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Pine Mountain, 1982
posted on 12/13/04, limited minor update 9/18/13, and another revision in June 2015 after reviewing old log books
by The Sundowner

I moved to CA in June of 81 and had been flying hang gliders almost a year.  Topa was rated H4 so my fellow H3 pilots and I werenít permitted to fly Chief's. At the monthly club meeting of the Topa Flyers near the summer of 82', the H4 pilots were planning a trip to Cuyama Peak, but it was for H4s only.  We were welcome to crew, but preferred airtime.  We were the neglected newbies and wanted to try something other than SB or La Conchita (SB was also supposed to be H4, but they didn't have a locked gate).  We did mostly ridge soaring and didnít believe in thermals yet.

I studied the plastic relief map and noticed a marked road along Pine Mountain (which looks pretty ridgy on the map, and ridge pilots like ridges).  Iíd never been up the 33, but I worked at the Oxnard airport so I rented a Cessna on my lunch hour and went out to take a look.  Flew up and down the ridge once or twice and noticed the "parking lot" clearing at our current (overgrown as of 2013) 6000' north launch and figured it was worth checking out.

The next weekend, we were buried under our typical costal gloom, and La Conchita (we could drive up to the 1400 back then) was pretty thick.  My flying buddy, Jerry Poe, and I finally decided to drive up to Pine and scout around.  We found the 6000' parking lot launch (overgrown as of 2013), but it didnít appear reasonable.  We went to the end of the road, but couldnít find any suitable north side launches above the tree line (it was breezing from the north).  We stopped numerous places on the way down and opted to hike up a firebreak for a look at what became our original 5500' north launch (a 2013 Google Earth check indicates 5650 - 5700).  There was a small abandoned emergency helipad clearing on a firebreak running down a spine that looked doable.  It was breezing in smooth and easy, but too late to set up.  We kicked back on launch for a safety meeting and took in the sunset.  Told some tall tales and vowed to come back.

The next weekend, it was more of the same.  On Sunday, (6/20/1982) I did get a short 7 minute sled ride at La Conchita, but the coastal afternoon clearing didn't materialize, so we decided to drive up toward Pine for a look.  It was late by the time I got my Olympus 180 ready.  Breezing in smooth and easy.  Hadn't been down the road to the Ozena Valley, but Boulder Alley looked reachable.  Jerry didn't set up and was chatting away with plenty of advice.  Launched into the sweet air a little before sunset.

It was probably soarable, but I was concerned about the glide out, so I used the buoyant air as a glide extender.  Cleared Boulder Alley easy and kept going toward the Ranger Station which eventually became our main LZ.  I thought the ranger station was a cattle ranch, and opted to use the road in front (Hwy 33) rather than test their hospitality.  Noticed the lines across the road on short final and had to pull in to dive under.

The Ozena ranger station was staffed with a female fire crew that summer.  We had a number post day safety meetings with the firefighters that season and really enjoyed their hospitality.  The ranger station horseshoe field had some cows, but we used it as our main LZ.  Boulder Alley was the bail out if you got too low and couldn't make the primary.  We started running up after work for late evening flights and trekking up every weekend.  My first flight from Pine was only 12 minutes, but I was pretty stoked.  HG flight 217.  I'd been flying HGs for almost a year (my first flight at the Santa Barbara Training Hill was 6/30/1981), but got in a lot of short flights that first year.  Over the next 3 weeks (between 6/20 and 7/11) I logged 15 flights from the Pine North Side Launch.  Before long, some of the H4 pilots started showing interest and gave it a try.

Initially, we always flew the north side.  I remember my first midday flight (my 3d flight from Pine, Sunday, 6/27/1981).  Stayed up over two hours and connected uphill to the trees using only ridge lift.  I was totally stoked.  It thought if I ventured across the gap to Rayes I might not get back, so I turned back at Pine Mountain Peak.  My first mountain cross county flight (I'd done the down wind run from La Conchita to Ventura, but that's an exciting tale for another day).  I felt like a pioneering explorer.  Having grown up in south Florida where the ridges are just a few feet high, it seemed like another planet.  Was able to work back down hill upwind to top land uphill cross wind in the manzanita on the west side of launch.

So 4 weeks into flying Pine every weekend, I was late getting away on Saturday 7/17/1981 because I had to work in the morning.  Drove up solo in my Battleattic (a rusted out heavy Pontiac Lemans with racks welded on).  Ran into Tony Deleo at the summit.  He was heading back to Ventura because it was "blowing over the back".  All the H4 pilots bailed due to the "wrong wind direction", but the H3 pilots didn't know any better so we went looking for a south launch.  Our current south launch past the campgrounds was unimproved and seemed intimidating.  The glide performance of my single surface straight batten Olympus HG was worse than today's entry level PGs, so we were skeptical about being able to reach the road.  We finally found a south east facing launch across the road from the 6000' parking lot launch.  It was downwind down ridge back to Hwy 33, and we didn't like to hike very far (my total gear weigh was about 50 pounds; glider, harness, and helmet).

We flew that site a couple times.  We could stay up for awhile, but it was upwind trying to get uphill, and we weren't ever able to connect.  We would always hold the ridge and eventually head west to a landing on a scruffy plateau just east of Hwy 33.  Our preference was still the north launch.  The low south launch had limited potential, so the next weekend (Saturday 7/24/1981) we opted to take another look at the south side clearing past the campgrounds.

My companions were Steve Morris (White Shark) with his Comet 185, and Kurt Aereno (spelling?) I think on a comet 165.  I was on my Oly (Olympus 180).  We waffled around for awhile.  I was pretty confident it was soarable, but wanted to start high to make sure I could get around the corner, so we hiked above the road and perched atop a boulder with Steve and Kurt on the wires.  I got away ok, but it was too much without wire assistance, so White Shark and Kurt headed down toward the original lower south launch below the tree line.  I hung out in the ridge lift awhile, and finally started to thermal.  Got a thousand or 2 over the ridge, my highest altitude ever.  No radios back then (or a reserve), but when Kurt and Steve got back to the "Parking Lot", they spotted me.

