pm balloon out of Vandenberg. The data would likely on the web by 5pm Friday night.

The data from the 4pm balloon revealed some promising conditions, not on altitude but in the convergence maps. I do not place a lot of stock in the convergence maps but this one was just too appealing. It showed the convergence right over Kagel and going due east all the way to Mt. Cucamonga. If this proved to be true then our trip would end up being much easier. Still, we needed one more balloon and that one was to release at 4am. Not wanting to over analyze the day, I go to bed a bit earlier than normal.

Saturday morning was all business. Get the weather report, ready the vehicle, make sure everything is charged, test the radios, and get some food. The weather looked similar, altitudes mostly 7ish with some 8’s down range. Convergence still predicted to be slightly behind Wilson but going east all the way to Cucamonga. Winds mostly SW along the range switching to W near the end of the San Gabriel’s. I left for the LZ at 10am with print outs in hand.

Southside wasn’t due to arrive until 11:30, but he showed up a little before 11, so now we’re waiting for Weiner who said he’d be showing up early to inspect Bustemante’s glider that he was borrowing, since he had pounded in just a few days prior. Southside tells me that a crew from Crestline has shown up and will be joining our trip to try and make it to Crestline. Bruce Barmakian, Rebar Dan, and one other are headed up to towers just ahead of us. The Crestline crew picks up NMERider (Jon Dietch) completing the towers launch gang.

By 12:30 most of the pilots were setup and readying themselves for XC. Ron was first off, followed by NME. Rob was next and I was just behind. Ron was already climbing through 5k when I launched. I believe Ron and NME were together over Kagel. Rob joined me in a thermal out in front of locals and we take that one close to 5k and depart for Little T. At Lances Rob has me by 400 feet, I’m down to 3600 and turn back to get a better run without going into little T on the deck. Rob continues on at 4k. On the west side of Lances, I grab a climb that will boost me to 4.7k and into middle T. By this time Rob is pressing on into little Lukens after climbing through 5.7k at little T. As I’m climbing at middle T, I see Andy Pryciak, lower and pressing on towards big T. Knowing Andy and his mad ninja thermaling skills, I watch him for any signs of climbing. It’s not long when I see his wing bank up hard. This means he’s got a good one or it’s a real rowdy one. I call him on the radio and he acknowledges it’s a rowdy rattlesnake. Still I angle over him and get a good sparkler up through 5.5k and press on towards Lukens. Andy gets the pinch and has to wait a few more minutes for the next thermal. In short order I’m past little Lukens and over the spine in front of the towers. This one is strong but not violent and soon I’m climbing at 780’/min. Andy joins this one and catches me as we near the top of the thermal around 7.8k. Ron, Rob and apparently NME have all started gliding towards Wilson. We can hear Ron speak of NME and how much lower he is compared to Ron and Rob 1000’ higher.

Andy and I leave towards brown, flying well and very close most of the way there. We change spots a time or two, but Andy moves a bit out front and sniffs out a slow climb around Brown. I do the same, the thermal isn’t anything like what we just left at Lukens. But Andy stays with me just the same. As we approach 7k again we leave towards Mt Lowe. In retrospect this move wasn’t the smartest, we should have moved to the spot just in front of the main towers on Wilson. Every track log shows that every pilot worked this knob (Mt. Harvard) and climbed out. “The bowl just doesn’t work that often”, says Andy.

In the bowl Andy and I see an ATOS (Bruce) come under us and just kept going to Mt Harvard. Bruce finds the thermal and marks the core. I leave to join, and Andy follows a little higher. I end up missing the thermal to the right and have to adjust. Andy gets it right away and quickly catches Bruce. By this time we see Sebas out front and he joins our thermal seeing how his thermal is climbing slower. Bruce leaves and Andy comes back to join us (being sociable I guess). We all leave the thermal around 7k and glide toward Monrovia Pk. On the way there I’m checking out the possible landing areas. Even though I’m high enough not to worry about it I’m looking for potential bailout areas along the way. Santa Anita Canyon looks plenty do-able, but access to the wash looks like it’s a problem. It’s the area between Wilson and Mt Bliss that seems to be without much in the way of LZ’s. The best potential landing area I saw was at Fish Canyon (the entrance to the Morris and San Gabriel Reservoirs.

