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Walt's Point to; past Luning, 5 miles up the fan on the road to Gabbs
145 miles, 8 hours 10 minutes (9:55 to 6:05)
New Personal, Site, and State PG Open Distance Record
First off, no one caught up, last down.
Tony wanted to go, so I started looking at the weather mid week. By Thursday it looked promising, and I committed after Friday mornings forecast. Friday nights forecast for Saturday afternoon called for; temps in the high 90s, a good lapse rate, light winds at altitude, high cloud base, and lower altitude chimney winds gusting to 25 up the valley in the heat of the day.
Mobile from Carpinteria @ 9:10 Friday night. Met John Scott and left my car in the parking lot of Denny's off the Sand Canyon exit of 14. Got to the motel after 1 pm. Had a good sleep. It was daylight about 5:30. I slept in till 7nish, did the continental breakfast, showered, and was ready to roll by 8:15. Tony and Carolyn were also at the Best Western, and we were rolling for launch about 8:20.
High on the front face, we stopped for a feel. It was convecting up light. Only about a dozen pilots at launch, so setup was ok. My heart was beating fast in the thin air. Took my time with all the extra gear, and was off with a clean launch at 9:55.
Looked left for a couple of passes, but moved over to the saddle even. Picked up a weak hundred, and searched the rising terrain on the far end of the saddle. That was good for 500 and the spine on the middle of the south face got me up to 10. The early air was good and I took it around the corner willing to get on course, but found a thermal on the east face that went to 11. The next stop after the first canyon crossing got me up to 12 (my highest altitude on the Sierra).
Down to Lookout, I worked mostly between 95 and eleven 5. The cores were small, strong, and getting stronger. The wind was light from the west on the glides, and the thermals were drawing in. The tops of the thermals were drifting from the SW and would break into small cores with a sharp leading edge. I stayed out on the front faces, and didn't push up the spines. I got spanked a couple of times looking too far upwind, so when the drifting cores got small and detached, I left rather than challenge the edges. The glides were good and I made steady progress along a pretty straight line without getting stuck.
There was a cloud pulsing down range with the top curling from the west. The Inyo were also starting to pulse with high cumulus. With my lower altitudes, and sharp cores on the Sierra, I thought I might cross the valley from Lookout, but I didn't get up and went around the corner under 10. I got low and found some zero sink behind The Lava Field. The south wind was starting to pick up and the lower stuff was drawing into the range. I climbed back up about 500 and drifted into the front faces, but the south wind was shearing across and I didn't want to press in and get caught in a canyon with the building wind. Tinemaha had a face into the wind so I ran for the base and got there just above the fan. I rode the ridge lift up the smooth face to about 10 where the drift turned more south and the face I was on didn't work anymore. Rather than press upwind into the canyon, I took my altitude and left the mountains. I'd been down there low in the wind before, and didn't want to get boxed into the foothills that extend out toward Pine Creek. The wind wasn't too bad yet, so I stopped a couple of times on the way out for thermals with good trajectory. On the speed bar going for Big Pine. I found a good one up to 13K coming off the base of Pine Creek, out of the wind shadow behind The Big Cinder Cone.
With good altitude, I went for the river at Big Ears. The south east was coming out of Westgard Pass, but I've worked a convergence up the river before, so I pressed on. As I got to the river, the east component was too much, and I realized I probably pushed too far east. With about 9K, I turned left and ran straight down wind toward the NW. The drift changed from SE to S a couple miles west of the river, and I found some zero sink down at 7. I tested east and west holding my own for a couple of miles and settled for a line heading straight toward the airport. I was worried about the airports airspace, but I started gaining more in each core than I was loosing on the glides. I was back up to 9 over the runways.
There was a sailplane working north of the airport at a lower altitude. He couldn't connect in the small cores, but let me know I had a good line. I ran down wind for the long narrow plateau between Fish Slough and Hwy 6, got back to 9 at the base, and worked several cores up to 11. John was catching up, but came in down lower, and off line over the Slough rather than the shallow high ground. I watched him land into a stiff lower wind. Up at 11, the south east seemed to quit and I was picking up light drift from the west. There were good looking flat bottom cumulus around 20K+ over The Whites. I made a play for the lower NW bump at Piute, but hit the south east down lower again and had to run back out.
Back below 8, I started noticing big dust devils. I found another convergence line running closer to the mountains. One of my cores drifted into a bigger one and I got back up to 12 west of White Mountain. Above the SE again, I made another run at the mountains and came in on the front face of White. The valley had been pretty low anxiety with weaker climb rates. The lower draw toward White was strong and I grew concerned about penetration, potential upper level west wind, and probably super strong cores. I was questioning the wisdom of trading the valley for the mountains, but went right up to the top of a lower face. Didn't find a core so I turned tail and crept back out against the stiff draw. There was more south out front and I rode a broken thermal across the canyon toward the next low face. It merged down wind with a trunk and I shot up to 17.
The view was grand and I finally got into the temps I was dressed for. Wiggling into my mittens, I surveyed some options. The bases were above 20, but all the cu's were over the high peaks. I was over the base of the mountains and I seemed to have a good seam with a push from the south (I was also scared of the mountains). My 15 mile glide was good for the first half, but I ran into some sink down lower. Boundary can be pretty nasty, so down at the end of the range, I broke out into the valley with 10 and angled toward the road north of Benton. It was 3 o'clock, the valley was in full heat, and the ride was not smooth. I found another line down around 8K (2,000 agl), fell off downwind and worked a couple of cores back up to 12.
