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Saturday 4/7/12 Flight Articles by  [Andy Dainsberg]  [SA]  and  [SD]

Saturday, April 4th, 2012
Leg 1 ~ 33 miles / The Alternator to the Repeater front Points in Ojai
Leg 2 ~ 16 miles / Back to East Divide
Leg 3 ~ 3 Miles / Limp back to land out on the ranch road west of White Ledge below the Foothill Pasture
total distance around 2 turn points ~ 52 miles
~ 4hours airtime, 12:10 Launch to 4:10 Landing
sunset in Ojai was 7:22

Sundowner's Flight Report, see also [Weather Archive]  and [Flush Map] opens in new window

SA had dialed me in on to new Woody Valley harness last weekend so I needed a flight to fine tune adjustments.  It was Saturday, which seemed like enough excuse, but I had to skip Tess's softball double header with instructions to be home before 5:30 so Pam could take Sam to a movie they had been wanting to see.  Coordinated with Andy and Brendan to leave vehicles at Padaro at 10 am.  Met up with the Fly Above All bus at 10:30.  Took a while to get the large crew moving.  14 gliders, and about half of those were tandem.  More bodies than would fit in the truck, so I took a ride to the Alternator with Joel from the Bay area who was giving his SBCC daughter a tandem flight.

Seemed pretty flat when we got to launch a little before 11:30, but it was progressively breathing more robust.  Chad was 2nd to launch, airborne under a small wing by a quarter to12 .  He dialed into a fart on the last low SE spine in the saddle behind West Bowl, then tracked it back climbing above launch altitude.  I watched for awhile and went after Irene about 10 past noon.  Irene marked a thermal big enough for her tandem on the east side of West Bowl Peak.  Climbed to 37 and got on course for Cathedral.

Skipped along OK without getting stuck or needing to fish much.  Came in on the Tit with 29 and benched up to the RnR.  Some other pilots were taking the high route from the Alternator via La Cumbre Peak.  I think the lower mid point route was longer but faster because the climb rates were better below the top of the lift.  Left the Factory above 4, but the glide wasn't good against the light east so needed a pit stop at Shadow, climbing from a hundred below to a few hundred over.  Skipped the west spine of Montecito because you need to get up at the east spine anyway.  Got there with 27, wanting 32, and left with 35.  Close to 4K at Ramero, and over 4K along Castle Ridge.

Mostly easy going with a thermal at every point, but the upwind glides weren't good.  Had to scratch up and then fish at Noon and finally cored on a thermal coming out of the NW bowl behind the trapezoid and climbed into the low 5s, but still got to Divide low in the saddle due to the poor upwind glide.  Limped along about 50' over the spine in front of the saddle and found a smooth buoyant zone that open up and climbed into the mid 5s.  Another poor glide got me to the SW point below White Ledge couple hundred below the top.  That worked good and I topped in the mid 4s, but the flow was from the east so it didn't drift up the spine.  Went fishing toward the corner and hooked a thermal drawing against the flow toward the peak that took me up into the high 5s.

There was an unidentified hang glider paving the course, taking an early lead from the Factory.  I seemed to gain on him along Castle Ridge, but once we got to the bigger thermals going through the Pass with more headwind at higher altitudes, he pulled away never to be seen again.

Easy but slow glide from White Ledge across 33, bypassing the Nuthouse out front a thousand higher and bobbing over to Spine One in the boundary layer convection.  Got to Spine One a few hundred below, but it worked good and I climbed into the mid 4s, drifting from the SE.  Worked one more using a redtail for a wind dummy over the Pyramid that got me above 5K.  Seemed like more SE wind up higher, so I didn't stop at Nordhoff but needed altitude at the Stooges.  Pulled out at 5K still climbing because I didn't want to get higher, but continued to climb on glide and arrived at Twin Peaks with 56.

