Sunday, August 26, 2007

Flying 8.26.07

XC season is quickly winding down with fewer and fewer of those stellar days left, as the gang experienced yesterday. The call was for Inspo, with a few other pilots making Crawford's their destination for the day. Jeff was the first to launch with me trundling off close behind. Within minutes of launch, we both ended up thermaling together just a few hundred yards north of the overlook. It was cool thermaling with a world class pilot (hehe). We were at times quite close, but I felt very comfortable taking some turns with Jeff. At one point we were in the same thermal, but turning in opposite directions at the same altitude.... still felt like it was a no brainer. At some point we split up, and I ended up low over the sub-station near the bail out LZ. I was able to work some light lift that drifted toward the primary landing area, and after a few minutes I was on glide to the big green cushy field. I was soon joined by Jeff. Above a pic of Greg on approach.

Meanwhile, Cody was in the air making a valiant effort to stay aloft in the light conditions. Cody's flight lasted 15 minutes, and he probably felt like he earned every second of air time. Greg was last to launch, and after watching Cody land in the bail out LZ after a short desperate flight, Greg was motivated to wrangle out some much needed airtime. Greg was soon on the fast track to joining Cody, but he hooked a solid core and after a great recovery, bought himself a one-way ticket to the big green field.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

There were hundreds!

Yesterday Greg and I ran down to the North Side. The weather information we got on the internet looked like conditions could be strong later in the day - a good thing. It had been over a month since Greg had flown so he was excited about the possibility of getting some airtime. As we approached Draper around 3:30 pm, the wind was barely moving the flags along the freeway - a bad thing. Dude was the only other pilot at the Point when we arrived, and he was set up and ready to go. Dude's readiness and enthusiasm motivated us to start throwing things together in the light winds. As we were setting up, Dude began making his way to launch as a few paras threatened to take to the air. Minutes later he took off in a good cycle and without too much effort was benched up. (For those unfamiliar with hang gliding lingo, the Northside launch at the Point is only 200+ ft above the ground with a 1000 ft ridge directly in back. Typically the goal is to get to the higher ridge - benched up).

Soon after Dude launched, a visiting pilot took off only to find himself in the bailout LZ below launch a few minutes later. I launched into a decent cycle, and benched up rather low on the west end of the main ridge. As I watched and waited for Greg to join me, the air at launch was quickly transformed into a sea of bobbling panties - (para gliders). This situation is the bane of all hang glider pilots, especially for Greg at this moment. As fate would have it, the horde only thickened, further frustrating Greg's launch efforts. Finally Greg had a decent launch window and folded into the currents of airborne jellyfish above. Later we all landed safely with a little more airtime to log.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Horns Of Satan

Clay Watson called on Thursday looking for a climbing partner for Friday. Clay seems to always have something in mind that exceeds the norms of climbing. In our phone conversation, he briefly mentioned a route in Albion basin on Devil's Castle, an eight pitch line named The Horns of Satan. I was in! The next morning we met at Clay's house which is at the mouth of Big Cottonwood Canyon. Along with Erik, another one of Clay's climbing partners, we were on our way.

The route just left of the black streak

After driving up Little Cottonwood Canyon, we arrived at the campground in Albion Basin in the Alta ski area. We sorted our gear and headed up the valley toward the prominent wall in the circ-like formation. Forty minutes later we arrived at the base of the wall, racked up, and with Erik linking up the first two pitches, we started climbing. The first two pitches proved to be as expected, loose and dirty, as a constant rain of gravel sized rock pelted Clay and me.

We used a method for accomodating three people on a climb that worked quite well. The leader ascends the climb with two ropes, sets up his belay, and brings up the remaining two climbers simultaneously, each on their own rope. With the second and third climbers staggered 10 - 15 ft apart, it surprisingly goes quite smoothly. The problem is, if you have never used this system the belay area can quickly become a rats' nest of tangled rope. Clay took the third 5.10 pitch, and it turned out to be one of the better sections of rock.