Montgomery Pass is over 7 in the low spot. The lower valley is boxed in by a horseshoe rim. With the wind from the south, I figured if I ran for the back of the valley, I'd find something breaking off. As I got close my ground speed suffered, and I started picking up a headwind. I hit a nasty core that I rode for a grand but it was too much to handle and I wanted out. I turned back downwind away from the lee of the rim looking for the south flow. With the potential for a low level twister I wanted to be away from the air mass edges for a landing. A couple miles downwind, a bit north of Janie's, I ran into a more organized convergence thermal. The initial drift was from the north, but then it went straight up to 13. Team Topa caught up and reported light wind from the south at The Casino. I jumped up on the high rim NW of the valley and realized I could continue on.
The thermals were bigger and stronger now, and I needed to hold on and dig hard into the multi g surges with the vario whining off scale. It was 4 o'clock and I was hoping the day would let up soon. I got down to 9 north of Basalt, but was mostly able to stay above 12, getting anywhere from 14 to 16, and I took one up to 18, but was still 2 or 3 thousand below base. There were good cu's over the high peaks, but I mostly followed the road, cutting the corners. It seemed like my progress was slow and I started using the speed bar on the glides. Surface wind reports varied from 15 out of the north, light and variable, mostly north, and 5 to 10 out of the SE. The cloud tops had some curl from the NW, but the shadows were drifting light out of the east. I tried to stay high but I'm currently a middle aged, out of shape, sea level desk jockey. The altitude, anxiety, and long physical battle were starting to take their toll. 5 o'clock and the day started to mellow.
Gabbs was possible, but with drift from the NE, I'd need to cut the corner on Luning. Will Gadd's current Horseshoe record (previous US open distance record) was just short of Luning at 138. Tony Deleo's current California (previous US open distance foot launch record) was 139 from Pine. I passed by my old mark (first 100+ mile PG flight in the US) at the intersection of 360 & 95 (for the record, prior to my 124 mile flight, Ted Boyse held them all with an 88 mile flight from Horseshoe in a Wills Wing 123). I think the current US open record (including tow launch) is in the mid 170s, and the current US foot launched record is around the mid 150s. Luning is about 140 miles, just enough to take the site and state records back. The US open record would be a real stretch with the remaining time and lack of tail wind. The foot launch record was within reach, but I needed to head upwind across the valley south of Luning and connect over the mountains on the other side. If I came up short and had to run back to a road, I might miss the other records by a mile or two. I had about 12 grand in the mountains west of Mina. I took the sure thing and got on the speed bar for the intersection of 361 and 95 north of Luning.
Crew reported 4,500 msl at Luning. I got to the intersection with 7 and climbed in a thermal drifting out of the east to 85. Wind on the deck was currently L&V. It was finally nice, late day dessert air, and I could see Walker Lake about 25 miles to the west. I lost my thermal and it seemed like the best line was to drift west, down the middle of the valley, over the road (395), toward the lake, but that wouldn't add any miles. I'd been having good success staying off the hot deck all day, but mostly going downwind. I was out of position west of 361. Iwent for the upwind glide; uphill, up the fan, and down to the road out of Luning toward Gabbs. I was hopeful, but my intuition told me it wouldn't work. At least I was adding a few miles flying straight away from launch. I relaxed and savored the moment and the smooth air.
Down to about 300 feet, it seemed the headwind slackened, so I turned crosswind to the road for a drift check. The drift was still from the NE but light. I headed straight up the road. Down to about 75 feet it seemed my ground speed was increasing, but I figured it was just the thin air and dropping through the gradient. Down to 50 feet and I saw the bushes shaking. I was going fast and was confused because I just confirmed the wind direction 60 seconds ago. About 30 feet I realized I was downwind and accelerating. I was going uphill about 35 miles per hour in the thin air with a 10 mph tailwind. Crew tried to warn me, but it was too late to turn around. Too fast to run it out. I aimed for the gravel on the shoulder hoping to slide on with a good flare, but with the increasing lower level tail wind, the gradient was robbing airspeed and I didn't have good energy for a flare. I could'a taken a wrap, but I dropped in and didn't have time. Carolyn says she thinks she got a good action shot of the dust and gravel flying. I was on the gravel, but with a maximum extension flare, my left palm came down on the asphalt. (The conditions were variable. 5 minutes after landing the direction switched with a solid breeze from the opposite direction drawing toward a thermal.)
Crew (Carolyn Hill, Tony Deleo, John Scott, ) did a super job with technical support and coaching. We had 7 hours driving time to get home. Showered and in bed by 2:30. (Tony & Carolyn spent the night in Lone Pine).
Except for the one sharp thermal on the Sierra, I didn't take any collapses. I felt over matched much of the day and frequently ran away from strong twisty air when I could. When I was younger with less experience, I think I would have been tactically more aggressive. Flying mechanically aggressive is required. As I age, I think I have more anxiety about what could go wrong. One of the things I did like about the flight was the new routes, variable tactics, gear changes, and throttling. It was also good to share a big day with seasoned friends who are strong component pilots.
On balance, I think the potential for a long flight from Walt's was about as good as you can expect. The cores were a bit small, but I seemed to avoid big broad areas of sink that you often find when the lift is strong and fat. Light & variable off the end of the range is better than the usual north or solid west. Some oxygen and a GPS would have been an asset over Nevada, but I don't fly the big altitude enough to deal with the distraction.