At Monrovia Pk, not willing to commit deep, I move towards Andy and Sebas marking a good thermal out front over Mt Bliss (thanks to google earth for showing me all the names). They have a 1000’ on me seeing how I turned SE and flew almost two miles to get the one they marked. They left and it is now that I know I’m on my own and downshift into staying up and taking it slower so I can at least make San Dimas some 10 miles away. I eventually leave the ratty thermal left overs with 5100. As I was passing reservoirs, I saw a glider in very deep and low. Wasn’t really sure who it was until I saw NME’s track log. It was him, lower than dirt and seemingly unaffected. But I couldn’t worry myself about this pilots plight. Mine was to stay as high as I could. There are plenty of stories how pilots have climbed out of San Dimas to go on to Crestline, so I was pretty sure that as long as I could make it there, I would be rewarded with a decent climb and would likely be back in the ballgame. So I pressed on climbing in anything going up and taking light climbs 1000’ higher and then moving on.

I finally reached Johnstone Pk. Marked by antennas and a large grassy area. When I really needed it a couple of ravens showed me a climb and I joined them. I was down to 3300 feet and stayed with this climb until 4300. About this time I see an ATOS very low and sniffing the ridge behind Johnstone Pk. This would be Rebar Dan. Later in the day we spoke of his glide out of the canyon where he ended up climbing in my same thermal. He acknowledge he was very low over the back and really needed a climb when he spotted me. We ended up pushing upwind and found a stronger core that boosted us up over 5400.

While this was going on, Sebas and Andy were landing at San Dimas golf course. Never having been there myself, I was paying particular attention to the landing there and saw both Sebas and Andy put it in nicely. Temporarily, I tethered myself to San Dimas, I knew I had friends, retrieval, and beer waiting below if I didn’t make the most of the upcoming ridge. Dan was pressing on for ridge east of San Dimas Reservoir. We both climbed out off the back of the ridge and soon were over 6100’. It had been a long time since either one of us saw this altitude so it was a welcome sight. I cut the tether and moved further up the ridge towards a set of antennas.

For the next 20 miles Dan and I would leapfrog each other and climb as high as we could without moving further back into the mountains. Dan kept taking an out front tack, and I would often stay a bit over the larger foothills. Somewhere around Calaimty Canyon, Dan stopped at a west facing ridge, I didn’t feel it, so I over took Dan and put a few ridges between him and I. We were approaching the end of the San Gabriel mountain range and I was doubling down on the thermal being where I needed it. At the peak above Day Canyon, I found what I had hoped would be there. A thermal going up solid 300 up and I announced my likelihood that I had goal in the bag.

9 miles out and climbing through 5600. Around 5700, the thermal was dying. I knew this height would be very iffy about getting in. But if I could really glide well downwind I might make it in with a little to spare. At first the glide was going well with very light sink. But that changed the longer I was on glide. About the time I was approaching the 215 & 15 merge I started to concentrate on wind direction intensely. I was pretty sure of the direction, but wanted as many clues as possible. The lake at Glen Helen amphitheater gave me all the info I needed. It also gave me one last chance to salvage my flight into goal. I somehow blundered into some zero sink and with full VG I started to milk the zero for all that it was worth (or so I thought). I left the zero sink that was taking me right to the mountains, only 1 mile away, and decided I “might” make it in.

As I left to glide into goal 4 miles away and 3400’ or 1700 agl above goal, I needed a 12:1 to get into the Crestline LZ. But the lower I got the sink rate increased. Rather than risk a bad landing or worse, I turned back and flew to the soccer field I had just over flown. With only one game going on the field that had over 6 playing fields, it was basically empty. I touched down after flying for 3 hrs and 18 minutes, 60 miles from home and 2 miles short of goal. Still I was happy.

What did I learn:
1. There are more LZ’s than you think there are going east.
2. We can go east more often than we think we can
3. We don’t have to have 10,000 feet to make it into Crestline
4. When you need lift stay with what you have even if it’s not going up. As long as you’re maintaining and going towards potential lift, drift with it.
5. XC is fun.

Pilots making it into Crestline:
1. Rob Burgis (1st trip)
2. Ron Weiner (4th trip)
3. Rebar Dan
4. Bruce Barmakian

Pilots short:
1. John Scott, 1 mile short
2. Jeff Chipman , 2 miles short
3. Jon Dietch (10 miles short and personal best 50.2 miles)
4. Andy Pryciak (San Dimas)
5. Sebastian Lutges (San Dimas)