The headwind seemed to be getting worse with no sign of the SW pulling in.  Without a GPS I use my shadow to judge ground speed, but it can be hard to find up high so I suspect my perception of wind velocity isn't very accurate.  Had been thinking of turning around for awhile.  I didn't expect to make it all the way back to SB, but thought I had a good shot at getting back to the cars at Padaro.  I'd done a two point lap from The Skyport to the VOR  to Twin Peaks in Ojai and back to the Round House in SB back in 2005, so I opted to press on a bit further.  In hindsight, the 2005 flight was a longer day despite being February compared to April and I was airborne before 10 rather than after noon. 

The last thermal I worked eastbound on Saturday was the quick ride up from the Three Stooges.  There was lift over Twin Peaks and West Repeater, but I dolphined on hoping for less head wind down lower.  I was still in what seemed like increasing east wind at 4K half way between the West and East Repeater front points.  Based on my current trajectory, I was going to arrive at  East Repeater on the SW spine below the top, which usually works ok in SW flow, but the east headwind seemed to be increasing as I approached the Summit in Upper Ojai, possibly due to a venturi effect of the mass flow squeezing up and over the higher terrain, as is often observed down lower through Casitas Pass.  I was leery about diving into the lee of East Repeater so turning around was the easy out.  Skipped downwind back to Twin Peaks and found a good thermal that was anchored against the wind on the west side that  took me up to 6K.

Fished back up the spine toward Nordhoff Peak looking for max altitude and a possible convergence, but 6K seemed to be the top of  the lift.  Pulled an easy glide across 33, arriving at Bump 3 just  below the top.  Bump 3 is dependable but can also be ratty so I was cautious.  It was getting later in the day so the ride was ok as the thermal snaked up drifting from the SW out of the SW bowl and then the ESE higher up.  Only topped  in the high 4s, so I needed to scratch up from below the Back Step which got me into the upper 5s.  Bumped up to 58 over the High Step on the back ridge just before White Ledge, but didn't connect in the saddle behind the Peak.

I knew it was late in the day, but I didn't realize how late because I didn't have a clock handy.  The thermals were significantly weaker and less abundant compared to the east bound leg 90 minutes earlier.  I could have pulled a glide to the mid point on the East Divide Spine, which would leave me with options if it didn't work, but with light flow from the SE at altitude, it seemed like the back ridge might work better because there would be some protection from a possible west wind down lower in the Pass, so I angled back with the ridge toward with WNW.  After committing, the route started to look less appealing and I was reluctant to commit deeper to the north side of the ridge where you would expect the trajectory of bubbles dribbling off the ridge.  Not getting a good glide, I also bailed on committing to the boundary layer convection at ridge line because that would run me into a back bowl trapped behind a couple of spines that ran down toward the SE from East Divide.  So... I committed without really committing and pulled a poor glide on the south side of the thermal trajectory coming off the ridge.

The glide toward East Divide continued without extenders and I came in below ridge line, but I was still going downwind, so I committed to spoon the south face of the highest spine branching SE from the main spine hoping that I would get a compression in the back of the bowl.  I got a couple of bumps, but nothing worth turning for, and as I pressed deeper into the bowl, my exit glide out and around the lower SE spine was getting worse.  The east side was dark and despite some weak ridge lift I wasn't going to climb out of the hole.  I was left with a sinky glide to get around the next lower SE spine and had to backtrack to the east to clear it.  I finally got around and up on the main spine about a hundred above the last low point on the north side of the saddle behind Chismahoo.  I trolled an S pattern and bobbed on a couple of nibbles, but I was already too low and couldn't afford to spend any altitude trying to work something that didn't seem probable.  The venturi flow low through the Pass was from the west as expected, not too bad, but enough to preclude reaching SW for the firebreak below the West Divide spine that leads to the back side of the hill behind the Gobernador.

I fished into the saddle a bit, but if I wanted any hope of getting a low saver below the point on the SW spine of White Ledge, I need to backtrack and run downwind.  Did a double 180 turn on the face of 3 successive low flutes that each had a little bounce on the downwind leg, but lost net altitude on all three attempts.  Used the last flute to skip downwind up the ranch road as far as possible to minimize the uphill hike and hooked into the wind about fifty feet above the road, landing at 4:10, a couple hundred yards below the saddle.


