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Ramero Saddle Westbound
Comment Posted 12/1/2014

See Also: 2001 comment regarding [Wind Shadows] and Ramero Westbound Example [KMZ file]

In [Tim Barker's flight article from Tuesday, 11/25/2014], Tim commented

quote:  I decided to try to fly back (westbound from Power Line Ridge toward Parma)...  I came in low to each spine, after swinging out and around the prominences, to avoid rotor...  The hardest, scariest crossings for me were from Castle to Romero... I thought I had to cross over the canyons to avoid rotor, but in so doing, I was in large areas of sink...  The other issue that kept me wary was the North Wind.  On occasion I could feel it spilling over the back ridge. / end quote

Sundowner's comments in response to Tim's posting

I don't have as much experience flying upwind westbound across Ramero Saddle as several of our veteran pilots.  You might consult Bob Anderson and the other old salties who have flown east and then back to Santa Barbara numerous times.  I live in Carpinteria, which has plenty of nice grassy landing areas that are easy to reach, so I rarely do out and returns from Santa Barbara to the east and back.  I prefer to fly downwind (see my 2013 comment titled [Early Westbound Leg from SB].  I'm more likely to cross Ramero Saddle westbound after launching from Ojai.  Hopefully it is downwind by the time I get there, but the west is often pushing through from the west so sometimes I need to cross upwind.  I did do an out and return from the [Skyport to the VOR to Twin Peaks in Ojai and back to the Round House in Santa Barbara] 10 years ago, but I've only been flying with a GPS since September of this year so I don't have my upwind track path across Ramero for that flight.

I tried to watch Tim Barker over my shoulder as he crossed Ramero Saddle upwind westbound on Tuesday after I passed under him headed downwind eastbound.  As Tim noted, he flew out front to avoid the lee side turbulence, but Tim also noted that in doing so he ran into more wind and got a poor glide, arriving low on the spine that runs down from the Ramero Saddle Road Cut.

At the entry level we counsel pilots to avoid the lee sides where devilish rotors lurk.  An entry level pilot needs to assimilate a lot of new stuff so we try to stick to the basics and keep it simple.  At a more advance level, we recommend attending maneuvers clinics for exposure to canopy gyrations you are likely to occasionally encounter when flying in robust conditions.  XC pilots will also explore more advance flow concepts and start to think like a kayaker utilizing the eddies when working upstream, or a hot air balloon pilot who steers by his perceptions of flow variations across the altitude spectrum.

The flow across our mountain flutes is more complex than either kayaking or ballooning.  The kayaker is working with on incompressible fluid with limited 3D considerations.  The balloon pilot is usually operating in early morning air that is mild on the surface but still offers some katabatic drainage along the valley walls that will steer them toward the center down low.  If you could see the air that paraglider pilots fly through on robust days, it would make your knees knock.  We are operating in a compressible medium that host a variety of sheer zones as we try to consider variations in the sun, temperature profile, moisture, and draws toward micro low pressure voids in addition to the mechanical factors that a kayaker deals with like convergence, flow strength, edges, and multi dimensional eddies and rippling waves.

Sailplane pilots often achieve maximum altitudes flying in a lee side rebound "wave".  On a fairly broad scale, we are often enveloped by the "Catalina Eddy" with local low level flow from the SE even though the broader flow is from the NW around Point Conception.  On a smaller scale, vertical eddies can be problematic, but we can use the horizontal eddies and wind shadows to our advantage much the same as a kayaker does to work upstream.  I won't discuss the details here because we already posted the 2001 comment regarding [Wind Shadows], but I wanted to note that when crossing Ramero upwind westbound it is often better to angle deep for the lower road cut back in the canyon for protection from the west wind out front.  There is no guarantee, but you will often encounter an eddy or thermal draw that will pull you westbound toward the lee side of the canyon.  You generally want to stay wide going downwind and tuck in deep behind an obstruction when going upwind.

I posted a Google Earth [KMZ file] (preview image below) of a couple of my recent westbound Ramero Saddle/Canyon crossings that you can view interactively in 3D.  (since I only have 9 flights with a GPS, I only have 2 examples of flying westbound across Ramero Saddle).  When low, I generally reach for the lower road cut back in the canyon and then dolphin along the fluted face to the prominent road cut on the point that marks the main spine.  In addition to the benefit of avoiding the stronger wind by gliding westbound through the Wind Shadow, it is also a shorter glide compared to reaching out further to the southern point.  The greatest hazard is when you approach the edge of the main spine.  As a general guide, if the wind is light enough to make progress upwind, then the lee side turbulence will be manageable, but you want to be on guard when approaching an edge that will have venturi wind, or in the case of Ramero, the main spine.

Tim also mentioned his concern regarding the north flow.  We utilize the lower launches on north days because the sunny south faces will often convect up even when the flow is OTB (Over The Back) at ridge line.  It is common to have onshore flow from the SW down low even when the flow up higher is from the north.  When crossing a gap like Ramero, the north flow will bulge out more to the south because the heavy air wants to funnel through the gap.  It is common for an arcing convergence seam to set up a little out in front of the gap where the north flow meets the onshore draw.  When crossing gaps with pronounced north flow you can often get a better glide by bridging across a little bit out front on an arcing path that follows the budging convergence.  This advice can be in conflict with the concept of ducking in for cover behind the wind shadow, but you need to access whether the wind is draining through the gap or flowing from the west along the fluted south faces.

There isn't usually a lot of turbulence associated with mild flows from the north, but sometime there is a sharp horizontal sheer with abruptly stronger winds above.  In those scenarios the rising thermals can get torn as they penetrate into the stronger upper level flow.  Tim specifically mentioned that he occasionally felt the north wind spilling over the back of the ridge.  The general guideline is to not fight the flow (if possible).  If you get high and encounter north wind on glide, let it drift you out front some knowing that the lower level flow will drift you back in.  When scooting along at ridge line, take note of the drift.  If you are drifting toward the hill, you can likely turn in and hug the terrain to take advantage of the boundary layer convection by utilizing ridge lift techniques to bob along.  The drift toward the hill is likely a draw filing the void left by rising convection.  If the drift is away from the hill, then it's advisable to avoid getting in to tight because there will likely be down air with some degree of lee side turb in close.

Bottom line in general, even over flat terrain, don't fight the drift (unless you have to) on light wind days.  The drift will often take you toward the lift.  There are obvious exceptions for many reasons, but generally speaking...

Click on the example images below for full size or view the interactive 3D Flight Path in Google Earth via the [KMZ file]