The duo went scurrying back up hill, but needed to find something other than a boulder perch.  There was a short slope above the road, but it had a large intimidating boulder in front that you needed to fly over.  White Shark cleared it, but Kurt caught the top 2 inches with his base tube after getting airborne... did a summersault, broke his glider badly, and got bloodied in the mangled wreckage.  We liked the south side, but needed to get a better launch.  Still didn't fly out to the Sespe.  We would always go right, and if we couldn't jump the back to Ozena, we would run downwind down ridge to Hwy 33.

Word spread, and we had a fly in / camp in August.  Still flown mostly by H2 & H3 pilots, no one had dared test the glide out to the river.  Some H4 pilots showed up.  We still didn't have a reasonable south launch.  On Saturday 8/7/1982 one of the H4 pilots, Peter (forget his last name), scouted around and opted to go from the edge of the road.  Peter thermaled up a couple grand over and went upwind to Rayes Peak.  I was totally blown away.  Gilbert Roberts launched next, and headed out on the first ever glide to the river, landing on the "aircraft carrier" which we named Runway 39 (Gilbert's competition number on his Comet was 39). The aircraft carrier was a levy in the river between TJ's and Cherry Creek.  It's gone now.

A few months later, Ron Gruel and I cleared the current South Side PG launch for our Hang Gliders.  We used it for awhile, but it's pretty shallow for HGs, so we abandoned it in favor of the road lip.  There were some good crashes off launch before the SB pilots built the first earth ramp to get above the brush.  The "Body Rock" still claims an occasional victim.

Rick Spear got to 95ish off the south launch on a cold post frontal day that winter, and pulled the first glide to Ojai on his Vision.  The road was open year round back then and we frequently flew in the snow.

I logged 48 flights from Pine that first year (6/20/1982 to 6/20/1983), 29 from our 5650 North Launch (called the "Break" because it was on a fire break), plus 17 flights from the upper 7000 foot south side launch, and a couple of flights from our initial low 6000 south side launch.  (my HG flight total after 2 years of flying hang gliders was 631 flights from 6/30/1981 to 6/30/1983)

Les Lollar with his Santa Maria Crew were the first to reach I-5, landing at Lebec, and Diablo (Tony Deleo) bettered the mark a week later with a flight to the Tejon Ranch in the San Joaquin Valley below Tehachapi.

The Mega Man (Ron Gruell) took the Pine Mountain Challenge Cash Prize and Trophy with the first flight to the beach, landing at the Ventura Pier.  Ron launched his Comet 1 late (about 6 pm) in smooth weak air.  Didn't get up at launch, but climbed to 12K over the river and pulled the glide, clearing the freeway with a couple hundred to spare.

Flying from Pine's South Launch on a Wednesday in the mid 1984, under my new Comet 2 165, I logged the [first 100 mile flight from Southern California] (south of the Owens Valley).  Mike Arrambide got UP to give me a new cocoon harness and a reserve to replace my original weathered knee hanger.  I stretched my initial 105 mile mark with flights to Barstow (133 miles), 2 flights to the same spot in the Panamint Valley (155 miles), and on September 10, 1988 to Ludlow on Interstate 40 (179 miles).  The Ludlow flight held the Pine OD mark for 15 rusty years.

Larry Brill flew his Sensor to Arroyo Grande.  A little later in the cycle, SD watched Larry and Tim Riley (Smiley) mark the north and south edge of a NE/SE convergence running west over the Santa Ynez Valley.  Splitting the difference, Tom cleared Vandenberg AFB with 10K, going 5 miles out to sea past Jalama Beach and returning to Lompoc in the lower level onshore flow for landing.

As a rookie paraglider pilot, Diablo set the current Pine Mountain PG record with a 139 mile flight to Trona on Saturday, August 28, 1999, on his DHV-2 Firebird Flame, the US foot launched OD record for a year, surpassing Will Gadd's Owens Valley flight by a mile. 

Diablo set the current open class OD mark with a 186 mile flight  to Furnace Creek in Death Valley in 2003, and now shares (shared) the record with Hammer who landed with Diablo on Tony's second flight to the same spot on July 10th, 2004 (for a total of 3 flights to the same spot).  (2013 update) Diablo recollects that he has about four rigid wing flights from Pine over 200 miles, possibly as far as 253 miles, but he did not log his flights.  Diablo does have some flights logged under his paraglide.net amigo index

The old 5500 north launch is a shorter glide to the road along a spine, but no one liked the uphill hike.  Bob Ramey organized a project to cut the current 6000' parking lot north launch.  He got permission from the Forrest Service, raised a couple thousand dollars, and had a big weekend work party.  Turned out to be more umph than anyone expected so Bob hired a tree trimming crew to finish the job (hauling up the debris to a chipper).  I thought improving the old north launch would be more appropriate, but I didn't like the hike either and put in my $50 and a chain saw.

Prior to our successful novice flights from Pine, there had been a couple of attempts to fly the mountain that didn't go well.  I think Jim Woods tried the south side and crashed about 3 times on the way down.  John Brant (spelling?) may have flown off a boulder perch from the 6000' parking lot north launch with unknown results, but Pine was deemed to be inappropriate for Hang Gliding and unbeknown to us rookies, the word amongst the H4 crew was stay away and don't try it.  John "Boy" (another John) claimed years later to have flown from Pine to Frazier Park on his Moyes Red Tail, but no one believed him.

The Sundowner

 

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