[Flush Map] opens in new window

In hindsight, I think I got mentally lazy with the fast and easy downwind connections.  The upwind glides were marginal so I had to be focused and deliberate on the lines.  I expected west wind west of the pass, but sort of took it for granted that I'd get over drifting downwind staying high.  I didn't have enough altitude for the my initial route westbound from White Ledge and compounded my tactical error by making several adjustments too late based on intuition after already squandering my position.  Not to say that you shouldn't trust your intuition, which likely saved me from a more perilous predicament, but I should have considered the consequences of my move from White Ledge more thoroughly before committing to a route that was unforgiving.  I had enough altitude to try a conservative line, but not enough for what I attempted late in the day with a fading tailwind reaching too high and deep toward the dark side of a spine that was further away the higher you reached . I've connected on that deep route with less altitude, but in different conditions.  After the flight I initially though I was a victim of chance.  What else should I have done?  I'd made the connection before with less altitude, I had a tail wind, there was an obvious benefit to trying to say high in the back to avoid a headwind down lower out front...  When I reviewed Google Earth the next evening, it was obvious that tracking NW was foolish.  I simply should have opted for a traditional intercept by aiming as high as I thought I could reach with a few hundred to spare.   I've been humbled countless times over the years, having made impressive progress along a course for hours only to end up on the ground quickly after a single wrong move.

I also posted the [Casitas Pass High Ground Map] without the flush data and an [Overview Map of Casitas Pass] on the SCPA.info site index.  I still need write a narrative to go along with the maps.

The new harness was a big improvement over the Edel harness I'd been using for years.  The Edel didn't seem to have any back support so it was like sitting on a stool, and the straps kept falling off my shoulders.  The new Woody Valley harness was comfortable.  I could lean back and relax so my endurance was better.

Part 2

The ground cover was pretty clean and I was in the bag in 15 minutes.  Hiked up to the saddle, then SE toward the pasture.  The re-launch options are off some bumps along Superior Fuelbreak, the ridge running east from the pasture.  Superior road drops down on the north side of the ridge, so if you commit to a re-launch attempt you give up the locked gate ranch road.  Time was a consideration, but the ranch road route is a long winding hike out, so I opted to gamble and look at the re-launch options.  I've been in the same location 3 or 4 times in the past on both HGs and PGs, and have always been able to re-launch and get out to the road, once climbing out and getting back in the game, but those attempts were earlier in the day.

I also recollect pilots spending the night after going down in the Pass without a trail.  At least it was late enough in the season that a night wouldn't be too long or cold.  It had been an unseasonably warm day, but I stowed an extra flannel shirt and jacket just in case I needed to weather the elements overnight.  I'd already consumed two of my 6 pints of water.  I carry more in the desert, but on the front range de-hydration is less problematic compared to the desert in July.  I normally have a few power bars in my luggage, but I'd recently done some work on my gear bag and forgot to reload the energy food which would have helped because I was energy limited.  The hiking options were more than I've done on my bad ankle, so I wasn't sure what my limitations were.

The launch conditions looked good at the first bump, but the glide out looked sketchy.  Going down in the brush would consume all the remaining daylight just to get in the bag with no hope of bushwhacking out in the dark.  There were some vultures circling the last remnants of the days heat, but I opted to continue eastward to the next bump for a better chance of clearing the spine to the east.  By the time I got there, the day was fading but still cycling occasionally to 7 or 8 mph.  The launch was scruffy and the brush over the edge was more problematic than the first bump.  It had been grassier in years past.  Plenty of cow pies, but now recent cows to keep it clear?  I considered pressing on to the next bump, but didn't want to hike the extra quarter mile and I was running out of time, so I set up quick with minimal layers and gear.  When I was ready for a front pull up attempt, the cycles had faded to 3 or 4 mph.  I was going to need the best cycle left to clear the bushes out front.  Blowing launch wouldn't be as bad as not clearing the ridge out front, but it would use up all the remaining daylight.  It was about 10 feet from full line stretch to the edge, then another 12 feet down the slope to scattered brush and 25 feet to thicker brush I would need to clear or plow through.  The canopy was overhead by the time I got to the edge and I charged downhill, but it wasn't loading.  Half way to the thicker brush I went full break and sat down to abort.  There was enough wind for the canopy to come down behind me so it was mostly out of the bushes.