Clay, looking for pro

I linked up the forth and fifth pitches and ended up meandering around on a 45 degree loose section of rock with no gear, searching for the route. 150 ft above the belay ledge and unable to find the anchors for the next pitch, I set up a belay in some crappy rock and brought Clay and Eric up. Erik took off on pitch six and seven. After rambling around unprotected for fifteen minutes, he finally found the anchors that I had missed. Clay and I were quite relieved to have Eric clip in to some solid pro.

Clay topping out on pitch six

Erik and me

Erik finished off a great lead on the 5.9 section of the climb and began belaying Clay and me. Halfway up the 5.9, I gingerly passed a huge flake that looked suspect. As I was moaning and cursing the loose rock under my breath, I barely weighted the tip of the flake with my right foot. Instinctively, Clay quickly moved out from beneath me as the slab of rock tore loose and pummeled the earth below. We finished the pitch, which turned out to be quite fun, and organized our ropes and gear on the roomy ledge.

Clay took the lead on the stellar 5.10c crux pitch, and was soon bringing Erik and me up. Erik led the final 5.6 pitch to the top of the ridge line. The hike off is essentially following the ridge toward Sugarloaf, then a quick descent to the car via a well beaten trail.

On the ridge line

Monday, August 13, 2007

Three Days of Understanding

After being blown out at Heber Friday and Saturday, returning with the same wind forecast seemed masochistic. Sunday morning Cody, Jeff, Steve, Lisa and myself were setting up on launch at Heber as the wind slowly strengthened. 20 to 25 mph with gusts to 35! Jeff was first off then Lisa. Cody, Steve and I soon followed. Cody and Lisa had clean launches, but immediately after, they were rocked like rag dolls for a few seconds. Surprisingly, the air was somewhat smooth once you were a few hundred feet over. It took over an hour before anyone was high enough to attempt flying over the back.

Steve's carbon fiber base tube on his Atos broke in mid-air, forcing him to abort his flight at around 100 miles out.

My Talon at launch

Jeff Obrien on launch after helping Cody and I stuff battens!

Lisa V

Cody Dobson

The clouds looked great for XC. Streets were beginning to form on route and the cloud tops remained relatively low. Cody was first to go over the back at only 10,000 asl. Soon the whole gang was en route with Cody out front. Lisa V landed in the Bail out LZ after determining the conditions were over the line for her. After leaving Heber at 10,000 asl, I was low over the back near the I80 - 40 junction. At 8200 asl I found a solid thermal over the cement plant, the lift topping out at cloud base - 15,000 asl. At Chalk Creek I was low again but managed to thermal out and continue on course. From Chalk Creek I stayed high all the way to Evanston and remained above 12,000 asl until reaching Little America. My flight ended 81.5 miles from launch at Lyman, Wyoming. Cody was 85 miles out when he landed near Highway 189 in Wyoming. Steve's carbon fiber base tube on his Atos broke in mid-air, forcing him to abort his flight at around 100 miles out. Because the Atos doesn't rely on the control frame for structural integrity, Steve managed to bring the glider in from 14,000 asl for an eventless belly landing in a big grassy field. The big news is Jeff broke the state record with a killer 220 miles!!

I'm sure he'll post the flight later on his website -

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Finally the weather cooperates. Sunday I spent the afternoon at the South Side waiting on the wind to calm down, only to watch the wind drop from 35-40 mph to zero in less than five minutes - no flying. Monday however was a bit different. The air dried out and it looked as though it may have been a big XC day from Heber. I had seven yards of concrete to pour.

Tuesday Jeff and I met at the Inspo LZ and decided on an early launch, with the prospects of getting high and linking up Inspo and Heber. It turned out to be a bit to early. Jeff and I ended up scratching around close to launch, and after wrangling with little unorganised bullet thermals for an hour, decided to use the little altitude we had to make the big LZ . I was hopeful when at one point in my flight I found a resonably tight thermal low above the bailout LZ. The lift was drifting directly toward Timp, but after a thousand feet + of gain the thermal flatened out and would have left me low and deep in Provo Canyon. We both ended up landing in the main LZ. The remainder of the week looks great - more later!