I did a pickup and reassessed.  The last  bump to the east looked like I might be able to run down the firebreak toward the WNW and then hook a left turn.  I'd have to clear launch, but wouldn't have to clear a ridge because it was on the east side of the spine connecting the ridge I was on and the lower front ridge.  I didn't have enough time to pack up and set up again, so I got out of my flight suit and helmet, tied them to my harness, and slugged over to the next bump.  The firebreak was scruffier than it looked from a distance with a scattering of low brush a foot or 2 tall.  I didn't think it would work, but I was there so I laid out with the tips in and the lines centered for another front pull up attempt.  Ran hard, but the canopy and lines wouldn't clear the brush.

Out of flight options.  I was going to have to hike down.  Landing was at 2250, the first launch attempt at 2450, this bump was 2400, and the pastures below are about 650.  Found a clear spot, to stowed the gear then scouted over the edge.  Backtracking to the ranch road seemed undoable on my bad ankle, but it looked like the fire break (Superior Fuelbreak) continued on.  I had about 20 minutes of sun left.  Sunset in Ojai was 7:22, but would go down earlier behind the mountains.  Wasn't sure when the moon would be up, but it wasn't up yet.  Turned out to be almost a full moon rising about 9 pm.  I wanted to avoid getting off a trail, but it looked like I could hike the fire break in the dark.  Kept making a mental picture of the route so I'd know which way to go down lower in the dark.

On some of the steep downhill runs I let the bag roll a hundred yards in front as long as it didn't look like it could take a turn and go off a ridge.  About 3/4 of a mile into the downhill hike I spotted an ATV at a small meadow in front of a prominent rock formation a quarter mile to the south below my ridge.  There was a spine connecting my ridge to the rock formation a few hundred yards further down the fire break.  When I got to the connecting spine, it appeared that there was a trail along the spine.  The sun was gone, but I still had enough light.  It was a bit of a gamble to leave the fire break, but if I could get to the meadow, then there would be a more direct route down on an ATV road that might shave a couple miles off the firebreak route.  The trail connected, but when I got to the rock formation I couldn't figure out how to get around it at first.  It was cliff like on the north side and too steep to climb with my pack.  I scouted  around in the fading light and luckily found what looked like a trail that went down and then back up to the meadow.  The ATV was long gone by the time I got there, but the meadow was nice with picnic table and a good 4WD road servicing it.

There was some drumming activity at a ranch below so I kept going with hope of catching a ride out from the ranch to highway 150.  After getting to a pasture near the bottom of the hill, the dirt road meandered another half mile through some trees crossing a couple of creeks to asphalt pavement. Time check was 7:45, a few minutes before the expiration of civil twilight.  I little further on I ran into a large group of people with a dozen vehicles around a pond.  They were packing up from their activity and about to head out so I was right on time.  They gave me a ride to Hwy 150, which saved a couple miles hiking that my ankle didn't need.  They were all going left toward Ojai and I was headed the other way, so I got out and called Pam again at 8:10.  Put on some warm clothes and tried my thumb, but it was too dark to expect anyone to stop for Charlie Manson after dark.  Opted to head over to the lake entrance and wait there because it would be easier for Pam to find me.

Pam arrived about 8:45 and we were underway.  She didn't like driving Hwy 150 in the dark and stated that she wouldn't do it anymore, so next time I got caught out after dark I'd needed to get a hotel room.  Checked in with Andy and Brendan again.  Picked up my car and Padaro and home about 9:30.

The ankle was throbbing, but nothing a double douse of Ibuprofen wouldn't alleviate.  Woke up a couple of times during the night with leg cramps, but was ok in the morning.  Expect to be sore for a couple more days, but all the parts are still working.  Was actually tempted to give the Nuthouse a go with a good lapse and more flow from the SE, but it was Easter Sunday and I'd spent my pass on Saturday so I opted not to push everyone's limits.  Took the family bowling instead.  Its a dollar a game and dollar shoes in Ventura before noon on Sundays.



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